Community protests development of Osgoode Hall property, elimination of green space by Metrolinx

By Amanda Jerome

Law360 Canada (December 16, 2022, 10:56 AM EST) -- Despite cold rain and wet snow, a group of concerned community members gathered on the grounds of Osgoode Hall in the heart of Toronto to rail against Metrolinx’s plan to develop a corner of the property for the Ontario Line.

The crowd, made up of city councillors, law society members and the public, stood in front of a fence erected by Metrolinx to block off a group of trees, which the transportation agency intends to cut down.

The demonstration, held on Dec. 15, was organized by Liz Driver, the director and curator of Campbell House Museum, which sits across the street from Osgoode Hall.

Community members gather on grounds of Osgoode Hall to rail against Metrolinx’s plan to develop a corner of the property.

Community members gather on grounds of Osgoode Hall to rail against Metrolinx’s plan to develop a corner of the property.

“The Osgoode Garden is a significant heritage green space. The land is part of the traditional territory of many Indigenous nations, including the Mississaugas of the Credit [First Nation], the Anishinaabe, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat peoples,” she said to the crowd, noting that the Law Society of Ontario “acquired the property in 1828, almost 200 years ago, to build a school for our province’s lawyers.”

Driver explained that the “land was just outside the boundary of the town of York, and undeveloped.”

“From the beginning, the law society planned a park for recreation and exercise. This park along Queen Street has never been dug up or built upon. This is rare,” she emphasized, directing people to “look at all the concrete steel and glass around us.”

Driver emphasized that “Osgoode Garden is important for people and wildlife in the heart of downtown Toronto and beyond.”

“In the summer, it’s cooler and quiet because of the trees. In this year alone, 100 different bird species have been spotted in the Osgoode Garden. This is bird habitat and a migratory stopover,” she said, stressing that the “integrity of this significant heritage green space is threatened by Metrolinx’s plan to cut down Osgoode’s historic trees to excavate a large hole for the Ontario Line and to fill it with elevators and escalators, plus a station building.”

“The result,” she added, “is that no mature trees can ever grow here again.”

Driver noted that “last summer, the city commissioned a third-party review of Metrolinx’s plan for Osgoode Station.”

The review, she explained, will “consider the feasibility of moving the infrastructure into an expanded pedestrian area on University Avenue.”

Metrolinx erected a fence to block public access.

Metrolinx erected a fence to block public access.

Metrolinx “committed to respecting and co-operating with the third party review,” she asserted, noting that “despite this commitment, Metrolinx was going to cut down five trees on December the fifth” and “last Friday” the transit agency erected the fence “blocking public access.”

“Now, it’s important to note that the current fenced area is smaller than the area expropriated for construction and Metrolinx plans to cut down a total of 12 mature trees and another 12 younger trees,” she said.

Driver stressed that the “loss of the Osgoode trees will alter the quality of this heritage space forever.”

She firmly told the crowd that “no Metrolinx activity should take place in the Osgoode Garden until City Council receives and considers the third-party review.”

“No cutting down trees, no geotechnical drilling, no excavation … and remove the fence to allow public access until the location of Osgoode Station has been decided,” she concluded to cheers.

Ausma Malik, the city councillor for Ward 10- Spadina-Fort York, addressed the crowd as well, noting “we can be here on sunny days and also when it’s storming or raining; we are not going to stop on this fight.”

Malik noted that the Osgoode Hall property is “a cherished gathering place” as well as a “cherished green space in our city.”

“We heard loud and clear from people in our downtown … and from every corner of the city, that they share this view, and they share this commitment,” she said.

“When Metrolinx prepared to ignore their commitment to receive a third-party report to alternatives to destroying this green space and taking down these trees, when they decided to do that outside an agreed upon process, what did our communities do? We acted. We stood firm,” she stressed, noting that the community will “continue to hold firm.”

“Our ranks our growing,” she added. “This is a long-standing fight. And let me be absolutely clear today and as we move forward, that we can build transit and protect green spaces in our downtown communities.”

For months, legal organizations, such as the Federation of Ontario Law Associations (FOLA) and the Law Society of Ontario (LSO), have been raising concerns with Metrolinx’s plans to develop on Osgoode Hall’s grounds. On Dec. 2, the law society passed a motion opposing the expropriation of its property by Metrolinx for the development of the Ontario Line.

LSO CEO Diana Miles and bencher Jonathan Rosenthal at demonstration.

LSO CEO Diana Miles and bencher Jonathan Rosenthal at demonstration.

LSO CEO Diana Miles and bencher Jonathan Rosenthal attended the demonstration held just steps away from where the expropriation motion was passed.

“It was gratifying to see the community come together today in recognition of Osgoode Hall and its grounds and the important role it plays in the administration of justice and as a place of respite in our community — as green space, a heritage site and a gathering place,” said Miles.

“Like the law society’s board, the community sent a clear and unified message to Metrolinx: we need to come together and seek alternatives, so we can deliver much needed transit for the city while preserving this important community asset,” she added.

At the beginning of December, a Metrolinx spokesperson told The Lawyer’s Daily that its “technical teams considered six locations other than the Osgoode Hall property and concluded this is the option that provides the most benefits.”

“The northeast corner of University Avenue and Queen St. West is the only location that can accommodate the construction of Osgoode station. Land is required for the construction laydown and digging of a shaft that will allow for underground excavation and construction of this new large underground complex, while leaving room to ensure existing pedestrian, bicycle, transit and vehicle traffic continues to flow. We also need to ensure sufficient station space to handle expected passenger volumes, adherence to modern fire codes and accessibility standards, as well as ease of transfer to surface streetcars,” the spokesperson explained.

Photos by Amanda Jerome. 

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