Tuesday, April 26, 2016

toronto modern to post-modern: panel discussion

Add "participating in a panel discussion" next to "getting engaged" and "eating a grapefruit without grimacing" to the list of things I've done for the first time this year. Each of the participants was given a question to discuss for five minutes at the start of the session, before the audience asked questions. Mine was "What lessons from the 1970s have been lost?" After making a disclaimer about my personal experience of the city during that decade (restricted to tagging along with my Dad along Queen West), I launched into the following...

Among the lessons we should revisit are appreciating architectural styles which fall out of public favour, which aggravates the spectre of doom looming over modernist buildings we’ve discussed in this series; and mobilizing greater public support for threatened sites.

Outside of heritage activists and some community groups, think of the preservation campaigns you hear about most in the media—it’s things that appeal to our nostalgic instincts, such as the signs for Sam the Record Man or Honest Ed’s (though it should be said that the Sam’s outcry has led to a creative approach for retaining it, via the work currently underway to honour the city’s musical heritage at Yonge-Dundas Square with a “neon alley” where, near the Sam’s sign’s new home, visitors will be able to view recreations of historic venue signage). Will there be an outcry if anyone notices the gradual erosion of the original design of the Eaton Centre, as the external vestiges of the old Eaton’s store and other elements of Eb Zeidler’s design vanish under new cladding, or do we treat it as the natural evolution of the site?

If it’s a building whose architecture doesn’t inspire fond memories, or doesn’t match a classic, pre-1950 style, there are people out there content to, in the words of preservation forum I frequented years ago, “tear that shit down.” Suburban sites have suffered in this regard—think of buildings like the Bata HQ in Don Mills.

Click on image for larger version.
As for changing tastes, remember that during the 1960s and 1970s there were people who felt structures like Union Station and Old City Hall had outlived their usefulness and impeded the march of progress. In both cases, the public screamed for their preservation. While not all modernist buildings will survive, it is worth the effort in some cases for the public and creative architects to pitch developers on adapting these buildings for uses that benefit both the community and the bottom line. A carefully considered approach makes a stronger case than simply yelling that we need to save the site.

One issue preservationists face is the limited resources which handle official requests for heritage listing and designation. While we are getting better at enforcing heritage regulations, oversights happen. If the public is truly concerned about pro-actively preserving our past, they should ask councillors and other officials to support increasing city heritage staff to process requests in a timelier manner, research sites, and fix the loopholes which result in eyebrow-raising demolition permits.

That said, although we still end up with bad examples of facadism and urban taxidermy, I think we’ve learned much about preservation since the 1970s. We’ve developed a strong collection of sites through the combined efforts of architects, developers, and public input. These sites honour the historical architectural integrity, fuse new creative touches in respectful or innovative ways, and serve the needs of modern Torontonians. Being flexible enough to recognize new cultural and commercial potential in heritage architecture allows these buildings to demonstrate the possibilities lurking within other, less appreciated sites.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

bonus features: "the dream that is canada's wonderland"

This post offers supplementary material for an article I recently wrote for Torontoist, which you should read before diving into this post.

Grounds of Canada's Wonderland, June 8, 1981. Photo by Harvey R. Naylor. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 98, Item 70. Click on image for larger version.

Once again, Harvey R. Naylor came to the rescue.

His collection of photos (currently held by the City of Toronto Archives) showcasing the city, especially during the late 1970s and early 1980s, is a valuable resource for illustrating how Toronto evolved into its current shape. His images have saved the bacon of many online historians looked for great period colour images.

Here's a brief bio from the Archives' site:
Harvey R. Naylor, film and sound technician, was a lifelong Toronto resident who worked at some of the larger film production houses in Toronto, such as Jack Chisholm Film Productions and Media Communications Services, Ltd. He was also an amateur photographer with a personal interest in Toronto's local history. He practised photography for several years using second-hand cameras and experimenting with various types of film. However, once Naylor purchased a new Leica IIIF camera in 1956, he used it exclusively over the next 28 years to produce over 50,000 35mm Kodachrome colour slides of Toronto buildings, streets, TTC facilities and TTC vehicles. A well-known transit enthusiast, Naylor belonged to the Upper Canada Railway Society (UCRS), and was active with the Halton County Radial Railway (HCRR) and Ontario Electric Railway Historical Association (OERHA).
Over 8,400 slides created by Naylor await your browsing pleasure.

