Thursday, April 22, 2010

Ormscliffe/Myrtle Villa Estate - SAVED

It is a little known secret that Mimico Beach’s greatest waterfront estate is still largely intact, hidden in a mid 20th century apartment complex along Lake Shore Blvd West. Early parts of the estate have sat there for over 100 years with significant additions made in the mid 1920s. Today however it is vulnerable, and potentially threatened, by the redevelopment contemplated as part of the Mimico 2020 planning initiative unless its architectural and historical significance is recognized by the city, and protected and preserved for the future through designation of the buildings under the Ontario Heritage Act.

Located on the grounds of Amedeo Garden Court apartment complex, the estate was founded in 1906 by Albert Benjamin Ormsby, owner of the AB Ormbsy Co. which manufactured metal work . In 1909 the architect Frederick Henry Herbert was retained to build a new residence on the property. Frederick Henry Herbert (1865-1914), was an English architect who established a solo practice in Toronto in the late 1800s. Many examples of his work are recognized on the City of Toronto’s heritage inventory.

When the new house was completed Ormsby made the estate his permanent residence (now 2523 Lake Shore Blvd W.).  Ormsby was a significant landowner in the Town of Mimico and a prominent business person and industrialist in the city of Toronto. He was a generous man and opened his estate to many community events.

Mrs. Ormsby was also a prominent person in her own right, involved in the forefront of women’s issues in the early 20th century. She was a leader in the temperance and suffrage movements for women in Canada and many critical meetings were held at Ormscliffe. Many famous women visited Ormscliffe. Nellie McClung spoke at Ormscliffe on September 14, 1915 , and in 1918 while in Toronto for a speaking engagement Mrs. Emmeline Pankhurst dined at Ormscliffe before her speech at Massey Hall the following day. After women received the vote in Ontario in 1917 Mrs. Ormsby would move on to other women’s issues as chair of the Ontario Women’s Citizens Association.

Ormsby had a love for horticulture and engaged Dunnington Grubb, one of Ontario's foremost landscape gardening and design firms, to undertake a master plan for the estate which was executed in 1917. The master plan included streams, ponds, bridges, a tea pavilion, garden furniture, and both formal and less formal gardens. A sign was posted at the gates of the estate welcoming all to walk in the gardens. Part of the garden has survived to the present day.

In addition to being a major Toronto industrialist Ormsby was also an entrepreneur in other fields. In 1920 he turned his hand to filmmaking when he began the Ormsby Film Corporation in California. The first film produced was the silent film "Neptune's Bride" which had its premiere at the Philharmonic Auditorium in Los Angeles on July 19, 1920 . However, this venture does not appear to have been successful as the company never made another film. He retired permanently to California in 1925. At first he was involved in real estate but later ventured into agriculture, purchasing thousands of acres to establish plantations of avocados and other sub-tropical fruits. He became a major packer and shipper of such products to the rest of the United States and Canada. He died in California in 1943 at the age of 81.

The second owner of the estate was James Franceschini, a prominent industrialist and member of Toronto society. Franceschini, purchased the estate in 1925 for $68,000. Franceschini was born in Pescara Italy in 1890 and came to Canada in 1906 as a poor immigrant. After working as a labourer for a number of years he became a contractor, founded Dufferin Construction and prospered. Upon taking procession of Ormscliffe, Franceschini would undertake a wholesale rebuilding of the estate adding many buildings and renovating the main house. These new structures included a multi-car garage with staff quarters above (present day 2539A and 2539B Lake Shore Blvd W.); a home for this brother Leonard (present day 2541 and 2541A Lake Shore Blvd W.); stables for his horses, show rings (both indoor and outdoor), housing for his staff as well as a central heating plant at a cost of $150,000 (now 5, 7 and 9 Douglas Blvd. + 2533 and 2535 Lake Shore Blvd. W.). The estate was renamed Myrtle Villa in honour of Franceschini’s only child. The initials “MV” were added to the wrought iron gates along the Lake Shore Road (now Lake Shore Blvd West). By 1939 he had one of the largest private horse stables and training facilities in the country. He bred winning hackney horses and ponies which won many awards from shows in Canada and the United States. (Many of his horses and ponies have been inducted into the Canadian Hackney Hall of Fame)

In 1940 however, James Franceschini was arrested by the RCMP as an enemy alien and transported to an internment camp in northern Ontario. All of his property was seized by the Custodian of Enemy Property, an office of the federal government, which began to sell off his assets for a fraction of their worth. In what can only be considered as a personal attack on Franceschini the Custodian of Enemy Property struck at Myrtle Villa selling his beloved show horses and the entire contents of his greenhouses. Suffering from cancer he was released in 1941 due to his poor health. After undergoing surgery in Toronto he began the process of rebuilding his business empire. A judicial inquiry would later lead to his complete exoneration. Franceschini retired to his country estate in Mont Tremblant in Quebec where he died on September 16, 1960 at the age of 70.

