The elimination of nearly 55 million, or 90 per cent, of Indigenous North Americans during European colonization led to global climate change and the “Little Ice Age” of the 17th century, a recent study finds.
Researchers at University College London found that the Great Dying — the massive loss of life that followed Christopher Columbus’ 1492 conquest of the Americas through genocide and the spread of disease — left roughly 56-million hectares of land abandoned.
The mass vacancy resulted in a sudden “terrestrial carbon uptake” when the land was reclaimed by nature.
Colonization of the Americas at the end of the 15th century killed so many people, it disturbed Earth’s climate, according to a new study by University College London.
According to the study, a spike in plant life was responsible for up to 67 per cent of a significant drop in carbon dioxide levels between 1520 and 1610. Carbon had been transferred from the atmosphere to the land surface through photosynthesis.
Previously cored Antarctic ice samples were investigated. Researchers observed that 7.4 petagrams — or 7-billion metric tonnes — of carbon had suddenly disappeared at that point in time.
Carbon absorption was greater in wet, tropical environments but still occurred in the drier, coniferous and deciduous forests of the U.S. and Canada.
“These changes show that the Great Dying of the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas is necessary for a parsimonious explanation of the anomalous decrease in atmospheric CO2 at that time and the resulting decline in global surface air temperatures,” the study said.
An undated painting shows Christopher Columbus arriving at one of the Caribbean islands on his voyage of discovery from the Naval Museum in Madrid, seen on May 19, 2006.
The Little Ice Age was a time period that saw winters in North America and Europe average approximately two degrees colder than the current era. Its coldest period is largely agreed by scientists to be between 1600 and 1800.
A difference of two degrees may not seem like much but, in fact, does make quite a difference to daily life.
“A 1-2 degree Celsius temperature drop would have a significant effect on winter weather around North America,” said Anthony Farnell, chief meteorologist at Global News. “Snow would arrive earlier in the fall and stick around longer in the spring. Borderline storms that now fall as rain or freezing rain would be more likely snow if it was just a couple degrees colder.”
Farnell went on to explain how an increase in snow compounded the situation in the 1600s.
“When there is more snow on the ground, the albedo of the earth’s surface increases which means more of the sun’s warming rays are reflected back into space. This then leads to even colder temperatures and more snow which is how a series of cold winters can snowball into a ‘little ice age.’”
The nearly 200-year cold stretch began to decline soon after the first Industrial Revolution began in the United Kingdom in 1760.
WATCH: How researchers determined 55 million killed after colonization
Global News questioned Koch over his team’s data — particularly the population figures. He explained they used a vast amount of data, previous studies and sources to draw their conclusion.
“[The numbers are] based on archaeological evidence, historical documentation and something like house counts,” Koch explained. “For later periods, we didn’t need to do that. We looked into taxation records and census data that was established by the colonizers.”
Those records became more and more robust over time, according to Koch.
Dr. Pamela Palmater is an outspoken Mi’kmaw citizen and faculty member at Ryerson University. She told Global News the population figures aren’t just important — they could change how Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission moves forward.
“This report substantiates what the chair of the TRC said that it wasn’t just cultural genocide that Canada committed, it was also physical and biological,” explained Palmater. “This kind of scientific hard data shows just how extensive the genocide was and that means something different for Truth and Reconciliation.“
The well-known activist added that she hopes the new scientific data will quiet some of the skeptics.
WATCH BELOW: Activist: ‘Someone’s got to account for this’ after study claims colonization sparked climate change
“One of the biggest struggles in our resistance, in our advocacy and even trying to get someone to talk about reconciliation is denial,” Palmater said. “It’s always a denial from the colonial, or settler, governments about what they did, limiting the harms and denying what the true extent and impact is.”
That impact, according to the study, may have been greater than previously thought.
Scott Thomas has waited 10 months to meet the man who caused the death of his son, Evan.
He got that chance Wednesday.
« It was the most exhilarating, exhausting, emotional 15 minutes of my life, » Thomas said in an interview with CBC News.
Semi truck driver Jaskirat Singh Sidhu has pleaded guilty to 16 counts of dangerous driving causing death and 13 counts of dangerous driving causing injury resulting from the Humboldt Broncos bus crash April 6.
