Councillor concedes defeat in Osgoode Hall heritage battle

A city councillor says Toronto has lost its battle to stop a barrier-free access project at Osgoode Hall, one of the city’s heritage landmarks.

On Tuesday, Kyle Rae said the Ontario Realty Corporation (ORC), the body that manages Osgoode Hall and all other provincially-owned property, was entitled to go ahead with the project, despite the city’s objections.

“There is nothing compelling them to enter into a heritage easement agreement with us,” he said.

A heritage easement agreement is the first step towards designating a building under the Ontario Heritage Act. The move stalled because municipalities are not allowed to designate property that belongs to the Province of Ontario.

The barrier-free access project proposes changes to the main entrance of Osgoode Hall, which was built in 1856. The existing porch of the Queen Street building would be covered by a new higher porch, flanked by raised walkways on either side. A new entrance would be built in the fence surrounding the property to allow access from University Avenue, along with a lay-by for vehicles to drop people off.

A report from Heritage Preservation Services (HPS), a section of the City Planning Division, said the project would have a “serious negative impact” on the heritage value of one of the most “significant and beautiful heritage buildings in Canada.

There are currently two barrier-free entrances to Osgoode Hall, but neither is very direct. One is through the Law Society of Upper Canada’s main entrance in the East Wing of the complex. The second is via a tunnel which connects Osgoode Hall to the courthouse just north at 361 University Ave.

Staff from HPS have been consulted by the ORC on the matter since 2005, but their concerns have not always resulted in action by the province.

“Toronto preservation staff met with staff from the ORC and had a tour of the building,” Rae said. “But it became abundantly clear that we have no jurisdiction in this matter.”

HPS had asked for the ORC to delay the work until the provincial government had drawn up guidelines on barrier-free access to heritage buildings, but the project now looks set to go ahead as planned in the fall of 2008.

Rae, whose ward 27 contains Osgoode Hall, says the city council should move on.

“It’s not in our power to force them,” he said. “Let’s work on stuff that we can do something about.”