Metrolinx issues notice to cut down trees at Osgoode Hall for Ontario Line

Community group members vow to "chain themselves to the trees" should Metrolinx move ahead with plans for an Ontario Line station entrance at Osgoode Hall. Mark McAllister reports on the timeline for work and the calls to stop it from happening.

As work continues ahead of major construction beginning on the Ontario Line, concerns about the potential removal of mature trees and heritage fencing at a downtown Toronto station site are once again at the forefront.

According to a statement issued by staff with the Law Society of Ontario, Metrolinx — the provincial transportation agency overseeing the consortium building the 15-stop, 16-kilometre subway line — advised tree clearing at Osgoode Hall will begin on Dec. 5 or possibly sooner.

“Metrolinx has indicated that it plans to remove five trees on the property, which would cause irreversible damage to the grounds and the historic urban forest – all of which have been carefully preserved in the heart of the city for more than 200 years,” the statement said.

“The Law Society is committed to working collaboratively with all levels of government to help balance the complex needs of Toronto and the region while ensuring the care and preservation of this important landmark. We are also committed to fulfilling our responsibility as stewards of the historic Osgoode Hall and its grounds.”

In May, plans were revealed to build a station entrance at the northeast corner of University Avenue and Queen Street West where the mature trees currently fill the space. The grounds and the heritage fencing in place date back to the time of confederation in 1867.

The move to build the station at that particular location prompted blowback from community members.

Don Young, a spokesperson with the Grange Community Association, said it would be “ridiculous” to damage the historical site.

“If they go ahead with taking down the trees, there are people in the community that are willing to chain themselves to the trees. But I hope it doesn’t go that far,” he told CityNews on Tuesday.

An alternative put forward would see the station entrance located on part of University Avenue instead.

RELATED: Community groups propose new vision for Osgoode Station, pan Metrolinx plan

“The easiest way from the beginning for Metrolinx was to dig up the Osgoode Garden and put all of their escalators and elevators and everything else there, which would mean that you would never have mature trees in a large part of that garden again,” Liz Driver, the director of the Campbell House Museum, told CityNews.

“Expand the pedestrian area to the west of the Osgoode fence, which is a bonus for everybody and use that as an area to adapt the Metrolinx infrastructure so it can fit within this area.”

An independent review of the proposal was put in place by the City of Toronto, a move that Metrolinx seemingly backed. It’s slated to be presented to Toronto city council in the first part of 2023.

At its June 15 meeting, Toronto council approved a series of zoning changes for properties along the Ontario Line route. Included in the report were directions for the Osgoode station site.

In addition to conveying council’s “significant concerns” about the Osgoode Hall lands, the body directed city staff to meet with Metrolinx about an alternative location put forward by community members in order to “avoid impacts on built and cultural heritage and the loss of publicly accessible greenspace and mature trees on the Osgoode Hall grounds.”

Newly elected Ward 10 Spadina–Fort York Coun. Ausma Malik said she wrote to Metrolinx asking the agency to hold off on removal until the agency and city council can look at that review.

“In our downtown communities, we need transit and we need greenspaces and I strongly believe that we can build transit and protect to our greenspaces,” she said.

A City of Toronto spokesperson told CityNews on Tuesday the municipality hasn’t issued permits to remove trees on the Osgoode Hall property, but in August permission was given to take out smaller trees on the right-of-way and median in order to relocate utilities ahead of construction.

“The City recognizes both the vital need for transit expansion while balancing the needs of the local community and preserving the environment and heritage value,” the spokesperson wrote.

They said the independent review is due to be submitted to the City by the end of 2022.

RELATED: Thorncliffe Park members angry over plan for Ontario Line train facility in neighbourhood

A statement issued by a spokesperson for Mayor John Tory’s office said they are waiting for the results of that review, adding they want to see it released publicly and before construction work occurs.

“The mayor has met with Metrolinx about Osgoode Hall after publicly raising concerns with their plans earlier this year and we will be following up again in the days ahead,” the statement said.

“Mayor Tory has a mandate from voters to get transit built, including the Ontario Line, but he will be advocating throughout this process for Metrolinx to be respectful of the communities around these projects.”

CityNews contacted Metrolinx on Monday to ask about the notice to cut the trees. Staff with the agency sent a statement after the story aired on CityNews. It said plans for the area are “still being confirmed and discussed with partners” and once confirmed staff “will share them with the community.”

The statement said the Law Society of Ontario is among the entities being communicated with. It added a public meeting will be held “in the coming weeks” to share updates on Osgoode station.

Officials said an archaeology assessment on the property will see five trees removed.

Meanwhile, Dec. 5 remains a tentative start date for work at the site.

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