Tag Archives: architecture

Scenes From Evergreen Brick Works

Toronto was a brick-making town. Going through the city today, you would not realize it right away. This lost and remade industrial and natural geography is remarkable. Great clay refining enterprises from the Don Valley to Leslieville to Yorkville to North Toronto to the West Toronto Junction now carry transformed greenspaces or residential communities. The Evergreen Brick Works is one of those spaces.

Don Valley clay pits, part of Don Valley Brick Works (Toronto). James Blomfield. June 10, 1939. Credit: City of Ontario Archives.

The Don Valley Brick Works began operations in 1889 and lasted quite a long time, providing the literal building blocks for the city of Toronto until 1984 — not a long time ago. One can think of the Brick Works as the last bastion for smokestack-raising, pollution-spewing, heavy manufacturing in Toronto.

Don Valley Brick Works, Bayview Ave., w. side, s. of Chorley Park in Don Valley; looking s. from Chorley Park, 1952. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Following its closure, much like a lot of discussions then and now in how to imagine the post-industrial metropolis, the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority and City of Toronto looked to expropriate former brickyard as public space. During this ‘transition’ time, the abandoned factory became a haven for urban explorers.

Don Valley Brickworks, 1986. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Brickworks, 1990. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

What came out of it was a rejuvenated community hub and parkland with a mandate for environmental sustainability and conservation, led through the efforts of Evergreen. Much of the complex still stands, showing off ovens and other former operations of the Don Valley Brick Works. Today, they make great event and exhibition space which house among other things a great farmer’s market. Only one of the four chimneys remain, though.

The Evergreen Brick Works is a locale full of discovery, starting with its artistic displays. A favourite of mine is “Watershed Consciousness”, which neatly showcases Toronto’s ravines as the sort of veins and life blood of the city. Fitting.

One quizzical installation is a giant pair of metal shoes. This is “Legacy (the mud beneath our feet)” by David Hind, an homage to geologist Arthur Philemon (A.P.) Coleman. Mr. Coleman got his boots dirty many times over at the Don Valley Brick Works, using the quarry’s north cliff to research Toronto’s Ice Ages. A nearby display, “A Rare Geological Study”, presents Coleman’s notes.

Coleman was instrumental in understanding the literal layers and pre-history of Toronto. He noted ancient beavers, moose, and bison that roamed Pleistoscene Toronto, and also mapped out the old shore of Lake Iroquois.

Map of Toronto and Vicinity To accompany part 1, Volume 22, Report of Bureau of Mines, 1913. Credit: University of Toronto Map and Data Library.

The Pleistocene of the Toronto region Including the Toronto interglacial formation, 1932. Credit: University of Toronto Map and Data Library.

The allure of the Evergreen Brick Works is its physical landscape. Each step offers more discovery and new vantage points. Wandering deeper into the Weston Family Quarry Garden and its tall reconstructed wetland, the factory behind disappears, aside from the chimney.

Running between the handsome factory buildings is a channelized Mud Creek (which might be the best and worst name for a waterway in Toronto). There’s a more naturalized version of the stream as well, running under the great Governor’s Bridge as one moves out of the park.

Veering away from the marked trails, there is the abandoned Don Branch of the Canadian Pacific Railway, last operating in 2007. With the Belt Line Trail also nearby it’s the second ghost line of sorts at the Brick Works. Following the CPR tracks takes one to the Half-Mile Bridge, seen as one enters the Evergreen Brick Works.

Don Valley Brick Works, Bayview Ave., w. side, s. of Chorley Park in Don Valley; looking w. from Broadview & Mortimer Ayes. 1955. Source: Toronto Public Library.

Perhaps the most inspiring experience of the Brick Works is the view from above. Moving up the cliff one takes in the awe of the full expanse of the site, its winding trails and ponds below, and the houses of Rosedale overlooking the valley.

One can only take in this reclaimed natural landscape and think of its layered makeup. The intersection of industrial, geological, and environmental history make the Evergreen Brick Works make it a special place. A walk around it only proves that.

Scenes From Kensington Market

What presumably started as pristine wilderness for many Indigenous peoples, the area that came to be Kensington Market began to take shape under the 1793 colonial park lot system established and administered by John Graves Simcoe and his successors. Here, plots 17 & 18 passed through several owners, eventually falling to Denison family. While today we associate the block between College & Dundas Streets and Spadina Avenue & Bathurst Street with a dense mix of narrow streets and an unlikely mishmash of altered structures, the only built form in the first part of 19th century was the Denisons’ Georgian manor, Belle Vue (also spelt Bellevue).

