Century-old home is a preservation lesson, writes Susan Goldenberg
The saving of historic John McKenzie House at 34 Parkview Ave., built near Yonge Street in 1913 when central North York began to flourish, is a preservation lesson. The house — three storeys, 12 rooms, three bathrooms, stained glass window, electricity (rare then), wraparound veranda — was built by McKenzie on former family farmland. There also were a milk house, stable and coach house. He and his wife Eva had five children.
The house became headquarters in 1993 for the nonprofit Ontario Historical Society (OHS) under challenging circumstances — disrepair, abandoned, boarded up, facing demolition to make way for a ring road. OHS was in a nearby small building scheduled to be replaced with condominiums.
“I’ve learned a lot over the years,” says OHS executive director Rob Leverty who oversaw the restoration. “Restore to the original as much as possible. All the inside solid white oak doors were missing; above the stable covered in hay. The cast iron radiators were flushed and two new energy efficient boilers installed. We restored in four stages: main house, milk house (collapsed wall), stable, coach house.” No vandalism fortunately. An early picture was a guide. The dilapidated shingle roof was recently replaced with slate like the house first had.
Leverty spoke to McKenzie grandchildren for their memories. One donated a multi-leaf round dining table ordered from Eaton’s in 1913 by McKenzie.
With help from neighbouring residents and local Councillor John Filion, OHS got the demolition rescinded, the house designated historic and negotiated a 25-year lease with North York officials — all hard to accomplish. The lease was renewed in 2018 for 10 years and can be further renewed. OHS handles maintenance and operating costs; the city, capital costs. The downstairs main room has pictures of the McKenzies. OHS offices and library are upstairs. The public can visit during Doors Open.
From 1993-2017 (latest figures) OHS invested $1,175,000 on restoration, annual maintenance and operating costs. “Plus, volunteers gave countless hours and expertise,” Leverty says.
The house and its land are protected in perpetuity by an Ontario Heritage Trust “heritage conservation easement,” received in 2013. “Much stronger than a heritage designation,” Leverty says.
Written by Susan Goldenberg.
Originally published on February 24, 2020, on toronto.com.