Rebelling Over Postal Station K

Originally published on Torontoist on July 31, 2012.


One hundred and seventy-five years after William Lyon Mackenzie assembled his rebels at Montgomery’s Tavern, another group of angry citizens seems ready to rise up against the government on the same site, or at least let a crown corporation know they are unhappy about the possible fallout from its sale—especially if that fallout proves to involve a high-rise condo, as at least one commercial realtor has predicted.

Monday night, a crowd cried things like, “No more condos!” and, “Our history is not for sale!” at a rally in front of Postal Station K, which is what stands on the Montgomery’s Tavern site today. The protest was organized by Eglinton-Lawrence MPP Mike Colle. As a modest crowd listened to speeches about the history of the site and its value to the community, a steady stream of passers-by lined up to sign a petition to save the building.


Event flyer.

“There’s really not much going on right now,” noted Canada Post spokesperson John Caines in a phone interview yesterday. An RFP (request for proposals) was made in April for Postal Station K, along with Canada Post properties at 50 Charles Street East and 1780 Avenue Road. “We’re considering selling them, but only if the purchaser provides a suitable replacement property or properties in return. We’re not looking to leave the area but upgrade and modernize our network.”


Eglinton-Lawrence MPP Mike Colle (centre) leads rally in cry of “No More Condos!”

While the property is a national historic site, because of its role in the rebellion of 1837, Postal Station K is listed but not historically designated by the City of Toronto, affording it few protections under the law. Designed in art-deco style by Murray Brown, whose other works include the nearby Belsize Theatre (now the Regent) on Mount Pleasant Road and the Capitol Theatre in Port Hope, Postal Station K is one of the few buildings in the British Empire to bear the insignia of King Edward VIII. Built in 1936, it replaced a structure originally known as Oulcott’s Tavern, which had been used as a post office from 1912 onward. Besides sorting neighbourhood mail, the building has also, at times, provided space for businesses and a halfway house.

Colle first heard rumblings about a potential sale while on a Heritage Toronto walk through the neighbourhood several weeks ago. He decided to mobilize the community before any clashes with developers could occur. “It’s a great place to take a stand,” Colle noted in a phone interview, referring to the property’s symbolic value. During the fight against amalgamation in 1997, Colle participated in a march that stopped at the site. He believes Canada Post is “totally remote from the public” and he will do his “darndest to make sure they realize that the taxpayers of Toronto paid for that building and they can’t just sell it off willy-nilly without listening to us.” Beyond the building, Colle stressed the property’s role as a public gathering place, especially for wheelchair users who find its lack of barriers ideal for relaxing and meeting others.


Anti-high rise sentiments in the neighbourhood should not be discounted, especially when a high number of condos are underway or being proposed. Though community efforts failed to stop the Minto towers south of Eglinton Avenue, anger at former city councillor Anne Johnston’s role in brokering the deal that allowed the project to proceed led to her defeat in Ward 16 by Karen Stintz in 2004. Though Stintz was unable to attend the rally because she was on vacation, neighbouring councillor Josh Matlow (Ward 22, St. Paul’s) was on hand to lend his support.

If a condo doesn’t become part of the site’s future, what could the building be used for? Colle said that the Anne Johnston Health Centre, located across the street, had expressed interest in additional space for their programs. Eglinton Park Residents’ Association chair Tom Cohen imagined a commercial tavern paired with a museum celebrating the rebellion of 1837. Whatever happens, it’s likely that a creative solution that utilizes most or all of Postal Station K (which seems to be a condition of any sale) will be better received than a high-rise that does little to acknowledge the site’s history. Otherwise, any march down Yonge Street to mark the anniversary of Mackenzie’s rebellion this December might not be a mere re-enactment.


In the end, Postal Station K was integrated into the Montgomery Square condo tower, which is nearing completion as of early 2018. The older building will become dining and retail space. The project is one of the numerous towers sprouting up around Yonge and Eglinton, which combined with the work on the Eglinton Crosstown LRT line, have transformed the neighbourhood into a gigantic construction zone.