1842 Cane Topographical Plan of the City and Liberties of Toronto. Credit: Old Toronto Maps.

Denison, George Taylor, ‘Bellevue’, Denison Sq., n. side, e. of Bellevue Ave. 1912. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Lost in the modern geography of Kensington Market is the waterway and pond situated just above Belle Vue. Named for a rather unpleasant character in Toronto history, Russell Creek passed through the southern half of the block towards today’s Entertainment District before flowing into the old shore of Lake Ontario near Front & Simcoe Streets.

1862 HJ Browne Plan of the City of Toronto. Credit: Old Toronto Maps.

In the mid-1800s, the Belle Vue Estate was subdivided and town lots were put up for sale. Several marketing pieces at the time advertised the lots for sale. Notably, an 1854 pitch highlighted their location in “the most healthy and pleasant part of the city” at a great elevation from Lake Ontario. It also promoted the great proximity to the new Ontario Legislative Buildings and Government House, which as far as I know might have been proposed but were certainly never built (the current legislature opened in 1893).

1854 Plan of part of the city of Toronto showing the town lots on Bellevue for sale by the trustees for the Denison Estate March 1854. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

1869 Plan of building lots on part of the Belle Vue estate in the City of Toronto, the property of J. Saurin McMurray, Esq.. Credit: Toronto Public Libary.

To make way for the residential neighbourhood, Russell Creek and its pond were buried in 1876, following a trend with other creeks in Toronto. Today, there is little trace of its existence. Compared to Garrison and Taddle Creeks though, Russell Creek seems to sit lower in the psyche and awareness of Torontonians as it is not as readily mentioned. Belle Vue would last for a few more decades, disappearing by 1890. Strangely, it seems to shows up in the Goads fire insurance maps as late as 1903, however. It was replaced by houses and then finally the Kiever Synagogue in 1927.

Although the house is gone, Belle Vue’s geographic imprint remains in a few locales. Bellevue Square, which historically served as the promenade grounds for the manor, was donated to the city as public space in 1887. Denison Avenue was the driveway to the grounds. The names of the streets themselves offer links to the Denison Estate and the English motherland in general with monikers such as Lippincott Street, Bellevue Avenue, Oxford Street, and of course, Kensington Street. The latter is a throwback to the London commercial district of the same name (it is not clear who in Toronto drew the connection and offered the designation, though).

1889 Insurance Plan of the City of Toronto. Belle Vue House, while now housing an address at 22 Denison Square, is positioned with its corners aligning with the directions of a compass. By the end of the century, one can see the modern roots of Kensington Market’s layout of narrow streets and closely bunched structures. Credit: Old Toronto Maps

Of course, there is also the Victorian housing stock whose architectural style by definition is referential to the reigning monarch at the time. The early occupants of the neighbourhoood were unsuprisingly of largely White Anglo-Saxon Protestant descent. What happened to some of these houses over the next few generations erased that early connection to Britain, however.

Around the turn of the 20th century, the WASPs migrated to more favourable parts of Toronto. Finding opportunity and low rents, the Jewish community already situated in The Ward moved into those empty houses. It’s a common story to Toronto: a group occupies a space, leaves after it outlives its utility, and then a new group moves in and remakes it accordingly.

These East European Jews settled on Kensington, Augusta, and Baldwin Streets, not only residing in the former homes of their white predecessors, but also altering their fronts to accommodate commercial enterprise. And so began the ‘Jewish Market’. This ‘creation and re-creation’ happened over and over in Kensington Market. The Jews’ out-migration around World War II left their storefronts to other populations of Italian, Portuguese, Caribbean, and South & East Asian entrepreneurs, allowing new histories to be created.

The former Sanci’s fruit shop was the first non-Jewish merchant in Kensington Market. There’s a cross in the brickwork atop the store hinting at the building’s roots.

Baldwin Street, 1940s. Credit: Library & Archives Canada.

The importance of Kensington Market in the lives of generations of Canadian immigrants led to its designation as a place of national significance and as a National Historic Site in 2006. In 2017, Historica Canada neatly and creatively distilled its layered history into its first animated Heritage Minute. The clip nicely showcases the physical and cultural transformation of a shop through the decades, moving from the outside to the inside and back out again to show the masses of people who have frequented the Market through the ages.


