Out with the old — Forest Hill gets a facelift

Elderly couple in their new downtown condo. They immigrated in 1977 from Jamaica to a beautiful home in Forest Hill, where they lived for forty years. But Forest Hill is changing, and a new demographic is taking over.
This couple, who moved to Toronto in 1977 from Jamaica, recently downsized from a home in Forest Hill where they lived for 40 years to a condo in Yorkville. Forest Hill is changing, and a new demographic is taking over.

No need to hammer in a For Sale sign — a knock at the door did the trick.

Opening the door was a couple in their mid-70s, who had lived in their beige- and brown-speckled stone house in the heart of Forest Hill Village ever since they emigrated from Jamaica in 1977.

The Village in midtown Toronto has seen much growth as of late, and a trend had recently become clear, one seen in many of the city’s coveted neighbourhoods: Many homes are being rebuilt for young families.

Torn down

“Around 25 per cent to 30 per cent of the houses in Forest Hill have been torn down, especially in the last two years,” says Elise Stern, a broker with Harvey Kalles Real Estate.

Last March, the septuagenarian couple was approached by a couple in their 30s hoping to buy their beloved house. They had not been planning to sell — in fact, the pair, still spry and both working full time, were still very much young at heart and had not, like the bulk of their friends, made the decision to downsize.

After considerable discussion they decided to sell, jumping at the chance to skip the lengthy process of putting the house on the market, and avoid the expected stress.

It was time, the couple decided, to move into a condominium.

The Forest Hill Village was established in 1923 and annexed by the City of Toronto in 1967. Neighbourhood shops, restaurants, gas stations and a movie theatre popped up. Today the area is almost always bustling with activity, with three banks, two chain salad restaurants, four workout studios and three franchise coffee shops lining the streets.

Photo of Forest Hill Village, established in 1923. The Village includes neighborhood shops of all kinds.
Forest Hill Village, spanning Spadina Road and bordered by Cedarvale Ravine, Avenue Road, St.Clair Avenue and Briar Hill Ave., has more than 60 shops, restaurants and cafes. Many gravitate to the area for the small-town feel.

The bulk of the area’s homes, largely massive, many spanning 5,000 square feet, look like they could take up double lots. Many are perfect rectangles, made of large grey stones, with 10-foot-high ceilings inside.

‘Clear-cutting of Forest Hill’

Reports online about the history of the Forest Hill Village mention the demolition of several charming 1930s houses. The Globe and Mail characterized this phenomenon, the disappearance of historic homes, as the “clear-cutting” of Forest Hill.

“They are going to tear it down,” the 40-year homeowner said with certainty about her dear dwelling, the realities of the market today helping to keep her emotions in check.

Forest Hill, with its proximity to reputable schools, restaurants, the Allen Road, and its convenient midway point between downtown and the suburbs, is coveted by young families looking to settle down. And this can sometimes mean, to the disdain to some of the older folk in the neighbourhood, that the land is sometimes more desired than the home itself.

‘Modern convenience’

“They don’t want these older houses with character, they want modern convenience,” the former homeowner said.

The area continues to transition as century-old homes are scooped up by bulldozers and replaced by sterile rectangles with heated driveways.

In this instance, the young couple who bought the house from the septuagenarians hadn’t even seen the interior before knocking on the door offering to buy it.

“A client wants a specific area so you … literally knock on the homeowner’s door in the target area to see if they are selling,” Stern said. Essentially, they were buying the land and location.

There is an aspect of physical intimidation in door knocking and purposefully catching the homeowner off-guard with a life-altering proposition. But this old couple was ready.

Forty years ago, in 1977, they bought the beige- and brown-speckled house for $160,000.

This year, they sold it for upwards of $3 million.

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