His sentencing hearing is underway in a Melfort, Sask., gymnasium, held there to accommodate nearly 100 family and friends who gave victim impact statements over the first three days this week.
Broncos right-winger Evan Thomas was one of those killed. Scott Thomas and his wife gave an emotional statement in court Tuesday, speaking directly to Evan.
« Hi Son. It’s Dad. God, we miss you, » Thomas said. « Mom and I cry every day. We’re all just pretty messed up. »
Evan Thomas, 18, was among the 16 people killed in the crash. (Humboldt Broncos website)
Thomas also said that he’d like to forgive, but that’s something Sidhu will have to request in person. Thomas said he’d welcome the chance to meet Sidhu privately some day.
That day came sooner than expected. During the morning break Wednesday, Sidhu’s brother approached Thomas. He asked if Thomas would meet with Sidhu, and Thomas said yes.
Early in that afternoon, as soon as court adjourned for the day, Thomas walked into a small, private room off the gymnasium.
Sidhu, his brother and another older relative were waiting inside. They met for roughly 15 minutes.
Thomas told CBC News he preferred to not reveal the content of the conversation. He said they all took turns speaking, « but to be honest, it was more crying than anything. »
Thomas said he asked several specific questions. He said it ended with hugs.
« It’s something none of us will ever forget. It definitely was a good thing, » Thomas said.
He didn’t know if he’d ever get the chance to face Sidhu one on one, but « wasn’t surprised at all » by the offer Wednesday.
Sidhu pleaded guilty this month to 16 counts of dangerous driving causing death and 13 counts of dangerous driving causing bodily harm. (The Canadian Press)
« There’s a lot about this case that isn’t normal. »
Thomas said the focus is, rightly, on the 29 families whose loved ones were killed or injured, but everyone should also have some sympathy for Sidhu’s family.
« Families have been torn apart, » he said. « His family is devastated, too. »
With victim statements complete, lawyers are expected to deliver their final sentencing arguments Thursday. It’s unclear when Judge Inez Cardinal will issue her ruling.
A shrine to Evan is set up at the front of the room at the SaskTel Centre, below the stage on April 16, 2018. (Sarah Bridge/CBC)
The U.K. man whose « absolutely disgusting » drunken behaviour caused a WestJet flight to turn around and land back in Calgary must pay the airline $21,260.68 — the cost of the wasted fuel.
David Stephen Young, 44, pleaded guilty last week to charges under the Aeronautics Act and Criminal Code of failing to comply with safety instructions and resisting arrest.
« One has to feel some sympathy for the accused but as in all criminal legislation, it is trite to say that the voice of the victim must also be heard, » said provincial court Judge Brian Stevenson in delivering his sentencing decision.
The victims, Stevenson noted, include the flight crew, passengers, WestJet and its shareholders as well as the police and CBSA officers, who were also at the receiving end of Young’s tirade.
Young is an alcoholic but had been sober for 18 months until Jan. 4, when he consumed about six drinks while waiting to board his flight. The U.K. resident had been visiting his mother in B.C. over the holidays and was depressed because of a death in the family and a failed marriage, according to the facts of the case presented in court last week.
Once Young boarded a flight in Calgary bound for London, he became belligerent with flight crew and a fellow passenger, and repeatedly tried to get up during take-off to use the washroom.
About an hour into Young’s abusive behaviour, the decision was made to turn the plane around.
The pilot had to burn off and then dump 20,000 pounds of fuel in order to land safely, according to the facts of the case, read aloud in court last week by prosecutor Lori Ibrus.
Ibrus had requested a $65,000 restitution order but Stevenson said he didn’t want the court-ordered payment to bankrupt Young.
WestJet’s total losses — which include the cost of the fuel and compensation for its passengers — could be more than $200,000.
Week behind bars
In a written statement read by his lawyer last week, Young apologized for his behaviour and for the « damage and inconvenience » he caused to his fellow travellers.
Defence lawyer Michelle Parhar had sought a $5,000 to $8,000 restitution order for her client.
Young also spent one week at the Calgary Remand Centre before he was released on bail.
It will be very difficult for Young to ever enter Canada again, said Parhar.
