10 Years On, the Wychwood Barns is Raising A Community

On the 10th anniversary of the “new” Wychwood Barns, let us reminisce on its history and how it was reincarnated as the wonderful neighbourhood gem we enjoy today.

The Barns’ story begins in 1913, when the first barn was built at what was the northern tip of the City of Toronto. The Toronto Civic Railway (precursor to the TTC) used the site to repair and house streetcars, and it was considered one of the city’s most important transit facilities. The Wychwood Barns of that era captured the spirit of industrialization and urbanization.

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From the 1950s to 1978, the Barns lost some of its esteem when the TTC used it for storage. By the mid-80s, the Barns had fallen into a state of disrepair and by 1996, it was slated for demolition.

It was clear to all that the Barns lands needed to evolve to better reflect the times. How this was to happen was the question. I can remember getting together with a forward-thinking group of residents and we began to envision a different future beyond those dilapidated fences, one that involved adaptive reuse.  We advocated to preserve the Barns as a heritage site.

By 1998, the building was subject to a City planning study, but the idea of demolishing the buildings was disappointing.  Instead, we worked even harder to maintain our vision of all five barns being preserved, maintaining the land in the hands of the public. Together with City staff, Artscape, architect Joe Lobko, Peter MacKendrick, and many others, we staged a lively dialogue about the role of this local fixture in building community. The conversation captured the imagination of the neighbourhood.

It took until 2004 to achieve a solid consensus: the new Barns would be a space to support the arts and artists; it would be a gathering place for local residents; it would be a bastion of environmental leadership, food security and social inclusion. Ultimately, it would be all of these things and more.

The Barns very quickly became the heart and soul of the St. Clair West community. I used to say that community made the Barns, and while that is true, it has become clear that the Barns is making our community. Urbanists often observe that the arts are the vanguard of revitalization, and that principle holds true here.

The Barns is more than the sum of its parts.  With the added help of the St. Clair right-of-way project, St. Clair West has become a dynamic, creative and inclusive neighbourhood.  Here, you can find an eclectic mix of people and purposes.

I want to acknowledge the pioneers of the Wychwood Barns who believed in something greater and helped us to see that vision as well.  My ongoing thanks to the artists, organizations, and the broader community who continue to bring so much positive energy to this extraordinary space.

The cornerstone of the Wychwood Barns has been the arts. In celebrating our 10th anniversary, on Saturday, March 3, there will be a wonderful occasion to celebrate a decade of the Barns and our brilliant St. Clair community.  My office and the Wychwood Barns Community Association are partnering to bring you the 512 Talent Show, featuring some true local talents. Live auditions have been had, and an excellent group of artists and performers, all local, has been selected for the showcase. To get tickets, find The 512 Showcase on Eventbrite.

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