Dominion Foundry demolition temporarily blocked by interim judicial order

The Ontario Divisional Court has ordered an interim halt to the demolition of the Dominion Foundry.

Community was outraged after province moved to demolish heritage buildings last week

The four buildings that make up the Dominion Wheel and Foundries Company site were added to Toronto's heritage registry in 2004. (Mehrdad Nazarahari/CBC)

An Ontario judge has temporarily stopped the province from demolishing a group of heritage buildings at the Dominion Foundry Complex in Toronto's West Donlands pending a decision at the end of February. 

In a statement Friday evening, the group Friends of the Foundry says it is "very relieved' by the decision of Justice David Corbett to protect the buildings from "further damage" until next month's hearing. Word of the decision comes after crews began tearing down buildings on the provincially owned site on Jan. 18.

The statement also says the province needs to consult with the city and community about redeveloping the property without destroying heritage buildings. The city was an interested party to the application to the court by the St. Lawrence Community Association.

"It should have never come to this," said Asif Hossain, a member of Friends of the Foundry and a nearby resident. "The actions of the province have disrespected all of us, and we hope this decision will be a turning point for the Foundry and the community."

Province says it's 'disappointing' city is slowing down process

In a statement following the decision, the province said it was "disappointing that the City of Toronto is slowing down environmental remediation, and the construction of new much-needed affordable housing and community space in the West Don Lands."

It added the government intends on leveraging the vacant property at 153-185 Eastern Avenue for affordable housing and community space, saying it paused its planned demolition of the buildings one week ago as a "good faith gesture" toward the city. 

Friends of the Foundry says the key issue before the court next month will be whether the province violated the Ontario Heritage Act and the 2010 subdivision agreement between the city and province when it began demolition of the Foundry buildings earlier this month.

Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam also tweeted she was "pleased" at the development.

Toronto Mayor John Tory also issued a statement saying he hopes to use the time to resolve the situation with the provincial government, and thanked the community for speaking out. 

"I believe a path forward can be found that gets more affordable housing built and at the same time addresses community concerns around heritage and public consultation."

Demolition provoked outcry

The Dominion Wheel and Foundries Company site includes four buildings, all constructed between 1917 and 1929. They were added to the City of Toronto's heritage register in 2004. 

The province provoked an outcry from the community when a demolition crew rolled up to the site earlier this month, prompting protests and an court injunction application from the St. Lawrence Community Association to stop it from being torn down. 

Another protest was held Friday in the hours leading up to the decision. 

"A community shouldn't have to take its premier and its minister to court to defend heritage properties," said Suze Morrison, NDP MPP for Toronto Centre. 

She says the community wants to see the site revitalized and potentially used as an arts centre, affordable housing units or space for education. 

The site is provincially owned and is subject to a Ontario ministerial zoning order issued in October. 

The order, one of three for the West Don Lands, paves the way for housing construction and allows the province to bypass municipal planning processes, including public consultations.

'Absolutely no guarantee' of affordable housing, critic says

The ministry has insisted that "heritage elements" will inform the design of any new buildings on the site.

"The province has been clear that this provincially-owned property — which has been largely abandoned for over 40 years and requires demolition to allow for significant environmental remediation — will be revitalized to allow for the construction of new affordable housing, market housing, and community space," Clark said last week in a statement. 

Politicians like Morrison have taken issue with that explanation.

"There is absolutely no guarantee that we ever get a single unit of affordable housing on this land," Morrison said Friday. 

She also called municipal zoning orders a "heavy-handed tool" that the province has "used and abused."

With files from Ali Chiasson