The Myrtle Villa estate was sold to Longo Construction for $125,000 in 1950 and developed into the Amedeo Garden Court Apartment complex retaining many of the historical features of the estate.

The significant heritage components of this estate however may be in danger if they are not given proper planning protection as part of the Mimico 2020 planning exercise currently being undertaken by the city of Toronto. In April 2009 the consulting firm Urban Strategies undertook a design charette over a 4 day period to examine ways to revitalize Mimico. In September 2009 the consultants presented their final report to city staff.

In the final report the former estate is included in “zone F” of the study which has been identified for “significant redevelopment and/or replacement potential”. What this means for the future of the significant heritage components of the estate is unknown. The Mimico 2020 report was considered at the Etobicoke-York Community Council meeting of October 13, 2009 and approved. The next step is to undertake the planning study to implement the changes recommended in the report.

In early 2010 I requested that the City of Toronto designate all remaining components of the estate under the Ontario Heritage Act.

On March 24, 2011, the April 1, 2011 Toronto Preservation Board agenda was posted and I am pleased to say that Heritage Preservation staff have recommended that all the historic buildings and landscaping features of the estate be designated under the Ontario Heritage Act

You can find the agenda posted here:

The item is: PB2.5 Lake Shore Boulevard West and Douglas Boulevard (Mimico Estates) ? Intention to Designate under Part IV, Section 29 of the Ontario Heritage Act (Ward 6) 

The specific report is here: 

The background report is here: 

Letters of support for the designation under the Ontario Heritage Act will be crucial as the recommendations travel from the Toronto Preservation Panel to Toronto City Council. 

Please send your letters of support (emails are fine) addressed to Robert Saunders, Chair Toronto Preservation Board and email them to Margaret Sexton the Board Secretary at

Please also copy Councillor Mark Grimes so he is aware.

Recommendation of Toronto Preservation Board - April 1, 2011

At its meeting of April 1, 2011 the local councillor Mark Grimes and the lawyer for Longo Properties Limited (the owner) requested that the Toronto Preservation Board defer consideration of the recommendation that the city declare its intent to designate the historic buildings and landscaping features under the Ontario Heritage Act until the Mimico 2020 planning exercise had concluded.  Councillor Grimes' submission is below:

In total there were 19 written submissions to the Board as well as several deputations.

You can read my written submission below:

The Toronto Preservation Board's decision was to approve the recommendation from Heritage Preservation Services staff that the city declare its intent to designate the historic buildings and landscaping features under the Ontario Heritage Act

You can view the discussion of the item below.  It is posted in four parts:

This recommendation will now proceed to full Toronto City Council on May 17, 2011 for consideration but only if it is adopted by Etobicoke-York Community Council on April 21, 2011.  

Etobicoke-York Community Council - April 21, 2011

The report from Heritage Preservation Services and the recommendation from the Toronto Preservation Board tracked to Etobicoke-York Community Council on April 21, 2011 for consideration. 

A copy of my written submission to the meeting is below:
Councillor Mark Grimes made the following referral motion at the Etobicoke-York Community Council meeting of April 21, 2011 which was adopted:

At the same time - Etobicoke-York Community Council also adopted the following item that was added to the agenda:

Mimico 20/20 Community - Formation of an Implementation Team:

I also wish to note that Councillor Peter Milczyn spoke on the historical and architectural importance of the site and did put forward a motion to adopt the recommendation from the Toronto Preservation Board.  However it became redundant once the referral motion by Councillor Mark Grimes was adopted.

Video of the meeting has been posted in 10 parts and can be viewed below:

Development Application:

The Longo Corporation that owns the Amedeo Garden Court Apartment Complex has made a development application to the City of Toronto.  The initial application was sent on April 1, 2011, most likely triggered by the consideration of the staff report recommending designation of the Ormsby/Franceschini estate buildings and landscaping elements under the Ontario Heritage Act which proceeded to the Toronto Preservation Panel that day.

