Agnes Macphail house heritage worthy?

Canada’s first female MP lived in Leaside home
But it has no heritage protection or plaque
Kris Scheuer
(Written for Town Crier Feb. 23)

Agnes Macphail lives at 2 Donegall Ave and efforts are underway to push for a heritage designation and plaque of the property. Photo by Joshua Freeman/Town Crier.

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.

Agnes Macphail (left) poses with Naomi Jolliffe in front 4 Donegall in 1950. Photo courtesy of Grey Highlands Public Library.

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.”


3 responses to “Agnes Macphail house heritage worthy?

  1. Grey County Girl

    1 Correction – the photo would have come from the GREY Highlands Public Library.

    • Hi Grey County Girl,
      thanks for the correction to the spelling of the library. My apologies the photo was sent to me through a third party who got it from the library so not having dealt directly with the source, I may have gotten the spelling emailed to me wrong. But I should have doubled checked it is Grey not Gray County. My fault, thanks.

  2. I did three other interviews for this article that were edited out:
    Former Leaside councillor Jane Pitfield who helped broker the 2001 deal for the plaque is now president of the East York Historical Society and said she could try and fundraise for a plaque to go outside 2 Donegall since the owner never erected one as promised.
    Leasider Geoff Kettel is chair of the North York Preservation Panel and 1 year ago it endorsed designation of this site but believes that request is part of a backlog of 100 sites forwarded to city heritage staff to report on. And these sites often don’t get off the backlog unless city council requests a report on heritage protection.
    New councillor Mary Fragedakis (ward 29) also told me she has been inquiring with city heritage staff regarding the status of this site.

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