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The city is looking to redraw its ward boundaries

Ward 18, otherwise known as Davenport, presided over by Councillor Ana Bailao, has 44,280 residents as of last year. Up at the top of the city, Willowdale, ward 23, under Councillor John Fillion, has 93,784 people living in it.

The city figures these ward swells may be a problem, and is looking into redrawing the lines that have defined their boundaries for the last 15 years.

Toronto has experienced an unprecedented growth spurt over the past decade or so, and the demographic map of the city has changed radically, with towers and other developments responsible for massive shifts of people from one part of the city to another and from outside the city into its most built-up sectors.

There are four wards with populations more than 25 per cent higher than the average of 61,000, and 11 with populations more than 25 per cent lower. And since both the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) and the courts have decided, according to the team in charge of the boundary review, that effective representation relies on similarity in population, the city’s hired the Canadian Urban Institute, Beate Bowron Etcetera Inc., the Davidson Group and Thomas Ostler to team up and look into how to fix the problem.

Their first of six public meetings this month is being held this evening.

According to Beate Bowron, the group is taking geographic issues, history as well as “communities of interest” — groups with overarching similarities — into account in their considerations and presentations. Bowron says there have been no restrictions placed on the redistricting meaning, among other things, that the current number of 44 could rise.

Tonight’s meeting is being held at S. Walter Stewart Library, 170 Memorial Park Ave., Thursday's at Parkdale Library, 1303 Queen St. W., both between 6pm and 9pm, and Saturday's at Trinity St. Paul's Church, 427 Bloor St. W. between 9am and noon.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Beate Bowron

Dupont building, vacant for decades, gets a makeover

Toronto is a city filled with real estate mystery. Do you remember that big old building on Bloor near Spadina that was vacant for decades before becoming the big, blue BMV that it is today?

Nite-Caps By the Castle is another one. Nested up on Dupont Street just east of Spadina the north side of the street, it’s less prominent than the former Hungarian restaurant on Bloor was, but much weirder. Its design was, until recently, comprised of weathered wooden planks armouring a low-slung structure redolent of some sort of beach-head bunker, has been vacant for the better part of two decades. Before the short-lived Night Caps with its little button-blue round sign on a stick, it was a sushi place, though good luck finding anyone who’s ever seen the inside of it in either incarnation.

But now, it’s being garbed in bright, new white plaster, making it look a little less On the Beach (1959) and a little more Logan’s Run (1976).

And though there’s been a for-rent sign on the thing for years, City Realty’s brand new signs seem like they actually mean it.

Stay tuned for updates on this charming little piece of urban absurdity.

Writer: Bert Archer

One King West gets a reno for its 100th birthday

One King West is receiving a centennial makeover. 

“The goal of the entire project,” says Matt Black, director of marketing for the iconic building, “is once it’s done for people to say ‘What did they do?’ That would be a huge success.”

The 51-storey hotel and residence is giving its 100-year-old base, the old Dominion Bank, the rough equivalent of a $3-million spit shine.

“Externally we are beginning removing the terracotta as well as some pointing work,” Black says of the work going on this week. “Each terracotta tile has to be carefully copied and replicated by a specialty company in the US. There are over 700 individual tiles that have to be painstakingly replicated in order to maintain the exact look and design as originally intended by Darling and Pearson.”

Darling and Pearson was a late-19th- and early 20th-century Toronto architectural firm who did work all around eastern and central Canada, including U of T’s Convocation Hall, the original AGO and ROM, the North Toronto CP Rail station, better known these days as the Summerhill LCBO.

Inside, they’ve almost finished another renovation covering the hotel suites and corridors, which Black says cost another $9 million.

Black estimates the work will be done by April.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Matt Black


Brad Lamb condo rises on Brant Park

A building that harkens back to both Toronto’s distant past, and its 1960s heyday, has reached its third floor in one of the city’s most historic neighbourhoods.

The Brant Park condos are built on a series of parcels of land wrangled together by salesman and developer Brad Lamb, who specializes in putting such packages together.

