By Andrew Stewart, originally published June 4, 2008
The need for history, information and debate
The turnout at Toronto the Good – the annual bash at the Distillery – is a sign that not all is bad in the city. A passion for history, architecture, planning and public space was clearly on display during this Festival of Architecture and Design (fAd) event, thanks to Spacing Magazine and its generous and creative partners. Thinking about an “urban centre,” as explained by Shawn Micallef in the Toronto Star, was its theme: creating a place for history, information and debate; a beginning point for telling the story of Toronto.
Of course, we are told many times that many histories, many beginning points, exist – maybe too many to allow any one of them to take precedence. (There are currently, we are told, ten city museums all telling the story of Toronto, ranging from Colborne Lodge to Zion Schoolhouse. Perhaps just as the strong mayor system is debated in this city, we are also engaged in a debate over strong – or Strachan – history.)
My feeling is that we do need a hip hub for hid (history, information and debate) and, with it, no one will feel they have been had.
Bishop Strachan’s original Trinity College in Trinity Bellwoods Park would have been a hit today if only they hadn’t torn it down in the 50s like so many other city buildings during that decade. At least its beautiful gates were set aside (where do they keep these things for 50 years? What else do they have in there?), which have recently been restored to the head of Strachan Ave. The location of this funky building at the intersection of vibrant Queen Street West and the course of now-buried Garrison Creek would have been perfect for a hid. Imagine the strolling Queen-street masses drawn inexorably into the orbit of this brick gothicism, a fossil even in its own time, built by the bishop who practically manned the barricades during the invasion of York in 1813.
The side-by-side duo of a restored and enhanced Nathan Phillips Square and a fully restored Old City Hall, minus the courts, offers a robustly complementary set of spaces (new-outdoor and old-indoor): unbeatable, really, as a central starting point for the city. Unless you’re also considering St Lawrence Hall, another good option. Here, Toronto’s oldest and most beautiful public hall, if combined with a new north market building, is really the logical choice. It lies at the heart of the old Town of York. A new building above the farmers’ (north) market, connecting to St Lawrence Hall would be well-placed to tell Toronto’s story at the site of the city’s oldest marketplace.
Altogether, an embarrassment of riches that cannot be quickly exhausted. Wherever hid eventually gets established, it started at fAd – on the site of Toronto’s oldest distillery.
Andrew Stewart has an interest in the geology and history of Toronto and has worked as a consulting archaeologist in Ontario and Nunavut.