Wychwood Park is a neighbourhood enclave and former gated community located north of Davenport Road and just west of Bathurst Street. The verdant 22-acre hamlet atop the rolling wooded hills of the Davenport Ridge, with 300-year-old trees and a meandering private road, is tucked away out of sight and earshot of these major arteries. Those fortunate enough to own one of the neighbourhood’s sixty homes share a communal tennis court, park and pond fed by Taddle Creek. The homes are a mix of modest (artists’ cottages near the entrance) and grand (a three-storey behemoth surrounded by a palatial lawn), occupied by artists, architects and intellectuals. As prices skyrocket into the millions of dollars, more and more wealthy people move in.
While the area was amalgamated into the city of Toronto in 1908, it remains a private community. The roads, parklands and amenities are paid for by the local residents, and the community is managed by an executive council. The price for living in one of Toronto’s more exclusive, private neighbourhoods is a special park tax paid by all homeowners, calculated based on the size of each property. Several prominent figures have lived in Wychwood Park, now designated a Heritage Conservation District under the Ontario Heritage Act including Marshall McLuhan; his widow still calls Wychwood Park home.
Wychwood Park was founded as an artist’s colony in the late nineteenth century as a private project by landscape painters Marmaduke Matthews and Alexander Jardin. The region was then a rural area on the edge of the city, and Matthews planned out a pastoral community and named it Wychwood for the forest in his native Oxfordshire. It is considered part of the overall ‘Wychwood’ official neighbourhood as designated by the City of Toronto.
The land was divided into irregularly shaped lots, and careful restrictions were placed upon what could be built in the community. Most of the houses were built in the simple, traditional English Arts and Crafts style, with many designed by prominent architect Eden Smith, who also lived in the neighbourhood. The ravine running through the heart of the neighbourhood was preserved as parkland. Taddle Creek running through this ravine was dammed to create a large pond in the middle of the park. This is now one of the only parts of the city where Taddle Creek is still visible above ground.
A walking tour of the quiet enclave begins at a huge wrought-iron gate and winds past picturesque homes set well back from the single road. Mothers with strollers and dog owners smile and actually greet passerby, while delivery vans slow and make room for pedestrians!
The neighbourhood is quite accessible, with the Bathurst and Christie buses both stopping at Davenport (where understated TTC buildings take up an entire city block). Residents can meet all their daily shopping needs at the top of Wychwood Avenue where it meets St. Clair Avenue. Convenience stores, dry cleaning, laundry, Thai food, flowers, videos, clothing and home décor boutiques are in the immediate vicinity, as well as a church on each corner. A huge Shoppers Drug Mart at Vaughan Road provides late night convenience, and it is a five-minute bus ride to St. Clair West subway station and the massive Loblaws Superstore.
The years-long transformation of the historic Wychwood TTC streetcar repair barns into the Artscape Wychwood Barns (formerly known as the Green Arts Barns) is almost complete. Artscape President & CEO, Tim Jones announced that the Official Opening Ceremonies and public launch will take place on Thursday, November 20, 2008 from 3:30pm to 5:30pm at the Barns, 76 Wychwood Avenue, with a ribbon cutting ceremony followed by an open house.
The 60,000 square foot multifaceted community centre is designed to unite arts and culture, environmental leadership, heritage preservation, urban agriculture and affordable housing to foster a strong sense of community. Artscape, known for its live/work projects on Queen Street, had the challenge of creating the project out of an existing historical structure employing design and construction that would meet Heritage guidelines. It seems that Marmaduke Matthews’ dream of an artists’ colony is finally coming to fruition over a hundred years after his project was initially conceived.
The Artscape Wychwood Barns will be surrounded by a 127,000 sq. ft. new City park, befitting a space that was born in 1913, left derelict since 1979, and now revitalized into a modern community hub. The Covered Street Barn – celebrating its own 95th birthday – will make its transformational debut. Artscape is currently working with the artists and organizations who will occupy the 15 artist work studios and 26 Live/Work studios housing a cross-section of professional artists including writers, musicians, digital media, animators, filmmakers, jewelers, performers, photographers and many different types of visual artists working with a range of mediums; and the 13 organizational performance, programming and office spaces at the Barns. The inaugural tenants of the Artscape Wychwood Barns are very excited about the prospect of living in a community of fellow artists, taking ownership of their site and about working with and giving back to their local community.
In addition to applying to Artscape, artists who wished to live and work in the Barns also had to apply to a City regulated program through Housing Connections and had to financially qualify, conforming to the City’s guidelines for the program. Those that did qualify for a studio are overjoyed to be living and working in a LEED-certified building that is environmentally sound in construction and practice. They realize that their new home extends well beyond the four walls of their individual unit, as these artists and their families will be living in a vibrant community centre located on stunning parkland and will have access to a greenhouse, a sheltered garden, community programming, a children’s playground, performance space, rentable space for events and a community gallery. The tenants take occupancy of their new spaces in November 2008.
The Stop Community Food Centre hopes the Sheltered Garden component of the project will do many things: create an engaging place for kids and adults to grow and learn about healthy food, demonstrate how to extend the growing season for warm-climate vegetables, and look beautiful! It will also house a new community bake oven. In order to meet all of these goals and reflect what the community would like to see, The Stop is bringing together community members with a variety of interests and skills in the design process, and also ways to involve the many community members who have shared their enthusiasm for the Green Barn and want to get their hands in the compost.
Residents and fans of the Green Barn Farmers’ Market are pleased that the market will be moving to the Barns on November 22nd, 2008 at 9am. The existing vendors will be returning along with lots of new farmers and vendors who make great local food. The winter market promises to be a lovely experience for everyone, with plenty of spots to meet friends, sit and enjoy or think through purchases, and people-watch. Volunteers will be offering tasters of some of the fabulous Ontario meats, cheeses and raw foods available for sale.
Meanwhile the City’s contractor is working full steam all around the buildings endeavouring to finish the park at the same time as the buildings. The park will boast a new children’s playground with gym equipment and splash pad with water toys in the summer. A separate crew is installing sidewalks and curbs along Benson and Wychwood Avenues.
The Barns performing spaces will be available to rent for special events and long term rentals. This ambitious project, periodically the subject of controversy among some of Wychwood Park’s entrenched residents, promises to provide a fresh new focal point for the long-established artists’ community.