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cityscape

Rebelling Over Postal Station K

Locals rally to save a historic building on a key Rebellion of 1837 site.

One hundred and seventy-five years after William Lyon Mackenzie assembled his rebels at Montgomery’s Tavern, another group of angry citizens seems ready to rise up against the government on the same site, or at least let a crown corporation know they are unhappy about the possible fallout from its sale—especially if that fallout proves to involve a high-rise condo, as at least one commercial realtor has predicted.

Monday night, a crowd cried things like, “No more condos!” and, “Our history is not for sale!” at a rally in front of Postal Station K, which is what stands on the Montgomery’s Tavern site today. The protest was organized by Eglinton-Lawrence MPP Mike Colle. As a modest crowd listened to speeches about the history of the site and its value to the community, a steady stream of passers-by lined up to sign a petition to save the building.

“There’s really not much going on right now,” noted Canada Post spokesperson John Caines in a phone interview yesterday. An RFP (request for proposals) was made in April for Postal Station K, along with Canada Post properties at 50 Charles Street East and 1780 Avenue Road. “We’re considering selling them, but only if the purchaser provides a suitable replacement property or properties in return. We’re not looking to leave the area but upgrade and modernize our network.”

Eglinton-Lawrence MPP Mike Colle (centre) leads rally in cry of "No More Condos!"

While the property is a national historic site, because of its role in the rebellion of 1837, Postal Station K is listed but not historically designated by the City of Toronto, affording it few protections under the law. Designed in art-deco style by Murray Brown, whose other works include the nearby Belsize Theatre (now the Regent) on Mount Pleasant Road and the Capitol Theatre in Port Hope, Postal Station K is one of the few buildings in the British Empire to bear the insignia of King Edward VIII. Built in 1936, it replaced a structure originally known as Oulcott’s Tavern, which had been used as a post office from 1912 onward. Besides sorting neighbourhood mail, the building has also, at times, provided space for businesses and a halfway house.

Colle first heard rumblings about a potential sale while on a Heritage Toronto walk through the neighbourhood several weeks ago. He decided to mobilize the community before any clashes with developers could occur. “It’s a great place to take a stand,” Colle noted in a phone interview, referring to the property’s symbolic value. During the fight against amalgamation in 1997, Colle participated in a march that stopped at the site. He believes Canada Post is “totally remote from the public” and he will do his “darndest to make sure they realize that the taxpayers of Toronto paid for that building and they can’t just sell it off willy-nilly without listening to us.” Beyond the building, Colle stressed the property’s role as a public gathering place, especially for wheelchair users who find its lack of barriers ideal for relaxing and meeting others.

Anti-high rise sentiments in the neighbourhood should not be discounted, especially when a high number of condos are underway or being proposed. Though community efforts failed to stop the Minto towers south of Eglinton Avenue, anger at former city councillor Anne Johnston’s role in brokering the deal that allowed the project to proceed led to her defeat in Ward 16 by Karen Stintz in 2004. Though Stintz was unable to attend the rally because she was on vacation, neighbouring councillor Josh Matlow (Ward 22, St. Paul’s) was on hand to lend his support.

If a condo doesn’t become part of the site’s future, what could the building be used for? Colle said that the Anne Johnston Health Centre, located across the street, had expressed interest in additional space for their programs. Eglinton Park Residents’ Association chair Tom Cohen imagined a commercial tavern paired with a museum celebrating the rebellion of 1837. Whatever happens, it’s likely that a creative solution that utilizes most or all of Postal Station K (which seems to be a condition of any sale) will be better received than a high-rise that does little to acknowledge the site’s history. Otherwise, any march down Yonge Street to mark the anniversary of Mackenzie’s rebellion this December might not be a mere re-enactment.

Photos by Jamie Bradburn/Torontoist.

Comments

  • ibivi

    There are too many condos being built! Bay Street is becoming wall-to-wall condos. Young/Eg shouldn’t become the same. I’ve always liked this spot and would rather see the Health Centre move in.

    • Anonymous

      Too many condos? How do figure that? you would rather have a city of cars and parking lots?
      Have you missed the new, well not so new, urban culture, even the burbs are seeing happen. Cars are a thing of the past. People want to live, work and play in a walkable neighborhood.