Designed by Rob Cadeau of Architects Alliance, with Peter Clewes as the principle in charge, the 11-storey building with planned ground-level retail replaces several townhouses and an old commercial building.

“Basically, the design is first of all in keeping with the scale and continuity with the mid-rise scale of neighbourhing warehouse buildings,” Cadeau says. “In terms of its scale, it’s following suit with that.

He adds: “The imagery of the building is establishing a very simple, elegant, well proportioned white grid which sets it off from the neighbourhood and creates a bit of a significant architecture, but at the same time, it possesses a kind of quiet elegance in the proportioning.”

Cadeau says his design is intended to recall the sort of iron frame buildings you see on Front Street, across from the Flatiron.

“In an abstract way, it’s reinterpreting the frame, the motif of masonry frame warehouse buildings that you see throughout the city,” he says, “but in a kind of modern way. But it’s really portraying that same elegant idea as buildings that really make the fabric of the old city of Toronto, paying homage to that in a modern way.”

Cadeau says the design also serves to create what he calls a “continuity of street wall,” replacing the buildings of various heights that occupied the sites before, which he says had a “chaotic effect on the street.”

According to the developer, the building should be ready by October.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Rob Cadeau; Debbie Macdonald

First step in Massey Tower complete this week

The caisson is in for one of the more remarkable condos going up at the moment.

Massey Tower, the 60-storey Hariri-Pontarini condo being built on top of the old Bank of Commerce building at 197 Yonge, will be a big curvacious white spike built on toughly the same footprint as the tiny old bank.

The one-storey addition on the back of the bank was demolished, and behind the old masonry facades, Tucker Hi-Rise has its construction offices, which this week oversaw the completion of the installation of the waterproof retaining structure known as a caisson, constructed out of piles driven deep into the ground around a concrete base.

According to Gary Switzer, CEO of MOD Developments, “The biggest challenges are the tightness of the site, the limited site access and the care that has to be taken when building next to heritage buildings on all sides.”

MOD is the firm behind the equally noteworthy Five St. Joseph a kilometre or so up Yonge.

If all goes well, Switzer estimates the tower should be ready for occupants in a little over three years.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Gary Switzer

Pearson's Terminal 3 renovation moved into the check-in area

Pearson Airport has turned into a construction zone.

Terminal 3, which opened in 1991, has been undergoing an upgrade since last year, but the work only recently came to the surface when hoardings went up on the departures level in full view. According to Greater Toronto Airport Authority spokeswoman Shabeen Hanifa, there are new floors being put in behind there.

But this week, hoardings went up in the much newer Terminal 1 too, in the arrivals area. A new Starbucks is going in, and one level up, a Booster Juice. As soon as it’s done, Starbucks will be the first thing people see when they come through the sliding doors from their international flights. Perhaps appropriately, passengers coming through down the hall at domestic arrivals will continue to be greeted by Tim Hortons. (And as of today, to add another local touch to the often placeless 2004 terminal,  you can grab something from Caplansky's snack bar to substitute for whatever horror Air Canada was thinking of charging you $10 for.)

Branded as RethinkT3, the work on Terminal 3 isn’t expected to be complete untli 2017.

“Looking at the near future, a lot of work will ramp up in the early part of 2015,” Hanifa says. “We are close to completing work by the east check-in area for an updated screening point which is proposed to open in the new year. This means an expansion of the pre-board screening area in Terminal 3, from 5 lanes to 8 lanes.

“Once the east pre-board screening area opens, work will ramp up for food and beverage, and retail, including a new duty free.”

And by the time that work’s done, it could very well be time to rethink T1 again.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Shabeen Hanifa

Newly renamed ferry terminal to get new design

If you live in Toronto and have spent any time at all around the waterfront, you will almost certainly have been asked by a tourist at least once to direct them to the ferry terminal. Unless you already know where it is, is can be difficult to find from the street.

That is, no doubt, one of the issues that is being tackled by the entrants for the design competition, run by Waterfront Toronto, to comprehensively redesign not only the ferry terminal, but the 4.6 hectares of public space surrounding it on both sides, from the east side of Yonge Slip to the east side of York Slip, which includes the area around the Westin Harbour Castle and Harbour Square Park.

