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East York people, places, events & insights

EAST YORK ADVOCATE 018: The tale of the Bayview Ghost is a chilling municipal horror story

Long-time East Yorkers will still remember “The Bayview Ghost” but newcomers may not have even heard of it.

The Ghost, also known to some as “The White Elephant.” was a derelict apartment building which stood on the table lands south of Nesbitt Drive overlooking the Bayview Extension, where a subdivision of detached homes stands today. The tale of the Ghost began in 1953 when the developers purchased 28 acres of land mainly in the Don Valley. Shortly after, however, Metro Toronto expropriated 17 acres of the land in order to construct both the Don Valley Parkway and the Bayview Extension.

Six years later, in 1959, the developers applied to the Township of East York for a permit in order to construct two seven-storey apartment buildings on their remaining table land, which they intended to be the first phase of 11 similar buildings on that site. Ignoring a prior commitment to consult with the nearby East York residents of the Governor’s Bridge and Bennington Heights neighbourhoods before making any decision, the township council went ahead and rezoned the site for apartments without providing for municipal sewer services.



The building inspector then issued the permit —which later was alleged to have been done under duress from the Township Reeve. Once the building permit was issued however, construction began immediately and continued non-stop even under floodlights at night.

A storm of protests from the local residents caused the council to reverse itself by passing resolutions prohibiting sewer construction and revoking the building permit. That brought construction to a halt but not before the walls and floors of a seven-storey building had been erected.

Between 1960 and 1976, numerous unsuccessful attempts were made to bring down the Ghost structure.

The Township zoned the site for detached homes but the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB), unwilling to decide whether the building permit had been issued illegally, referred the matter to the courts on that very issue by way of a “stated case” —in which all parties had to agree on the facts in advance of a court hearing. Because the township, the developers and the residents could never agree on the facts, no courts ever heard the case.

Next, East York asked Metro Toronto to expropriate the property but Metro refused. Then East York —by now the Borough of East York— declared the Ghost to be an unsafe structure but the developers immediately repaired it. When the borough tried to file a claim against the Ghost for unpaid taxes, the developers promptly paid up in full.

The matter was finally brought to a head in 1979, when the borough obtained a special Act of the Ontario Legislature authorizing it to enter the site, tear down the Ghost and charge the demolition costs to the developers. After failing to have the courts block the borough from proceeding under this legislation, the developers went straight to the OMB with an entirely different plan: prior to the OMB hearing the developers made a deal with Metro Toronto to give up their still unpaid $1.7 million claim for the 17 acres Metro had expropriated back in 1953 in exchange for the right to build cloverleaf access from the site of the Ghost to the Bayview Extension.

At the OMB hearing that followed the developers presented an entirely new plan for 880 high rise and townhouse units. The borough, supported by the local residents, countered with a plan for a subdivision of 66 detached homes. Mysteriously, the Board —rather than choosing one of the two plans before it— pulled its own plan out of thin air and approved a 440-townhouse units development for the site.

The borough then appealed that strange decision to the Ontario provincial cabinet. With the enormous help of then MPPs Bob Elgie, Dennis Timbrell and Margaret Scrivener —all three of whom were provincial cabinet ministers— the Cabinet, which was also under the pressure of a provincial election campaign, overturned the OMB and approved the borough’s plan.

That brought the developers to the negotiating table. When I met with them in my capacity as Mayor of East York, they outlined two options: Either they could build according to the borough plan or wait and do nothing until I was no longer the Mayor then try again. They had been around for years before I was mayor, they said, and they would still be here long after I was gone. Finally however, we agreed on a “peace treaty” which provided for exactly what East York had asked for at the OMB: the demolition of the Ghost at the developer’s expense and the construction of a detached home subdivision.

In November 1981, the 22-year-old Ghost was finally demolished. But construction of the subdivision did not proceed for some time after the demolition, because access to the site under the approved plan required the construction of a bridge over a railroad right–of-way, the ownership of which was claimed by both the CPR (which had been using it under a 99-year lease from the old Ontario and Quebec Railway that was about to expire) and the OQR, which wanted to be declared owners in order to sell it to the CPR for a huge profit.

The case went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, which decided in favour of CPR. Shortly after that decision was handed down the bridge was approved and the houses were built. Today, where the Ghost stood for 22 years, there is a detached home subdivision in keeping with the character of the nearby neighbourhoods.


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