The grand narrative of Kensington Market has then been this intersection between tangible (geographic) and intangible (cultural). That is to say, the histories of the people within the same physical space they have all come to call “home” over the years. Many writers have explored the theme, including Na Li in her book Kensington Market: Collective Memory, Public History, and Toronto’s Urban Landscape. The original Victorian homes, dramatically altered they after generations of use and reuse, become vessels to tell these stories.

From the Baldwin family countryside to the cafe- and bar-filled nexus of today, Kensington Market’s evolution was unplanned, organic, and anarchic, and yet somehow still falling in line with what came before. It survived urban renewal plans in the 1960s whose purpose to preserve the neighbourhood would have actually destroyed it. The quirks in its murals, hidden backways, street sights, and people can only exist within its borders. It cannot be replicated.

1889 Insurance Plan of the City of Toronto showing Kensington Place and Fitroy Terrace as part of the initial layout of the subdivided neighbourhood. Credit: Old Toronto Maps


Useful Links

Doug Taylor – The Villages Within

JB’s Warehouse & Curio Emporium – “Toronto Back Streets: Denison Square”

Kensington Market Historical Society

Lost Rivers – “Bellevue”

Toronto Park Lot Project

Scenes From Tam O’Shanter

Consider this a sequel. Or, maybe a prequel. Whatever the case, if Wishing Well Acres is  the Sullivan in Tam O’Shanter-Sullivan, here’s the Tam O’Shanter part.

We begin at Agincourt Mall. The shopping centre dates back to 1966, likely making it the third enclosed mall in Scarborough after 1954’s Eglinton Square and Golden Mile (Cedarbrae Mall predates Agincourt by four years but didn’t get its ceiling until 1972). The mall’s anchors are Wal-Mart and No Frills, but I can recall a time – in 1994, specifically – when they were Woolco and Loblaws, respectively. Walmart bought Woolco that year. No Frills came in the 2000s.

Agincourt Mall outside

As much as malls like Agincourt are seen as shabby and sad (Agincourt Mall as of 2016 has a number of empty tenants), I’ve found that they are still appreciated locales. A lot of nostalgia fills their walls. The comments in this BlogTO article about Agincourt Mall by Robyn Urback  prove that. Everyone has a story, or a store they enjoyed frequently, or an odd memory about something that isn’t there anymore. Mine is the RadioShack that was there in 1990s and 00s, reminding me of lost Canadian retailers. There is a Source in the mall now, but not in the same space as its predecessor.

Agincourt Mall inside

Agincourt Mall was built on the Kennedy farm, with the farmhouse once located just north of the mall and south of the West Highland Creek. A walk down the street named for the family leads to a trail that lines the creek.

West Highland Creek bridge
The path is sandwiched between an apartment and townhouse complex on one side and the creek and Tam O’Shanter Golf Club on the other. A look down at the shallow waterway produces a shiny sheet of ice over the surface and the occasional group of ducks in the non-frozen bits. But there’s also something that doesn’t quite belong.

West Highland Creek
Several pillars jut out on either side of the creek – two on one side and two opposite them. I count three sets of these abutments along the way. Their meaning isn’t hard to figure out: 3 sets of abutments, 3 phantom bridges. There is one question, though: what’s the story?

West Highland Creek bridge abutments

The answer: In the 1930s to the 1970s, this was the site of the Tam O’Shanter Golf and Country Club, the precursor to Tam O’Shanter Golf Course.

Tam O'Shanter Country Club

Tam O’Shanter Country Club, 1960s. Source: Scarborough Archives.

In addition to golf, the Tam O’Shanter Country Club complex had swimming, ice hockey, and curling. In 1971, the club erupted in flames, destroying some of the complex. In researching the fire, I’ve read many stories about people seeing the flames from afar. Like Agincourt Mall, the country club meant something to many people.

In 1973, the Province of Ontario, Metro Toronto, and Scarborough jointly acquired Tam O’Shanter and converted it into a municipal golf course. In the coming years, the complex would be gradually demolished and a new clubhouse would be built around 1980. Today, a couple of apartment towers on Bonis Avenue stand in the club’s former location.

West Highland Creek Bend 1967

Tam O’Shanter & West Highland Creek, 1967, Source: City of Toronto Archives.