“The intent is that the designers have an opportunity to think of the space holistically in order to come up with a vision for that area,” says Waterfront spokeswoman Samantha Gileno, “and then we can look at creating a master plan so we can start prioritizing and funding the revitalization for the area.”

The first phase of the competition, the Request for Quotation (RFQ) closed on Friday, and Waterfront expects to release a shortlist of up to five by the end of the month. There will be a public consultation in the form of an exhibit of the proposals in March. The exhibit will also go online to ensure as much public participation as possible. Taking public opinion into effect, a jury will then select one design, at which point funding and timelines will be set.

“Sugar Beach came from the Jarvis Slip competition,” Gileno says, “and the mouth of the Don was also a design competition. Until the competitions were held, we couldn’t envision what might come out of it. You get so many great, innovative ideas flowing through these competitions.”

The ferry terminal, which was renamed after Jack Layton in August, 2013, is the city’s chief entryway to the Toronto islands.

“I think we all agree that this is a really important waterfront gateway, a site that in some ways isn't as accessible, prominent and beautiful as it deserves to be,” Gileno says. “I think it’s just time we rethink this.”

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Samantha Gileno


Public consultation on sidewalk cafes draws unprecedented enthusiasm

The preliminary results of the latest public consultation on the subject of sidewalk cafes makes it look as though we in Toronto may be on the verge of fully accepting our urbanity.

“We’ve heard from pretty much everybody that patios make streets vibrant and are an important part of our culture,” says Chris Ronson, the City of Toronto’s project manager in charge of outdoor cafe design guidelines.

In addition, the City of Toronto heard that people want them to reduce what they see as “over-regulation” of patio operators, and create more flexibility for them. “We’ve been suggesting that more cafe types are a good idea, that they can be closer to the curbside, or on a curb lane, occupying parking spots on the road. We’ve had really positive response to that.”

There have been some complaints, mostly about certain patios leaving too little sidewalk room for crowds, or people with various mobility problems, to get comfortably past. Ronson pointed out examples on the Danforth that leave as little as 1.1 metres between patio and road, when even residential sidewalks average between 1.5 and 1.7 metres in width. The city standard for commercial strips is 2.1 metres, which is roughly the amount of space required for two wheelchairs to pass each other.

The consultation, a joint project between the transportation department, which occupies itself with design, and Municipal Licensing and Standards, which handles behavioural guidelines, is also floating the idea of extending the closing time for patios.

Looks like Toronto's growing into the big city it's become, after all. 

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Chris Ronson

Her Majesty's Pleasure rethinks salon concept

You’ll be forgiven for not knowing quite what you’re passing when you pass Her Majesty’s Pleasure on King at Portland at the bottom of the just-occupied Freed Fashion House condo.

Technically, it’s a salon. But from the street, it looks like an especially well designed cafe, the sort we’ve tried to have around these parts, the sort the Marilyn Monroe Cafe tried briefly to be. And it’s that, too. It’s also a bar.

“We noticed, in the first week, it was interesting how people discovered the place,” says John Tong, the designer behind the project. “If it was just a beauty salon, people would just walk by. Because we put the cafe and bar up front, people saw that, came in, saw the display case, saw the croissants, walked a little bit farther back, saw some retail, and then you look through the glass screen between the bar and salon and you see: 'Oh my gosh you’re in a beauty salon.'”

The idea behind the place came from the owners, architecture student Sara Kardan and former investment banker Jeff Armstrong.

Tong, who designed Civello’s on Queen Street some years ago with a tea bar in the back, sees this as the logical extension of the concept.

“In the process of mapping out the customer engagement, it turned itself inside out. We fronted it with a cafe and bar, with reception midway through the journey through the place at a retail intersection before ever seeing any services,” he says. “We really brought people’s attention to the idea that these services are the backdrop to social interaction.”

