Opposition is growing to a proposal by Metrolinx to cut down five trees on the grounds of one of the most historic public buildings in downtown Toronto, with one critic calling the plan “an affront to the city.”
The provincially-owned regional transit agency has said it wants to get started felling the trees outside Osgoode Hall on Dec. 5, according to the Law Society of Ontario, although Metrolinx says that is a “tentative start date.”
In a statement on Tuesday, Metrolinx said it indicated to the Law Society in a draft edition of a community notice that it has to remove the trees to conduct an archeological assessment of the property, located at University Avenue and Queen Street West, for a new Ontario Line subway station at Osgoode Hall. But the transit agency said its plans are subject to change.
“Work plans for the area are still being confirmed and discussed with partners. Once they are confirmed, we will share them with the community,” Metrolinx said in the statement.
Metrolinx said it continues to communicate with the Law Society and it plans to host a community meeting in the coming weeks to provide an update on its plans for the Ontario Line Osgoode station.
“Once those trees come down, this beautiful oasis in the downtown will be gone forever,” Liz Driver, director and curator of the Campbell House Museum across the street, told CBC Toronto on Tuesday.
“There is absolutely no need to cut them down now. They’re a long way from beginning the construction of the Ontario Line. It’s irreversible. It’s an affront to the city, to the mayor, to the community, and to anybody who cares about this precious downtown space.”
The Ontario Line is a new 15.6-kilometre rapid transit route slated to cut through downtown from the Ontario Science Centre to Ontario Place.
Wynna Brown, spokesperson for the Law Society, said Metrolinx should not proceed until the city receives and responds to an independent review of alternative designs for the new station and the community is consulted.
“Metrolinx has indicated that it plans to remove five trees on the property, which would cause irreversible damage to the grounds and the historic urban forest — all of which have been carefully preserved in the heart of the city for more than 200 years,” she said in an email.
“This unexpected news is highly concerning, given that Metrolinx previously committed to support a third-party independent review of alternative designs for the new Ontario Line station at Osgoode Hall.”
The trees border a wrought-iron fence built in 1867. Osgoode Hall, its fence and grounds are designated under the Ontario Heritage Act. The Law Society says the area is an “important greenspace in the core of downtown Toronto.” It is the oldest continuously used institutional property in Toronto, it said.
According to Brown, the trees to be chopped down are in the lawn’s southwest area. She said if they come down, at least 20 others will have to come down as well, according to Metrolinx’s plans. The trees include maple, elm, horse chestnut, ash, linden, crab apple, oak and pine, she said. There will be loss and damage to urban wildlife habitat, including migratory birds, she added.
Mayor John Tory, for his part, has met with Metrolinx about its Osgoode Hall plans after raising concerns earlier this year and will follow up with the agency again, Don Peat, spokesperson for the mayor, said in a statement on Tuesday.
“Before any trees are removed by Metrolinx, we want to see the City of Toronto’s independent review of the Osgoode Station site. We would expect that report will be public and we further expect that Metrolinx will discuss all its plans publicly before any work is undertaken,” Peat said in the statement.
“Mayor Tory has a mandate from voters to get transit built, including the Ontario Line, but he will be advocating throughout this process for Metrolinx to be respectful of the communities around these projects.”
As for the city, it said the proposed site for the new Osgoode Station is on land that will be “fully owned” by the province but the city has not received any requests or issued any permits for tree removal on the site.
The city added that it has retained consultants to do a review of alternate locations to determine if there are possible locations for the station entrance and it expects to have the report back by the end of the year and to share it with Metrolinx.
Mike Schreiner, leader of the Green Party of Ontario, told reporters at Queen’s Park on Tuesday that Metrolinx has an obligation to “explore all possibilities” and the province should do whatever it takes “within reason” to protect the trees.