Toronto city staff want heritage status for a 119-year-old Canada Post building in the west end, months after the Crown corporation sold it to a private buyer against the city’s request.
A staff report detailing the heritage value of the defunct post office on 1117 Queen St. W. is headed to the Toronto Preservation Board on Monday. If council green-lights their proposal, it would give the city greater say over maintenance, alterations or demolition done to the property moving forward.
“Heritage conservation shapes change, but it does not prevent it,” reads an email from the city of Toronto.
The report comes more than a year since city council asked the federal government to halt the property sale and repurpose the building into a community hub instead. It may be the city’s last chance to guide the future of the site — staff say the new owner hasn’t applied to redevelop it yet.
Advocates say while heritage designation can blunt unwanted change, the true solution is changing the way the Canadian government manages its real estate to give communities more say in what happens in their neighbourhoods.
“Coming out of the pandemic, we’ve seen kind of a shift in the streetscapes and how our city looks,” said Devin Glowinski, a member of volunteer citizen group West Queen West Community Post Hub, which collected over 2,500 signatures on an online petition to stop the sale of the office.
The property was listed on the city’s heritage register almost fifty years ago, but was only made eligible for heritage status under the Ontario Heritage Act recently.
Glowinski says outside of achieving heritage status, there’s always a possibility the owner could try to sell it back to the public realm, or stray from the vision many locals have for the building.
“We see this… as being a potential focal point to provide space for small and medium-sized arts and cultural organisations to regain their footing after the pandemic, and really add to the vibrancy of our neighbourhood,” said Glowinski.
Reviewing uses of government lands
The Canada Post says the office was sold to a private buyer that chose not to publicly disclose details of the sale.
“When properties are sold, we go through a fair and open process to receive fair market value as part of our long-standing mandate to remain financially viable,” Canada Post spokesperson Valérie Chartrand said in an email to CBC Toronto.
MPP Marit Stiles says it’s “heartbreaking” to lose public space in situations like this. She says she’ll continue to put pressure on Ottawa to change how it manages its real estate.
“Public land, once it’s sold off, we’re never going to get it back. We have very, very few opportunities like this in the city of Toronto and in other places across the province,” Stiles said to CBC Toronto.
Davenport MP Julie Dzerowicz says while there’s a formal process in place to review alternative uses of federal property before selling them, such as affordable housing projects, Canada Post is exempt from that process.
“They’re selling their land according to the Canada Post Act — there’s nothing that they did that was illegal,” Davenport MP Julie Dzerowicz told CBC Toronto.
Dzerowicz says once parliament resumes in September, she hopes to see discussion on changing the selling criteria for all Crown corporations “be part of the conversation as we move forward.”
“The rules that we might have put into place years ago, I don’t believe should hold. They should be under review, given that we are in a new era with new challenges and an affordability crisis currently underway.”