Back to the abandoned abutments, the creek was located just behind the clubhouse and its bridges led to and from the golf course. Shortly after the course’s acquisition, the bridges were removed, presumably because the course layout would be reorganized.

West Highland Creek ducks

But the creek hasn’t always run the same course.

West Highland Creek Bend 1956

Tam O’Shanter & West Highland Creek, 1956, Source: City of Toronto Archives.

The West Highland at one time swung north up into the golf course before dropping back down and resuming in a northwest direction. Around 1967, the creek was straightened and bridges were installed. The orphan bend remained as a sort of oxbox for some time, but since has been mostly filled in. One can still see the imprint of the bend today, though, notably through the pond and the ‘etched’ curved outline north of it.

West Highland Creek Bend 2015

Tam O’Shanter & West Highland Creek, 2015. Source: Toronto Historic Maps.

Tam Shanter West Highland bend pond

There is one remaining bridge, however – a wider, sturdier construction. There is a gate in the fence on the other side, so one can guess that at least it might have been a vehicular corridor. As of 2015, though, both ends have been barricaded to prevent any sort of use.

West Highland Creek big bridge

As the West Highland continues into the golf course and beyond, the trail comes to Ron Watson Park, renamed from Tam O’Shanter Park in 2005 in recognition of the long-time Scarborough resident, trustee, and councillor. Watson was honoured with a star on Scarborough’s Walk of Fame in 2011. The park forms the field of Tam O’Shanter School, featuring a nice playground…and a stone turret.

Ron Watson Park

This viney tower became an instant curiosity to me. It looked old and misplaced. No doors (although, perhaps a sealed opening), a couple of ‘windows’ near the top. What was/is it?

Ron Watson Park tower

I had to do some digging. Google presented nothing, so I consulted some aerial photos to try and date it. It’s been around since at least 1947, the first year on record for aerials in the Toronto Archives.

Ron Watson Turret 1965

Charles Watson Farm, 1965. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

Ron Watson Turret 2015

Ron Watson Park, 2015. Source: Toronto Historic Maps.

Next, looking at the 1878 Map of Scarboro Township, Ron Watson Park was once part of the Samuel Horsey farm on Concession 3 Lot 30. Whether Horsey built the mystery tower is unknown. His house had a parlour, though!

Posting my findings and curiosities on Twitter, answers came in from the Scarborough Archives.

So, Horsey sold his farm to Watson, who likely built the silo. When Watson’s farm was subdivided, the tower was never torn down with it. My guess is the task proved too difficult. It doesn’t fully answer the ‘when?’ part, but mystery solved!

Ron Watson Park silo

Leaving the park and silo, the two-in-one Stephen Leacock  Collegiate/John Buchan Senior Public School has had a place on Birchmount Road since 1970. It is built in the Brutalist (or, Heroic) style that was indicative of Toronto architecture in the 1950s to 1970s. The schools’ namesakes were a Canadian author and humourist and Scottish author and historian, respectively.

Stephen Leacock School Brutalism

And while I’m profiling, Tam O’Shanter is a Robbie Burns poem. Another Scottish connection. The Anglo-Saxon roots and references of the Tam O’Shanter community is interesting though, considering what it became. Today, it is one of the more diverse areas in the city of Toronto.

Next, a derelict structure stands across the school. I don’t know its full context, but it’s most definitely another rural leftover.

Abandoned building Birchmount Avenue

On Bonis Avenue, there’s Agincourt Library and another great turret. Although the building opened in 1991, the library itself dates back to 1918. Within that time it has moved locales a few times, including a stay in Agincourt Mall. The branh carries three copies of A History of Scaborough. Its editor is a Mr. Robert Bonis, who lends his name to the street.

Agincourt Library

Down at Birchmount and Sheppard, a strip mall has gone through a makeover in the last few years. It’s about to get a new tenant, too: Starbucks. The sight is initial shock for me, if only because it’s strange to see one in this neighbourhood. My mind shoots to the old idea that a Starbucks is tell tale sign of gentrification, but I question whether it applies here. We’ll have to see.

Starbucks Birchmount and Sheppard

Foregoing a stroll down Sheppard,  I backtrack to Bay Mills Boulevard. The curved street offers a sort of ‘backstage’ view of Tam O’Shanter, showing off the apartments, church, school, field, playground that all front Sheppard. The intersection of Bay Mills and Sheppard is the start of the Sheppard Avenue East Avenue Study zone. On one side there’s another strip mall; on the other, a car dealership. They’ll surely be part of the plans.

