Thursday, December 15, 2011

Mimico Building Scandal - Judicial Inquiry 1961

Report of His Honour Judge J. Ambrose Shea
Cover Page

In 1961 a Judicial Inquiry was called to examine the issuance of building permits and the enforcement of municipal by-laws after many examples of non-compliance were pointed out by various citizens.  The findings of the Judicial Inquiry go a long way to explaining why Mimico looks the way it does today, especially the wall of apartments along the waterfront.

The Beginning:
It began with a series of articles in the Toronto Star by Pierre Berton in May 1961.  The first article was entitled “What’s Wrong in Mimico:  The Strange Case of Mrs. Jackson”, which laid bare the obstacles that had been placed in the way of Mrs. Jackson obtaining a building permit so that she could sell her lakefront land which was now surrounded by apartment blocks on all sides. 

The article went on to outline what appeared to be troubling issues with the granting of building permits, and the conformity of finished buildings to the requirements in the permits within the Town of Mimico.  In discussing the apartment built at 1 Superior Avenue, and the violations of the building permit issued for its construction, the article concluded that:  “In short, the largest possible building has been squeezed on to the smallest piece of land.  This may sound like a horrible example, but there are worse ones.  If you’re one of a group of favored builders apparently you can almost get away with murder in Mimico.  But if you are an elderly lady named Martha Jackson then you’ve got to toe the line.

As the pressure continued to build, the Toronto Star continued its coverage of the topic with two other articles by Pierre Berton, in addition to editorials.  As a result, Mimico Council passed a resolution on May 29, 1961 to ask Judge J.A. Shea of the County Court of the County of York to investigate further.

The Judicial Inquiry:
The Judicial Inquiry began at John English School in Mimico on July 17, 1961 and testimony wrapped up on August 8, 1961.  There was a total of 15 days of hearings which heard from 46 witnesses.  The inquiry was called to examine a number of issues but the two main ones were:
  • the erection of buildings in the Town of Mimico, and the administration and enforcement of the restricted area and building By-laws in relation thereto, during the period from the 14th day of May 1953.” 
  • the sale, during the period from the 14th day of May, 1953, of any land owned by the Town of Mimico.
Following final arguments made by the lawyers at Toronto City Hall on September 22 and October 18, 1961, Judge Shea then began his consideration of the evidence and began drafting his report.  

Judge Shea's Report:
The report was issued on February 5, 1962 and made for very interesting reading.

It illuminated what can only be described as a dysfunctional municipal government that was lackadaisical and unprofessional in its management of the municipality, and the animosity of the various factions within the town.

In commenting on the witnesses that testified, under oath, before him Judge Shea commented:  “This investigation was handicapped to a very material extent by the fact that much of the evidence given could not be believed.  One is prepared to hear evidence that is coloured, distorted or exaggerated, but the evidence of this hearing was filled with half truths, concealment of facts, and untruths.”  He went on further:  “Feeling was high between the different factions, if not bitter, and witnesses seemed to be actuated by self-interest, or antagonism to others, or a desire at all costs to further the interests of the side they were supporting.

On the main issue of the erection of buildings in the town from 1953 to the present (1961) Judge Shea wrote:  “My conclusion is that very deplorable conditions existed in Mimico from 1950 to 1960.  These conditions began more or less innocently, if one could use such a word in connection with the breaking of any law, even By-laws.  At least they began without any intention on the part of members of Council or officials of any wrong doing.  The situation at the beginning could be described in a few words:  

1.  The financial condition of the Town of Mimico was very bad;  

2.  There was plenty of available vacant land; 

3.  There was no possibility of industrial development; 

4.  The only hope of increased assessment, with the consequent betterment of the financial situation, was in building of apartments and multiple family dwellings; 

5.  The attitude of Council, Building Inspectors, and others having to do with such matters, appears to have been that construction must be encouraged and that what appeared to be unnecessary obstructions and restrictions should not be put in the way of builders.  For example, if a building was built, or was in the course of construction, and it should have been obvious that it was constructed in violation of a By-law, and if the violation was not, in the opinion of those concerned, a serious one, nothing was done about it.” 

Judge Shea went on further:  “Some of the violations were apparently insignificant and unimportant at the beginning, but from these small beginnings of violations of the By-laws, the builders, real estate men, and the speculators took over.  They took complete charge, and if they were not encouraged, they were certainly not interfered with or impeded, to any appreciable extent, by members of Council or officials.

When, as I have said, the builders took over, the violations of the By-laws became more flagrant and obvious.  In my opinion the builders made no attempt whatever to conform with the Building By-laws and there was practically no supervision or interference by anyone.” 

My conclusion is that a great many buildings were constructed contrary to the provisions of the existing By-laws; that these violations were known, or should have been known, to members of Council and the Building Inspector, in such a small municipality as Mimico.  As one witness said: ‘everybody knew what was going on in Mimico.

On the issue of land sales Judge Shea stated:  “My conclusion is that the lands taken by the Town of Mimico for unpaid taxes were sold in a very unbusinesslike and improvident manner.  They were not sold in the way a private owner would have sold them.  There was no sale sign on the property, no advertisements, no independent appraisals or valuations, and tenders were not called for.  There is no evidence that any land was sold at a lower price that it should have been sold for, or in other words, that a higher price could have been obtained.  There was nothing to indicate any malfeasance or unfair dealings by any member of the Council, or any employees, and nothing to indicate any favouritism, but that system of dealing with municipal property is open to very severe criticism.  The transactions indicated a lack of knowledge or appreciation, or of indifference and apathy, on the part of members of Council and officials as to their duties and responsibilities.” 

He made particular mention of several of the witnesses in his report.

