In 1902, when Kew Williams built a cottage for his wife in present-day Kew Gardens, the newlyweds didn’t plan to have a lot of company.
More than 100 years later, what became Kew Gardener’s Cottage remains a park highlight, but its quaint design is now a problem for the many groups that use it for public events.
Parks staff have been forced to close the cottage to the public since it fails Ontario fire safety rules.
That means the Gardener’s Cottage can no longer be used for art shows, painting classes, seniors’ lunches or the annual Mother’s Day Tea.
Even Santa had to find another spot to park his sleigh and meet with Beach kids this year.
“We’ve known this was coming,” said James Dann, manager of Toronto’s waterfront parks.
Dann said Toronto Fire Services warned his staff just under a year ago that Kew Gardener’s Cottage fails the fire code for several reasons, including its lack of a fire escape.
The cottage also has no wheelchair-accessible washrooms, he said, which all public buildings are required to have by 2025.
On Monday, a team from the city’s capital projects group presented a draft plan to bring the Gardener’s Cottage up to code.
At a rough cost of $175,000, the draft plan called for a new stairwell, fire door and wheelchair-accessible washrooms, all within the relatively small footprint of the existing building.
But Dann said that draft plan was rejected by parks staff, community groups and Ward 32 Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon.
“It didn’t add any new capacity or improve the building,” he said, noting that the Monday meeting was the first in what will likely be a long process.
Dann said any plans to renovate the cottage are complicated by the fact that it is a heritage-listed building. Members of the Gardener’s Cottage advisory council are speaking with heritage architects, he said, noting that a final renovations plan will have to be approved by Heritage Toronto.
“It’s a heritage building for a reason,” he said. “It’s a spectacular Beach landmark.”
Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon agrees the Gardener’s Cottage is well worth preserving.
“It’s the jewel in the crown, really,” she said.
McMahon said she is looking to see whether park levies collected from area developers can be used to upgrade an existing park facility.
Community groups are also looking for grants to help make the cottage wheelchair accessible, she said.
“We want to animate the space for everyone,” she said. “We haven’t found the magic solution yet, but we’re looking for it.”
Jan Lyall is among the many people who would like to see public events back at the cottage. A former president of the Beaches Rotary Club, Lyall was part of the $75,000 interior renovation that the club organized for the cottage in 2005.
“I really hope they get this situation straightened out,” she said, adding that it’s sad to see such a beautiful piece of architecture sitting in the heart of a public park under used.
“There’s lots of things that cottage could be used for, and it’s just not,” she said.