You are probably getting bored with me starting off a post by saying, “I was out for a walk in my neighbourhood” and I am getting tired of going out for a walk in my neighbourhood, but given COVID-19 is still hanging about I’m trying to do my part by sticking close to home.
At any rate, a recent walk took me I past an older home that I’ve always assumed had a story behind it, but I didn’t know what it was. Right now, there’s this sign out front, as they do work on the house.
As I learned, it’s known as the Snider House after the original owners, and it dates back to 1820, one of the oldest houses in Toronto.
I had seen that it had sold a year or 2 ago, and then in the past few weeks the dreaded construction hoarding went up. Too many times, this is a cue for imminent destruction. Fortunately, it’s a designated Heritage property which avoids:
I see these signs all over our neighbourhood. On one street nearby, in a 100m stretch there were 3 houses that have been demolished with new infill underway.
I’m happy that Snider House is being restored. It’s beautiful example of Victorian architecture and it’s a reminder that Toronto actually has a history, something we keep trying to erase every time we tear down a perfectly good though older home to replace it with something new.
I get it, on one level. In our case, we spent several years and hundreds of thousands renovating our last house, a 1920’s detached 3-bedroom in mid-Toronto, and in the end we still had a detached 3-bedroom home. Had we knocked it down, for not much more than we ending up spending on renovations, we could have had a larger 4-bedroom that would have been worth at least 25% more than what we eventually sold at. If you want all the latest modern wiring, heating, plumbing, bathrooms, kitchens, energy efficiency, and comforts it’s often cheaper to start with a blank slate.
And yet, when that happens up and down a street the character starts to change. Many mid-town Toronto neighbourhoods date from the 1920-1940 period, and were originally quite uniform with a mix of detached and semi-detached 3-bedroom 2-story homes along with some 2-bedroom bungalows. That characteristic look lasted for the 1st and 2nd generations of owners, into the 1970’s and 1980’s, but by the time the 3rd and 4th generation came along, the urge to modernize and extend became too strong to resist.
And so we have today’s streets, where many of the original homes, to my eye charming red-brick well-proportioned places, have been replaced by larger boxy stucco-sided 4-bedroom houses that loom over their neighbours. There are now so many that that they’ve started to blend together, but even so, to me the proportions of the homes have lost something. They are more spacious, more open, more energy-efficient, and just more. But do we need more? Can’t we renovate and improve without replacing?
Near the street with the 3 new houses, there’s another home that’s undergone extensive reno’s and is now just about finished. I’m sure it was pricy to renovate instead of tearing down, but I’m glad that they resisted the temptation to tear down a perfectly charming, functional place that just needed to evolve into the 21st century.
Reduce, reuse, and recycle are supposed to be our environmentalist mantra. Use less, use it longer, and then hand it on for other uses. On my way home from my walk, I passed a toddler toilet seat that had been outgrown (proudly I bet) and left out for someone to claim and use for a new toddler. It seemed an apt metaphor – poop happens. Learn from it.