How heritage designation can save Yonge Street’s Victorian architecture

In an age of malls and online entertainment and shopping, main street businesses with heritage character who know how to adapt (as the Brunswick House did not) can thrive


Yonge Street has served as an axis of settlement, commerce and travel for more than 220 years.

The Yonge Street Heritage Conservation District between Bloor and College/Carlton was established in 2016 to protect it from being overwhelmed by the highrise development fencing in the strip.

But how to conserve Victorian buildings where second- and third-storey heritage facades remain intact but most original storefronts were lost decades ago to fortune tellers, massage parlours, strip clubs and same-day loan shops? Answer: restrict new construction to a minimum of 10 metres behind the facades of existing heritage buildings.

To prevent consolidation of adjacent properties, original dividing walls between existing buildings must be preserved. And stairs from the main street to upper-storey business and living spaces must be maintained.

Will conservation of its heritage architecture save historic Yonge’s unique culture? It will help but it cannot do it alone.

If they are to survive, Yonge street’s businesses must adapt – as they did in the past – so they serve not only the dwindling numbers of tourists who still come, but also the younger demographic with very different needs filling the tall buildings that are springing up behind them.

Heritage has buyer, renter, employer and tourist appeal. In an age of shopping malls and online entertainment and shopping, main street businesses with heritage character who know how to adapt (as the Brunswick House did not) can thrive.

So why not a historic Yonge, which has always been Ontario’s main street, where the high rise towers that are feared as its greatest threat might contain its greatest opportunity? 

news@nowtoronto.com | @nowtoronto

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