Bay Mills Boulevard

Warden Avenue is further down the way, but that adventure lies in the mentioned Wish Well exploration. For now, that’s a wrap on this one.

Sheppard and Bay Mills

If you have memories of Agincourt Mall, Tam O’Shanter Country Club, Stephen Leacock School, or Tam-O’Shanter-Sullivan in general, I would like to hear about it. Leave a comment below or tweet me!

Jane’s Walk 2015 Roundup

Day 1: Friday May 1, 2015

The City’s Best Hiding Places: A Geocaching Tour!
Walk Leader: Denise Pinto
4pm

I liked this walk because it reintroduced me into a hobby I took up a few summers ago…and then inexplicably dropped. Geocaching is basically a treasure hunt involving GPSs and storytelling.

Denise Pinto, the very awesome global head of Jane’s Walk, led us around her own neighbourhood south of the Danforth around Donlands and Greenwood. It’s a neat area full of parks connected with corridors of green space. Looking at old maps, some of those parks are the remnants of a buried creek. Who knew?

And actually, that feeds into the point of geocaching: One hides a cache in order to bring someone to a place that is special to him and wants people to know. It’s about sharing stories and experience. Denise hid caches along the way and had us find them.

Among our route, we passed a playground, a community garden, and a lookout for the Greenwood Subway Yard. As a bonus, it ended at the Allenby.

Jane's Walk 2015 Geocaching (1)

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Day 2: Saturday May 2, 2o15

To demolish, or not to demolish? Exploring Heritage Character in Toronto’s Downtown
Walk Leader: Michael Matthys
11am

This one was about the layers of history, heritage preservation, and how we make use of historic buildings that live past their original uses. Michael Matthys, a planner by trade with DIALOG, took us through the Downtown Yonge Street neighbourhood and showed us examples – good and bad and controversial – of sustainable adaption of modern buildings.

75 St. Nicholas Street, for example, is a condo development that utilizes an old planing mill as its base.  The problem – and it is one in many people’s eyes – is that the factory is no more than a facade. The mill was dissassembled, rebuilt brick by brick, and incorporated into the condo. Michael raises the question on whether this kind of preservation makes sense. What heritage is preserved? What’s the economic benefit from it?

Another case comes with 5 St. Joseph, which like 75 St. Nicholas, reuses a light industrial space – the old M. Rawlinson factory. Also like 75 St. Nicholas, planning got into the discussion. Are condos what we want? The city is growing; people need to live somewhere. It’s hard to strike a balance. It’s how we – citizens, government, developers – go about it. A nice bonus of going on Jane’s Walks, you get unexpected perspectives: while talking about this development, a resident of the building across the street told us that tower blocks sunlight to it.

After passing through the infamous site of the floating Irwin house development, the walk ended with a stop at Maple Leaf Gardens, which is a great example of a transformed space that pays tribute to its original use. The Gardens is one of two remaining Original Six arenas, and out of the two is the better preserved and utilized. The Mattamy Centre, the home of the Ryerson Rams, on the top floor is great because once again MLG is used for its original purpose.

Jane's Walk 2015 Heritage Character of Downtown Toronto (2)

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Jane's Walk 2015 Heritage Character of Downtown Toronto (7)

Building Bloor: Alec Keefer with the Rosina Shopkeeper Project
Walk Organizer: Alec Keefer
3pm

This was the most attended walk of my weekend, and there was good and bad that came with that. It was the first of two walks this weekend on the Rosina Shopkeeper Project, a great grassroots effort to tell the stories of the tenants and entrepreneurs of Bloor Street.

The leader – local historian and former president of the Toronto Architectural Conservancy – Alec Keefer, is a library on all things old Toronto. His insights into the architecture, the construction, and function of the structures of Bloor Street West is remarkable.  He explains the start of Bloor Street as a residential street of 1910s Edwardian homes which were then often fitted with an addition to support commercial space. He points out details about the face of structures like the important of cap roofs – many of which are now gone – and fire walls separating units.

The flip side to huge turnout on a great topic: it’s hard to take in everything. I lost out on a lot of stories just because I could not hear. Also, it can be a task to travel down Bloor on a beautiful Saturday afternoon; it is definitely a challenge to meander its narrow sidewalks with over 100 other people.

