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Heritage Toronto applauds the repurposing of this residential property into a teaching and event venue

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After founding the Laura Secord Chocolate company in 1913 and selling it as Fanny Farmer Candy in the United States six years later, Frank O’Connor spent some of his fortune in 1928 on an east-side Toronto estate. He named it Maryvale Farm, after his daughter. The property played host to some of the era’s grandest parties.

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After Senator O’Connor’s death in 1939, Maryvale Farm passed to Catholic teaching groups, which gradually sold portions of land. Aerial photos show how the Toronto suburbs closed in on land that once served as pasture for Ayrshire cattle and Clydesdale horses. The estate is located off the Don Valley Parkway in the Parkwoods neighbourhood on Rowena Drive.

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The mansion was boarded up in 2000 when the De La Salle Christian Brothers left the property. Between then and the beginning of restoration efforts in 2011, the interior of the building deteriorated badly – with damage exacerbated by squatters.

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An attic fire in 2012, set off by a spark from a welder’s torch, set back restoration efforts. Most of the roof had to be rebuilt, and much of the newly restored plaster walls inside had to be replaced. To remove the smell of smoke, woodwork had to be removed and dried before being resealed and reinstalled.

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It took roughly three years and $5.6-million to restore the buildings. The front portico remains the mansion’s defining feature. “It’s a little out of scale with the building but I think that was just the nature of Senator O’Connor,” architect Dan McNeil says. The wooden columns were topped with capitals made of sawdust, clay, rosin and lime bonded by rabbit-skin glue. While they have been recast in more modern materials, the column shafts are original.

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The brick extension added by the Christian Brothers for living quarters was removed. Then, the rear of the estate house was modified to provide accessibility for the disabled. An elevator was installed and the fire exit system improved to make it code compliant.

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The adjacent coach house, with its weathervane cupola, was transformed from a garage to more than 1,000 square feet of customizable teaching space for Senator O’Connor College School nearby. The terrazzo floor was replaced, five original doors reduced to two functioning doors and three faux ones. The second floor remains unfinished, a project that will be tackled in the future when funds allow.

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Senator O’Connor College School high-school students in renovated coach house. The property landlord, Toronto Catholic District School Board, will use both the mansion and coach house as teaching spaces, while a not-for-profit board will rent out the buildings after school hours as a hub for community, cultural, heritage and education organizations.

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In handing out the award of merit to the redeveloped and repurposed O’Connor estate buildings last October, Heritage Toronto applauded the conservation and adaptive reuse of the project. “The jury was impressed by the high quality of craftsmanship on this project, and applauded the fact that these once-neglected historic buildings have been given new life as part of the adjoining secondary school campus.” Read the full story at the link below: O’Connor estate lives on – with the luck of the Irish.

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