Once Young returns to the U.K., « he’s essentially barred from entering Canada, barred from seeing his mother in B.C., » said Parhar.
Stevenson noted WestJet could make a civil claim against Young if it wanted to try to recover more of its losses.
The B.C. Oil and Gas Commission has blamed fracking for three earthquakes in northeastern B.C. last month.
The provincial regulator says the events 20 kilometres south of Fort St. John on Nov. 29 occurred because of fluid injections during hydraulic fracturing at a Canadian Natural Resources wellsite.
The events, which were felt but caused no surface damage, measured 3.4, 4.0 and 4.5 magnitude.
Fracking operations within the lower Montney formation, a major shale oil and gas resource near the B.C.-Alberta border, were suspended after the earthquakes and are to remain suspended at the multi-well pad, pending the results of a detailed technical review.
The commission says seven wells into the upper Montney formation had previously been drilled and completed by the Calgary-based company with no seismic events larger than magnitude 2.5 detected.
The immediate shutdown of operations is required when an induced seismic event in that region reaches or exceeds a 3.0 magnitude.
Hydraulic fracturing involves injecting water, sand and chemicals into a well under pressure to break up tight underground rock and free trapped oil and gas.
Teresa Michelle Gratton’s first dose of methadone should have been no more than 10 milligrams.
But the medical staff inside the maximum-security jail where Gratton was being held indefinitely as an immigration detainee started her at 30 milligrams.
That’s what caused her death.
Gratton died of “acute methadone intoxication in the setting of ischemic heart disease,” according to the coroner’s report, which was given to the Star by Gratton’s husband.
Provincial guidelines for methadone treatment say someone in Gratton’s position should have received a much lower dose than she did. The coroner states in his report that other factors may have contributed to her death, including Gratton’s pre-existing high blood pressure. She ultimately died of a heart attack in hospital. Three doctors who reviewed the coroner’s report for the Star say it’s clear she died of a methadone overdose.
Gratton, a U.S. citizen and permanent resident of Canada who lived in London, Ont., was not serving a criminal sentence or awaiting trial, though she was treated the same as those who were. She had been sent to a maximum-security jail because the Canada Border Services Agency was contemplating deporting her and feared she would not show up for her deportation if it were ordered. The agency based its decision on Gratton’s criminal convictions from 2013, for which she was sentenced to six months of house arrest. Some have argued she should not have been detained in the first place.
The 50-year-old grandmother was found unresponsive in her cell at the Vanier Centre for Women in Milton just after midnight on Oct. 30, 2017. About 40 hours earlier she was given her first dose of methadone, a long-acting opioid often used to treat addiction to shorter-acting opioids. Gratton had depended on prescription painkillers for many years, but the jail’s medical staff was trying to wean her off them. She received her second dose of methadone the morning before she died.
“I suspect if the physician who prescribed this could do it over again, he or she would start on a lower dose,” said Dr. David Juurlink, a medical toxicologist and senior scientist at the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences, and one of three opioid-specializing doctors who reviewed Gratton’s coroner’s report at the Star’s request. All agreed she should have been started on a lower dose of methadone or a different drug altogether.
Gratton’s death was ruled accidental. A coroner’s inquest has been ordered but has not been scheduled.
The Star first reported on Gratton’s case last December, and again in March when two women who were incarcerated with Gratton came forward to raise concerns about her treatment in the jail. But this is the first time her official cause of death has been reported.
Herb Gratton, Teresa’s husband and partner of more than 30 years, said he is frustrated and angry, but he mostly just misses his wife. “The system had her,” he said in a recent interview. “They were supposed to be responsible.”
Herb, who is a Canadian citizen from the Caldwell First Nation, says this time of year is particularly difficult. His wife was the one who organized the family get-togethers and did most of the cooking.
“Christmas does not seem like Christmas,” he said. “I can’t find a reason to celebrate. I have my children, my grandchildren. But there’s a void. No matter who’s around or what’s around, I can’t fill it, you know?”