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

off the grid: ghost city 5145 yonge street

This installment of my "Ghost City" column for The Grid was originally published on April 16, 2013.

plaque for first municipal building north york 

When North York split off from York Township in 1922, space was required to house the new municipality’s offices. Civic workers played musical buildings during the new township’s first year, for a time settling on two upper floor apartments on Yonge Street north of Sheppard Avenue in the village of Lansing. When a fire destroyed that office and its accompanying council records in February 1923, plans were initiated for a brand new structure at the southeast corner of Yonge and Empress Avenue.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

off the grid: ghost city 149 college street

This installment of my "Ghost City" column for The Grid was originally published on October 16, 2012.

149 College during its time as Central Tech, after 1900. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1568, Item 247.
“Amid sounds of revelry and acclaim, amid the seductive calm of soft music, and the inspiring charm of many voices, amid cloud-like strata of fragrant fumes and infectious laughter from countless merry smokers, a temple of muscle and grace was appropriately dedicated to the youths who adorn the terminal years of the 19th century. The glamour of flashing lights and rich furnishings, harmoniously designed, burst dazzlingly upon the army of elated members and prospective members who pressed eagerly through the massive stone portals to assist in the house-warming.” So observed the Toronto Daily Mail during the opening-night festivities at the Toronto Athletic Club on January 22, 1894.

Friday, March 18, 2016

bonus features: the kkk took my baby away

This post offers supplementary material for an article I recently wrote for Torontoist, which you should read before diving into this post. 

ojr 1980-10-08 johnson incident
Oakville Journal Record, October 8, 1980. Click on image for larger version.
A reprint of the Oakville Star's coverage from 1930. That there was "no editorial comment about the incident" speaks volumes from a modern perspective.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

bonus features: chinatowns

This post offers supplementary material for an article I recently wrote for Torontoist, which you should read before diving into this piece.

globe 1907-10-11 asiatic peril editorial
The Globe, October 11, 1907.
The fear of the "yellow peril" in action - one of the more jaw-dropping (from a modern perspective) editorials regarding the place of Chinese in Canadian society during the early 20th century.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

off the grid: ghost city 660 broadview avenue (william peyton hubbard)

This installment of my "Ghost City" column for The Grid was originally published on February 12, 2013.

Portrait of William Peyton Hubbard, 1913, by W.A. Sherwood.
When William Peyton Hubbard was born in 1842 it’s doubtful his father, a freed slave who had arrived in Toronto two years earlier, imagined that the infant would become one of the city’s most powerful politicians. The road to that accomplishment took time: Before Hubbard entered politics in 1893, he baked cakes and drove a horse cab, occupations that were the norm for the city’s small black population.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

off the grid: ghost city 925 bloor street west

This installment of my "Ghost City" column for The Grid was originally published on January 22, 2013.

Toronto Star, October 26, 1948.
Until 1948, anyone headed to the southwest corner of Bloor Street and Concord Avenue typically went to peruse the area’s long succession of furniture businesses, looking for that perfect addition to their home d├ęcor. The granting of a liquor license that year to the Concord Tavern ushered in the intersection’s long association with music as a venue and instrument seller.

Monday, January 25, 2016

off the grid: ghost city 1195 danforth avenue

This installment of my "Ghost City" column for The Grid was originally published on October 23, 2012.

