Historic St. Mike’s residences get facelift

By  Daniel Mesec, The Catholic Register
  • May 4, 2007
{mosimage}Toronto - Four historic residences on the campus of the University of St. Michael’s College will be getting much needed renovations, decades overdue, which will bring them into the 21st century. 
On May 15, the 115-year-old Victorian student houses will be closed down and renovations will begin and continue over the next year-and-a-half. They should be completed for the start of the 2008-09 school year.

The four houses to be renovated are 96 St. Joseph St. as well as 2, 6 and 8 Elmsley Place.

“Currently they accommodate 43 students. By the time renovations are complete they will accommodate approximately 10 more students,” said Duane Rendle, dean of students at St. Mike’s.

According to David Curtin, a representative of the St. Mike’s student residence office, there are major problems with electrical, air conditioning and roofing as well as inadequate windows, all of which will be brought up to Ontario Building Code once renovations are finished. The students living in the houses now also do not have proper Internet hook ups and phone lines.

“The Internet connections here are terrible,” said Chris Taylor, a student living in one of the homes.

Despite the renovations, the unique architecture in each house will not be altered, keeping the historic roots of the houses intact. The houses are so old it will take time to repair all the damage they have suffered since they were built in the 1890s.

Parts of the houses’ exteriors have fallen apart completely because of rotting wood and water damage. Cracked walls as well as dilapidated porches and worn out roof shingles make up some of damage to be repaired.

The end result of the renovations will allow the students to have more room than before and keep the houses in good condition for years to come. Most of the bedrooms are doubles; however after renovations all the rooms in each house will be singles and reserved for senior students only, according to Rendle.  Rendle also said the common rooms in each house are very small. Therefore the basement of each house will be converted into a fairly large common room to create more space for the residents.     

The houses are exclusively men’s residence now, but upon completion there will be one house designated as a female residence.

Philip Goldsmith of Goldsmith Borgal and Company Ltd. is the architect in charge of the renovations and has overseen a number of historic projects in Toronto, including the National Ballet School and the North Toronto Station buildings. The company’s prime objective is to keep the houses’ Victorian-style architecture intact, like when they were first built, but adapt them to modern standards with modern-day functions, said Rendle.

There is a lot of history in these houses, one of Toronto’s early subdivisions, laid out by Remigius Elmsley as an exclusive residential precinct. A number of notable Canadians such as former prime ministers Paul Martin and John Turner once lived in the same buildings as students at St. Mike’s.

“Living in a house like this is a great experience,” said Nathan Kim, who lives at 6 Elmsley Place. “Although the houses aren’t the best we still have a real good time hanging out together and making it a better home for everyone, that’s the bottom line.”

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