458 Ontario St., Toronto, Ontario
Asking price: $799,000
Taxes: $3678.61 (2012)
Lot size: 12.5 by-96 feet.
Agents: Lance and Brenda Van der Kolk
For a lot of people selling a home is an exciting time: there’s the anticipation of meeting the new buyers, the adventure of buying a new home and all the related plans for the future. But there is always a tinge of suffering. And for Kathleen Gallagher, the pain she’s feeling over leaving her first home is palpable.
Gallagher was 28 when she stumbled upon 458 Ontario St. back in 1996. She was riding her bike along the Cabbagetown street (she actually lived further down the street, in a rented loft) when she noticed the for sale sign in front of the old Victorian house. The timing of this couldn’t have been better since the young teacher (who is now a professor of education at the University of Toronto) had just been thinking about “planting some roots.”
“It had only just occurred to me that [buying a house] might be something that I should think of doing, but I didn’t feel like it was going to be imminent,” Gallagher said. “But this house winked at me.”
And so began a love affair that Gallagher maintained for 16 years. It wasn’t just with the house though; she also fell for with the downtown Toronto neighbourhood.
“I completely fell in love with Cabbagetown,” she said. “It felt like nowhere else I’d been to in the city.”
Beyond the prestige of being one of the city’s oldest neighbourhoods (with reports dating its beginnings in 1840s), some of the other charms of the area around Carlton and Parliament Streets include the various little shops, cafés and an impressive amount of green space (Riverdale Farm is not far). It’s also one of the city’s mixed-income communities with Regent Park to its south and St. James Town to the north. So within a 20-minute walk of the area you’ll not only find a healthy crop of Victorian houses but also some social housing and hi-rise towers. Nestled in the heart of it is Gallagher’s three-story brownstone.
The back story
The house is believed to have been built around 1886, making it more than 120 years old. And history is an important feature of the three-bedroom home.
“A lot of Cabbagetown homes are completely depersonalized on the inside,” said realtor Lance Van der Kolk. “When everything is custom design and contemporary, you lose your connection to the history. But not this house.”
From the cobblestone floor in the basement to the well-preserved slate roof, many of the building’s original features have been maintained. Even details like the cornice moulding and rosettes decorating the ceiling and the high Victorian baseboards are still intact.
But the crowning jewel of the house’s historical character is the fireplace, according to Van der Kolk. Beyond the classical feature of having a coal insert (but it’ll take plastic logs too), the fireplace is bordered with hand-painted tiles.
“I’ve never seen painted tile like that,” Van der Kolk said.
But for Gallagher, the two Juliet balconies (one on the second floor and one of the third) are the original elements that had her spellbound. She still recalls stepping into the third-floor balcony for the first time when she toured the house in 1996.
“It was like being in a tree house,” she said.
With the diamond-mesh-style wood connecting the railing to the roof, that balcony has a sense of privacy but also lets in great morning light, Gallagher added.
Respecting the history of the house was important to Gallagher, which is why she keep the decor aesthetic of the Victorian period in mind when she made some renovations to the home.
Originally the third floor was one big, undefined space. Gallagher decided to make it a master suite and added a private bathroom (which has a claw-foot tub) and walk-in closet.
The other renovated element to the third floor is the back deck. It looks out to the back lane . After her son was born Gallagher decided to hide the view for safety’s sake by building the tall walls around the wooden deck. She also added a pergola to it to give it some shade.
“There were many entertaining nights spent there,” she said. “It feels unbelievably private.”
“The third floor is kind of magical to me because it has the Juliet, the back deck and the new bathroom.”
The other main modification Gallagher made was again for safety reasons. The staircase in the house was originally very open and though she enjoyed its airy feel, she installed a sheet of glass to close it up as a way to baby proof it.
“I really didn’t want to lose the sense of openness,” she said when explaining why she went for glass.
As an ode to the home’s old feel, Gallagher made sure the wood that was used to anchor the glass matched with the dark-stained wood of the staircase. The glass does add a touch of modernity without sacrificing the antiquity of the home.
Mechanically there have also been updates, including a high-efficiency furnace. that was installed under Gallagher’s watch. And even though so many of the old parts of the home have been kept, 458 Ontario St. not only passed the house inspection (by Carson Dunlop) but also impressed the inspectors.
Best featureIf you ask Gallagher what her favourite room is she won’t give you a single answer. She’ll give you three. She’ll mention the Juliet balconies and the deck, but she gushed the most about the kitchen.
“I love the exposed brick on the first floor, which runs through the kitchen,” she said. “We’ve put some art up and it really feels like a gallery.
It’s also spacious like an art gallery, measuring 5.64 by 3 metres. There is enough room for cooking and eating in the space, said Van der Kolk. It has also been renovated and now has granite countertops and a glass-tiled backsplash. But p Perhaps most fetching feature is the Elmira stove, which is new but you wouldn’t know it from looking at it. Elmira stoves are replicas of pioneer stoves but have the functionality of a new one.
“The mood of the entertaining space of this house really captured me,” Gallagher said. Even though Gallagher’s bond to the house is so strong, she is leaving it for the sake of her son’s education. And now the old Cabbagetown home is awaiting its new owners to start another chapter in its history book.