Making Toronto’s Heritage Official

Originally published on Torontoist on June 19, 2012.


Looking north on University Avenue from Queen Street, August 1950—the type of view that would be covered under proposed amendments to the Official Plan. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, Item 121.

“A greater effort must be made to retain our remaining important heritage resources, and to balance Toronto’s growth while keeping important touchstones to our past. Heritage resources need to be viewed as contributing long-term value to our built fabric and individual developments, as well as our collective sense of ourselves.”

That viewpoint, developed from public consultation on heritage policy over the past two years, was one of the key messages in a staff report [PDF] presented by the City Planning Division to the Planning and Growth Management Committee, at City Hall yesterday. The findings reflected the importance of heritage conservation to Torontonians, whether they are active advocates or just people who occasionally line up for Doors Open.

Those same findings will be used as part of the City’s effort to overhaul Toronto’s Official Plan, a document that guides development practices. In other words, this consultation data will have significant ramifications for local heritage-preservation policy. The overhaul may turn out to be a boon for heritage boosters. Or, it may end up making no difference at all.

The proposed changes would triple the number of heritage policy points in the Official Plan, from 13 to 39. Many of the new points offer more details about protective measures and guidelines. For one thing, the City’s heritage inventory list would be converted to a register of designated and non-designated heritage districts and properties. There is stronger wording about enforcing bylaws to prevent “demolition by neglect,” and there are promises to create incentives to entice owners to maintain their heritage properties.

There is also slightly more detail about heritage impact assessments, previously known as “heritage impact statements.” (Is “assessment” friendlier to the ears of a developer or landowner?) The creation of more Heritage Conservation Districts to preserve neighbourhoods is encouraged.

Another recommendation is to lessen the impact of so-called “facadism” in new projects, by promoting the retention of enough of the original heritage building to reflect its original dimensions. If enacted, this would drive some developers crazy and provoke heated debate. It would also spur creative design approaches.

Also addressed is what to do if an Empress Hotel-style disaster occurs. The proposal would require the City to create an emergency management protocol to coordinate actions across all affected City agencies and external stakeholders. Such a protocol would also extend to protecting important archaeological artifacts found while excavating for building or infrastructure projects. This would reduce confusion after an incident.

Speaking of archaeology, the proposed policies promote stronger collaboration with First Nations and Métis representatives whenever traces of their cultures are discovered. The current policy simply refers to “indigenous persons” and says sites identified with those groups should be recorded and preserved or, if built over, commemorated in some manner. The proposal calls for an archaeological assessment report before any development can proceed. If something is found on public land, then the City would have the right to deem that property unsuitable for any further development.

Preserving clear views and vistas of historic landmarks and landscapes is identified, in the proposal, as a critical issue. As Toronto accumulates tall buildings, there is a danger that older structures designed to provide a striking view will lose their “visual integrity.” A map has been prepared of sites identified as having significant views. While many of the preliminary buildings listed aren’t surprising (Casa Loma, Old City Hall, Ontario Legislature, Osgoode Hall, the Summerhill LCBO clock tower, Upper Canada College), others are odd. When was the last time you heard anyone marvel about taking in a long view of the East York Civic Centre on Coxwell Avenue?

While the proposed policy addresses many of the concerns we’ve heard at public consultations over the past year and introduces interesting new directions in heritage policy, we’re left with a major question: if the new rules were implemented, who would be responsible for enacting them? As it is, the city’s heritage agencies are dealing with backlogs of properties awaiting the proper research for designation. In recent years, staffing has remained static, or has been cut. Instead of hiring or spreading work to other departments, would the city attempt to rely on the dedication of volunteers to see through the changes, a move that might arouse the wrath of City employee unions?

We may find out in the fall. Following further consultation and a public open house in September, the city’s Chief Planner will present final recommendations at the October 12 meeting of the Planning and Growth Management Committee.