A mother of three who had lived in Canada since 2003, Teresa Gratton suffered from osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia, a long-term condition of the central nervous system that causes widespread pain. She relied on the opioid hydromorphone and was prescribed a high daily dose by her doctor months before she was incarcerated. When she couldn’t get her opioids from a doctor she got them on the street, her husband said. A month before her death she pleaded guilty to forging her doctor’s signature in an attempt to get an extended supply of hydromorphone. She also took several other prescribed medications, including ones for anxiety and depression.
The jail’s medical staff decided Gratton should not be on opioids. The coroner’s report references a physician’s note in Gratton’s medical file that reads: “SUD (substance use disorder), I agree, no indication for long-term opioid therapy.”
First they cut her dose by more than half. A week later they tapered her dose further and then withdrew her opioids completely for 10 days before giving Gratton her first dose of methadone.
Thirty milligrams, the amount Gratton received in each of her two doses, is the maximum starting dose for methadone treatment, according to guidelines published by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario. However, the guidelines state that if a patient has been “recently abstinent from opioids,” as Gratton was, the maximum starting dose should be no more than 10 milligrams. The guidelines do not specify how many days qualify as recent abstinence, but they do say that patients who have not used opioids “even for a few days” are at a higher risk of overdose.
The guidelines also state that patients who are also on benzodiazepines or any sedating drugs, as Gratton was, should be considered at a “higher risk for methadone toxicity” and therefore should be given a lower starting dose.
Two doctors, Dr. Abraham Shedletzky and Dr. Laura Middlestadt, are among the medical staff who work inside the jail. It’s not clear who oversaw Gratton’s treatment or if either doctor administered the methadone. The coroner’s report doesn’t name any doctor as being responsible for Gratton’s treatment. Middlestadt declined to comment for this story. Shedletzky did not respond to multiple interview requests.
Juurlink said he didn’t understand why the jail’s medical staff, even if they believed Gratton should be on a lower dose of opioids, would have tapered her off the drugs entirely. “Her brain and body would have become accustomed to that amount of hydromorphone,” he said. “She would have been physically dependent on it, and when you take it away people get horribly sick.” Tapering should be done slowly and generally with the patient’s consent, he added.
Even if there were compelling reasons to reduce Gratton’s opioid dose and replace it with methadone, Juurlink said someone in Gratton’s position shouldn’t be off opioids for as long as she was. “That’s 10 days of putting this patient through hell.”
“I’d rather be dead than to keep going through this pain,” she wrote in one letter. “These doctors … think I don’t need to be on any of my narcotics. If something bad should happen to me please sue the hell out of them.”
The coroner’s report says that Gratton filed a complaint to the Office of the Ombudsman of Ontario regarding the reduction of her opioids by the jail’s medical staff. A spokesperson for the ombudsman said that for confidentiality reasons she could not confirm whether a complaint had been filed.
Juurlink also pointed to Gratton’s concurrent use of clonazepam, which she took to treat panic attacks, as a reason she should have been started on a much lower dose of methadone. Clonazepam belongs to the benzodiazepine class of drugs. It is a tranquilizer that, when combined with methadone, increases the risk of overdose.
“You have a one-plus-one-equals-five kind of effect,” Juurlink said. “They’re both depressants of the central nervous system and it’s really quite dangerous to combine opioids with drugs like that, especially for a patient who, for all intents and purposes, is opioid naive.” Juurlink said Gratton would have lost whatever opioid tolerance she might have had during her 10 days without the drug.
A spokesperson for Ontario’s Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, which is responsible for provincial jails, said no one from the ministry would be interviewed for this story. They also declined to answer specific questions about Gratton’s case, citing the pending inquest.
The spokesperson provided a written statement, which reads, in part: “Decisions about health care matters are between inmates and medical staff. The ministry does not interfere with medical decisions or direct medical professionals.”
Dr. Ramesh Zacharias, the coroner, writes in his report that it’s unclear whether Gratton should be considered “a completely naive user in the context of methadone maintenance therapy.” Zacharias notes that although Gratton had not consumed opioids for 10 days before her first dose of methadone, “prior to that period she was a longtime user and abuser of hydromorphone.”
Dr. Meldon Kahan, medical director of the Substance Use Service at Women’s College Hospital, said it is “unusual” for just two doses of 30 milligrams of methadone to cause death. However, given Gratton’s recent abstinence from opioids and the fact she was on other sedating medications it “might have been more prudent” to start her on a different drug or a lower dose.