      • http://www.facebook.com/markrockcity Маяк Сіту

        Unfortunately, the same people who buy condos also prefer cars to public transit and to shop and work far from where they live.

        • Anonymous

          Really? Because I live in a condo and I walk to everything. I rarely ever drive.

        • http://twitter.com/JasonParis Jason Paris

          That’s a pretty thick brush you are painting with. I’ve lived in condos for 10 years and walk/bike everywhere and always support local shops and find employment close to my home.

        • vampchick21

          I echo Jason and rickm81, although I’m not in a condo yet, I’m shopping for one and I don’t even have a drivers license. I’ve taken the TTC every single day since I moved to Toronto 17 years ago. Never mind that condos are going up downtown, which is where people work. I think you might have suburbanites in mind, not condo dwellers.

  • OgtheDim

    Not sure the allusions to the tavern fight are apt or a good idea. There has been much mythologizing of those events and historians who actually look into it tend to have a VERY different opinion of how that all went down. A comedy of errors truth be known, on both sides.

    E.g. this site is where the reluctant militia men, with their little 2 pounder cannon managed, after a few misses, to fire a shot through the tavern and all the by then very drunken farmers and rebels decided to skeddadle back home. And don’t get me started on how much of a crackpot WLM really was….

  • OgtheDim

    Not sure the allusions to the tavern fight are apt or a good idea. There has been much mythologizing of those events and historians who actually look into it tend to have a VERY different opinion of how that all went down. A comedy of errors truth be known, on both sides.

    E.g. this site is where the reluctant militia men, with their little 2 pounder cannon managed, after a few misses, to fire a shot through the tavern and all the by then very drunken farmers and rebels decided to skeddadle back home. And don’t get me started on how much of a crackpot WLM really was….

  • Mike Colle

    “We don’t need another Condo” the rally cry for the Rebellion of 2012 .

    • http://www.facebook.com/paddy221666 Patrick Smyth

      You will have resistance to that notion from many who believe Toronto needs to intensify, especially near transit hubs. If it was a easy as a rally cry there would be fewer condos already. However, condos are coming and coming. What we truly need is effective input from the community on what it needs and most would agree we need more open space, especially since the North District Community Planning Dept agreed with closing-in the open space at the Riocan corner. (Even Matlow opposed that one) Let’s craft a clever redesign of the High Point at Stn K, remember the history but deliver more open space for the local community.

      • Jenniferhoskin

        The reason that RioCan was permitted to build over most of the open space at the northwest corner is due to simple planning law. Municipalities cannot use zoning power to create public open space over private land. The northwest corner had never otherwise been secured as open space, and it was open to RioCan to apply to the City to build on it. If the City wanted to preserve it as open space, they needed to expropriate it. And while the area needs open space, this particular site was highly constrained and did not offer the best value-for-money in terms of the city’s parks dollars.

        • http://www.facebook.com/paddy221666 Patrick Smyth

          I think you are wrong. If the planning law was that simple, why was it necessary to have Karen Stintz’s approval? The closing-in of publicly accessible open space at the RioCan corner is a good example of what can go horribly wrong in City Planning. The City of Toronto declared the Yonge Eglinton area open space deficient in 1967. In 1968 the City allowed the developer of the YE Ctr to consume a whole street in return for the extremely desirable open space on the NW corner. It was a good deal. The open space only deteriorated after RioCan bought the Centre. Open space is not a commodity, it’s a treasure to be held.

          • Jenniferhoskin

            I am correct. RioCan required Council’s approval (not Stintz’s approval – no one Councillor has the power to approve or refuse an application) because it applied for a rezoning to permit some extra GFA. While the City can, and does, use Section 37 of the Planning Act to secure public benefits like open space, the benefits need to be commesurate with the additional height and density sought, which in this case wasn’t very much compared to most redevelopment projects. There is no way the City would have obtained the entire NW corner as open space, given the level of intensification sought by RioCan. Stintz didn’t take on this fight because it wasn’t one the City would have won.

            And, notwithstanding a lot of unsubstantiated comments I have heard as to what was agreed to the 1960s, the simple fact remains that nothing was secured by the City. Not by agreement. Not by zoning. Nothing.

            The City has a simply tool to create open space at this corner if it wants it. It’s called expropriation.

