New home for Canada's biggest wildlife hospital flies through council, but still years away

The new home for the Toronto Wildlife Centre, Canada’s largest veterinary hospital, received final rezoning approval Thursday from Toronto’s city council, but funding for its $30 million price tag still hasn’t been sorted out and the move to a temporary location must occur before the end of the year.

Toronto Wildlife Centre has until Dec. 31 to get animals into temporary space, or else

The new Toronto Wildlife Centre in Scarborough will be up to 40,000 square feet and will include a full veterinary hospital with surgery, exam rooms, intensive care units, x-ray, diagnostic labs and more. (Toronto Wildlife Centre)

The new home for the Toronto Wildlife Centre — Canada's largest veterinary hospital — received final rezoning approval Thursday at Toronto's City Council, but funding for the $30-million facility still hasn't been sorted out and the move to the temporary location must occur before the end of the year.  

The proposal was first submitted in 2014, and the last time CBC Toronto reported on it, stakeholders expected shovels would be in the ground by the spring of 2018.

"Toronto is a big beast of a municipality. There's always a lot of layers of bureaucracy," said Nathalie Karvonen, executive director of the Toronto Wildlife Centre.

"The zoning is one step in a very, very long series of steps, but it's a critically important first step; nothing else can happen without it."

With the approval to permit the hospital to operate at 6461 Steeles Ave. E. in Scarborough, now Karvonen and her team will work on coming up with the multi-million dollar price tag, but — even more pressing — there's a need to temporarily relocate to a new space by the end of the year.

Faith the Coyote is one of roughly 5,000 animals the Toronto Wildlife Centre treats every year. His surgery in March was successful. (Toronto Wildlife Centre)

Move to temporary home must happen by Dec. 31

For 26 years, the Toronto Wildlife Centre has treated roughly 5,000 injured animals a year in Downsview Park, but the facility is "kind of like a metal tent" and "when the wind blows the shingles fly off the roof," said Karvonen.

The new facility in Scarborough is expected to be at least two times larger than the current hospital and could double the amount of animals the hospital treats every year, according to the Toronto Wildlife Centre.

Am artist's representation of the new wildlife hospital that could soon sit in a corner of the Rouge National Park in northeast Scarborough. (Toronto Wildlife Centre)

The lease for the Downsview location will expire Dec. 31, 2019, and then the building is expected to be torn down.

While the complete Scarborough facility will take years to build, Thursday's council approval is critical, as it allows for hospital staff to start a transition process to the new land.

The Toronto Wildlife Centre will temporarily occupy an already existing barn on the new property, along with the potential addition of a couple portables on the site, while design work and fundraising continues.

The Toronto Wildlife Centre takes in about 5,000 injured animals a year, like this owl getting a bath.

Karvonen is confident they will be able to move their operation to the temporary site in time, unless there's a potential appeal from a conservation group.

"That would be worrisome because if we didn't have a home [at Downsview] and we weren't able to move [to the Scarborough location] then that would leave the city completely without our services," she said.

Conservation group has opposed wildlife hospital in national park 

The 27-hectare property is in Ontario's protected greenbelt and the Rouge National Urban Park, and the project has ruffled the feathers of the environmental group Friends of Downsview Watershed from the beginning.

The site within the national park is expected to be busy not just with animals but also with around 40 full-time staff, 500 volunteers and a parking lot.

"To have a wildlife hospital in the national park just makes sense on so many different levels," said former Scarborough city councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker, who has been championing "a forever home" for the hospital from the beginning.

"While there always will be people who will have concerns, as somebody who helped draw the boundaries of the national park 30 years ago, I would never do anything that I thought in any way might harm the park," he said.

He also points out the relocation plan includes the planting of 100,000 new trees.

Former city councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker stands in the field in northeast Scarborough where a new wildlife hospital is supposed to sit. (Mike Smee/CBC News)

The former councillor anticipates private donors of the Toronto Wildlife Centre will cover half the costs. The fundraising initiative has so far raised roughly $5 million, he says.

The remaining $15 million is expected to come from the City of Toronto and potentially from other GTA municipalities, De Baeremaeker says, however that money has yet to be set aside for the project.

"I'm pretty confident that it will get funded because this is a service that is needed," the former councillor said.

Once the money is raised, construction on the new facility can begin, but that will take years, and potentially won't be ready until 2022.

About the Author

Chris Glover

CBC News Reporter

Chris Glover has been a reporter, anchor and producer with CBC News for a decade. He’s an award winning storyteller, who has travelled the country in search of fascinating characters with compelling stories to share on TV, radio and online. A series he helped spearhead at CBC Toronto, No Fixed Address, won a national RTDNA award in 2017 and the municipal election special he anchored in 2018 was just nominated for an RTDNA award for best live special.


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