Tong describes the aesthetic as a balance between masculine and feminine, the better to draw in a larger crowd than would generally find itself in a salon, and to cater to the male companion of she who is about to be primped.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: John Tong

Weekend planners walk scopes out West Queen West

This weekend, about 65 people walked around  bits of Ward 18 with their councillor, Ana Bailao, and a few of the city’s planning staff talking about Queen Street past and future.

“We discussed everything from public space to the heritage buildings,” Councillor Bailao says, “how the older buildings were in relation to some of the new condos. The Gladstone, what is now the Theatre Centre that used to be a Carnegie library. How people see all that integrating is really important.”

It’s an approach to the public meeting the city’s been using for a few years now, getting citizens out of the meeting rooms and away from the Powerpoint and into the streets.

“I think it’s extremely valuable,” Bailao says. “You experience the environment you’re talking about, the heights of the buildings, the light, the contrasts; you’re looking at what’s going to be the new park.”

The walk, and the report that will follow in February based on the participants comments, is the result of a November, 2013 city council decision to do a planning study of Queen between Bathurst and Roncesvalles, an area that could, given recent precedent, end up being known as West West Queen West, or Queen West West West.

According to the city, the study is looking at “heritage character and value of buildings in the area, built-form and height of new developments, existing policy context, transit capacity and parking in the area, public space improvements, understanding and defining the character of the street and developing a vision for future development along the street.”

A preliminary report was issued at a more traditional community consultation on July 10 of this year.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Ana Bailao

R.C. Harris, Village by High Park win masonry awards

Masonry may sound a little old fashioned, a description of the way buildings were built before we learned how to use steel and glass to such tepid effect.

But every four years, we are reminded of the fact that masonry didn’t disappear with the advent of the International Style, it just went underground, or beneath the surface, anyway.

“The component in most buildings that is load-bearing is masonry,” says Sandra Skivsky, the spokeswoman-of-few-words for the Ontario Masonry Contractor’s Association.

Getting her to speak about the quadrennial Ontario Masonry Design Awards, which took place Nov. 15, was like playing an especially unsuccessful game of Atari Breakout, ponging away brick by brick to try and get at the value of masonry in Toronto’s booming building market.

For the uninitiated, masonry is any sort of building material put together with mortar. In the past, this was largely bricks. Today, it’s mostly cinder block, which tend to form the infrastruture behind veneers of brick, stone or other, more attractive material.

A quick look through this year’s winners, which cover projects since 2010, offers a glimpse into the range of masonry work being done in the GTA.

The Village by High Park, built for Options for Homes by Burka Architects, with masonry done by the Gottardo Group, won for best use of masonry in the residential high-rise category, Ireland Park for commemorative design, and the R.C. Harris water treatment plant for restoration.

“What we look at is the aesthetics, the volume if masonry that’s in a project, and the workmanship,” Skivsky said, and then was silent.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Sandra Skivsky

Mega Six Points intersection takes shape

The first watershed for the reconstruction of the mega-intersection known as Six Points has been reached, with the grading of Dundas Street West.

Peter Milczyn, former councillor for the area, now the riding’s representative at Queen’s Park, and well known city-planning and design geek, tweeted out a picture on Friday of the site, which looks like a bit of a wasteland at the moment, but will soon be a key element in the large-scale reconfiguration of the area.

The project, officially known as the Six Points Interchange, has been years in the planning, and is meant to support the development of the central Etobicoke area around the intersections of Dundas, Kipling and Bloor as a residential, commercial and transportation hub.

Much of the residential development is already underway, with Kipling station already engulfed by towers trading on the site’s current subway and highway access, and future Metrolinx hub status.

In addition to re-organizing the roads, the project includes upgrading and re-arranging major infrastructural elements such as watermains, sanitary and storm sewers, as well as telecom and hydro. The project also includes plans to incorporate what’s known as “district energy” into the area, generating and sharing heat from central hubs, obviating the need for individual heating plants for each building.

"This work is the implementation of the vision for the Etobicoke City Centre to create a pedestrian friendly urban community," Milczyn says. "The City Centre Streetscape Plan will be implemented with wide sidewalks, street trees, bike lanes, public parks. The City of Toronto will then be able to release a portion of its 20 acre land holdings for redevelopment. The first project will be a YMCA Community Recreation Centre, followed by retail, office, and mixed use development."

