Blue plaques highlight the contributions of artists, thinkers, scientists. Originally posted March 3, 2010.
Heritage Toronto and the Toronto Legacy Project, in partnership, are launching a new program of commemorative plaques that celebrates the bygone lives that helped to build the city of today. Each plaque will mark a site where a notable artist, scientist, or thinker lived or worked.
Many cities have similar programs, such as London, Paris, New York and Barcelona. Toronto has the Cabbagetown People plaques, but this is the first city-wide initiative.
“This program will certainly increase awareness about the depth of talent that has always existed in Toronto,” said Mayor David Miller. “These first plaques creatively commemorate some of the writers and poets who played a major role in building Toronto’s literary legacy.”
“This program will enrich our cityscape,” said Toronto’s first Poet Laureate and founder of the Legacy Project Dennis Lee. “And it should still be going strong a hundred years from now.”
The first six plaques will be unveiled today at City Hall, the first honouring prominent poets and writers: Milton Acorn, Margaret Avison, Morley Callaghan, Robertson Davies, Gwendolyn MacEwen and E.J. Pratt. The program will continue steadily, with six to eight new plaques annually. The first plaques will be installed in the Spring.
The Toronto Legacy Project was established by Toronto’s first Poet Laureate Dennis Lee in 2002 to celebrate Toronto’s notable artists, scientists, and thinkers by weaving their names into the cityscape. Initially focused on naming or re-naming facilities, such as Oscar Peterson Place (at the Toronto Dominion Centre), Glenn Gould Place (formerly Metro Square), and George Faludy Parkette (at St. Mary’s and St. Nicholas Streets), the Toronto Legacy Project is currently focusing on this new plaques program.
The Toronto Legacy Project and Heritage Toronto share a common commitment to memory – to marking, on our streets and in our public places, the names of those who have given us something worth celebrating. This new program reflects the merging of the Legacy Project’s focus – individuals who have made a major contribution to the arts, science and thought – with Heritage Toronto’s long-standing Plaques and Markers Program. Using criteria jointly established for this program, the Toronto Legacy Project and Heritage Toronto work closely to select candidates and plaque locations.
Selection of Candidates and Plaque Sites
To be considered, individuals must have made a major contribution to the arts, science or thought. That contribution must be recognized by members of their own calling, and must be well documented and broadly acknowledged. Candidates must also have had a strong association with the City of Toronto through birth, residence over a significant period of time, or through the connection of their work and career with the city.
Plaques must be installed on a site which has a well-documented and strong connection to the life or work of commemorated individuals.
Candidates for the plaques are put forward each year by the Legacy Project. The public is invited to submit names for consideration to both Heritage Toronto and the Legacy Project.
Simple and elegant, each plaque uses a few words to identify the person and place being honoured. Plaques will be installed either on the front wall of a building or on a post at the sidewalk.
The striking design was contributed by the Toronto firm, Hahn Smith. Each plaque is an oval, 30 cm by 18 cm, with bold white type on a blue background. The oval retains the shape of Heritage Toronto plaques; the blue retains the colour of Legacy Project markers at Oscar Peterson Place and other sites, while referencing the official colour of Toronto.
The first year’s plaques commemorate writers, following the “Literary City” theme of Toronto’s 175th anniversary. Future plaques will celebrate figures from a wide range of disciplines, and across the full history of the city.
Heritage Toronto and the Legacy Project are grateful to the property owners who have accepted the 2010 plaques, and to the City’s Culture Division for funding their fabrication in this initial year. The plaques themselves remain the property and responsibility of Heritage Toronto.
The First Honourees
Milton Acorn was probably the most colourful figure in the history of Canadian poetry. A carpenter from Prince Edward Island, and a man of passionate convictions, he wrote poems that came, in the words of Al Purdy, “somewhere close to greatness.”
Acorn lived in the Waverley Hotel, at Spadina and College, from 1970 to 1977. He published five collections during that time, winning the specially-created People’s Poet Award in 1970, and the Governor General’s Award in 1975.
George Bowering, the first Canadian poet laureate, calls Margaret Avison “the best poet we have had.” Her austere and compassionate work, which frequently reflected her Christian faith, received two Governor General’s Awards. At the age of 85, she won the prestigious Griffin Poetry Prize for Concrete and Wild Carrot.
Avison lived in the Fellowship Towers at 877 Yonge Street from 1984 to 2007, and published seven books in that period.
Through the first half of the twentieth century, Morley Callaghan was seen as the preeminent fiction writer in English Canada. Hemingway promoted his early stories; Edmund Wilson ranked him with Chekhov and Turgenev. He is still admired for the clear-eyed humanity of his work, and for his finely-honed prose.
A Torontonian, Callaghan lived at 20 Dale Avenue from 1951 to 1990. During that time he published fourteen books, among them such classics as The Loved and the Lost and That Summer in Paris.
Davies’ enduring reputation rests on the novels in the Deptford Trilogy, which began with the celebratedFifth Business. He wrote them while serving as the first Master of Massey College, where he lived from 1963 to 1981.
Gwendolyn MacEwen’s rich and visionary poetry continues to impress critics and other poets, and to fascinate new generations of readers. Douglas Barbour calls her “a wonder, a poet of legendary process-of how the everyday becomes supernatural reality.”
From 1983 to 1987 she lived at 240 Robert Street. Here she published five books, including Afterworlds, for which she received her second Governor General’s Award.
E. J. PRATT
During his lifetime, Edwin John Pratt was widely considered Canada’s greatest poet. His book-length narrative poems were hailed as national epics, and he is still regarded as one of our major writers.
Pratt came to Toronto from Newfoundland, and taught for decades at Victoria College in the University of Toronto. From 1932 to 1953 he lived at 21 Cortleigh Boulevard, where he wrote nine books, including Brébeuf and His Brethren and Towards the Last Spike. Three of these volumes won Governor General’s Awards.