Metrolinx plan to cut trees at Osgoode Hall for Ontario Line on hold

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.

A plan that could have seen several mature trees at Osgoode Hall in downtown Toronto cut down as soon as early December to make way for a future Ontario Line station entrance has been put on hold.

Bryan Hendry, a media representative with the Haudenosaunee Development Institute (HDI), confirmed the latest development on the issue.

“Metrolinx told us they are revising the tree-cutting plan and will share that information with us before proceeding,” he said in a brief statement to CityNews Tuesday afternoon.

On Thursday, the Haudenosaunee Development Institute and the Haudenosaunee Chiefs Confederacy Council issued a statement saying they would be on site if crews attended to cut down the trees.

“Not once have we been informed about the tree removal until it was reported this week in the media. The duty to consent has been ignored. The significance of these ancient trees has also been ignored,” Aaron Detler, a HDI lawyer and spokesperson, wrote.

“This is the oldest urban forest left in downtown Toronto. For thousands of years, our Peoples enjoyed the original forest cover of white and red oak, white pine, white elm, and black walnut.”

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

Tuesday’s development on the halting of work was first reported by The Toronto Star.

CityNews contacted Metrolinx to ask for an update on the work, which was tied to an archeological assessment. A brief response was issued by the agency’s media relations office Tuesday afternoon.

“Metrolinx has determined an alternative method to continue progress toward construction and begin the archaeological work at the site for the future Osgoode station before removing any trees,” the statement said.

It was in mid-November when staff with the Law Society of Ontario said Metrolinx, the provincial transportation agency overseeing the consortium building the 15-stop, 16-kilometre subway line, advised tree clearing at Osgoode Hall would begin on Dec. 5 or possibly sooner.

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

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.

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

At its June 15 meeting, Toronto city 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.”

City staff said the independent review, which Metrolinx staff agreed to, is due to be submitted to the City by the end of 2022.

On Nov. 22, Metrolinx staff said in a statement 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.

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