Will Toronto's entire Sunshine Valley neighbourhood get heritage status?

Walking Sunshine Valley’s tree-lined streets can feel like stepping back in time, and neighbours say they like it that way.

Preservation Board seeking city permission to study how to keep area's character

Toronto's preservation board is seeking approval to study making the war-time homes in Sunshine Valley part of a heritage conservation district. (John Rieti/CBC)

If you find yourself walking down one of Sunshine Valley's tree-lined streets, perhaps wondering how you time-travelled back to the 1950s, don't be alarmed if a genial neighbour asks if you're lost.

For the most part, only locals wind up in the East York neighbourhood — one of just three pockets of homes built for soldiers returning from the Second World War that still exist in Toronto.

Many residents here have lovingly maintained their houses, or added to them while keeping the character of the original structures. Designs, residents say, that have given the area a unique culture.

Emily French has lived at her home for 60 years. She and her son, right, are hoping the city will find a way to protect the area's character. (John Rieti/CBC)

"To me, it's Pleasantville," said Gord Piercey, who serves with the local community group.

But there's a problem.

The houses are small, but detached. And the lots they stand on are big. Every week, if not daily, residents say they field calls from realtors reminding them they could make more than a million dollars by selling.

And some of the new owners have no intention on keeping the old homes up, nor replacing them with a house with clapboard or vinyl siding.

While this new home under construction is a big departure from what once stood there, it didn't break any city planning rules. (John Rieti/CBC)

On Thursday, Toronto's Preservation Board will seek permission to launch a study that could lead to Sunshine Valley — anchored by Valor Boulevard, if you want to map it — being designated as a heritage conservation district, similar to Cabbagetown and parts of the Annex.

The hope, local Coun. Janet Davis says, isn't to restrict development, but to put some rules on what renovations or rebuilds should look like, and what materials should be used.

The risk is that with at least four of the some 197 war-time homes already knocked down in favour of something else, the city might be too late.

Gord Piercey is part of a community group leading the push to get Sunshine Valley a heritage designation. He says they don't oppose development, so long as it fits with the area's style. (John Rieti/CBC)

"My biggest worry is that the study and the results of the study — the guidelines — will not be in place to stop the transformation and the inappropriate development that appears to be happening in that neighbourhood," Davis said at city hall.

Davis said there are some 19 other studies in a queue, so it could be years before it happens.

Right now, no matter how out of place some houses look, they're within the city's rules. One ongoing modern build has a two-car garage that's nearly the same size as some houses, though it's the stucco walls that seem to bother Piercey more.

However, he's quick to point out, the new owners were completely within their rights to build their dream home this way.

When it was designed, at least 10 per cent of the total land area of Sunshine Valley was set aside for parks and open space, according to city staff. (John Rieti/CBC)

"They built this without a single variance," he said.

Piercey's also quick to point out that he's not against bigger houses — he owns one himself — so long as they fit in.

"All we're trying to do is maintain a look and feel that we cannot try and achieve in any other way," he said.

Longtime residents worry about neighbourhood culture

If you go to Sunshine Valley, you should also go for a walk around the street with Emily French, who moved to the area with her husband about 60 years ago.

"The area is just perfect," she said, fondly recalling watching her kids play all sorts of sports in the wide grass field her street wraps around.

French's house is one of several that's pretty much in its original shape — "My husband doesn't like change, so it was never changed," she said — and she doesn't care much for what she calls monster houses.

She's mainly concerned about what it will mean for the tight-knit relationship many neighbours share.

"You don't live in each other's house, but when you need help there's somebody there," she said.

About the Author

John Rieti

John Rieti covers city hall and city issues for CBC Toronto. Born and raised in Newfoundland, John has worked in CBC newsrooms across the country in search of great stories. Outside of work, catch him running or cycling around, often armed with a camera, always in search of excellent coffee.

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