Fifty years in the lives of Toronto homes
Today’s million-dollar properties once housed Toronto’s working class. It’s almost impossible to overstate the enormity of the shift. Over the past 50 years, homes in some parts of the city have shot up in value by almost 6,000 per cent. How did we get here? Let’s review.
135 Walmer Road
Imre Gero, hospital worker
Purchase price: $31,000 in February 1966
Gero was an employee at the now-defunct Workmen’s Compensation Hospital in North York. He bought 135 Walmer with his wife, Ilona, and—like so many Annex homeowners of the time—operated the property as a rooming house.
Therafields, therapeutic commune
Purchase price: $76,000 in June 1974
Therafields was an experimental psychotherapeutic commune founded by Lea Hindley-Smith, a woman with no therapeutic training, whose philosophy attracted poets, professors, students and other seekers. The organization owned approximately 20 homes in the Annex, including 135 Walmer, which it used as a shared residence for therapy groups. At one point, there were roughly 900 members, some of whom paid rent to live in Therafields-owned homes and share meals with other members.
Donald Evans, Professor, and Frances smith, teacher
Purchase price: $135,000 in December 1980
By the early 1980s, depressed home prices had reduced the value of Therafields’ real estate portfolio, exacerbating the organization’s financial problems and forcing it to sell off its holdings, including 135 Walmer. Evans and Smith weren’t a married couple, and they didn’t live in the house. It’s likely that they bought the property as an investment. In January 1982, they listed it for $219,000, but they dropped their asking price to $165,000.
Issie Lyon, policy analyst, and Carole Yellin, school psychologist
Purchase price: $160,000 in January 1983
The Lyons bought the house just before the murder of nine-year-old Sharin’ Morningstar Keenan shocked the neighbourhood. Their friends thought the area was dangerous, but the Lyons were smitten. They loved the tight-knit community and the annual Walmer Road block parties. “People became friends who are still friends today,” Issie recalls. “There were a lot of young couples with kids who scraped together enough money to get onto the street. We moved in right before prices got crazy.” Once their sons, Joshua and Matthew, grew up, the couple decided to downsize. In 2006, Issie gave the house to the boys, who sold it two years later.
Ted Betts, Lawyer, and Nathalie Foy, writer
Purchase price: $1.25 million in January 2008
Betts and Foy were living in Cabbagetown, but they wanted a change for their children, Griffin, Rowan and Gavin—all of whom were under seven at the time. By 2008, the Annex was a popular choice for upper-middle-class families. “We thought the neighbourhood would be safer for our kids to wander around as they got older,” Betts says now. As soon as the couple saw 135 Walmer, they had to have it. It was listed at $990,000, and they beat eight other bids with an offer of $1.25 million. This year, Foy helped organize the 30th anniversary edition of the annual street party that the Lyon family always attended. Approximate present-day price: $1.8 to $2 million
46 Rhyl Avenue
James Smith, warehouse worker
Purchase price: $11,800 in May 1956
Smith bought this two-storey, three-bedroom semi with his wife, Rita. They owned the house for the next 42 years.
Alan Redburn and Dale Forbes, real estate investors
Purchase price: $180,000 in August 1998
After James died in 1992, Rita stayed on for six more years. She sold the house to Redburn and Forbes, who renovated it for resale.
Darrell Cook, business executive
Purchase price: $242,000 in April 1999
Cook was renting another house in the area from Redburn when he opted to buy 46 Rhyl from him. “It was very quaint,” Cook says now, “and there were only four or five restaurants in the neighbourhood. It’s a lot busier now.” When he got married, he and his wife sold the place and left Toronto for Brooklin, Ontario.
Hollie shaw, journalist, and Matthew Syberg-Olsen, advertising executive
Purchase price: $331,000 in April 2003
Shaw and Syberg-Olsen bought the house, but they lived there for less than two years.
David Paton and Sherry Smeaton
Purchase price: $358,000 in December 2004
Eighteen months after the previous sale, when 46 Rhyl sold to Paton and Smeaton, the house had appreciated in value by $27,000.
Matt Faulknor, television producer, and Kristen Blackwell, artist
Purchase price: $385,000 in August 2006
Faulknor and Blackwell were outbid on several other properties before they found 46 Rhyl. The house is quite small, but they think living in a safe area where neighbours are friendly makes up for it. They have seen the once-secluded pocket become more lively in recent years as houses are sold and renovated into apartments. Approximate present-day price: $800,000
33 Second Street
Michael Gildea, streetcar driver, and Anne Gildea, phone operator
Purchase price: $26,500 in December 1968
The Gildeas were Irish immigrants. Their son, Kevin, remembers that the neighbourhood had a rough reputation when they lived there. What is now the Humber College Lakeshore campus was a psychiatric hospital, and most of the area’s residents were working-class immigrants. It was a big deal when a McDonald’s opened in the area. “We didn’t go for fast food before then,” Kevin says. “It was like we’d joined the 20th century.” When Kevin finished high school, he moved to Ottawa. In 1983, his parents sold the house and downsized to an apartment.
Manuel and Toni-Lynn De Medeiros
Purchase price: $92,800 in March 1983
The De Medeiroses owned the home for 13 years.
Daniel Piitz, printing company owner
Purchase price: $194,000 in March 1996
Piitz lived in the house for less than two years before moving into a condo closer to downtown. The neighbourhood was in a transitional phase. “There were nice places to walk the dog, but the area was a little rundown, and there were a lot of dollar stores. It was no Queen West,” he says.
Claudia Molina, events manager
Purchase price: $220,000 in January 1998
Molina shares the home with her daughter, Melina, who is 15, and their two dogs, Buddy and Mia. She rents out the basement for $950 a month to help with her mortgage payments. “When I first moved here, my daughter was one of the only kids in the neighbourhood,” she says. “Now there are a lot more families, and there are always people using the park.” With Humber College nearby, Lake Shore Boulevard has gained foot traffic and restaurants, and home prices have risen—but not as dramatically as in some other parts of the city. Second Street’s newest buyers are among the few in Toronto who are still paying six figures for a detached house. “I’m here at least until my daughter finishes college,” Molina says. Approximate present-day price: $900,000