Building Storeys and Mapping Our Music

For a variety of reasons, ranging from rights to use certain images to not feeling like wrestling with the format originally used to post the material, I am not republishing the “Building Storeys” and “Mapping Our Music” series I wrote for Torontoist in 2012. Instead, check out the original posts listed below:

Building Storeys

A series of posts tied into a Heritage Toronto photography exhibit shown at Steam Whistle Brewing in May 2012.

Rail Bridges (April 26, 2012)
The Trillium (May 3, 2012)
Subways (May 11, 2012)
TTC Yards (May 17, 2012)

Mapping Our Music

A series of maps illustrated by Chloe Cushman which depicted “the venues, schools, record labels, stores, and other landmarks that created the sound of our city and shaped its music history.”

Before 1960 (May 9, 2012)
The 1960s (June 13, 2012)
The 1970s (July 19, 2012)
The 1980s (August 21, 2012)
The 1990s (September 19, 2012)


Camp 30 Fights On

Originally published on Torontoist on May 8, 2012.


Entryway to triple barracks, used to house 300 POWs at Camp 30.

Seventy years ago, a provincial reform school for boys on the outskirts of Bowmanville was transformed into a POW camp for captured German officers during World War II. Today, the surviving structures of Camp 30 are fighting another war, against vandals and time. Victory appears to be a possibility.

Recently, Torontoist joined a tour of the complex organized by the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario’s Next Generation group. It will likely turn out to have been the last organized tour of Camp 30 for a while, because Kaitlin Homes, the property’s owner, still doesn’t know quite what to do with the site. Discussions regarding its future are ongoing.


Tour guide and executive director of Clarington Museums and Archives Martha Rutherford Conrad praised Kaitlin’s decision to not demolish Camp 30 while long-term preservation efforts are underway. While Kaitlin is planning to build subdivisions on the north and south ends of the property, they have agreed to set aside the core 30 acres of Canada’s last surviving German POW camp.


Front of Jury Hall, where POWs often posed for photos.

Opened in 1925 as a provincial training school for boys on land donated by local businessman John Jury, the site was chosen to hold POWs because it was easy to convert for those purposes. Several original school buildings, especially Jury Hall, show influences of the Prairie style of architecture as practised by the likes of Frank Lloyd Wright, including flat roofs, and upper rows of windows designed to maximize natural light. When Rutherford Conrad approached American architecture experts about the buildings, they found it odd that the province chose a style that was at a low ebb when the school opened.

The front of Jury Hall was a popular spot for prisoners to pose for photographs when the Red Cross delivered their medals from Germany. Officers brought to Camp 30 were generally treated well: they were allowed to garden, produce plays, run a newspaper, and attend lectures given by visiting professors from the University of Toronto. They were even given occasional offsite access to swim in Lake Ontario or ski.


The cafeteria, one of the main sites of the “Battle of Bowmanville.”

Despite their relative comfort, the Germans were still prisoners and made regular escape attempts, many plotted in the triple barracks building. Some POWs made half-hearted efforts to flee; there were stories of prisoners who, having performed their escape duty, went to nearby farms and asked the farmers to drive them back to the camp. Other efforts were intended to return figures like U-boat commander Otto Kretschmer to battle, but his tunneling attempts failed. A move to shackle the POWs following similar German actions after the battle of Dieppe led to the “Battle of Bowmanville” in October 1942. Prisoners took over key buildings for several days and fashioned weapons from whatever was on hand, from china to ketchup bottles. The cafeteria, the oldest structure at the camp, was the last building to fall back into Canadian hands.


Graffiti in the Generals House/hospital.

Camp 30 was quickly turned back into a reform school after the war, which it remained until 1979. Several private schools used the site over the next 30 years until Darul Uloom, an Islamic boarding school, departed the premises in fall 2008. Afterward, Camp 30 fell prey to vandalism that has accelerated over the past two years. The walls of the general’s house/hospital are spray-painted with the Joker’s catchphrases, while the theft of vinyl siding from the cafeteria exposed its wood to the elements. A nightlight Clarington Museums hoped to preserve vanished at some point within the past year. Fires played a role in demolition of the former administration building and left marks on other structures. While high schools have frequently shown interest in visits, potential liabilities from hazards like broken glass and open manhole covers have scared them off.

