Canada’s first female MP lived in Leaside home
But it has no heritage protection or plaque
(Written for Town Crier Feb. 23)
Walking by 2 Donegall Ave in Leaside you wouldn’t know it was once home to politician Agnes Macphail.
The 1937-built home is neither historically listed, designated nor does it have a plaque recognizing it as the former abode of Canada’s first female MP.
Residents and politicians have been pushing for over a decade for some recognition for the Toronto property and while things are currently at a standstill, there is renewing pressure to have something done.
The Simmons family, owners of 2 Donegall Ave/720 Millwood Rd home, agreed to install a plaque in 2001 as a compromise to avoid the building becoming historically designated.
But the plaque never materialized because there was no agreement on the wording and cost involved, said property owner Laura Simmons.
She told the Town Crier Feb. 23 she would be agreeable to erecting a plaque if it cost her $500 maximum, but is still against designating her home.
Mary Macdonald, acting director of Heritage Preservation Services, said city staff had recommended designation in 2001, but council voted for the plaque instead.
The 2001 staff report lists Macphail’s significance including her 19 years as an MP, her five years as an MPP and her stand on various social issues. Macphail bought the two-storey duplex, which has architectural features not typical for the area including a flat roof and buff brick, in 1948.
“I have no reason to believe it wouldn’t merit designation as it did (so) 10 years ago,” said Macdonald. “It will require council direction for us to reprise it.”
If council asks for a new report on designation, city staff would review the current state of the house and make recommendations for council to vote on.
But local councillor John Parker hasn’t set his mind to that, yet.
Parker said he’s interested in the issue as he lives down the street from the house and both he and Macphail were once York East MPP.
“I am disappointed the plan to put a plaque on site wasn’t carried out. The site deserves at least that,” said Parker.
He’d like to meet with the homeowner and city staff on the issue before pushing for designation as it comes with additional property owner responsibilities.
“Designation of the property is not (high) on my list of priorities,” he said Feb. 22.
But it’s high on the list for others including former East York councillor Lorna Krawchuk.
“We started the process,” said Leasider Krawchuk, who serves on the Agnes Macphail Recognition Committee. “We didn’t get far enough fast enough before the end of 1997.”
By May 2001, city council approved that the homeowner install a plaque and on June 13, 2005 the Agnes Macphail Recognition Committee even provided wording for the plaque. But it never materialized.
“It’s legitimate to try again,” said Krawchuk. “We’d like to see it designated and a plaque up.”
John Carter director of heritage and vice chair of East York Foundation agrees. He was the former chair of a defunct East York heritage committee that recommended designation in 2001.
Carter said the Ontario Heritage Act was strengthened, so it should be easier to proceed with designation now.
“Previously if the owner didn’t approve of designation, it didn’t happen. Now if the owner doesn’t agree, the city can pursue it,” he said.
Beaches-East York councillor Janet Davis wrote to the heritage department last May asking for it to produce a report on the heritage value of Macphail’s old home. However, she’s still waiting.
“Only those items that are urgent with redevelopments attached to them are getting (heritage) reports to community council at this point,” Davis said. “The local councillor could ask for a report. It could potentially be pulled out of the backlog faster.”