Hero: Walnut Hall
Torontoist is ending the year by naming our Heroes and Villains of 2007––the people, places, and things that we’ve either fallen head over heels in love with or developed uncontrollable rage towards over the past twelve months. Get your dose, starting Boxing Day and running into the new year, three times a day––sunrise, noon, and sunset.
Walnut Hall was 2007’s victim of demolition by neglect. The noble Georgian townhomes stood for over 150 years at the corner of George Street and Shuter Street, but after decades of neglect under the ownership of the RCMP and various developers, Walnut Hall began collapsing during the Victoria Day weekend. The building had been sold to a new owner just two months prior, and a neighbour reported seeing workers on the premises in the weeks before the collapse. The timing of these events struck some local residents as suspicious.
Although Walnut Hall had been designated as a heritage site, once it started to collapse it was deemed unsafe and demolished overnight. This is the loophole which exists for owners of heritage buildings; while the appearance and façade may not be altered, the owner is under no obligation to maintain the building. “Demolition by neglect” is a simple means of bypassing heritage laws, leaving the property open for redevelopment without any of those pesky heritage buildings left in the way.
A bylaw was proposed in 2006 by Kyle Rae, allowing the city to step in and make necessary repairs to heritage buildings. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to have made any progress at City Hall, despite the public and media outcry over this issue. Though tragic, perhaps the loss of Walnut Hall will be the call to action needed to protect other heritage buildings in Toronto.
Photo by Kevin McBride.