Margie Zeidler 1976

Margaret (Margie) Zeidler, the winner of this year’s Havergal Old Girls Life Achievement award, is a citybuilder, a visionary thinker and an active participant in building great urban communities.

Early on, she spent time advocating for developing countries, managing and raising money for projects that provided health assistance in Africa and volunteering with World Literacy of Canada, later serving as its president. But before long, her training as an architect led her to consider how creatively designed urban spaces can foster cultural, social and economic innovation.

A follower of legendary city-builder Jane Jacobs, Margie believes that affordable, attractive work spaces for artists and non-profit organizations are essential for building a dynamic city. This idea led her to conceive of a project called 401 Richmond, the restoration and rejuvenation of an 1890s industrial building into a home for artists, entrepreneurs and not-for-profit organizations. Margie transformed this former tin factory in downtown Toronto into what has been described as “a village in a box,” with lower-than-usual rents and a remarkable sense of community.

She’s also the force behind the creation of the Centre for Social Innovation and its home at 215 Spadina Ave., a hub of smart, progressive activity that houses startups and long-established organizations in a shared environment which fosters creativity, healthy interactions and thecross-pollination of ideas. She believes that community diversity is key to creativity, and that creativity is best nurtured in historic buildings with large, open spaces and wide hallways in which people can meet and converse.

You’ll find Margie at work in many of the more progressive efforts to build Toronto as a healthy, dynamic, forward-thinking city. She has served on the boards of Harbourfront Centre, Artscape and Foodshare, cofounded The Centre for City Ecology and Jane’s Walk, and supports the ImagiNative Film Festival. She also created the citizen-led community group Active 18, in response to development pressures along Queen Street West.

A recipient of the Order of Ontario, the Jane Jacobs Prize and Toronto’s “Best Friend of the Arts” Award, Margie has seen her ideas profiled and implemented around the world when cities seek to build community through shared urban spaces.

She tirelessly shares her knowledge and experience with others, and is often called upon by students and visiting groups who come from around the world to see her buildings. These visitors want to understand what one Toronto paper called “The Zeidler effect” – a tribute not just to Margie, but also to other city-builders in her family, including her architect father Eb Zeidler, who backed the 401 Richmond project. Her leadership has led many of her projects to become self-sustaining.

A leader in the field of adaptive re-use of heritage buildings for nearly 20 years, Margie sees architecture in a social context, seeking to meet the needs of modern enterprises through the beauty of old, historic buildings”¦ all with attention to the environment. This is how she seeks to make a difference for good in the world, a goal set at Havergal and achieved over a lifetime.

Written by Catharine Heddle 1989