In regard to Mr. Lionel James Ferrie, who had been associated with the Town of Mimico since 1923, and was at the time a member of Council and Chairman of the Property Committee, Judge Shea stated that:  “I find no evidence whatever of any malfeasance, misconduct or breach of trust on the part of Mr. Ferrie.  There was no direct evidence of any misconduct on his part, but there were suggestions, hints and innuendoes.  I find these wholly without any basis in fact.  However, one cannot but come to the conclusion that some of his actions were arbitrary, dictatorial, ill-advised, and unbecoming of an official of a municipality.

On Mr. Jack Book, who was employed by the Town as Building Inspector, Health Inspector, Plumbing and Drain Inspector, and Weed Inspector, Judge Shea stated:  “I find that on at least two occasions he deliberately gave false evidence and on many occasions gave evidence that was intended to mislead.  My conclusion is that I could not rely on Mr. Book’s evidence.”  On Mr. Book’s role as a town official, particularly in his role as the building inspector during the time of the many violations of the building by-laws Judge Shea stated:  “Over all this was the despotic, unrestricted and unsupervised powers of Mr. Jack Book, the Building Inspector….Mr. Book was given far too much authority and he was without proper assistance, guidance, or supervision by members of Council. He appeared to take sides with that part of the municipality who thought the more apartment buildings and multiple family dwellings were erected, the better.  In addition to that Mr. Book began to take sides with the applicants.  He began to play favourites.  He made it simple for some applicants to obtain permits and difficult, if not impossible, for other applicants to obtain permits.  There is no doubt in my mind he used his power to issue permits to his own advantage, in a small way.  The issue of a building permit was a very decisive factor in the value of land.  Once a permit for construction was issued the value of the land increased very materially, depending on the number of units to be constructed.  Applications, and even permits, were altered in Mr. Book’s office.  Numbers were struck out and changed apparently at the whim of Mr. Book, to satisfy the applicants.  The situation reached such a stage that Mr. Book had unlimited and arbitrary power over the issuing of permits.  Mr. Book reaped some material advantage from this power, but in my opinion it was insignificant." 

In regards to Mr. Walton, who was the leaseholder on the Rex Theatre that was shut down by Mr. Book, for reasons of public health, and who accused Mr. Book of seeking a bribe to keep the theatre open, Judge Shea stated that “The evidence of Mr. Walton was equally unreliable.  He seemed to be very bitter toward Mr. Book, and antagonistic to the authorities of the Town of Mimico.  My conclusion is that on many occasions he deliberately gave false evidence in an attempt to injure Mr. Book and to cause embarrassment and trouble to other officials and to members of Council.  It should be said in his favour that he seemed to have an honest belief that things were not right in Mimico.  He seemed obsessed with the desire to bring about improvements, and in so doing to bring credit to himself.  He spent months without expectation of any remuneration or material advantages in making investigations and obtaining material for this hearing.  It was unfortunate that because of his bitterness and his desire for vengeance, he considered it necessary to give evidence that could not be accepted and was not reliable.

The Fallout:
In the following municipal elections of December 1962 three of the sitting Mimico councillors were defeated.  These included Councillors Lionel Ferrie, Alex Halliwell and D.M. Smith who had all been urged to resign by other members of council following the release of Judge Shea’s report in February 1962.   The only person to be criminally charged and convicted was Mr. Jack Book.  However it was not for his activities as a town official but for lying to Judge Shea during the inquiry in relation to gifts from local builders and real estate men.  In March 1962 Book was sentenced to two months in prison for perjury.

The Lasting Impact:
Today Mimico continues to live with the repercussions of the  overbuilding that took place between 1950 and 1960.  The primary example of this is many of the apartment buildings built on the former Mimico Beach estates along the waterfront, and the multiple dwelling units (triplexes, sixplexes, eightplexes and apartments) on many lots within the single family residential areas of the former town. 

It is ironic that we are now being told by the consultants and planners of the City of Toronto that the solution to this overbuilding along the waterfront is higher intensification (i.e. more and taller buildings) as part of the development of the Mimico 2020 Revitalization Action Plan currently in process.  Even though the planning process is still ongoing the owners of the Amedeo Garden Court apartment complex have already submitted a redevelopment application to the city.

The preliminary Toronto Planning Department Report on the application proceeded to Etobicoke-York Community Council on September 12, 2011 and was adopted.  It provides a preliminary look at the application and projected next steps.

The Planning Staff report provides a summary of the development application as follows:

  • full replacement of all existing 396 rental housing units within 2 new 8 to 10 storey buildings;
  • 1,579 new condominium units over 3 to 5 storey base buildings and 6 new 20 to 44 storey buildings with a proposed Gross Floor Area of 165,412 square metres (i.e. amount of floor space they can build on the site);
  • extensive underground parking facilities for 1845 spaces;
  • a new public roadway system;
  • extension of public parkland and waterfront access; and,
  • devising an appropriate approach to the site’s identified heritage features (though none of the features appear on the site plan they submitted with their application).
Is history about to repeat itself?  Will the rejuvenation of Mimico be led by the city for the benefit of the local citizens or will the  developers take control of the process?

The city can make it clear that they will be in charge of this process by passing an interim control by-law over the Mimico 2020 area.  This would freeze development for a one year period so that they can continue to work on the plan, in collaboration with the community, without the distraction of having to respond to (or be led by/or perceived to be led by) a major redevelopment application.  

If you would like a copy of Judge Shea’s report please email me at mimicohistory at


  1. The developers with the blessing of the OMB have always had and will always retain their powers. There is very little the public can do since they don't have deep pockets for ongoing litigation.

  2. Obviously the one building inspecter was given way to much power and authority and used it to his personal advantage. I have heard and read so many stories of this type before. The disgraced Mr. Book got off lightly as did the politicans. Good on Mr. Berton for bringing this to the forefront and insuring the story got the attention it deserved.