2011 Toronto Legacy Plaques

Jane Jacobs, Marshall McLuhan among new honourees. Originally posted June 28, 2011.

Heritage Toronto, along with representatives from the Toronto Legacy Project and the City of Toronto, introduced the eight newest inductees in the Heritage Toronto Legacy Plaques Program at City Hall on June 20.

These plaques celebrate Toronto’s notable artists, thinkers, and scientists at the places where they lived or worked. Plaques were unveiled to honour founding artistic director of the National Ballet Celia Franca, urban activist Jane Jacobs, photographerWilliam James, architect E.J. Lennox, professor and communications analyst Marshall McLuhan, composer Harry Somers, artist Tom Thomson and scientist J. Tuzo Wilson.

The Toronto Legacy Project was established in 2002 by renowned writer and Toronto’s first Poet Laureate Dennis Lee, to celebrate Toronto’s notable artists, scientists, and thinkers by weaving their names into the cityscape. The project initially focused on naming or re-naming facilities such as Oscar Peterson Place (at the Toronto Dominion Centre) and George Faludy Parkette (at St. Mary’s and St. Nicholas Streets).

The Legacy Project, in partnership with Heritage Toronto, launched this new plaques program last year. The 2010 honorees were prominent writers and poets: Milton Acorn, Margaret Avison, Morley Callaghan, Robertson Davies, Gwendolyn MacEwen and E.J. Pratt. Starting in 2012, the program will expand to honour Torontonians who have excelled in any field of endeavour.

2012 Honourees

Celia Franca (1921 – 2007)
Plaque site: 166 Carlton Street

The founding artistic director of the National Ballet of Canada, Celia Franca was instrumental in bringing ballet to a fine art in Canada. In 1950 a group of visionary balletomanes invited Ms. Franca to leave London, England for Toronto to become the producer, director and ballet mistress of an as-yet non-existent company. Franca seized the opportunity, shaped the organization from the ground up, and led it for 24 years. During her tenure she brought the National Ballet of Canada to world stature, launching such outstanding talents as Karen Kain and Frank Augustyn.

Jane Jacobs (1916-2006)
Plaque site: 69 Albany Avenue

As a writer, activist, and champion of diversity in city life, Jane Jacobs transformed contemporary thinking about urban planning. Her ideas about what makes a city vital have altered the world’s discourse on civic design. Best known for her 1961 book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jacobs had already established an international reputation when she moved from New York to Toronto in 1968. She quickly became a leading figure in her new city, helping to stop the proposed Spadina Expressway. She was named an officer of the Order of Canada in 1996.

William James (1866 – 1948)
Plaque Site: 250 Major Street

The photographer William James emigrated from England in 1906, established himself in Toronto, and proceeded to record the city’s evolution from the Edwardian era until WW II. His photographs – about 12,000 images now stored at the City of Toronto Archives, and three hours of film at the Library and Archives of Canada — document the people, places, and events of the Toronto of his time, and shaped later generations’ understanding of the city.

E. J. Lennox (1854 – 1933)
Plaque site: 487 Sherbourne Street

By his early 30s, E. J. Lennox had built an architectural practice that was one of the largest of its kind in Canada. His buildings remain vital to the fabric of our city. From the High Victorian through the Edwardian periods, the “Builder of Toronto” was responsible for such iconic structures as Old City Hall, the King Edward Hotel, the West Wing of the Parliament Buildings, and Casa Loma.

Marshall McLuhan (1911 – 1980)
Plaque site: 29 Wells Hill Avenue

Professor of English literature, literary critic, rhetorician, and communications analyst, McLuhan did his pioneering work at the intersection of culture and technology. No thinker is more universally associated with the rise of modern media and our transformation to a digital society. He wrote his seminal studies The Gutenberg Galaxy and Understanding Media while living at the Wells Hill address.

Harry Somers (1925 – 1999)
Plaque site: 158 Douglas Drive

Somers showed little interest in music until his early teens, when he heard a family friend play classical piano. Shortly after that he quit high school, mastered the piano, and started to compose. His subsequent output was prodigious: six operas, five piano sonatas, a symphony, three string quartets, and many other orchestral and choral works. Louis Riel has been performed more often, to greater acclaim, than any other large-scale opera by a Canadian. This plaque will be installed in early 2013.

Tom Thomson (1877 – 1917)
Plaque site: 38 Elm Street

Thomson came to Toronto in 1905 and worked as a commercial artist until 1913, when he quit to paint full-time. He drowned in Algonquin Park at 39. Though his entire growth as a productive painter lasted less than six years, he is probably Canada’s best-known artist, and for many our greatest. Contemporary painters revere his work, and ordinary people cherish the paintings which taught them to see their country.

J. Tuzo Wilson (1908 – 1993)
Plaque site: Ontario Science Centre

J. Tuzo Wilson was a geophysicist and geologist. He made a major contribution to the theory of plate tectonics, the revolutionary discovery that the apparently rigid outer layer of the Earth is broken into numerous pieces or “plates,” which move independently over the Earth’s upper mantle. He has been called “one of the most outstanding and prolific earth scientists of the twentieth century.” Born in Ottawa, Wilson joined the Department of Physics at the University of Toronto in 1946. He served as Director General of the Ontario Science Centre from 1974 to 1985.

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