Originally published in the Fall 2011 edition of the Parliament Street News. (Sadly, David Weenen passed away, not long after this article, in the fall of 2011). The Victorians may have kept their table legs covered, but when it came to expressing themselves in architecture and buildings they were all about showing off. Queen Anne and Empire style edifices, mansard roofs, all sorts of gables, extravagantly woodworked porches, you name it.
Carlton Street, both east and west of Parliament Street, is packed with stunning examples. It’s a showcase of dwellings from the era, a time when craftsmen created masterpieces of workmanship – intricate brickwork and lavishly detailed wooden trims, on everything from tiny row houses to imposing mansions. Fittingly, one of the standouts is number 211 Carlton Street, the headquarters of Weenen General Contracting Limited, a firm that is likewise well known for its craftsmanship and work on Victorian architecture. The office boasts high ceilinged cornice mouldings and richly curved door and window trim.
David Weenen, Company President, notes that in the late
60’s and early 70’s people who loved wonderful old homes flocked to Cabbagetown where gems in the rough could be purchased for a song. He and his wife Janis, restored and renovated four homes, relishing the restorations along the way. “I learned about Victorian architecture by studying what was there and by examining catalogues,” David recalls. “In those days, the finishes were inexpensive – maybe $125 for a fireplace surround. The Victorians had a lot of small rooms, so adding larger kitchens with the luxuries of today make sense,” he says.
As far as restoring and renovating number 211, David was indulging his admiration for Victoriana and the goal of having a working showroom of the company’s capabilities which focused on preserving and repairing Victoriana yet adding modern goodies where called for. “The yellow brickwork on our building with its is outstanding. We had bricks specially made to match the existing ones. It was a labour of love to restore and renovate this building.”
This year, Weenen General Contracting Limited is celebrating its 50th anniversary in business. It’s a major achievement, considering that eight of ten small businesses fold within their first three years. With upwards of 150 projects yearly and sales in the five or six million dollar range, the company is substantial. And while Weenen General is successful, it’s also a valuable citizen of the Cabbagetown community. For years, as originator and first sponsor of the Cabbagetown Mini Marathon, David, in 1890’s striped blazer and straw boater, cheered the runners from the open back of a company truck, while a Dixieland Jazz band played. Other volunteer work? There have been countless projects including the Cabbagetown Boxing Club, the Cabbagetown Arts Centre and the Business Improvement Area. David and Janis have showcased their home for the Tour of Homes time after time and work tirelessly in the forefront and behind the scenes to promote and protect Cabbagetown.
“Our company is active in Rosedale and north Toronto, and Forest Hill, not just Cabbagetown,” David notes. “But personally, I love this area. I love the homes and the people and the businesses. It’s a small and very active sort of village atmosphere where neighbours know one another and support the local shops. You can walk to the park or a fine restaurant from your home.”
Partner Joe Rozman is quick to point out that while Weenen General may have honed it’s skills on Victoriana, today the firm regularly creates modern masterpieces too, for clients who want a contemporary feel to their home. “Contemporary work requires a whole different skill set from our tradespeople,” Joe points out. “Clean lines sound simple but they are difficult to build properly and beautifully. These projects can entail huge engineering and architectural challenges.”
Ok. What is the ‘secret of Weenen General Contracting’s success? A combination of sheer hard work, scrupulous attention to detail and uncompromising standards. David Weenen is nothing if not forceful, but he always comes through for his clients while Joe Rozman, equally concerned with quality and client satisfaction is the softer appearing side of the coin. Both likely have been in the office for a minimum of twelve hours every day. “One thing I do know,” David points out, “a lot of our business is repeat work from clients and their adult children who come back to us again and again Of course nothing could be possible without our “Weenen Team”, our carpenters, labourers, and sub trades, construction manager Mark Garrett, sales manager Owen Robinson, Office manager Janelle Simon, and Administrator Paula Warren,each of whom makes an important contribution. Clearly, working together, we’re doing something right.”