Restoring and Rebuilding the John McKenzie House

Restoring and Rebuilding the John McKenzie House

Organization: The Ontario Historical Society

Province: ON

City: North York



Twitter: @ontariohistory

About This Project Idea

For over 25 years, the Ontario Historical Society (OHS) has worked to restore, maintain, and protect this provincial heritage landmark, located in Willowdale, Ontario. Since saving the John McKenzie House from demolition in 1992, the OHS has invested over $1.18M toward its restoration.

Community members and local groups have come to rely on this stunning, three-storey Edwardian home as a place to meet, connect, and host a variety of community events.

We need your help to continue the process! A heritage restoration of the kitchen and the ground-level hardwood flooring is just one of several projects that would serve to restore the heritage character of the house, while also increasing on-site accessibility for all community members. The OHS has already secured half the funding needed for these projects and we need your help in raising the rest.


“This house is a cause célèbre in Willowdale. {…} In the early 1990s, there were plans to actually tear down this beautiful, beautiful building, but thanks to the leadership shown by (Councillor) John Fillion and by members of the Ontario Historical Society, the demolition was prevented. I think we all benefit from having it right here in Willowdale.”

-Ali Ehsassi, Member of Parliament for Willowdale

Community Impact

Since the construction of John McKenzie House in 1913, Willowdale has changed dramatically. Over the past forty years, the area has undergone constant demolition and redevelopment as property values have skyrocketed. Few buildings of heritage significance remain, and each year more and more pre-war houses are torn down to make way for new stucco-clad monster homes and condominiums.

John McKenzie House stands as a rare example of heritage preservation in the area. More importantly, it has become one of the few open community spaces for public meeting in the neighbourhood. It is important that we continue to ensure its preservation as a heritage site, but also improve its functionality. Heritage buildings that do not adapt to accommodate the communities around them are in greater jeopardy. The OHS wants all Willowdale residents to be able to enjoy and use this building year-round. These restoration and renovation projects will help preserve and revitalize John McKenzie House for future generations.

About this place

In 1884, John’s father, Phillip McKenzie, moved to Willowdale and established a 144 acre grain and cattle farm, stretching from Yonge Street to Bayview Avenue, and from Norton to Parkview. When his father died, John McKenzie took over the farm and continued raising Holstein Cattle until the city began to encircle the farm in the early 20th century. An astute businessman, John McKenzie saw a great opportunity at hand and opted to sell the farm, creating the Empress Subdivision. He and his brother established the Kingsdale Building Company and began selling construction materials to the new residents buying plots on his former farm land. John used the profits to build an extravagant new home for his family of seven.

The John McKenzie House is a three-storey home combining a few different architectural styles, including Edwardian, Arts and Crafts, and Queen Anne Revival. It has twelve bedrooms, four bathrooms, and several fireplaces. White Oak wainscoting, coffered ceilings, stained-glass windows, a wrap-around verandah with stylized doric columns, and twenty-four decorative iron radiators are just a few of the stunning features found throughout the house.

The building was incredibly advanced for its time, having been wired for electricity before the electric grid had even reached Willowdale. Until the creation of North York and the addition of an electrical grid in 1922, the McKenzie family obtained electricity from the Metropolitan Street Railway, which ran along Yonge Street.

Significantly, the property’s outbuildings (including the farm’s milk house) have been preserved in their original locations. It is incredibly rare to find farmhouse outbuildings unmoved and in their original condition within an urban area. Their preservation has been a major accomplishment.

Why Give?

Your donations will be used to restore and upgrade a beautiful heritage building that serves a diverse community of newcomers and long-term residents.

These buildings—and the surrounding gardens and park spaces—are protected under a municipal heritage designation with the City of Toronto as well as a Provincial Heritage Conservation Easement held by the Ontario Heritage Trust. This ensures that the buildings will be protected (in perpetuity) from future real estate development.

Any funds raised beyond the set goal of this project will be saved to cover future restoration costs.