Historic WW2 building in Toronto faces wrecking ball
The Canadian Press
Published Saturday, October 29, 2011 8:36AM EDT
TORONTO - A building that played a major role in the production of aircraft for the Allies in their fight against Hitler during the Second World War is facing the wrecking ball.
It's located in Toronto's Downsview Park and is described in federal heritage documents simply as "CFB Plant #1, Building #1."
Just one month after the federal government celebrated Canada's aviation history by reintroducing the name, "Royal Canadian Air Force," it was sending an eviction notice to a building where RCAF planes were assembled.
Built in 1929, the plant housed the operations of the de Havilland Aircraft company which provided 17 per cent of Canada's planes during the war years.
The old brick-and-glass building in a sprawling industrial complex produced more than 2,500 Mosquito fighter bombers and Tiger Moth trainers during 1939 and 1945.
The building is on federal land and is currently rented by the privately run Canadian Air and Space Museum.
The museum and neighbouring tenants were told on Sept. 20 they would be evicted to make way for a four-rink ice complex. Everything but the facade of the old airplane factory is slated for demolition.
Museum CEO Robert Cohen says Parc Downsview Park Inc., the Crown corporation redeveloping the area, has not been honest with the museum and the 10 other tenants.
"I can only say that if Stephen Harper really knew what was going on here, I think he would be totally appalled as to how the people at Parc Downsview Park have been treating us," he said.
Cohen says all tenants facing eviction from "65 Carl Hall Road," including a sewing school and a few small businesses, were misled into believing they had a long-term future there.
"They broke many hearts, they've put these small entrepreneurs into a terrible predicament," he added.
The air and space museum has a number of classic aircraft in its inventory, including a full-scale $3-million replica of the ill-fated Avro CF-105 Arrow, which was built by volunteers -- many of them former members of the military.
Production of the cutting-edge intercepter was halted and all planes were ordered scrapped by the Conservative government of John Diefenbaker in 1959.
Mark Adler, the Tory MP for York Centre, in whose riding the building is located, originally said in an email it was officially designated as a historic site, but he later recanted and said that was not the case.
The Canadian Press tried several times to contact Adler for an interview, but was told by his office that he had no further comment.
David Soknacki, the chairman of Parc Downsview Park, says the building at 65 Carl Hall Road is not currently classified as a heritage building.
Up until Oct. 26., the Canada's Historic Places website listed the facility as "a recognized Federal Heritage Building because of its historical associations and its architectural and environmental value."
Then the listing disappeared.
The site is maintained by Parks Canada and, when contacted, a media-relations official there said the building was listed in error on the website and had to be removed.
Attempts were made to interview an official with the Federal Heritage Buildings Review Office, which is run by Parks Canada, without success.
The building was once listed on the official register of the Federal Heritage Buildings Review Office -- but that entry is gone, too.
The de Havilland building may have lost its recognized heritage designation when the Department of National Defence transferred ownership of the property to Parc Downsview Park in 2006.
The City of Toronto asked a local architectural firm to conduct a detailed heritage conservation review of all buildings in Downsview Park.
In its 70-page report, the E.R.A. firm recommended that the complex, which houses the air and space museum, be maintained because of its cultural heritage.
Architect Michael McClelland says the the federal government should preserve the building.
"It would be my hope that in the long term they really resolve something so that the museum can stay there," he said in an interview.
McClelland says concerns were raised when the Department of National Defence demolished two nearby hangars in 2009. Those other buildings were in "dreadful condition," he said.
Mary MacDonald, the acting manager of the City of Toronto's Heritage Preservation Services, says there's been no request yet for a permit to demolish 65 Carl Hall Road.
"The City of Toronto has this building -- and a number of buildings on the Downsview site -- listed on its inventory of heritage properties," she said.
"We believe they are significant heritage resources for the City of Toronto."
At a meeting in late September, Toronto City Council urged the federal government to grant the museum a long-term reprieve and to keep it on the Downsview lands.
But the chairman of the Crown corporation that owns the building says there are serious problems with it.
"We've identified about $3.5 million worth of work that the building needs now," Soknacki said.
"Neither we, nor all of the tenants combined, had the wherewithal to repurpose that building as it is."
Soknacki says the federal corporation is willing to store artifacts currently in the museum at its own expense, "until such time as the museum decides to figure out what to do."
Museum head Cohen says storage has indeed been offered -- with a long, complicated list of conditions attached. One example is that the Avro's wings would have to be lopped off for it to fit into the space being offered.
Soknacki says the Crown corporation is willing to look at any proposal for a new museum on the lands now under redevelopment.
"This isn't hostility. This is one public body wrestling with a building that's falling apart, needing the space and willing to do what can reasonably be done to accommodate its tenants," Soknacki said.
"And so, if they need a number of months to organize and to reappear as a viable organization, then we will do what we can to make that happen."