As for Camp 30’s future, a request for a National Historical Designation has been filed and will be determined in July. Discussions are also underway with Parks Canada to transform the site into an urban national park like the Rouge Valley will be if all its approvals come through. Work is underway to establish a stewardship foundation that would restore and operate the site. Rutherford Conrad hopes to have that up and running within six months. She is optimistic about Camp 30’s ability to attract visitors, based on high interest when it was part of Doors Open in 2009 (1,400 people passed through the gates, with 400 more turned away) and a “Spirits of Camp 30” tour last October that included historical re-enactments. Five buildings are being recommended for preservation, while other structures, such as the natatorium (a combination swimming pool and gymnasium), are regarded as less architecturally significant or unsuited for safe reuse.


The natatorium.

If funding was available, Rutherford Conrad said she would love to brick up the buildings to ensure their survival before more interior damage can be done. A long-term plan would be developed, and ideas beyond museum use—such as community gardens and offering the cafeteria as a reception hall and restaurant space—would be explored. Anyone interested in helping the efforts to preserve Camp 30 can contact Clarington Museums and Archives.


An agreement was reached between Clarington and the developers in 2016 which transferred the buildings to the municipality. As of December 2017, efforts were underway to designate the site under the Ontario Heritage Act.


The Fall of 81 Wellesley Street East

Originally published on Torontoist on January 20, 2012.

Shortly after 5 p.m. on Wednesday afternoon, Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam (Ward 27, Toronto Centre–Rosedale) reached an agreement over the phone with a demolition company, to halt work that had begun that morning at the back of 81 Wellesley Street East. An hour later, as the equipment was moved to the front of the property, a hole was punched in the face of the 19th century building. That act was akin to the punched-in-the-gut feeling Wong-Tam experience when she first learned of the demolition earlier in the day.

The assault on Odette House and its accompanying coach house points to loopholes in City policies regarding demolition permits and heritage designations that have allowed long-standing buildings to fall.

For 20 years, the buildings at 81 Wellesley East housed the Wellspring cancer support centre. When Wellspring determined that the site required costly renovations and lacked space for future expansion of services, the buildings were placed on the market for $3.25 million. The real estate listing described 81 Wellesley Street East as a “rare boutique building”—a description that might have attracted a buyer who could have converted it into living, office, or retail space that blended with the neighbourhood. However, the listing also indicated that the site was “free of any historical designation/listing,” which signalled the opportunity to knock down the existing structures. The property was sold in September 2011 for $4.5 million, to a buyer that no one we talked to could identify. (Torontoist contacted the real estate firm that handled the transaction and was told that the buyer may or may not consent to their identity being known. At press time, the name of the buyer had not been released.)

While it is true that there wasn’t a heritage designation for the site at the time of the sale, it’s also true that one was in the works. On November 2, Wong-Tam submitted a request for designation that was unanimously approved by the Toronto and East York Community Council. While the approved request sat in the long backlog of proposed designations at Heritage Preservation Services (HPS), the property owners applied to the Building department for a demolition permit on December 1. While requests for residential demolitions are sent to councillors like Wong-Tam for feedback, those for commercially-zoned land like 81 Wellesley Street East do not require such input. Without a heritage designation or listing officially on the books, the permit was granted, as required under the Planning Act, 14 days later.

The loophole infuriates Wong-Tam, who told us yesterday that “the only thing stopping reckless development and demolition in the city is whether or not something has a heritage designation.” Because anyone can submit an application regarding commercial property, and HPS is “so grossly underfunded and understaffed,” Wong-Tam feels that “we are systematically destroying the urban fabric of our city.”

