Semi-Detached: Miss-matched houses show a neighbourhood’s changing ethnic makeup

ImageFor all the attention paid in recent years to the proliferation of soaring condo towers, it is easy to forget the importance of another of Toronto’s ubiquitous structures: the semi-detached and row house. Is it a poor cousin to the stand-alone home? Perhaps, but there is no shortage of home buyers willing to shell out many hundreds of thousands of dollars to live one thin wall away from their neighbours and put up with the ambient noise and clashing esthetics. In an ongoing series, the National Post looks at the semi, its challenges, its charms and its nightmares. They may be two sides of the same building, but they can be worlds apart.

On Monday afternoon, William Greer, who grew up in Toronto and is among the city’s most noted heritage architects (and has the groovy glasses to prove it) joined me for a stroll on Northcote Avenue. I was a little bit worried to hear his view of what has happened to this strip of historic homes.

Northcote has on it perhaps 100 dwellings — single houses, semi-detached houses and row houses — in close to 100 styles. One house, attached to a classic Victoria, boasts angel-brick glued on the front. One has a round picture window. Some have removed the gables, replaced the double-hung windows with aluminum windows that have small sliding openings at the bottom, and switched the wood front porch posts for wrought-iron pillars. Some have bricked-in or poured-concrete front lawns.

Mr. Greer chooses to view the overall results charitably.

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