Kahan said it would have been better for the jail’s medical staff to prescribe buprenorphine, another long-acting opioid used to treat addiction, rather than methadone.
“It’s much safer than methadone,” he said. “It’s much safer than simply stopping the opioid, and it’s much safer than keeping them on the opioid that they’re already on.”
A ministry spokesman refused to say whether buprenorphine was available to doctors inside the jail.
Gratton died after suffering a heart attack in hospital roughly nine hours after she was found unresponsive in her cell. Zacharias writes in his report that he couldn’t attribute methadone intoxication as the sole cause of death because of uncertainties around Gratton’s tolerance, his inability to determine the peak concentrations of methadone in her blood when she lost consciousness, and because her body did not immediately respond to naloxone — a drug that can reverse the effects of opioids — when it was administered by paramedics. It’s not clear for how long Gratton had been unconscious when her cellmate, who had been sleeping, alerted jail guards.
Zacharias also notes that a methadone overdose can itself increase the risk of a heart attack.
The doctors who reviewed the report for the Star said it’s clear an overdose of methadone was the cause of death, whether or not she suffered other heart complications. Juurlink said that the vomiting and diarrhea Gratton experienced during her withdrawal would have left her with lower potassium and magnesium, which would have “amplified” the effects of methadone on her heart. “Methadone can kill you in more than one way,” he said.
Besides how she died, there are also questions about why Gratton was detained in the first place and why she was held in a maximum-security jail — questions that could be raised as part of the inquest.
The CBSA’s grounds for stripping her permanent residency were for “serious criminality,” which is defined in part as any conviction that leads to a “term of imprisonment” of more than six months.
Gratton came to be in police custody in September 2017 after she was arrested for shoplifting at Walmart, but the CBSA’s finding of “serious criminality” was related to convictions from 2013, when she pleaded guilty to forging a former employer’s signature on cheques for amounts ranging from $100 to $250. (Gratton admitted forging the signatures, but she believed the man owed her the money for house cleaning, according to a court transcript.) She also pleaded guilty to unlawfully being in the man’s house, although she did not break in. She was given a nine-month conditional sentence, which included six months of house arrest but no jail time.
The CBSA interpreted Gratton’s conditional sentence as a “term of imprisonment” of more than six months, meaning she would have no right to appeal her deportation. On Oct. 19, 2017 — 11 days before Gratton died — the Supreme Court of Canada struck down such interpretations, ruling it was unreasonable for immigration authorities to equate conditional sentences, such as house arrest, with jail time.
Immigration authorities have also not clarified why Gratton, who was not considered a danger to the public and had no history of violence, was classified as a “high-risk” detainee and sent to a maximum-security jail. By the CBSA’s own policies her minimal, non-violent criminal record should have made her eligible for the Immigration Holding Centre, a far less restrictive facility.
A CBSA spokesperson has said the agency decided maximum-security jail was a “better choice” for Gratton due to “various case-specific factors.” The spokesman would not explain the factors that led to their decision, citing a need to protect Gratton’s privacy.
The location of detention for immigration detainees is decided solely by the CBSA and not subject to any external oversight.
Brendan Kennedy is a Toronto-based investigative reporter. Follow him on Twitter: @BKennedyStar
Chronic understaffing, long wait times, and chaotic case management at Ontario’s workers’ compensation board are putting vulnerable accident victims at risk, compromising the integrity of the provincial compensation system, and jeopardizing financial accountability, according to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board’s own employees.
Staff made the criticisms in response to a September blog post by WSIB president Tom Teahen, which solicited feedback on whether the board was making Ontario a safer place to work, improving recovery for injured workers, meeting customers’ needs and acting in a financially responsible manner.
On all four counts, the 60 responses obtained by the Star through a Freedom of Information request, show the answer was overwhelmingly no.
“Accident rates are going up while resolutions to (injured worker) claims are going down,” said one employee. “There are not enough people to process work and queues keep piling up, while people that are disabled from a workplace injury are waiting for someone to get back to them. I find that embarrassing.”
