Bloor West Village Heritage Nomination

INTRODUCTION

Bloor West Village is one of Toronto’s most popular, walkable, and complete neighbourhoods. Incremental small-scale retail / mixed use activity along Bloor Street West from High Park to the Humber is responsible for the draw of both visitors and residents alike. They experience the whole ecology of an animated village set in its historic cultural landscape. This public commercial promenade continues to connect the unique storied instances of ‘main street’ and ‘village green’ it offered historic villages of Swansea and West Toronto. In the fully amalgamated Toronto, the “Village” has taken on an enhanced role as a City-wide destination by capitalizing on its own unique geographic, cultural and built character.

The recent prosperity and vitality of the Bloor West Village retail street can be attributed to the convergence of many favourable circumstances, a number of which will be discussed in this nomination submission. However, success in our market-driven economy can also bring new challenges, as more Torontonians are attracted to settle in the area. The resulting demand for housing, along with unbridled speculation, is beginning to bring physical change to the “Village” that may not be consistent with the narrow, low rise morphology and historical character that has helped the area to be successful.

This Bloor West Village Heritage Conservation District Nomination Form was completed by four associations representing adjacent communities who share the desire to maintain the characteristic built form and cultural heritage of Bloor West Village. It is essential to preserve the local context: of an open, pedestrian-friendly “village” commercial and residential streetscape, contrasted and anchored at each end by historically, environmentally significant, and well-defined parklands. It is the combination of the ancient topography and history, natural and built form, and community memory that creates the spirit of this unique series of streetscapes and supports this nomination.

In order to gain insight into the history of Bloor West Village, data was collected from a range of sources. Historical maps, books, City Directories, and interviews were used to create a general overview of the area’s history. We wish to specially thank Esther Imm, a talented student at Ryerson University, who came to us through the offices of the Toronto Public Space Initiative, and whose work on this Nomination Form was invaluable. Thanks also to Alex Ling (creator of the BIA), Paula McInerney (BWVBIA chairperson), Madeleine McDowell (heritage advocate), the West Junction Historical Society and the Swansea Historical Society for their participation in interviews, and to the City’s Heritage Preservation Services staff for assisting in the community’s understanding of the HCD value and process.

NOMINATOR INFORMATION

Organization:

A Collaboration of:

Contact

1. Dianne Bradley                        2. Mark Warrack

Email : Dianne.Bradley@sympatico.ca            Email: Mark.Warrack@bell.net

A working group, including all surrounding residents’ associations, was formed and has met regularly since November, 2012.                 

Date of Submission: 30 December 2013

ABOUT THE NOMINATED DISTRICT

Proposed District Name: Bloor West Village
Current Neighbourhood Name: Bloor West Village
Has the City identified this as a Potential HCD? Yes
Have you raised funds to study the area? If so, how much?

The group has been working diligently with the local Councillor and anticipates Section 37 monies from one or more developments, already approved in the area, will be made available to fund the HCD Study. The group’s respective Associations have also raised and spent significant amounts of money to participate in public action, OMB hearings, and negotiations regarding recent individual development applications.

REASON FOR NOMINATION

Why do you think the Area should be a Heritage Conservation District?

The policy framework for the protection of our cultural, built, and natural heritage in Toronto is set out in the City’s Official Plan, Chapter 3.1.5. “Heritage Resources” which begins with the statement: “Our heritage buildings, districts, and landscapes create a unique sense of place and a rooted sense of local identity and continuity for Torontonians.”

The City of Toronto’s HCD Policy Manual: Heritage Conservation Districts in Toronto: Procedures, Policies and Terms of Reference, identifies the criteria for the determination of cultural heritage value within an HCD. It states: “the district has historical value or associative value because it has direct associations with a theme, event, person, activity, organization or institution that is significant to a community.

The following discussion will elaborate on how those illusive qualities of “sense of place”, “rooted identity” and “historical or associative value” have come to define the Bloor West Village neighbourhoods for those who live both inside and outside their borders. The easy subway access and lively, open and pedestrian-friendly-scale streetscape attract visitors from all over the City. Although located along Bloor Street, which is a major arterial road in Toronto, the corridor manages to retain a charming, family oriented and pedestrian friendly environment. Despite the recent imposition of built form that is inconsistent with the traditional character, Bloor West Village has continued, to date, to foster the atmosphere of a distinct community within the City. This identity is created by numerous important physical and cultural assets that are summarized and then described in detail as follows:

  • A visually well defined and recognizable section of Bloor Street situated on the high ground between two ravines and book-ended East and West by two prominent open space landmarks, namely High Park and the Humber Valley that are the natural and cultural landscape anchors of the Village;
  • An historic retail “main street” dating from the 1920’s – 30’s characterized by and eclectic blend of small street level stores with apartments or offices above in a predominantly 2 – 3 storey skyline;
  • An advantageous East-West street orientation that together with the low building skyline, provides nearly optimum sun exposure and wind protection at most times of the year;
  • An unusual street geometry featuring extra-wide sidewalks, that achieves a rare balance between space dedicated to pedestrians and vehicles, manageable pedestrian crossings from on side to the other and the aforementioned benefits of a low street wall, to create a highly attractive pedestrian “main street” environment;
  • A continuing regional destination for retail and cultural events linked to the post-war European settlement of the area;
  • A strong historic “walk-to” association of the retail strip with the surrounding residential neighbourhoods of the same 1920-1930s era; and
  • A simple brick-clad “main street” architecture representative of the 1920’s – 30’s enhanced by a significant stock of period vernacular buildings, many of which have stylistic references to and reinforce the residential architecture in the surrounding neighbourhoods.