Demolition equipment from Lions Group appeared on the site Wednesday, with the initial wrecking work occurring at the back of the property. Among the nearby residents alarmed by the situation was Paul Farrelly of the Church Wellesley Neighbourhood Association. “I noticed a post there 10 days ago talking about a demolition permit and I went to look around and took photos,” noted Farrelly in an email. “I did some searching and saw it had recently been vacated by Wellspring. But there was no physical notice or sign on the property.”

Residents quickly contacted Wong-Tam’s office to find out what was going on; one texter asked, “are developers pulling a fast one?” The councillor contacted the Building department, where she learned about the lack of input on commercial demolition permits. As she pieced together what had happened among various city departments, she grew angrier. “It was in this City’s hands,” she said. “That building came down because we issued a demolition permit, not knowing what the right hand and left hand was doing. There was a spectacular failure on the City’s part to do a good job of protecting that property and it was an enormous gap in communication and coordination at the City level.” Wong-Tam has requested that the Building department email all demolition requests in her ward, regardless of their zoning, to her attention. She has also scheduled a meeting with City planning officials to work through the loopholes: “we have to codify the behaviour and make it consistent so we can actually protect what heritage attributes we have left.”

Wong-Tam would also like to fix a related issue: situations in which demolition permits have been granted without a construction permit also being issued. So far, no development application has been submitted for 81 Wellesley Street East, though some suspect there are plans to build a condo. The lack of set plans for a site following building demolition has frequently resulted in the creation of surface parking lots in those locations—which owners may retroactively ask the City for permission to operate, such as one Wong-Tam cited at Jarvis and Carlton. Her ideal vision would see owners implement green streetscaping after the wrecking ball has stilled.

While the current half-demolished state of the property makes it a lost cause, 81 Wellesley Street East illustrates the problems of protecting older buildings around the city. A proactive, rather than reactionary, approach is required. More staff to clear the backlog of heritage designations and codifying better coordination between departments could alleviate the confusion that often is manifest now, and has seen historic buildings which might have remained viable parts of the local landscape reduced to rubble.

With a looming lockout of City workers that will further slow the designation process, it may soon be the case that there’s even more opportunity for developers who care more about bulldozing a site as quickly as possible to do just that, rather than consulting with the surrounding community or imaginatively working with existing structures.


Sure enough, the property would be promoted as a future condo project. Because, you know, Toronto and condos. A Google view from August 2017 showed the site was still a vacant lot, albeit one fenced off for future construction.


Four City Museums to Close?

Originally published on Torontoist on November 14, 2011.


Councillor Joe Mihevc, interpreters, and community forming a chain around Montgomery’s Inn.

“Our heritage is not for sale. Our heritage is not for closure. Our heritage is not for contracting out and it is not for dismantling piece by piece.”

With these words Councillor Joe Mihevc (Ward 21, St. Paul’s) greeted a crowd of around 200 concerned citizens outside Montgomery’s Inn in Etobicoke yesterday afternoon. The historic site is among the four City-operated museums rumoured to be on the chopping block when the city budget comes out on November 28. Besides Montgomery’s Inn, the other heritage properties that account for $1 million in cuts are Gibson House, Market Gallery, and the Zion Schoolhouse.

Mihevc organized the Sunday press conference to mobilize public support for the museums. A petition is already online, and the audience was told that they should chat about the affected sites via social media. He announced a plan to request that the city museums division conduct a review to find ways to increase revenue. Mihevc believes that both the community and council need to act as “good stewards” of the city’s historic properties, many of which survived through decades of committed volunteer engagement that could be disrespected and forgotten.


Michael Redhill speaking at Montgomery’s Inn. 