In another post, an employee complained they were “frustrated” by delays faced by injured workers calling the board for help, some of whom have post-traumatic stress disorder. The employee said call wait times could sometimes mount to 20 minutes — enough time for “somebody to give up and take their own life.”
“It is not unheard of that clients complain of waiting in excess of 30 minutes to reach the right person,” said another. “If you can’t help an injured worker who’s (sic) literal livelihood depends on the WSIB within a reasonable time frame, that’s an incredible shortfall.”
The September blog post came in the wake of a new service delivery model — rolled out in July at the board — which aims to make the compensation claim process more effective and “help people recover and return to work quicker.” The change came in response to rising claim duration and recovery times.
Under the new model, injury claims no longer have a dedicated case manager. Instead, callers go into a general pool and are triaged based on the complexity of the case. The idea is that complex claims get more focused attention from experienced staff, while uncontentious claims are processed more efficiently.
WSIB chief operating officer Brian Jarvis said in an interview with the Star last week that the new model experienced some early “bumps on the road,” but said statistics already show 95 per cent of injured workers are now receiving compensation decisions within 10 days, up from 89 per cent in May, and that 60 per cent were back on the job in days, up from 51 per cent.
“We’re trying to help the injured workers that come to us every day who need our help and need our support and we’re seeing examples of how we’re doing better recently than we were prior to making these changes,” he said.
“The improvements were really designed to get the right people getting the right claims at the right time,” he added, noting other positive new changes included giving workers an option to upload documents electronically rather than using fax or mail.
In response to Teahen’s September blog, some board employees expressed skepticism.
“I beg you to look beyond the stats to ask questions about what is not being captured,” said one. “To really listen to what many of us are saying to you on this blog and realize the system is putting some of these workers at risk of being lost within the system.”
Statistics obtained by the Star through its Freedom of Information request, which also sought all records pertaining to the new service delivery model, show average call wait times were up from 39 seconds in 2017 to almost two-and-a-half minutes in 2018. Jarvis said wait times are now under two minutes “on most days.”
Numerous employees complained that losing ownership over claim files meant they had to start from scratch each time an injured worker or an employer called them.
“As all of our telephone conversations are recorded, there is no reason senior management would not (be) able to hear the stress, fear, anger and uncertainty that front-line staff hear every day,” said one employee.
“I continue to see obscenely long claims durations (which, of course, is not financially responsible) and an inability to attend to every claim to provide the service each worker, employer or provider deserve.”
“Please do not add further chaos to an already broken model,” said another.
While numerous employees said there was a need for change at the board, the vast majority raised significant concerns about the new approach — and more importantly, the lack of staff available to make it work.
Staff are “burning out due to the unmanageable caseloads yet we are being told to ‘do more with less.’ Not sure how that is humanly possible, ” said one employee, while another called the number of empty desks due to stress leave “staggering.”
“This work environment not only adds undue stress, it is teetering on compromising my professional standards, which I am not OK with,” added one registered nurse at the board.
The records obtained by the Star show that there has been a 33 per cent increase in allowed lost-time injury claims between 2015 and 2018, from 51,500 to almost 70,000 projected claims this year. But despite this increased volume, the number of front-line staff at the board fell by 9 per cent over the same period. There are currently 785 case managers and adjudicators at the board, down from 815 in 2015.
“We are drowning,” said one employee in response to Teahen’s blog.
Harry Goslin, president of the Ontario Compensation Employees Union, said he has “continued to raise concerns about rising work volumes.”
“The WSIB on the other hand maintains the view that there is not a workload problem,” he told the Star.
As previously reported by the Star, a January poll conducted by the union found that 90 per cent of the 263 employees surveyed said work-related stress was impacting their personal lives and 92 per cent attributed the workload issues to understaffing at the WSIB.
Asked if the board would commit to hiring more front-line staff, Jarvis said his organization would replace staff who retired or were moved within the organization, but said hiring was “based on the data that shows how much activities and claims we have.”
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Employees made clear in their responses to Teahen’s blog that they cared deeply about serving Ontarians and the integrity of the compensation system.
“Our founding father created a fair compensation system whereby workers gave up their right to sue their employers in exchange for a fair and compassionate system that adjudicated (a claim) on the basis of its own merit,” said one 30-year veteran.
