Joan Burt has spent much of her life fighting.

She fought her way into the male-dominated profession of architecture in the 1950s. She stood up to city hall when zoning or municipal projects clashed with her vision of the city.


She spent decades battling to save Toronto’s historic row houses from those who could only imagine the new, not the restored.

She lost at least one fight. By the early ’70s, she had one of the most influential jobs a city architect could have, as chair of the Ontario College of Art’s (OCAD) department of design. In January 1986, her suspension and subsequent departure from the OCAD?made headlines.
She does not like to talk about it.

But the 78-year-old is happy to talk about the profession she has devoted her life to, and her city.

She graduated from the University of Toronto’s architecture program in 1956, the only woman to graduate that year and the 21st overall. Two years later, she started her own firm, which celebrated its 50th anniversary last year.

Her first streetscape project, in 1965, was 13 row houses on Belmont Street, off Yonge Street north of Davenport Road.

In the years that followed, Burt renovated old buildings on Alpha Avenue, Berkeley Street and King Street East.