The one tidbit I do recall is on the Black Horse pub. It had an ornamental horse on the front of the building, which suggests that the original occupants might have been saddlers and worked with leather.

As a side note, this walk was also memorable because I had my first interaction with a fellow blogger in the real world. Shoutout to Mary (notcontary) for the chance encounter!

Jane's Walk 2015 Building Bloor (1)

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Day 3: SUNDAY May 3, 2o15

Intriguing, industrial, Sterling Road!!
Walk Leader: Catto Houghton
1pm

I not only attended this tour, but as a volunteer for Jane’s Walk, I wanted to help out on this walk. So I did. It’s a street loaded with industrial history and one in huge transition. How could I not be part of that?

Led by artist Catto Houghton, who has connections to Sterling and the Junction & Junction Triangle areas, it’s a street that has a ton of hidden history – and a hidden reality to most Torontonians today.

The whole time I mentally equated it as the Carlaw Avenue of the west side.  Factories started popping up on both streets in the 1900s and 1910s, relied heavily on the surrounding railroads, reached a heyday in the mid part of the century, and then closed and subsequently either demolished or vacant until purposing in the latter part. It seems that Carlaw is nearing the end of its shift, but Sterling has a bit to go.

The east side of the street immediately north of Dundas is a parking lot, but that was populated with factories way back when. The lot now services Nestle, the great complex that hugs both sides of the street. Nestle is latest incarnation of a lineage of chocolate making enterprises on Sterling dating back at least 100 years, starting with Cowan Cocoa and Chocolate. Cowan went under 1926 and was taken over by Rowntree’s, which created to first chocolate bar. Finally, Nestle bought Rowntree’s in 1988. The original Cowan building is still part of its facility. Catto, part of her great research, brought out some great ephemeralia of these companies.

The Tower Automotive building is an intriguing case. It’s a landmark on the street, but not looking so good now. There was plans to rezone the street to allow mixed use development, including repurposing the tower into lofts. Our friends Nestle fought hard against this because having residents as neighbours is not in their interests. I’ve seen it before in the Weston’s factory I worked in. Operating in a residential neighbourhood leads to noise complaints lead to buckling to pressure. Those plans are on hold and it’s definitely a case to watch.

The walk was unlike others in that in Catto arranged interior tours. Like Carlaw’s Creative Lofts, Sterling has a few complexes of live-work space where artists and entrepreneurs set up shop. The street is also home to an axe throwing league and a circus school. But you wouldn’t know it.

I’ll definitely have to come back and explore more of the area.

Jane's Walk 2015 Sterling Road (1)

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Dark Age Ahead – The Wizard of Ossington Jane’s Walk
Walk Leader: HiMY SYeD
5pm

If I understand HiMY‘s message correctly from this walk, I can summarize everything here, but to truly understand The Wizard of Ossington, you have to attend it, experience it, and share in the conversations and story telling. Still, I’ll do a bit of summarizing and encourage people to check out the next time.

HiMY’s took us through the Christie Pits neighbourhood and picked out visual examples as well as examples from his own experience which help to illustrate Jane Jacob’s last book, The Dark Age Ahead. For a last book, it’s definitely not a pick-me-up. She identifies trends in North American society that if continued might lead to a Dark Age.

One of the themes of the walk is memory and how we remember and forget, and what happens when we, as a collective, forget. Mass amnesia is what Jane calls it and it’s the result of a decaying society.

An example HiMY uses is a Greek temple house. There’s danger in assembling a few artifacts, recreating a Hellenic style temple, and then claiming to have an understanding of Ancient Greek culture. Culture isn’t the physical remnants of a peoples; it’s the day to day interactions and stories that are passed down through oral tradition and language.

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Jane's Walk 2015 Dark Age Ahead (5)

Scenes From The Aga Khan Museum

Deep in the heart of suburbia on Wynford Drive just off the DVP, one can find the newest addition to Toronto’s museum scene – the Aga Khan Museum. It’s a curious place for an arts & culture hub, even with the Ontario Science Centre just a hop away.

In addition to its non-downtown location, the arrival of the AGM was marked with curiousity and a bit of controversy. The opening was delayed, its thematic content is unlike any other museum or gallery in the city, and its construction came with the demolition of the Modernist-designed Bata Shoe Headquarters. Talk surrounding the Aga Khan Museum overwhelming features the question: “Was it worth it losing one unique building for another?”