Among the speakers was writer Michael Redhill, who compared the effect of closing museums to a dementia patient’s loss of memory. “Only a form of dementia would make the loss of the city’s history a fair value for a million dollars. Is your soul worth a mere million? Apparently Toronto’s is.” Redhill proceeded with a thoughtful critique of the Ford administration’s valuing of cost-cutting over the more enduring, if intangible, benefits of preserving heritage sites in which citizens can take pride:

The current municipal government has shown that it is willing to do anything in the name of money, no matter the cost to the city’s soul. The closure of four museums that are also heritage sites is an indication of soul sickness at the municipal level. This inn has stood on this very spot for 180 years while this city council will be gone in three. Torontonians should stand united against short-term fixes that will do permanent damage. These coming budget cuts will effectively ensure the disappearance of four important historical sites, and I think we have to recognize that. They’re not just closing the museum and getting rid of the workers; there will never be the political will to reopen these places once they are closed… Without a history to draw on, citizens will eventually think that there is no city to honour or preserve and that the needs of the present are the only ones that matter. We know what happens to people when they are convinced that their own needs are the only ones that matter. Do we want to live in a city that thinks that way?

Following a series of speakers connected to the affected museums, the audience was asked to form a human chain around Montgomery’s Inn.

Some of Mihevc’s fellow councillors went on Twitter yesterday to refute his claims regarding closures. Executive committee member Jaye Robinson (Ward 25, Don Valley West), who proposed in September’s council budget sessions that alternative service models for city museums be examined, stated that “museums are not being sold and will hopefully never be closed. Staff can make budget cut recommendations but Council has final say.” She was backed up by Gary Crawford(Ward 36, Scarborough Southwest), who noted, “We should not allow political grandstanding to take us off course.”

When we spoke to Mihevc about these comments earlier today, he noted that he had talked to Robinson and, based on that conversation and further checks with his sources, he is “absolutely right” about the proposed closures. (Robinson did not respond to our request for an interview before publication time.) He mentioned the parallel example of a council vote in September that prevented the elimination of community environment days, which the budget committee appeared to ignore when it proposed last week to reduce the number from 44 to 11. “So it seems the mayor is not paying any heed whatsoever to any of those motions,” says Mihevc.

Whether million-dollar or nickel-and-dime cuts are to be made to Toronto’s museums, intimations made over the past few months that there will be closures are stirring people to defend the value of these institutions. As Redhill mentioned, it’s difficult to imagine these sites will ever reopen if the doors are locked, at least not without extraordinary effort.


The following disclaimer was added shortly after the piece was published:

Shortly after publication, and after emerging from a meeting she’d been in, Councillor Robinson did indeed call us back. She insists that museum closures are not on the budget cut list, and feels that the combination of a front-page article in the Star on Saturday and Mihevc’s statements are needlessly stirring up fear within the heritage community. “I’m not sure why this has resurfaced because council was very clear in its direction to staff to say that this was not a direction we want to go in,” she told us. “Council is willing to look at alternate service delivery models and alternate funding models but we want to keep our museums open.” Robinson, who calls herself “a museum nut,” finds the prospect of closing any heritage site “as bad as closing a library, if not worse.”

For all the negative coverage of potential closures to city heritage museums, Councillor Robinson perceives some positives coming out of this incident. She referred to the fallout from Doug Ford’s dreams of Ferris wheels and monorails: “The silver lining on the waterfront was people started talking about it and it reinvigorated that piece of the city and got some attention focused back on it. There’s always a silver lining.”

Let’s just say that Robinson was furious when she phoned back, as I received an earful about professionalism and such. This incident illustrated the pitfalls of turning around stories in a hurry in order to be first/close to first online.

It was a learning curve.

The press conference itself was a little weird, especially the human chain element. My cynicism about events such as this grew over time (even if my sentiment was with the speakers), as did my pessimistic view of politics in general. None of the museums rumoured to be on the chopping block closed permanently.


Projecting Toronto

Originally published on Torontoist on October 27, 2011.


One of the great misconceptions about Toronto is that its past is boring. The city has seen its fair share of rebellions, grand celebrations, tragedies, ambitious plans, and unrealized dreams that in various ways intersect with our present. Teaching Toronto’s citizens about how the past and present connect is one of the goals of The Toronto Project, a new website that hopes, in the words of its introductory essay, to “explain who we are, and what we will become, by telling the stories of who we have already been.”

