Toronto's O’Connor House saved, for now

By 
  • May 21, 2009
{mosimage}TORONTO - North York Community Council voted unanimously against an application by the Toronto District Catholic School Board to demolish the historic home of the late Senator Frank O’Connor.

The May 20 decision came as a relief to community members who have been raising money to restore the home, but as a setback to the board which is responsible for the old farm house.

Richard Francki, superintendent of facilities and services at the TCDSB, said a lease agreement drafted several years ago has still not been signed by the O’Connor Irish Heritage House Inc., the group raising funds to save the farmhouse which sits on the property of Senator O’Connor College High School. Because of this, the board is legally responsible for the maintenance costs imposed by the city for it to keep its heritage property status. Although at The Register’s press time he could not say how much was spent, that and the question of whether or not the O’Connor Irish Heritage House Inc. could reach financial stability were the major impetus behind spending tens of thousands of dollars to move the file on the demolition, he said.

Dennis Timbrell, chair of the O’Connor Irish Heritage House Inc., said the lease signing was delayed because the original plan of using it for Irish heritage events did not meet the city’s zoning requirement that it serve the community at large. Last year students of the Rotman School of Management were entrusted to redraft a plan to include the whole community, which was approved in April by the board and is being reviewed by Timbrell.

Timbrell said it was discouraging to hear the school board had applied to have the house demolished when the committee discovered it qualifies to apply for federal funding that would help it reach the $3.5-million goal.

“This is an education opportunity,” Timbrell said of the restoration project. “It’s important for the young people to know who made the contributions that made the community what it is today.”

O’Connor’s house was the residence of the De La Salle Brothers until it was taken over by the school board within the last decade. After the Christian Brothers left, the house began to deteriorate.

Timbrell said the Heritage House committee has asked the board to donate the amount it would cost to tear it down.

Denzil Minnan-Wong, the local city councillor, said the vote against the demolition was a relief for now, as the house is important for enhancing and celebrating Toronto’s history.

“I’m very passionate about this because I’m a graduate of the school and it doesn’t make sense to demolish such an important building,” he said.

A second vote was to be taken by City Council at its May 26-27 session.

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