On a sunny morning in heritage neighbourhood Cabbagetown, Johnny Pearl is sweeping the walk in front of the home that he and business partner Russ Robertson restored and renovated. “I feel like I’m polishing up this lovely old diamond of a house,” he says.
Pearl and Robertson, of Cabbagetown Carpentry, bought the late-19th-century home, a 3,700-square-foot semi-detached (including a finished basement) in March, 2015. They re-designed the layout: four bedrooms, five bathrooms and two family rooms. And now, they beam with pride at their masterpiece that is now listed for sale at $ 2.15 million.
The home was built in the late 1800’s and it has provenance, once owned by a cork manufacturer and, according to Pearl, owned and lived in by generations of the same families. When the two men took over the property it had been partially renovated, with ceilings and walls partially torn out, a living room fireplace crumbling the interior in general disarray.
Pearl in his own career as a carpenter, plasterer and contractor, had actually worked on the house about 15 years and a couple of owners ago. “This home is original,” he says. “The owner at that time told me that it’s always been lived in by families and was never a rooming house. It had an extra kitchen on the second floor so that more than one generation could live in it.”
Whether the house, right in the heart of the well-known neighbourhood, can be considered a heritage or historical home is open to interpretation. David Pretlove, co-chair of the Cabbagetown Preservation Association, says terms like heritage and historical can be hard to categorically define. “In general, within the context of today’s Cabbagetown, the building stock dates from the periods 1885 to the 1930s, which incorporate different architectural time periods. Therefore the neighbourhood is referred to as a heritage neighbourhood.
In the Cabbagetown Heritage Conservation District, there are 2,500 homes — the majority of which are considered Victorian era, the architectural style popular during Queen Victoria’s reign from 1837 to 1901.
“The woodwork has been restored. We took all the pieces, set them aside for refinishing and used them again. You can see tiny imperfections here and there. Those are the special details that show a restored home,” he says. “Many of the walls and ceilings are plastered, not drywalled. I did a lot of the plastering and the finish-carpentry myself. Drywall gives a flat, sort of, effect that is very clinical. The plasterwork is part of this home’s heritage, the life it has.”
Restoring a home built in the late 1800s has its own set of challenges. One wall had a major “wow,” and century-old plaster had sagged. Solution? Remove the plaster, and expose the warmth of a brick wall. “That wall was constructed using an old-fashioned stacking technique,” Pearl notes. “The foundations of the home were solid . . . It was built to last.”
Visitors’ eyes are drawn to stunning plaster ceiling moulds and cornices. “The gentleman I hired for the plasterwork took out a grinder saw and cut into the ceiling,” Pearl says about having the pieces replaced. “I prayed he knew what he was doing. Then he got out an empty Corn Flakes box, turned it to the blank side and using a stubby lead pencil made a template. After that he said, ‘Goodbye, I’ll see you in a few weeks.’
“True to his word, he was back with the perfect re-creation. That man has bags of Venetian plaster he imported years ago and stores for his projects. That’s the sort of specialized work that goes into restoring a home like this.”
Restoring a home of this size and vintage costs about $ 500,000. Windows are specially built to work perfectly while fitting the Victorian style. The most expensive single job was updating the electrical work, with a complete rewiring and new 200-amp service, new meter and hydro line to the house, at a cost of about $ 30,000.
The plans/drawings for the home were done by hand instead of computer, with partner Robertson’s many contributions. “When we took them to the planning department at the city, the inspector said it was a pleasure to work with such beautiful drawings,” Pearl says.
“Every single detail was part of a joint process. We had wonderful times planning things and then seeing them look beautiful when they were finished,” he says of the results, ranging from the original stained glass fan light over the front door to the light-filled master suite.
Says Pearl: “This is a lovely diamond of a home, restored and ready to be part of more stories and new memories.”
Six in The 6
It has North America’s largest area of preserved Victorian-style homes, according to the Cabbagetown Preservation Association. By the late 19th century, the neighbourhood was home to Irish immigrants, who worked in the Corktown community to the south, and who grew the vegetable that became the community’s namesake. After the First World War, Cabbagetown deteriorated into a slum. Finally, in the 1970s, young professionals began moving in and refurbishing the historic homes that are a combination of mansions, rowhouses and cottages.
One of Toronto’s oldest “suburbs,” Rosedale is named for the flowers that once grew wild in the area. It’s built around three ravines and while included in the city’s heritage conservation districts, Rosedale is also one of the wealthiest neighbourhoods in the country: it was the home of Ken Thomson — Canada’s wealthiest man — before his death in 2006; Indigo founder and CEO Heather Reisman; and music legend Gordon Lightfoot. It features Victorian and Edwardian architecture, and styles from the early 20th century.
The neighbourhood, north of Davenport Rd. and west of Bathurst St., began as a community for artists in the late-19th century. Today it includes Wychwood Park, and Artscape Wychwood Barns — a former streetcar garage — that’s now includes a community centre, artists’ spaces, indoor and outdoor growing areas, a market and gallery. Architect Arthur Edwin Whatmough designed many of the neighbourhood’s early-1900s Arts and Crafts-style houses. The community received Ontario’s first residential heritage status designation, granted in 1985.
Founded in 1830 by entrepreneur Joseph Bloore (namesake of Bloor St.) the Village of Yorkville began as a residential suburb with Victorian homes on quiet residential streets. The 1960s lent the community a new buzz — literally — as the hippie hang-out and coffeehouse culture that spawned some of the country’s most noted musical talents, including Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Gordon Lightfoot and Murray McLauchlan, as well as then-underground literary figures such as Margaret Atwood, Gwendolyn MacEwen and Dennis Lee.
A working- and lower-middle-class neighbourhood in the late 1800s, this community developed a streetscape of houses with porches, stained glass windows and decorative “bargeboards” or fascia. Lippincott St., running north/south through the area and present-day Kensington Market, College St. and Bloor St., includes a selection of Victorian architecture. The street was part of the property of George Taylor Denison, a wealthy 1800s landowner who built his home, Bellevue, at the corner of Bellevue Square park, now the location of the Kiever synagogue.
Designated under the Ontario Heritage Act in the 1990s, the short stretch of 28 Victorian houses near Bathurst and Front Sts. was part of a 1,000-acre land parcel — including Fort York — set aside by lieutenant-governor John Graves Simcoe in 1794 for military use. The first homes, built in 1881, were those of railway lands workers. The late former lieutenant-governor Lincoln Alexander was born on the street in 1922. The street is named for Hon. William Henry Draper, who became an Upper Canada chief justice in 1863.