Fig. 1 Bloor and Durie Streets , December 2013

4.1.1 Physical Assets

Topography

A strong sense of place and identity is often linked to how recognizable a neighbourhood is as one arrives at or passes through it. In this respect, Bloor West Village is fortunate to occupy a well defined relatively short stretch of high ground or tableland, with distinct and recognizable edges that are created by prominent ravines both east and west. These circumstances are unique along the entire Bloor Street corridor across Toronto and help to clearly differentiate the Village as a distinct entity.

Street Orientation

The East-West orientation of this section of Bloor Street is one of the key attributes that has contributed to the Village’s pedestrian-friendly character and accordingly, its success as a commercial “main street”. As is the case with other successful retail strips such as Yorkville and Queen Street in the Beach, Pedestrians along Bloor Street though the Village enjoy a more favourable sun and wind exposure than is typical along most of the North-South commercial streets in the old City of Toronto. This is particularly noticeable at colder times of the year when the sidewalks along Bloor Street can be a welcome refuge from bitter north winds on the North-South residential streets.

Street Geometry and Walkability

More importantly, the Bloor West Village strip benefits from an unusual street geometry that urban design professionals consider to be close to optimum for an urban retail street. In fact, Bloor West Village is often referenced by advocates for the new urbanism as a good example to follow when designing new communities that include “main streets” around the GTA. The key elements are a 27 m. road allowance, extra-wide sidewalks averaging in excess of 4 m. and a typical 6 – 9 m. street wall. These proportions provide an effective balance between the space on and off the roadway. Three traffic lanes and two parking lanes allow adequate space for vehicles to move through or stop along the strip.

Store fronts with a consistent set-back from the street edge have produced a walkable public realm that is well used and respected. Pedestrians feel safe and can move freely in both directions past sidewalk cafes and green grocer’s stands. There is also good visual connectivity and walkability from one side of the street to other due to its relatively narrow width. This encourages a great deal of pedestrian crossovers which also help to enliven the street and balance retail business traffic on both sides. The importance of the 2 -3 storey street wall in this arrangement cannot be over-emphasized. Building facades typically top out at 6 – 9 m., allowing for ample sun penetration most of the year and also minimizing ‘wind tunneling’ that is prevalent with much higher street walls elsewhere.

Land Use and Built Form Pattern

Bloor West Village is defined by its village-like character of low density land use of mixed residential, commercial and public space along the Bloor Street West corridor from Glendonwynne Road in the East to the Humber River in the west. This predominantly commercial core has evolved from the turn of the 2Oth century. It was mostly in the 192Os and 193Os that the Bloor Street commercial area formed as the transit system developed and the commercial area began to service the related residential community to the north and south of Bloor Street. Bloor West Village is comprised of mostly low density commercial buildings of a two to three storey range mixed in with some modest residential apartments from the first half of the 2Oth century at five to six storeys.

The main street morphology of this streetscape consists of small lots yielding low rise mixed use properties with retail on the ground level with residential and office units above. The typical shop fronts are narrow glazed masonry openings with separate entrances to ground floor and upper level uses, as well as setbacks and cornice lines creating a uniform street wall. The predominant building material is brick cladding with stone accents. There is a rhythm and pattern of commercial properties, usually with residential on one floor above that repeats along both the north and south sides of Bloor Street. There are no large block style buildings. This significant character of varied small shops creates a consistent pattern and homogeneous edge to both sides of Bloor Street from one end of the Village to the other. The style, and massing is at a pedestrian scale which is very evident in the number of people that stroll the avenue from one day to the next.

Architecture

A number of important period vernacular buildings are interspersed along Bloor Street, that provide highly recognizable landmarks and in several cases, historical stylistic references to the surrounding residential neigbourhoods (please refer to Appendix D). From the 1920’s and 30’s there are influences from the “Arts and Crafts” period along with the Tudor revival themes that are more closely associated with the “Old Mill” neighbourhood. Several more recent buildings include elements that are associated with the Art Deco and Art Moderne styles.


Fig. 2 Autumn in the Village

4.1.2 Cultural Assets

The Bloor West Village BIA

A cohesive and creative business community is also crucial to the continuing vitality of traditional “main streets” everywhere, and Bloor West Village has been no exception. During the 1960’s, a number of merchants In the village collectively decided that a new business model was needed if their “main street” were to compete with strip malls and regional shopping centres such as Yorkdale. Their ground-breaking efforts resulted in landmark legislation enacted in 1970 that created the world’s first BIA (Business Improvement Area in the Bloor West Village. The BWVBIA continues to be celebrated as the birthplace of the BIA concept that has subsequently been repeated in 77 other neighbourhoods in Toronto, elsewhere in Ontario and around the world.

