“Stop Spadina!”: Women-Led Advocacy in Toronto’s Annex Neighbourhood

Society for the Study of Architecture in Canada (SSAC) Annual Conference, 2024
Meredith Stewart

The Annex neighbourhood in Toronto, Ontario has a long-held reputation for being a home for the upper echelon, a view perpetuated through the turn-of-the-century mansions that anchor its leafy streetscapes. Spadina Road, which runs through the centre of the Annex, has served as the site of several female-led initiatives within the past 50 years that have shaped the social and physical form of the neighbourhood. These important advocacy movements and moments of activism demonstrate that beyond the sprawling residences and ornamental stonework of the Annex is a narrative of social and cultural change directed by formidable women.

The thwarting of the Spadina Expressway had a major impact on the form and future of the neighbourhood. Led by Bobbi Speck and Lorraine Van Reit and supported by Jane Jacobs, a passionate community group successfully lobbied for the cancellation of a highway proposed to run directly through the Annex and dramatically alter the quiet, residential neighbourhood. Canada’s first formal shelter for abused women was established by a feminist collective, under the leadership of Lynne Zimmer, in a converted home on Spadina Road, where its operation was inconspicuous amongst the residential row. Under the leadership of Charlotte Mickie, a group of tenants living in Spadina Gardens, a rare and early apartment building in the city, petitioned to have the building heritage designated following its purchase by a developer with an insensitive approach to renovation. The resulting designation bylaw protects exterior and interior features of the apartments – preserving this uncommon building type within the rapidly changing city.

Focused on Spadina Road, this paper examines the interconnected relationship between female-driven advocacy and the built environment of the Annex, considering the ways in which women have used and shaped the built form within the neighbourhood to achieve social change and a stronger sense of community.