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Protection begins for old Elgie House

Early this October, the Toronto Preservation Board voted to endorse my recommendation that the property at 262 Bessborough Dr. be formally “designated” under Part IV of the Ontario Heritage Act.

262 Bessborough Dr. is the large property located immediately south of Leaside High School. The original dwelling (the Thomas G. Elgie House) dates back to the latter part of the 19th century, and is described in the formal heritage study report as “a rare surviving farmhouse and the oldest residential building in Leaside”.

The house obviously dates back to a time before the 1913 establishment of the Town of Leaside, and even before the road that provides its current address.

The proposed designation identifies specific “heritage attributes” in accordance with the legislation. These include “the original centre section of the two-storey house form building with its scale, form and massing” and various specific surviving elements.

It is to be noted that only the original home and its elements are identified in the proposed designation, not the large additions that comprise a significant part of the present structure.

Also included in the listed heritage attributes are “the specific location, setback and orientation of the building on the west side of Bessborough….” That is to say, the declared heritage attributes consist of not only the house itself, but also its location and – at least some of – its surroundings, including its relationship with present day Bessborough Dr.

This property has recently become the focus of particular local interest for reasons unrelated to its heritage character. This was prompted by the appearance of a For Sale sign on the front lawn about a year ago, quickly followed by speculation of a potential town house development.

When this came to my attention my immediate step was to ask the city’s Preservation Services department about the status of its file on the property. I had always been made to understand that the home was a “heritage property” and was therefore surprised to find that the department responsible for heritage matters in fact had no file on it. Accordingly, I then put into motion the process that resulted in last month’s heritage decision.

My next step was to track down the listing agent and let her know that I had done that.

Designation under the act will eliminate the potential that the property can be simply bulldozed and treated as a development site. The recognition of “location, setback and orientation” as specific heritage elements can also be expected to be a limiting factor on any proposal to subdivide the property.

I see the heritage designation of the Elgie House as an important step in preserving an important part of our community’s earliest heritage. I see it also as a pivotal factor in determining the future of the property at 262 Bessborough Dr. and its impact on neighbouring properties.

A bit of news in the heritage report that I found interesting: the east elevation, which for about 100  years has been the front of the house, was originally a side wall. The original front door faced south, something that few current local residents would have been alive to have ever seen.

ED. NOTE: North York Community Council this month approved John Parker’s recommendation to designate 262 Bessborough Dr. under the Ontario Heritage  Act. The motion now goes to city council.