The preliminary Toronto Planning Department Report on the application proceeded to the Etobicoke-York Community Council meeting of September 12, 2011 and was adopted.  It provides a preliminary look at the application and projected next steps.  The item can be found here:

The attached Planning Staff report provides a summary of the development application as follows:
  •  full replacement of all existing 396 rental housing units within 2 new 8 to 10-storey buildings;
  •  1,579 new condominium units over 3 to 5-storey base buildings and 6 new 20 to 44 storey buildings with a proposed Gross Floor Area of 165,412 square metres (i.e. amount of floor space they can build on the site);
  •  extensive underground parking facilities for 1845 spaces;
  •  a new public roadway system;
  •  extension of public parkland and waterfront access; and,
  •  devising an appropriate approach to the site’s identified heritage features (though none of the features appear on the site plan they submitted with their application).

This application will now work its way through the development review process and be reviewed concurrently with the overall Mimico 2020 plan.

What you can do

As the designation of the heritage buildings and landscaping features (Dunington-Grubb Garden, stone walls etc..) was referred, it is expected that the report will return to Etobicoke-York Community Council in early 2012 for consideration.  Letters of support for the designation of the buildings and landscaping features under the Ontario Heritage Act - helping to ensure their incorporation into the proposed development - can be sent to Etobicoke-York Community Council at any time.  

They will be held by the secretary of the committee until the item returns for consideration.  Letters/emails should be addressed to "Councillor Mark Grimes, Chair, and Members of Etobicoke-York Community Council" and emailed to the committee secretary at 

Please also send an email copy to Councillor Mark Grimes' office at, so he is aware, and to me at mimicohistory at

March 29 2012 Update

NOW Magazine has listed the estate as one of 15 architectural gems under threat in Toronto.  The list can be found here.

September 15, 2012 Update

The Longos are presenting a revised application to the Mimico Residents Association tonight.  From what I can gather from attendees the Longos are proposing to preserve the main house and garden in their current location but demolish everything else.  They have indicated that they intend to resubmit a revised development application soon.

March 21, 2013 Update

The Longos have put the Amedeo Garden Court Apartment Complex up for sale.  An ad appeared in the Globe and Mail today. Potential purchasers have a deadline of Thursday March 8th to submit their offers.

March 26, 2013 Update

After two years the city staff report declaring the city's intent to desginate the Ormsby/Franceschini estate (Mimico Estates) under the Ontario Heritage Act, is returning to Etobicoke York Community Council on April 6, 2013 for consideration.

The report was originally adopted by the Toronto Preservation Board on April 1, 2011 but then referred back to planning staff by Etobicoke York Community Council on April 21, 2011 pending completion of the Mimico By The Lake Secondary Plan.

Now, two years later the Mimico By the Lake Secondary Plan is complete and both it, and the report declaring the intent of the city to designation the Ormsby Franceschini estate under the Ontario Heritage Act is set for discussion at the Etobicoke York Community Council meeting of April 9, 2013.

The report can be found here:

Comments can be sent by clicking on "Submit Comments" on the top of the page.

The detailed staff report can be downloaded by clicking on the link at the bottom of the page.

The proposed Mimico By The Lake Secondary Plan can by found here:

It contains important heritage policies including those that deal specifically with the Ormsby/Franceschini estate.

April 9, 2013

Tonight Etobicoke-York Community Council deferred the item - along with the Mimico By The Lake Secondary Plan to the meeting of June 18, 2013.

May 17, 2013

The Longo family has sold the Amedeo Garden Court Apartment complex to CAPREIT.  In a news release from May 15, 2013 CAPREIT stated that they purchased the property for $56.2 million.  The news release goes on further to describe the potential redevelopment of the site.

May 29, 2013

I noticed last night that the new owners have put up a new sign for the apartment complex.  They are now calling it "The Mimico Estates" which is the same name that the city is calling it on the report seeking designation under the Ontario Heritage Act.  It seems encouraging that they are emulating the name that the city has used in the report (although they mistakenly indicate that it was the original name of the estate).  Only time will tell if they truly recognize the heritage assets and potential of the property by preserving the original estate buildings in their entirety and incorporating them into the redevelopment of the estate.

June 18, 2013

Today Etobicoke-York Community Council unanimously adopted the recommendation from Toronto Planning Staff that the city declare its intent to designate the estate buildings and heritage landscaping features (Dunington-Grubb designed garden and stone wall along Lake Shore Blvd. West) under the Ontario Heritage Act. This decision will now go to Toronto City Council for confirmation on July 16, 2013.