Workers will be on the site from 7am to 7pm Monday to Friday until it’s completed in roughly four years.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Peter Milczyn

BMO renovations finally ready for their big reveal

Branch No. 1 of the Bank of Montreal, at the bottom of First Canadian Place, is nearing completion of its first renovation since 1979.

“The whole branch was renovated to showcase our new retail design standards and reflect the bank's new branding strategy,” says BMO spokesman Ralph Marranca. 

Designed by Figure 3 and Kearns Mancini Architects, the renovation will set the standard for a roll-out of similar renovations across the country when it’s completed in December.

The re-design follows the years-long re-cladding of the entire tower, Toronto’s tallest commercial building, replacing its eroding (and occasionally falling) exterior marble panels with fritted glass at a cost of $100 million.That project was led by Moed de Armas & Shannon Architects and Bregman and Hamann Architects in 1975, on the site of the Old Toronto Star building and Old Globe and Mail building.

At the time of its construction, the tower was the sixth tallest building in the world. While it's fallen considerably from those ranks (recent estimates put it around 95th place, though that might be generous), this renovation aims to bring the tower up to snuff in terms of modern design. As someone wise probably once said, size isn't everything. 

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Ralph Marranca


Airport tunnel enters final phase

It's hard to tell which is more impressive: That the Billy Bishop Airport tunnel just won project of the year from the Tunnelling Association of Canada, or that there’s such a thing as the Tunnelling Association of Canada.

Last week, the concrete was poured to create the floor of the tunnel’s mainland pavilion, and this week, the first of two water mains that have been built into the tunnel will be hooked up.

It’s the final stage of the project begun in 2012, to create a six-minute pedestrian connection to Billy Bishop Airport, Canada’s ninth busiest. Beginning in a few months, passengers and employees will be able to use an elevator to descend 30 metres to subterranean moving sidewalks that will take them under the bit of water known as the Western Gap at a speed of 2.3km an hour so they no longer have to wait for the ironically named Marilyn Bell ferry to transport them across one of Lake Ontario’s shortest spans.

“Right from the start, the Toronto Port Authority has worked to ensure that this tunnel was designed and constructed in a manner that puts the traveller experience first,” said Ken Lundy, the city’s director of infrastructure, planning and environment in a prepared statement. “Building a tunnel of this scale and complexity while maintaining efficient operation of a busy airport is no easy feat, but we were up to the challenge and are proud to have the project recognized by the Tunnelling Association of Canada.”

The tunnel will open as soon as those moving sidewalks and elevators are installed, and the final landscaping is completed.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Ken Lundy

Gay Village laneway named for Sky Gilbert

The city now has a street named for a living, gay man.

It may be a global first. But we don’t actually know if it’s even a Toronto first, because the city doesn’t keep track of such things.

But whether it’s a first or not (according to city officials, Toronto has permitted street namings for living people since 2013), it’s certainly a cause for celebration.

Sky Gilbert is the 61-year-old writer of more than two dozen plays and five novels and co-founder of Buddies in Bad Times theatre, a mainstay of LGBTQ theatre in the city for 36 years.

The lane named for him runs beside the theatre.

Gilbert was born in Connecticut and now lives in Hamilton and teaches at the University of Guelph. He has been known for decades for expressing strong and often unpopular opinions related to sex, sexuality and theatre. A recent post on his blog, for instance, lists 10 things wrong with audiences at the Royal Alexandra Theatre, including “They are fat,” “They are ugly,” “They don’t know how to raise their children,” and “They have no idea what David Mirvish has done for them.”

Gilbert’s forthrightness has often been mistaken for egoism. It’s worth noting that there’s no mention on his blog of the street now named after him.

According to Bruce McPherson, the city’s manager of surveys, Gilbert’s name was put forwad by the Church Wellesley Neighbourhood Association.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Bruce McPherson, Lyne Kyle

If anyone knows of any other streets or laneways in the city named for LGBTQ people, please let us know, and we'll amend the above story to record and reflect.
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