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Neighbourhood group hopes to save Toronto's Garrison Common cottages

Last Updated Oct 30, 2017 at 8:57 pm EDT

A neighbourhood group is rushing to save a cluster of 160-year-old downtown homes that are in danger of being knocked down.

Two properties on Mitchell Avenue, a short walk from historic Fort York, have been sold. They’re some of the few remaining Garrison Common cottages, also known as the Robinson Cottages, built starting in 1858.

There were originally 32 cottages, eight each on Richmond and Adelaide Streets and the rest on Mitchell Avenue. But only 12 remain.

Now, neighbours are trying to save what’s left.

Local resident Dolores Borkowski has created the “Save Garrison Common Cottages” group on Facebook. She wants the city to designate the homes as heritage properties under the Ontario Heritage Act.

Bortowski explains that the cottages – a series of semi-detached bungalows, as well as a handful of detached homes – were built as an early planned community for working families. The eight-acre neighbourhood was bounded by Richmond, Tecumseh, Adelaide and Niagara Streets. Mitchell Avenue, formerly Garrison Street, went down the middle.

“The first people who lived here were labourers,” Bortowski says. “Then you had railway workers, telegraph workers. These are the people who were part of building the city.”

In 2005, four of the homes on Richmond Street were given heritage designations, but other homes haven’t been so lucky. None of the detached homes remain in their original state, and recently, two cottages were torn down because they didn’t meet the city’s heritage preservation criteria.

“We flagged them for our heritage preservation services division,” says local Councillor Mike Layton. When an application to demolish the two cottages was submitted to the city, they investigated their historical significance.

“At that point in time heritage preservation staff reviewed the application and didn’t identify the necessary level of heritage value to list them,” says Layton.

As for the future of the other homes, Layton says heritage preservation staff will continue looking into their value and determine if they can be put on the registry.