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  • Writer's pictureMaria Kestane

Residential development has potential to change Unionville Festival

As organizers gear up for this weekend's Unionville Festival, recent proposals for new developments jeopardize some historical landmarks on the street.

A historical barn located at 160 Main Street in Unionville is planned to be demolished and potentially reconstructed as part of a commercial and residential construction development. Photo credit: Maria Kestane.

Old Firehall Confectionery employee Yvette Addorisio said since she moved into Markham in the 1990s, the city she once called home has drastically changed.

And it appears more changes are coming.

“I was living in Markham since the '90s, and what I can say is that this is not the same place it used to be at all,” said Old Firehall Confectionery employee, Yvette Addorisio.

Addorisio raised her kids in Unionville and said that Main Street, which cuts through the heart of the historic town, has transformed over the past 30 years, mentioning the little cafes and other shops that used to reside along the street.Good quotes and interview.

Although new cafes and stores have developed over the years, the buildings themselves still remain the same ones that her family frequented, and that’s due to the town’s historical preservation.

Unionville was founded in 1794 and is one of Markham’s four heritage conservation districts.

Main Street, inaugurated in 1840, is a street that runs through the town, holding some of its most historic buildings, homes and businesses.

One of its earliest buildings, Davison’s Garage, was built in 1970 and has been passed on from one business owner to another throughout the past 50 years. It currently stands as one of the street’s most favoured family-owned pub restaurants, The Unionville Arms.

Its heritage and preservation of historical landmarks are what visitors and residents alike admire about the street.

Coupled with the street's community-building events such as the annual Unionville Festival that takes place every year during the first weekend of June.

This year's festival is set to take place from June 3 to 4, and feature local businesses and fun events such as a rubber duck race and a live musical performance by Johannes Linstead.

As organizers gear up for this weekend's festival, however, recent proposals for multiple construction developments within the street put those historical landmarks in jeopardy.

The development, led by Watford Group and KLM Planning Partners Inc., is set to take place in the area of 160, 162, 166, 170, 174, 182 and 186 Main St.

The project is divided into south and north sections. The south consists of a historical barn located at 160 Main St., and the north consists of the properties located at 162, 166, 170, 174, 182 and 186 Main St.

The properties within the north section consist of various restaurants and businesses, such as the Accountabill accounting office, Luna Beauty Spa, Old Firehall Confectionery, Blacksmith Bistro, Il Postino and more.

The south section's plans are to remove or relocate the barn and replace it with a four-storey, 10-unit residential building. The north sections plans include constructing a four-storey, 40-unit residential building, eight rental unit additions to the rear of 174 and 182 Main St., as well as demolish 186 Main St. and replace it a three-storey mixed-use building.

Both of these sections are directly within range of the Unionville Heritage Conservation District.

The Unionville Conservation District is one of Markham's four protected areas outlined under part V of the Ontario Heritage Act. A heritage conservation district is a geographically defined area within a municipality that is noted for its distinct heritage character.

Applications were submitted to the city and were deemed complete on Sept. 13, 2022. The 120-day period outlined in the Planning Act, which allows owners to appeal to the Ontario Land Tribunal for a non-decision ended on Jan. 12, 2023.

A public meeting with the city of Markham was held on Feb. 27, 2023, where Senior Heritage Planner, Peter Wokral along with Unionville Developments Inc. detailed their plans for the development.

Also in attendance was a representative from the Unionville Residents Association (URA), Joska Zerci, who spoke about the committee's concerns regarding affordable housing, sustainability, and the preservation of heritage on Main Street.

The building located at 186 Main St., is family-owned Italian-restaurant Il Postino, which, if approved, will be demolished.

Il Postino is not a contributing heritage site on the street. However, Zerci said it "is a hallmark for Main Street and is worthy of preserving." On behalf of the URA, he requested modifications to the development be made to ensure the protection of the restaurant.

Although Markham believes the development will preserve the “existing historic buildings onsite,” Executive Director of Unionville Business Improvement (BIA) Area, Sonia Chow, said nothing can be confirmed until “we have a clear picture from the town of Unionville and (those on) Main Street.”

Chow said Unionville is a growing community and, therefore, needs the extra development.

“The change is a very positive process for Unionville BIA,” she told Humber News. “We’ll try to preserve this historical district while also trying to develop a new community here.”

However, the change doesn’t come as welcoming for one of the co-owners of the Old Firehall Confectionery, Kim Murphy.

The dessert shop’s location may leave them vulnerable to the development’s demolition of certain buildings.

Murphy mentioned that herself and her co-founder, Natasha Usher, chose Main Street as the location for their flagship store because of its culturally-rich nature.

“We really have a thing for historic properties,” Murphy told Humber News.

“We like the look and feel of something heritage and we wanted something that wasn’t just situated in a plaza but something that you can have a full experience when you go to grab an ice cream,” she said.

Old Firehall Confectionery was once a firehall in the late 1800s, and would later go on to become a sporting goods store called Firehall Skis & Sports sometime in the 1900s.

The historic firehall now stands as Unionville’s go-to spot for ice cream and sweets, and also one of the most frequented businesses during the town’s annual Unionville Festival.

“Our hope is that our presence stays on the street because we are an iconic name, and probably one of the biggest crowd pleasers on the street,” Murphy said.

Timelines of the project are yet to be finalized, however concerns regarding the fate of the buildings and historical sites are nothing short of certainty.

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