As I walk up to the museum, I don’t have an answer because it is tough to justify that kind of loss. That said, I can admit that it is a very impressive structure and a fine addition to Toronto’s architectural scene. The entire site consists of the museum itself, the Ismaili Centre, and, between them, a garden and terrace. It’s all a marvel, but I can’t help but wonder how it all looks in the summer (see below).

0. Aga Khan Museum outside

2. Aga Khan Museum Outside

3. Aga Khan Museum Ismaili Centre

The inside is as much a visual wonder. Geometric patterning is a big part of the aesthetic of the Aga Khan Museum. I made a venture out into the courtyard after dropping my belongings at the (complimentary) coat check, which proved to be ill-advised because it was quite chilly. Again, I imagine a different vibe in warmer temperatures.

4. Aga Khan Museum Main Floor

5. Aga Khan Museum Courtyard

9. Aga Khan Museum courtyard

10. Aga Khan Museum courtyard

The main floor exhibition space features the museum’s permanent collection, which is  essentially a historical journey through Islam. For me, it’s a subject matter that I did not encounter during my time as an undergrad of history, so it was a nice treat. The layout, design, and use of the space was very well done (not to mention, it’s got a distinct ‘new museum’ smell!).

6. Aga Khan Museum fountain

6. Aga Khan Museum

7. Aga Khan Museum collection

The upper level dons ‘The Lost Dhow’, a temporary exhibit on loan to the AKM which features the recovered objects from a sunken ship in Indonesia. So much of the details of its sinking is unknown, but the interpretation and presentation is very well done!

Also on the second floor is the ‘Garden of Ideas’, a more contemporary art exhibition that overlooks the permanent collection below (people watching, anyone?). Towards the end of the exhibition was a fun artistic piece featuring a picture books of individuals saying ‘I love you’. Clever!

11. Aga Khan Museum Garden of Ideas

The Aga Khan Museum is also unique in that it contains a performing arts centre! The theatre itself is modestly sized and has great acoustics. The white star-like ceiling is a sight. The angular staircase in the lobby is also of great note.

13. Aga Khan Museum Theatre Lobby

14. Aga Khan Museum Theatre Lobby

16. Aga Khan Museum Theatre

15. Aga Khan Museum Window

In all, between the entire collection and the space itself, the museum doesn’t feel too big, but it’s not underwhelming either. It also helps that the building in of itself makes the Aga Khan Museum a destination. I spent a little over two hours exploring and taking in everything and would gladly return in the spring or summer to take it in again.

17. Aga Khan Museum Outside

Update: Aga Khan Museum Park and Ismaili Centre, Summer 2015

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Aga Khan Ismaili Centre (1)

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Aga Khan Museum Park (1)

Scenes From Old Town

Spontaneous, impromptu adventures. They are the best, aren’t they? As a person who overthinks and plans the heck out of things, I’ve realised lately that when you go into something with high hopes and little expectations, things turn out to be more fun.

I find myself at George Brown’s St. James Campus, meeting my brother in front of the Hospitality Building at the top of Frederick on Adelaide. It’s a new state of the art building, but its surroundings for the most part aren’t. Beside it is a trio of heritage buildings: Toronto’s First Post Office, the De La Salle Institute, and the former Bank of Upper Canada Building. Actually, the Hospitality Building was previously occupied by a still existing heritage building that still exists, Campbell House Museum, which was moved to University and Queen in 1972.

0. Bank of Upper Canada Building

0. De La Salle Institute

0. Toronto's 1st Post Office

This collection of structures is important in telling the story of York and Toronto, but the block-wide red brick building across from us grabs my attention the most. Ah, converted industrial buildings: my great interest in this thing called local history. A good chunk of George Brown features adaptive reuse projects. The one across the street is the former Christie factory.

0. Christie Factory George Brown 1902

Christie, Brown & Co., Adelaide St. E., s. side, betw. George & Frederick Sts.; looking s.w. 1902. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

1. Old Christie Factory George Brown

My brother tells me that a pedestrian bridge was planned above the intersection to join the two buildings. It never materialized and after we part, I woefully resign to using the boring old crosswalk. Or maybe not so boring. At the corner I see an inkling of Old Toronto street names. Hello Mr. Duke!

2. Duke Street sign at Frederick

3. Frederick Street sign at Adelaide

As I meander south, it’s like architectural Pokemon – I gotta catch ‘em all. But this is a journey within a journey. I really want to check out the Market Gallery – I just get some trinkets along the way!

