John McKenzie House at 34 Parkview Ave around North York, this landmark building near Yonge Street, built in 1913 at the beginning of the growth of North York’s central business district, represents a preservation success story. The house has three floors, 12 rooms, three bathrooms, stained glass windows, electricity (rare at that time), and a wraparound veranda.
McKenzie built it on former family farmland. Milk houses, stables and coach houses were also located on the property. Together, he and Eva had five children. John McKenzie House is a two-storey red brick home, with gables and dormers, set back from the road behind mature trees.
John Mckenzie House features five bedrooms, four bathrooms; sunroom off kitchen; living room overlooking the front garden – perfect for entertaining guests or reading beside windows that look out over the pond to the treed backyard. A large wing on the left side of the house accommodates parents’ bedroom suite along with three children’s rooms (the only ones with ensuites), while a smaller addition at the right rear houses recreation room/guest quarters. Backyard also offers plenty of space for kids to play – a sandpit, swing set and garden area with raised vegetable beds.
In the late 1970s, after Eva’s death and with a mounting restoration bill that threatened to outstrip his resources, he made plans to sell. The house was designated by North York as an historic site in 2000. It had been listed on Toronto Preservation Board’s list of buildings at risk since 2001. In 2005 developer Howard Ginsburg offered to buy it for $650,000 but withdrew when residents near Parkview opposed the deal because they wanted him to preserve the home rather than tear it down.
A disrepair-stricken home, abandoned, boarded up and facing demolition in 1993, became the headquarters of the Ontario Historical Society. It was located in the same building as a condominium that was being replaced.
During his tenure as OHS executive director, Rob Leverty has learned a lot, including how to oversee a restoration. “Step by step, we restored the house and repaired the stable. The cast iron radiators had to be flushed and new boilers installed. It was restored in four stages: the main house, milk house, stable, and coach house.” No vandalism was sadly committed. Images from the beginning served as guides. New slate roofs were installed on the shingle roof that had become dilapidated.
To collect McKenzie grandchildren’s memories, Leverty contacted them. In 1913, McKenzie placed and order for a round multi-leaf table at Eaton’s.
With the help of neighbours and local Councillor John Filion, OHS got the demolition overturned, the house designated historic, and negotiated a 25-year lease with North York officials – difficult but necessary achievements. An extension of the lease was granted in 2018 for a ten-year period with the possibility of further extension. Municipalities are tasked with operating and maintenance costs, while OHS handles capital expenses. The McKenzies are pictured in the upstairs living room. On the second floor are offices and a library for OHS. Doors Open is open to the public.
The OHS spent $1,175,000 on restorations, annual maintenance, and operating costs from 1993-2017. “Volunteers devoted countless hours” to Leverty’s project, he says. A heritage conservation easement from the Ontario Heritage Trust protected the house and its land in perpetuity in 2013. The designation is significantly stronger than the heritage designation, Leverty points out.
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