July 16, 2013

Today, Toronto City Council adopted the recommendation from Etobicoke-York Community Council to designate the "Mimico Estates" - Ormsby/Franceschini Estate under the Ontario Heritage Act.  The recommendation is that the city declare its intent to designate the property under the Act.  The next step is for the city to notify the owner, and issue a notice of the intent to designate the property under the Act.  If there are no appeals against the intent to designate the property during the appeal period (30 days) the City will bring forward the bylaw designating the property under the Ontario Heritage Act at a later date (usually a few months).  If there is an appeal then there will be a hearing before the Conservation Review Board.  The Board will hear evidence and issue a decision.  The decision is final.

December 2, 2013

Today I received notification that the bylaw designating the Ormsby-Franceschini Estate under the Ontario Heritage Act was passed by Toronto City Council on November 15, 2013.  This means that any work or alterations involving any of the elements described in the "Statement of Significance" require approval from the City of Toronto.   This is a great day for Mimico heritage, and the culmination of over two years of hard work and support from many individuals and organizations.  Well done everyone!

April 30, 2015

I was going by the property a few days ago and noticed that one of the historic gates, protected under the Ontario Heritage Act, had been removed and replaced in the stone wall along Lake Shore Blvd. West.  This troubling situation, was all the more surprising because there was another similar situation last year where CAPREIT, the new owners, began replacing the roof of the main house with inappropriate materials not in keeping with the designation of the building under the Ontario Heritage ActI was informed about that incident by a resident of the apartment complex and let Heritage Preservation Services at the City of Toronto know about it.  They told the owners to stop all work, and informed CAPREIT staff on site that any work on the components of the historic estate designated under the Ontario Heritage Act required approval from the city before any work was done.   You can therefore imagine my surprise that they appear to have done this again.  It also makes me wonder what else they may have done without permission from the City of Toronto to damage this historically significant property?  I immediately asked City of Toronto staff to investigate this apparent contravention of the respective city by-law, and wrote to Thomas Schwartz, President and CEO of CAPREIT to remind him of CAPREIT's obligations under the city by-law designating the historical estate under the Ontario Heritage Act, and CAPREIT's responsibility to protect and maintain the heritage features on the property.  I also requested that they let me know when they will be reinstalling the historic gate back into the wall along Lake Shore Blvd. West in order to be in compliance with the City of Toronto by-law and the Ontario Heritage Act.  I will provide more updates as they become available.

May 4, 2015

I received the following response from CAPREIT today:

 Please note that it is CAPREIT's intention to comply with the required by-laws under the Ontario Heritage Act.  Management is in contact with the by law officer to ensure that the replacement gate is in compliance with Act.

Staff of the City of Toronto's Heritage Preservation Services are on the case and I have full confidence that they will ensure proper compliance with the city by-law and the Ontario Heritage Act, including, I believe, reinstallation of the original gate back in its rightful place. 


  1. After reading about Ormscliffe/Myrtle in the Toronto Star last week, I visited the your site, and the physical site, this past Friday. The "staff housing" and the remnants of the gardens struck me as especially poignant. The following day, also in the Star, I happened to notice the obituary of James L. Franceschini (b. Mimico 1926) - possibly the nephew(?)of Myrtle Villa's unfortunate second owner? (Since you mention he had only one child (a daughter?) for whom the Villa was (re)named. Bravo and thanks for your superb work - I am enjoying all your entries.

  2. Hi Michael,

    I enjoyed you blog about Ormsby estate as I used to live in one of the apartments there as a kid.

    I was recently involved in a project for Sheridan nurseries 100 year anniversary at Canada Blooms and while going through archives my team found the original garden sketches and elevations for Ormsby Estate drawn by Dunnington Grubb. I thought you may be interested in adding this to you Ormsby estate entry as I know not many people have these, or are even aware that these drawings still exist (even Sheridan Nurseries did not know about them).

    I think these are beautiful drawings and a rare look at how great Orsmby estate used to look.

    Let me know if you are interested and I can forward the image to you.


    1. Hi Casey: I would love to see it. Please contact me at kikoamoki [at]

  3. Well the era of slate roofs is coming to an end. They started to pull and toss all that beautiful slate into a bin on the main house.
    My guess is just regular old asphalt shingles are going on.
    As a tenant of the property it is a sad then to see.
    The new owner's seem to just do things without thinking

  4. Thank you for this article! I live in this propert since 2000. I am blessed to have a suite on the lake.It is like being at the cottage all the time. Not sure when 2531 was built, looks like perhaps in the 50's. If you have any information about the waterfront building I will love to know. I was so relieved when the proposed rebuild went belly up! Also knowing it has herritage status is awsome. I have easily a 20 foot balcony and 5 large closets in my unit. I hear waves and see the moon while going to sleep! Also across the water a beautiful city view. It is perfect, worn but still perfect!