            I live in this area, and the level of misinformation that was being spread around the neighbourhood (both innocently and intentionally) was appalling.

          • http://www.facebook.com/paddy221666 Patrick Smyth

            I’m aware that TO residents are quite unaware of how Council operates. The culture of Ward Politics is alive and well on TO Council. There is an unspoken rule that says, “if the local councillor wants it, it happens”. That’s why Riocan needed Stintz’s approval.

            Without it RioCan would have been required to go to the OMB. With Stintz’s approval the local residents, who were largely not in favour of closing-in scarce open space, would have needed to raise the funds to challenge Council at the OMB.

            Agreed, RioCan paid a miserable amount in Section 37 monies to acquire the right to generate huge, forever profits from the additional heights and density. However, I believe that is more of a function of the City’s unwillingness to secure proper community benefits when up against a well-heeled, politically connected, big property owner.

            When this matter was before Council so was Transit City. Stintz had a problem – the natives were restless and they had a case – and the NDP on Council secured her vote for Transit City ( yes, the same person who became TTC Czar under Ford, “subways, subways, subways” ) in return for supporting her approval to close in the RioCan corner.

            That’s how Council works. It’s a trading floor for votes.

            The City had indeed done a poor job of securing community benefits in return for giving away a whole street, but when I saw that the North Toronto Community Planning Department couldn’t come up with a single good reason to secure open space at YE, I knew the fix was in. The City was told what would happen and that was it. If you were a staff planner you risked your job by speaking up. That’s how management operates under the dome.

  • andyindividual

    Condos
    per say are not the threat. The real threat is any use of the building
    that preserves the facade and flattens the rest. We have enough of that
    kind of crappy pastiche already. It’s a sad excuse for preservation.

    Perhaps a civic minded developer will buy it, turn it over to even
    more public use and trade the gift more more density elsewhere? Things
    have been known to happen.

    Besides I can’t see why that land is so precious when the eyesore of
    the abandoned bus station a few blocks south has been left undeveloped
    for so many years. Oh yeah, that’s the TTC. not smart enough to get
    anything done.

    • http://www.facebook.com/paddy221666 Patrick Smyth

      The real and present threat is to our diminishing open space and the public realm. It’s scary how few TO residents are bothering about this. Mike Colle is showing some good leadership but we are woefully short of other champions. You’d think with so much density and height approved we could afford some decent community benefits, without going cap-in-hand to developers. However, the Planning Department doesn’t appear to be that interested in improving the public realm and much water has already flowed under that bridge. Having said that, the community association I belong to, ARECA, has found the development community to be quite willing to engage on these matters. ARECA believes the sooner we meet to discuss development with property owners, the better the outcome for the community. That’s not the case with the Planning Department. With them discussions about community benefits come dead last and usually after much has been decided, without community input. The YE area needs open space. We need to consider the creation of a heritage conservation district around the HighPoint on which Station K resides. I’d say any developer of that site will be more than willing to discuss significant public realm improvements since, in turn, that will improve the developer’s ability to sell condos. We might even not need to burden the TO Planning Department too much. As for the TTC lands, that’s a whole other story and it has to do with how slowly planning and transportation decisions are made by Council. Remember, the TTC will need every inch of that property when building the Crosstown LRT. That is, if Council ever stops flip-flopping and ordering “studies”.

      Suggested reading – http://midtownplan.ca/highpoint/HighPointHeritage.pdf and http://midtownplan.ca/highpoint/highpoint.pdf

  • Jamie

    It is also one of the few buildings in the Commonwealth to have Edward the Eighths symbol

  • http://circusesnotbread.wordpress.com/ Barnum Bailey

    I was originally going to say this: I’m all for development–including the Rio Can site at Yonge and Eglinton. I’m not some knee jerk NIMBY looking to protect the perceived interests of existing property owners against new property owners. However, if they let a site with the historical significance of this site become the facade of some butt ugly 30 story condo then we may as well start razing this city block by block. Old City Hall, the Whitney Block, Commerce Court West, St. James Cathedral and the St. Lawrence Market would make great sites for condos too. ‘Development’ need not be at any cost, without any pause for interruption or thought.

    Then I read the article and realized the building isn’t the original Montgomery’s Tavern. So, what is this building’s historical significance?