The entrance to the enclave of Baby Point, nestled in Toronto's west end near Jane Street north of Bloor Street, is guarded by stone gates. A little way inside, you find a cluster of 90-year-old Tudor-style homes ringed around some tennis courts and a log-cabin-style clubhouse.
On a recent weekday afternoon, the front lawns buzz with safety-earmuff-wearing landscaping crews – a clearer indicator of the area's wealth than even the BMWs in the driveways. But all is not well in this exclusive neighbourhood, where some fear a coming wave of new buyers will tear down the area's historical houses to build "monster homes."
After the stucco-and-brick house at 68 Baby Point Road went up for sale earlier this year – later selling for $2.7-million – neighbours and local preservationists rushed to apply to have it designated as a heritage building, pointing out that it was built for Toronto Maple Leafs founder Conn Smythe, who lived there until his death in 1980. The proposal, which would block the new owner from tearing the house down or changing some of its heritage features, goes before Etobicoke York Community Council on Sept. 7.
But No. 68's new owners say they just found out days ago about the push to designate their house, according to a friend who said they did not want to be identified.
"It's a growing family, young family. They want to be able to make expansions or extensions to the house or rebuild it from scratch if they wish to. They paid $2.7-million for it and they don't want to be controlled by anybody," said the owner's friend, Maz Ekbatani, a local real-estate agent, who will ask community council on Wednesday to delay their decision on his friends' behalf.
He stressed that anything his friends planned to do with the house would fit in with the historic area's architecture, and said the last thing they want is a fight with their new neighbours.
Originally the site of a Seneca village, Baby Point is named for French settler James Baby, a member of Upper Canada's Family Compact who lived here in 1816. This explains the odd pronounciation of the enclave's name: Locals shorten the "a" in Baby Point, and some even give it a more French sound, BAW-by.
In 1912, Baby Point became one of the city's first planned suburbs, laid out by well-connected Toronto developer Robert Home Smith, who is said to have approved every house's design. Conn Smythe had his house, which displays a mix of arts-and-crafts and Tudor-revival styles, built in 1926, just before he led a consortium that bought Toronto's hockey club and renamed it the Maple Leafs.
Alarms about the potential for an invasion of so-called "monster homes" in Baby Point were first raised back in 2010, when the house next door, No. 66, was torn down in the face of vocal opposition. Pollster Lorne Bozinoff, of Forum Research, and his wife bought the one-and-half-storey cottage-style house that was there for $1.79-million, planning to demolish it and build a larger home.
He fought with the neighbours at the Ontario Municipal Board and eventually won, but left the lot empty for several years before selling it and his approved building plans to another buyer in 2014, for $2.2-million. Mr. Bozinoff says he wasn't driven out of Baby Point, but instead decided not to move so far from downtown.
"The neighbours care a lot about the community, and I appreciate that and I sort of understand where they are coming from," he said in an interview. "I can't even say the community was inhospitable or anything like that. They were divided."
That battle prompted concerned neighbours to form the Baby Point Heritage Foundation, which keeps watch on the neighbourhood. Robert Galway, a local doctor who founded the group, says the area's original architecture is threatened as many current aging owners either downsize or die: "I'm 80. And my house, I can see it being destroyed. And it's too bad."
With the city's short-staffed preservation department facing a years-long application backlog, local city councillor Sarah Doucette says her office keeps a special map of Baby Point that tracks every historical home owned by senior citizens. They use it to triage urgent heritage protection applications, before For Sale signs go up or wrecking crews arrive.
These kinds of measures may soon no longer be necessary. City Council has approved a process, starting this fall with consultations, that could see all of Baby Point labelled a "heritage conservation district," as Cabbagetown and Rosedale are. Things like rear extensions would be allowed, Ms. Doucette said, but street-facing facades of historical homes would have to stay the same.
But winning this status could take a year and a half. In the meantime, she says, last-ditch house-by-house heritage protection is needed to save the neighbourhood's history: "Once you take down a building, once you get rid of heritage, you never get it back."