“How can adjudicators make the best possible decisions if they are short-changed in training, do not have enough people to do the job, have unreasonable time frames, and have processes in place that short-change the worker?”
“We as the employees of WSIB do care about the outcomes for our workers and the experience they have,” added another.
“We want to be proud of where we work and say what good things we are doing. Right now I am not feeling that.”
Sara Mojtehedzadeh is a Toronto-based reporter covering labour issues. Follow her on Twitter: @saramojtehedz
One of Toronto’s quirkiest homes, the angular blue property at 1 Bond Ave. that made waves in cookie-cutter Don Mills when it was built in the late ’90s, is on the market.
The house, along with its fraternal twin property at 3 Bond Ave., drew the chagrin of neighbours when it was built at the turn of the millennium.
“People here are very used to the brick and if you don’t have an asphalt roof and brown brick they think you’re crazy,” recalls architect Zak Ghanim. “Their eyes are used to that.”
Real estate agent Nick Bernhard, “was looking for something really very funky” says Ghanim who was hired by Bernhard to design both properties off Leslie St. between Lawrence Ave E. and York Mills Rd.
Ghanim, who was born in Egypt, was inspired by the colours found in that country’s architecture, unlike the Canadian suburbs where it’s all “beige, beigey beige, beigey grey, and grey beige.”
He wanted to do something “non-traditional” with the wood, concrete and stucco homes “rather than just follow the same stream, whatever you see around you, copy and paste.”
But there was “big opposition in the community for the design and shape.”
It took a long time to get the plans approved by the then North York’s building department. City inspectors doubted the homes could even be built and dropped in on construction just to double check, the Star reported in 1997.
In a 1998 Canadian Press article, one neighbour compared it to “Disneyland going up on the corner.”
“People were swearing at me,” Ghanim recalls with a laugh.
However, once the homes were built, they slowly came around, he said — even when they were painted bold shades of blue and yellow.
“They thought that this would destroy their community. Meanwhile, once it was finished I got so many offers,” Ghanim said.
All the media attention at the time didn’t hurt.
The property at 1 Bond Ave., which has since been painted a softer shade of blue, has been on the market since September and is priced at $2,950,000.
Realtor Marco Chiappeta says there’s “nothing quite like” the 3,800 square feet, four-bedroom five-bath home, calling it “an aspirational property,” that’s “iconic for Toronto.”
“There’s no straight walls in the home, it’s all curved walls, angled and everything, but it’s extremely functional,” he said.
Chiappeta notes the “in-law suite” or office in the basement has a separate entrance, and that hedges and perennial gardens give the lot “maximum privacy.”
It includes eight parking spaces and, just in case you don’t own a car, there’s a bus stop right outside.
Another of Toronto’s most architecturally distinct homes, the green cubes at Don Valley Parkway and 1 Sumach St. sold for condo redevelopment over the summer. The Star reported in August tenants were told to relocate and that the structures would be dismantled and possibly auctioned off. They were built in the style of Dutch architect Piet Blom’s Rotterdam cube homes in 1996.
But despite the few months on the market, Chiappeta, a realtor with Sotheby’s International Realty, said he doesn’t think there will be any trouble finding the right buyer for 1 Bond Ave.
The naysayers speak “more toward the consumer in the ’90s where the market was catered more toward the more cookie-cutter subdivision kind of homes,” he said, adding the house is ideal for “somebody with an imagination, with a creative spark.”
Owner Gabriel Talasman, who purchased 1 Bond — the larger of the two properties — from Bernhard in 2005, reassures potential buyers that “inside it is very ‘normal.’ ’’
“It’s not with slanted floors or walls that are hitting you over the head,” he said.
Talasman, a retired architect, has always appreciated the non-conformist design but “respects” it might not be to everyone’s tastes.
He and his wife are selling because they’re now empty-nesters and looking to downsize.
But, he admits, “it’s a hard act to follow.”
Over the years curious onlookers have stop by to take pictures. A few have even asked for a tour.
“People think it’s a museum or a Russian church.”
May Warren is a breaking news reporter based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @maywarren11