Cultural Landscape Heritage and Key Heritage Attributes Added to Designation

RICHMOND HILL – At its meeting on Monday, January 28, Richmond Hill Council stated that the Town will undertake any necessary process to amend the description of heritage attributes of the David Dunlap Observatory lands within the designation process to include additional heritage attributes. This means that, in addition to those already identified, more features of the property could be protected.

In October 2007, Richmond Hill Council passed a resolution that all historical buildings on the property be recommended for designation under the Ontario Heritage Act. The designation recognized the significance of the buildings and surrounding property and would provide the Town with the ability to protect them. At that time, Council also requested that a Cultural Heritage Landscape Assessment Study be prepared for the site. That report was completed by Cultural Heritage Consultant Andre Scheinman and recommends that, in addition to those features listed on the current designation, additional heritage attributes, including landscape features, be added.

Richmond Hill Mayor Dave Barrow said, “Council has been committed from day one to take whatever steps it can to protect the community’s interest. The consultant’s report and comprehensive inventory will give the Town a stronger tool that it can use to provide guidance to how changes can be managed and what should be protected if the property is subject to development in the future.”

In order for the designation to come into effect, a process must be followed: including the Town publicly stating its intent to designate; a 30-day public notice period where objections can be filed with the Conservation Review Board; followed by a Conservation Review Board Hearing and recommendation; and a final decision made by Richmond Hill Council. Two objections to the notice of intent have been filed and the Town awaits notice by the Conservation Review Board of the Hearing.

This amendment would mean that even more features of the property could be preserved. It is important to note that the designation does not mean that there would be no future development on the property, however, it does enable the Town to better manage the process and protect the identified heritage resources, as well as apply a sensitive approach to development activity.

The Town has already expressed its intention to consider bidding on Parcel B (the portions of the property where the Elvis Stojko Arena and Observatory Park are located). “We continue to reach out to other levels of government and actively pursue partners to purchase the property, however, we cannot do it on our own,” added the Mayor.

A copy of the staff report and presentation presented at the January 28, 2008 meeting can be found on the Town’s Website under the Meetings tab.


  • The land where the David Dunlap Observatory is located was donated in the 1930’s as a gift to the University of Toronto by Jessie Dunlap as a memorial to her husband David Dunlap.
  • Together with Mrs. Dunlap, the University of Toronto set three objectives for the project: astronomical research, the training of advanced students at the University of Toronto, and the fostering of public interest in astronomy.
  • The David Dunlap Observatory Lands are currently owned by the University of Toronto. The Observatory has been a centre for astronomical research in Canada since its opening in 1935. The Black Hole was discovered by an astronomer working at the David Dunlap Observatory in 1972.
  • In September 2007, the University of Toronto announced its intention to sell the David Dunlap Observatory lands.
  • On September 14, 2007, Council issued a statement that expressed their commitment to ensure that future uses of the property will benefit the community as a whole
  • At their meeting of September 24, 2007, Council passed a resolution and By-law (123-07) to recommend the David Dunlap Observatory at 123 Hillsview Drive, specifically the observatory, administration building, the outbuilding east of the administration building and the Alexander Marsh Residence (Elms Lea), for designation under the Ontario Heritage Act and to this end a notice of intent to designate was published in The Liberal (October 2007).
  • In November 2007, Andre Scheinman, Cultural Heritage Consultant was hired to complete an assessment on the cultural heritage value of the landscape portion of the property. This report supplements the heritage attributes described in the by-law (identifying the Caretaker’s residence and the radio shack as well as the administrative buildings and Alexander Marsh residence).
  • Those buildings on the property that are currently being considered for designation include the observatory, administration building and out building east of the observatory as well as the Alexander Marsh Residence for designation.
  • Two objections in response to the notice of intent to designate have been filed with the Conservation Review Board by the University of Toronto and the Richmond Hill Naturalists.
  • The Town is awaiting the Conservation Review Board Hearing.
  • A final decision will be made by Council after the Conservation Review Board’s hearing.
  • January 24, 2008, the Region of York endorsed the Town of Richmond Hill’s efforts to secure the culturally-significant David Dunlap Observatory, along with its land and buildings. York Region agreed with the Town’s assessment that the buildings have great cultural significance to the community, and the Region’s Significant Woodlands Study in 2005 identified 39 hectares of the property as significant woodlands and a natural heritage resource.
  • At its January 28, 2008, Council passed a motion requesting the University delay the closing and awarding of the Request for Proposal to allow for time for the Town and its residents to determine future uses of the property. The motion, made by the Mayor at the January 21 Committee of the Whole meeting, will be forwarded to representatives of the Provincial and Federal governments.