The designated area was along Bloor Street between South Kingsway and Glendonwynne Road. Bloor West Village at the time had 275 merchants within its borders. The financing provided through the special business levy has enabled this BIA to undertake extensive streetscape enhancements, festive lighting and seasonal marketing events that continue to contribute the Village’s distinct sense of place. Prior to the enactment of the B.I.A., there were numerous vacant lots, used car lots, 6 gas stations and an abandoned streetcar terminal among the retail mix. The success of the BIA  has transformed those underdeveloped lots into one of the most a vibrant and prosperous retail strips in Toronto.

The Eastern European Influence

In 1948, post WWII, the first wave of Eastern Europeans settled in the area. These were largely displaced peoples from the war, who arrived in the neighbourhood without many possessions. They did however, arrive with employable skills and were drawn into the area because of the employment opportunities in the surrounding neighbourhoods. The northern portion of the West Junction was home to many industries including Ontario’s meat packing industry. The area also had many opportunities for building trades such as roofing, plumbing, painting and bricklaying.

The Eastern European influence is still present in many of the bakeries, delis and other businesses in Bloor West Village. In the 196O’s there was another wave of immigration of Ukrainians that settled in the area and contributed to the creation of a vibrant commercial strip along Bloor Street. Since 1995, Bloor West Village has hosted the annual Ukrainian Festival in order to showcase Ukrainian culture. It is the largest Ukrainian festival in North America.

Current Demographic trends

Although second and third generation residents of Eastern European descent continue influence the culture of the Village, its residential neighbourhoods have been in transition for a number of years to a more multi-cultural and younger demographic. The area particularly attracts young families that are looking for the walkable “small village within the city” where school buses are largely unnecessary and a car is an option rather than a necessity. Judging from the frequently crowded sidewalks at many times of the year, the Bloor Street retail strip continues to be the principal shopping destination, community focal point, meeting place and all-round catalyst that gives the village its unique identity.

4.1.3 Development Pressures

The current pattern of built form along Bloor Street helps to shape its identity. The relatively consistent combination of building height, massing and setbacks have remained largely intact over the years. However Bloor West Village and its surrounding neighbourhoods are recently experiencing new development pressures. Bloor Street is designated as an Avenue under City Policies, and intensification is encouraged in “growth areas” along these Avenues under the Official Plan, which is consistent with Provincial Policies.

Below is a chart of recent and proposed condominium developments along Bloor Street West. Taking into consideration that almost all of the developments listed were built or proposed in the last 5 years, there has been a significant increase of new development pressures in the area.

DEVELOPER

ADDRESS

PROJECT STAGE

NEW/PRIOR HEIGHT in Storeys

NUMBER OF UNITS

North Drive
Developments

2114 Bloor at Kennedy Park Rd.

Proposal

1O / 2

11O units

North Drive Developments

199O Bloor at Parkview Gdns

City is reviewing application

11 / 3

104 units

Tridel -One Old Mill

Sept 2O13

249O Bloor West at Old Mill

Construction

12 / 6 and 2

274 units

Tridel-Two Old Mill

September 2O14

25OO Bloor West at Old Mill

Construction

1O / 3

216 units

Humber Odeon Cinema

2442 Bloor St. West at Jane St.

Approved but the owner has not proceeded

10 / 4

n/a

Daniels 2O15

1844 Bloor at Oakmount

Construction

8 along Bloor St. and 14 behind / 2.5

407 units

High Park Bayview Grenadier Square

51-77 Quebec Avenue and 42-66 High Park Avenue.

City is reviewing the application.

31 / 3

633 units

Context

Complete 2004

1947-1997 Bloor St. West

Completed

10 / 3

50 units

Fig. 3 Chart showing Development scale inconsistent with Official Plan

Fig. 4 Condominium currently under construction: Bloor Street and Riverview Gardens

There is a concern about the rapid increase of development proposals along the Bloor Street commercial strip. Recently, developers have been seeking to assemble properties along Bloor Street, and develop those properties with little or no regard for the local context. The current proposals and developments under construction are located on the edges of Bloor West Village; however, as development progresses along the corridor, it is expected that the current trend to much higher buildings at the street edge and architecture that is largely at the discretion of the individual developer, will permanently alter and degrade the pedestrian scale and character of the Village.

While it is understood that intensification should occur along Bloor Street, and that the purpose of this nomination is not intended to stop development, it is important to put in place a framework that ensures that all new development will respect the history, physical form and current streetscape of the community. It is clear to the community and the regulators that this mix of tangible and intangible character-defining attributes are highly valued but there remains insufficient regulatory or other support to maintain these attributes in the short or long term. This nomination focuses on certain key built and natural character-defining elements along Bloor Street, while acknowledging that there are many less tangible but important cultural realities that also contribute to the Villages special sense of place and rooted identity.

Appendix A: Proposed Study Area

Appendix B: Historic Maps

Appendix C: Background Information

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