This is also a good time to plug my Map of Toronto’s Industrial Heritage, where I am attempting to plot the city’s industrial and manufacturing places – existing and lost, still running and demolished.

4. Old Factory on Frederick Street

Among these is Young People’s Theatre, which greets me at Front Street.  Just as it sounds, YPT is an arts space which puts on performances for young audiences. The building itself, though, was never intended to be a theatre. It started off as stables for Toronto Street Railway Company in 1886 – you know, back when horses used to draw the city’s streetcars. After the system became electrified, it became a power generating plant. It sat vacant for a while, faced demolition (such is the story many old and idle buildings, no?) until YPT moved in. One has to think of the logistics of converting a space like that into a theatre. Industrial buildings into lofts or offices seem like the most common examples of adaptive reuse, so to see a power plant into a theatre is truly remarkable!

5. Young People's Theatre Front Street Old TTC building

Still looking at the south side of Front Street, on the west side of Frederick is another industrial building. This is J&J Taylor Safeworks. As a Toronto Historical Board plaque on the building tells us, the structure was built in 1867 as a meat packing plant. In 1871, it became the home to J&J Taylor. It looks to be office space today.

I didn’t venture over to see it, but there’s a Taylor’s Wharf Lane immediately south of the building which commemorates the wharf that used to exist in the area – when the original shoreline was at about Front. Ironically though, the Taylor and in the wharf and the Taylor in the safe manufacturer are unrelated. More on lanes later.

6. Front and George factory

Continuing westward, I get to St. Lawrence Market and I note the doors are curiously closed. Poor twisted me – it’s Monday! I guess the ‘Toronto Does Her Bit’ exhibition will have to wait. I do get a look down pedestrian Market Street, though. There’s a shiny new Balzac’s there. I continue on to the crazy Church-Wellington-Front intersection, highlighted by the often photographed Flat Iron Building. I have enough shots of it so I opt out of one now and turn north.

7. Market Street

I travel past St. James Church and Adelaide Street again. When I hit Lombard I make a left. Impromptu adventure. One of the random nuggets of knowledge in my head tells me there’s something here that I’ve been meaning to check out: 86 Lombard. Today it’s the Fred Victor Women’s Hostel, but in 1907 it was built to be the city morgue. Imagine that: a house of the dead on our streets! There’s some hidden history for you. Actually, more to that point, a now covered sign high above door even once showed its original purpose.

8. Lombard Street Morgue

Lombard Street City Morgue, 1936

Lombard Street City Morgue, 1936. Credit: City of Toronto Archives

Some former factories catch my attention on Richmond street. Although I cannot find anything on the darker building, the red brick building has a ‘sweet’ past. It is part of a complex of structures that stretch to Queen Street which used to make up Robertson Bros Confection Ltd (established in 1862). If my facts are right, the structure on Richmond was the warehouse and dates around 1906. The purpose of the rest of the buildings and their dates is a little bit more difficult to sort out.

9. Industrial Architecture Richmond Street

Robertson Brothers Ltd from Goads Atlas, 1924

Robertson Brothers Ltd from Goads Atlas, 1924

After capturing them in my phone, I turn around to note my surroundings. There’s some street art dedicated to Nelson Mandela!

10. Nelson Mandela Richmond Street

Finally, just before Queen Street is Ditty Lane. This coloured little alley was named for the Ditty Hotel that stood at Queen and Church (although I can’t say exactlywhere at the intersection). The beauty of our laneways is they commemorate lost landmarks, unknown local personalitiess, and hidden histories. On Adelaide east of Bay, for example, lies Grand Opera lane – a tribute to, you guessed, the now vanquished Grand Opera.

Oh, and I had to look up ‘Ditty’ – it’s a little song. Perhaps it was a musical hotel?

11. Ditty Lane

12. Ditty Lane
On Queen Street, my adventure ends (or continues?) as I jump on a westbound streetcar towards my next destination.

Random Scene: New Broadview Hotel

New Broadview Hotel Jilly's

Related Links

Historic Toronto photos – Broadview Hotel House
Why I Love Toronto – Fire Escapes of the New Broadview Hotel
National Post – As Toronto’s East End Grows and Changes, Jilly’s Remains
syncros – Broadview Hotel
scarborough cruiser – New Broadview Hotel