For years, community leaders and civic officials have envisioned a museum showcasing Toronto’s history. During David Miller’s administration there was a push to build one, known at different times as Humanitas or the Toronto Museum Project, in the old Canada Malting silos at the foot of Bathurst Street. The recession ended those plans, which evolved into a website that vows to weave “100 artifacts, 100 Torontonians, 100 stories, 100 exhibit ideas.” The Toronto Project organizers don’t see their effort as in competition with the Toronto Museum Project or other local heritage interests; organizers of The Toronto Project are reaching out to institutions and historical associations via public meetings. As the project’s executive director, veteran journalist David Macfarlane told us by email, “because we insist that we are in competition with nobody and link to everything, any territorial resistance quickly disappears.” Sponsors listed on the site, from cultural institutions like the AGO to legal firms, are providing editorial and financial assistance.

The idea for The Toronto Project grew out of conversations between Macfarlane and former Toronto mayor David Crombie. Macfarlane had just written the text for a coffee table book about the city’s past, while Crombie, who serves as the project’s chair, had long advocated a museum. Both concluded that the flexibility of the online world would allow them to, in Macfarlane’s words, “approach history in a more dynamic, interactive way.” During an interview with Matt Galloway on Metro Morning last week, Macfarlane indicated that he sees the Toronto Project site as an ideal gateway into Toronto’s history for schools and for those who aren’t normally drawn to discovering the city’s heritage.

With the assistance of the Toronto Star, the site’s current focus is collecting stories from Toronto’s diverse communities to build an interactive encyclopedia. “These are, in the main, stories of immigration and settlement,” says Macfarlane, “but by no means exclusively so.” We hope that the remembrances collected will include stories of the warts-and-all variety, which make history livelier and more relatable to contemporary day-to-day struggles than what Toronto Life once referred to as the “People Living in Harmony” school of museums.

Also underway is work on an exhibit highlighting Toronto’s waterfront. That public policy makers sometimes pay dangerously little attention to the area’s historical evolution was painfully evident when the Ford brothers unveiled their derided Ferris wheel and monorail proposals during the summer. The educational value of the Toronto Project’s efforts to contextualize areas of the city, like the waterfront, which have a long history of both good and bad development proposals, could be useful in urging public dialogue that may make voters think about what their elected representatives are really up to.

But will these kinds of discussions ever take place at a physical city museum? When asked where he might envision one being operated, Macfarlane says that “I’ve been spending so much time imagining the city as a museum of itself, it’s actually really hard for me to imagine any single location as a physical museum. That said, I hope there will be one.”


Little more emerged from The Toronto Project. The website no longer exists, though there is another site with the same name which apparently launched in 2005. The last time I heard about it was during the press conference for the Toronto Public Library’s acquisition of the Toronto Star’s photo archive.

A video remains on the project’s YouTube page, along with a few notes on Macfarlane’s website. At this point in time, it’s safe to file this one under failed “celebrate Toronto’s history” attempts.

The idea of some form of city museum carried on. I attended a workshop in 2014 for a “Museum of Toronto” which David Crombie was involved in – a post on Active History sums up how that session went. A year later, Myseum emerged, which has programmed many events and exhibitions under its decentralized model (Disclaimer: I’ve been involved in a few of them).

A city staff report released in January 2018 recommended using Old City Hall as a museum site after municipal and provincial courts move out in 2021. On February 1, council voted 35-3 to go ahead with planning. Not surprisingly, the loudest complaint came from a councillor whose family has long been intrenched in the never-thinks-of-wider-public-good/knows-the-cost-of-everything-and-value-of-nothing politics that always seems to entice voters from Etobicoke (a topic I’ll probably rage…erm…provide a thoughtful, well-considered approach to someday).

Recommended reading: for Spacing, John Lorinc suggests how a thoughtful approach would benefit creating the museum.