Allenby Theatre lobby, 1936. Image courtesy Silent Toronto, which has more on the feature presentation depicted here.
A suggestion for anyone hitting the town in their best Rocky Horror Picture Show finery this Halloween: Make a pit stop at the Esso/Tim Horton’s at Danforth and Greenwood. Walk through the restored front doors underneath the marquee of the old Allenby theatre. Buy some snacks to fuel an evening of time-warping. Take a look at the old ads in the showcase by the front doors and take a moment to pay tribute to the place where the movie became a Toronto cult favourite.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

off the grid: retro t.o. gambling on conventions with paul godfrey

This installment of my "Retro T.O." column for The Grid was originally published on May 15, 2012.
The City, June 18, 1978.
For as long as Paul Godfrey has been involved in Toronto’s affairs, he has pitched hard for what he feels the city deserves. His current campaign for a local casino is the latest in a long string of projects he has promoted as a politician, media executive, or general deal-closer. As Chairman of Metropolitan Toronto in the late 1970s, his presence was seen as a plus when local tourism officials organized a trip to three American cities in April 1978 to bring in convention dollars.

Friday, January 01, 2016

previewing the maple leafs' 1977/78 season

hny 1977-78 cover
The WHA! The original Jets! Willi Plett!
Some people treasure pristine mint editions of old books and magazines. I treasure ragged copies that were well-loved, which display the repeated wear-and-tear of an owner who regularly flipped the pages (just as long as none of those pages are missing).

This is one of the most worn items in my collection: The Hockey News 1978 Yearbook, previewing the 1977/78 NHL and WHA seasons. Part of its weary appearance is due to little Jamie's use of it as something to press down upon while scribbling maps, fake hockey cards, or whatever else entered my brain. Part is my childhood fascination with a season just slightly before I followed pro hockey, spotlighting a league (the WHA) which was gone by the time I started watching Hockey Night in Canada and collecting sports cards.

Monday, December 28, 2015

off the grid: ghost city balmy beach club

This installment of my "Ghost City" column for The Grid was originally published on April 23, 2013.

Photo taken April 2013.
When prominent jurist and one-time Mayor of Toronto Sir Adam Wilson partitioned his property along Lake Ontario in January 1876, he set aside a portion for use as a public “promenade and recreation grounds.” Within a few years, the community of Balmy Beach grew around Wilson’s lands, which sat amid the growing amusement parks and cottages that spurred the development of The Beach.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

off the grid: ghost city 346 spadina avenue

This installment of my "Ghost City" column for The Grid was originally published on September 12, 2012. This was my first piece under the "Ghost City" banner, which the publication had used periodically for similar pieces. "Ghost City" lasted as a weekly column through June 2013, though the title was occasionally brought out of mothballs by other writers.  Since this piece was originally published, the Gold Diamond restaurant has closed.

When the Gold Diamond restaurant opened this summer, it inherited a building teeming with ghosts: Paranormal spirits are reputed to have inspired the lion statues out front and once required the services of an exorcist. Symbolic ghosts have also left their mark through the legacies of a Jewish-community landmark and a series of Chinese eateries.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

off the grid: ghost city 260 church street

This installment of my "Ghost City" column for The Grid was originally published on September 25, 2012.

260 Church Street, May 7, 1913. City of Toronto Archives, Series 372, Subseries 1, Item 35. Click on image for larger version. 
At street level, the Pizza Pizza at the southwest corner of Church and Dundas deviates little from other branches of the chain. Apart from reproductions of vintage French advertisements on the wall and lights dangling like teardrops from the ceiling, 260 Church Street bears the same orange colour scheme and the same special-touting window ads as other locations. But a glance at the upper two levels of its exterior reveals that past orders inside included bank deposits with a side of dipping into savings.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

off the grid: ghost city golden mile plaza

This installment of my "Ghost City" column for The Grid was originally published on February 26, 2013.

tely 54-04-07 gmp 5 loblaws 400
Telegram, April 7, 1954.
Following World War II, Scarborough Township was in dire financial straits. “We didn’t have enough money to meet our weekly payroll,” reeve Oliver Crockford recalled years later. Crockford placed his hopes on a 255 acre parcel of federal land along Eglinton Avenue east of Pharmacy Avenue that the township purchased in 1949. Industrial development quickly ensued, with major companies like Frigidaire and Inglis opening along what was soon dubbed the “Golden Mile.”