Deer Park United Church redevelopment is a classic illustration of the conversion of a designated heritage building

The Deer Park United Church story can be accessed through the following online documents:

An Oct. 26. 2009 staff report describes the designation of Deer Park United Church under the Ontario Heritage.

An February 2011 article in the North Toronto Post provides an overview.

A Feb. 25, 2011 staff report provides a preliminary overview regarding the redevelopment project.

A Jan. 5, 2012 staff report continues the discussion.

On April 10, 2012, City Council adopted a plan, with amendments, for the site.

A Feb. 9, 2012 article at discusses the Deer Park redevelopment story.

A Feb. 16, 2012 article in Torontoist also discusses the Deer Park redevelopment.

A Nov. 27, 2012 blog post by Stephanie E. Calvet regarding heritage architect Julian Smith provides an additional perspective.

A March 12, 2013 blog post at provides a news update.

The Deer Park United Church congregation has moved to a new location.

The The Rathgeb Memorial Phelps-Casavant Organ from Deer Park United Church found a new home at the Church of the Holy Trinity, Toronto.

After the sale of the church, Emmanuel College at the University of Toronto was one of several organizations to benefit from the congregation’s generosity, receiving a gift of $1.5 million gift in support of theological study.

City of Toronto heritage planning staff rejects community planning group proposals

In reading the story of Deer Park United Church you can begin anywhere.

There are, as well, many story lines to chose from, in the event you want to share with others what you’ve learned.

The story line that has particularly caught my attention concerns the fact that a community working group, formed at the initiative of Councillor Josh Matlow, came up with a series of concepts for the church conversion project.

Because the church is designated as a heritage property under the Ontario Heritage Act, however, most of the concepts were rejected.

That is pretty much the story of the Deer Park United Church.

What interests me are the details of the story, and the insights that may be derived from it.

Jan. 5, 2012 City of Toronto staff report

In this blog post, I’ll focus on the City of Toronto staff report dated Jan. 5, 2012.

The report describes an application to alter the former Deer Park United Church property, at 129 St. Clair Ave. West, in order to adaptively reuse it for residential purposes.

The property had earlier been determined to meet the criteria for municipal designation prescribed by the Province of Ontario under the categories of design, associative value, and contextual value.

The property’s heritage values and attributes are described as being contained, described, and defined by the Reasons for Designation adopted by the City Council.

The Jan. 5, 2012 report recommends that consent be granted for the alteration of the designated building by removal of a Sunday school wing at the south end of the property. The report notes that the latter addition had obscured many features of the original church design on the east elevation.

The report also recommends acceptance of a proposal for a 27-storey residential building and six townhouses on the property.

An earlier staff report of Feb. 25, 2011 refers to a proposal for a 32-storey residential building and five townhouses.

Section 33 of the Ontario Heritage Act

The report notes that consent for alteration of a heritage-designated building is required under Section 33 of the Ontario Heritage Act.

In this case, the City Planning Division recommended consent to the proposed alterations, provided the alterations were completed in accord with the Heritage Impact Assessment previously prepared by E.R.A. Architects Inc.

From this information, I have the sense that an uncontested Heritage Impact Assessment carries weight.

By uncontested, I mean that an assessment has been accepted by City of Toronto Heritage Preservation Services staff as adequate.

The City Planning Division, in its report, also calls for the owner to enter into a Heritage Easement Agreement following the standard procedures for such an agreement.

Other requirements are outlined in the report, including a detailed Conservation Plan to be prepared by a qualified heritage consultant, and an Interpretation Plan.

Criteria for municipal designation

The church originated in the late 1800s, as a survey of the historic details on page 4 of the report notes. The current church was completed in its original form in 1912. The building is characterized as a well-crafted example of Neo-Gothic style. Alterations to the buildings at the site have respected the original fabric and style.

The report notes that the proposal to remove a portion of the designated structure and introduce a residential tall building had been analyzed with respect to provincial and municipal policies and the Standards and Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada.

Prior meetings

Before the application was submitted by the owner, meetings had been held with city staff. Substantial changes were made in response to concerns of Heritage Preservation Services and Community Planning and Urban Design staff.

Working group

A community consultation meeting had been held on March 24, 2011. Concerns were raised including about heritage preservation, the height, siting, and scale of the proposed tower, and the impact on local traffic.

The Councillor, Josh Matlow, called for a working group “to provide a forum for the local community to discuss their concerns about the proposal with the applicant.” Four meetings took place between May 2011 and September 2011.

At the final working group session, the applicants presented a revised Official Plan and rezoning proposal supported by the local neighbourhood association and generally agreed to by most of the working group members present.

Planning staff, however, had concerns with the proposed heritage conservation strategy in the proposal. They noted that the proposal did not satisfy provincial and municipal requirements and did not adequately conserve the heritage property according to relevant standards which call for minimal intervention.

The details of the proposal included

  • Shifting of the residential tower seven  metres north
  • Removal of the Sunday school wing, a portion of the original 1912 building, and the roof
  • Lowering of the walls and creation of an outdoor courtyard
  • Use of part of the northern portion of the church for commercial purposes

Accordingly, the owner did not seek to get approval for the above-noted proposal from the working group.

The revised proposal submitted by the owner included some features of the working group proposal but maintained the heritage preservation strategy that was in the original application.

The report adds that in the event the Official Plan and rezoning applications are altered from the proposal specified in the Jan. 5, 2012 report, an additional report under Section 33 of the Ontario Heritage Act will be required.

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4 replies
  1. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    Harry Oussoren of Wesley Mimico United Church has shared the following comment:

    It is important to note that the Deer Park story on your Preserved Stories blog has to do with a commerical developer trying to minimize the cost of heritage conservation and maximize the potential for profit. The owner dealing with the city was not the congregation – Deer Park United Church – but the developer who bought the property. It is yet another illustration of a church building being “converted” for non-church and non-community use. The whole purpose of the site and facility has been lost – a major heritage loss.

    I think it is really important to keep in view that Wesley Mimico United Church is the congregation itself seeking to “repurpose, renew, and add” to the facility in order to adapt to changing needs, situations, and contexts so that the heritage of worship, community, and service can be sustained into succeeding generations. Wesley is not another Deer Park and has no intention of becoming one ……

    • Kieran Smith
      Kieran Smith says:

      Hi Jaan,

      I am conducting research on the topic of adaptive reuse in ex places of worship. You seem to have a strong view on the subject as a congregation member and development stakeholder – I would love if you would participate in a short questionnaire?


  2. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    Harry Oussoren’s comment is of value and I’m pleased to share it.

    What we are dealing with, as I understand, is how we frame the discussion.

    I will devote my next blog post to the topic of how the narrative is framed.


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