Introducing UTSC’s Environmental Science & Chemistry Building

Originally published on Torontoist on January 29, 2016.

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At first glance, the six silvery stacks that grace the plaza outside University of Toronto Scarborough (UTSC)’s Environmental Science & Chemistry Building look like a public art project, or perhaps a salute to Daleks. Whatever these stacks resemble in the minds of attendees at today’s ribbon-cutting ceremony, they act as the exterior face of concrete shafts known as “Earth Tubes,” which play a key role in the building’s innovative, energy-efficient design.

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Exterior view of Earth Tubes.

A glass pane in the building’s east entrance summarizes how the Earth Tubes work:

The latent heat of the earth and ultraviolet light contribute to the energy efficiency of the Environmental Science and Chemistry Building. Air travels through the “Earth Tubes” two metres underground, drawing warmth from the earth in winter and transferring warmth back to the earth in summer, while the exposure to ultraviolet light sanitizes it. In winter, air enters the building already warm; in summer the tubes return warmth back into the earth, cooling the air. This process reduces demands on the ventilation system all year round.

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The Earth Tubes emerge in the basement.

The tubes emerge via a basement corridor, resembling tunnels out of a science fiction movie. They are tucked behind the main mechanical room, where other geothermal pipes run deep underneath the basement instead of being placed beside the building. The purified, temperate air is then circulated around the building, eventually being vented out via the labs. Sustainable technology like Earth Tubes is aiding UTSC’s application for LEED Gold Standard status.

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Looking down from the fifth floor.

Instead of sticking researchers in the basement or other hidden areas, the labs are located on the south side of the building, facing the Highland Creek ravine. It is hoped that glimpsing nature will spark inspiration. Plans call for the entire building to be surrounded by a more pleasing environment, with an adjacent parking lot slated to become green space and the current alignment of Military Trail beside it to become a pedestrian zone. Outside, the lab side is covered in a series of metal fins which, depending on the angle, resemble waves and will offer a cool shadow during the summer.

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Looking across the ground floor teaching labs.

The labs also offer flexibility for the needs of each project or any future development within the building. Ceilings are unfinished, while lab equipment is not permanently attached to the floor. Each floor’s suite of labs is relatively open concept, to allow for fluctuations in project head counts and to foster collaborations between research teams. First-year courses are taught on ground level, with each “classroom” able to view labs across the floor, which may come in handy if assistance is needed during emergencies (these labs went into service earlier this month). On the higher floors, signs of researchers at work are everywhere, with molecular diagrams and the occasional joke written on whiteboards and glass meeting room walls. Among the projects being worked on is a machine to scan bodies for bacteria, disease, drugs, and other objects akin to Star Trek’s tricorders.

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The backup diesel generator.

The building even boasts a penthouse—a mechanical penthouse, where the main backup emergency diesel generator is stored. Given a history of brownouts from the city’s power grid, and the potential ruin that awaits research projects if the juice is off for seconds (as was the case during the 2013 ice storm), it was critical a strong backup power source was installed onsite. Under a worst-case scenario, the diesel generator could power the building for one to three days.

Designed by Diamond Schmitt Architects and built over two years, the Environmental Science & Chemistry Building is one of the first completed portions of the current UTSC master plan. Besides reconfiguring routes across campus, will include new academic buildings which whose architecture will serve as a contrast with its original brutalist style, a parking deck, and a hotel/conference centre near the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre.

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Shaping Toronto: Union Station

Originally published on Torontoist on January 15, 2016.

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Union Station under construction, August 1, 1917. Photo by John Boyd Sr. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1548, Series 393, Item 14352.

Pierre Berton called it “the soul and heartbeat of Toronto.” Over its history, Union Station has welcomed new arrivals to Canada, bid farewell to soldiers going off to war, hosted nobility, and endured cranky commuters. The City’s government management committee’s approval earlier this month of a proposal to develop space under the Great Hall for a culinary market and cultural event space is the latest step in the long evolution of our main downtown transportation hub.

Toronto entered the railway age in 1853, when a train departed a shed on Front Street for Aurora. Five years later the first incarnation of Union Station (so named because it was used by multiple railways) opened on the south side of Station Street between Simcoe and York. A shed-like structure, it couldn’t cope with the rapid increase in rail traffic, which prompted railways to build new stations elsewhere.

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Canadian Illustrated News, August 2, 1873.

The Grand Trunk Railway decided a new main station was needed. Built on the site of the original station, the second Union Station debuted on July 1, 1873. The opening ceremony was a muted affair due to the untimely death two months earlier of contractor John Shedden, but the new station was nicely decorated with evergreens for the occasion. Designed by E.P. Hanneford, the new Union was a grand building inspired by English railway stations of the previous decade, and was graced with three towers. Facing the harbour, it helped shape the city’s mid-Victorian skyline.

Like its predecessor, Union #2 couldn’t cope with the demands of a booming city. Facility improvements, including an 1894 expansion which blocked the original façade from view, barely alleviated the station’s woes. “The general consensus of opinion,” Railway and Shipping World reported in 1899, “is that the Toronto Union is one of the most inconvenient stations in America, expensive to run and unsatisfactory in very many respects.”

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The second Union Station, June 15, 1927. City of Toronto Archives Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 79, Item 236.

A catastrophe provided an opportunity to remedy the situation. The Great of Fire of 1904 wiped out nearly all of the buildings east of the station along Front Street, leaving room for a new facility amid the rubble. Within a year plans were underway for Union’s third incarnation, along with a railway viaduct to reduce the injuries and fatalities piling up at level crossings. While Canadian Pacific and Grand Trunk formed Toronto Terminals Railway in 1906 to run the new station, two decades would pass before it opened for service.

Over that time, governments, property owners, and railways squabbled over everything, especially track placement. While construction began in fall 1914, the combination of quarrels and First World War material shortages delayed completion of much of the station until 1921. It stood empty for six years, part of the great Toronto tradition of stalled projects like the Bayview Ghost and the Spadina Ditch.

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Row of ticket offices at Union Station, during the period it was unused, June 13, 1923. City of Toronto Archives, Globe and Mail fonds, Fonds 1266, Item 908.

The delays became such a joke that when the new station received a royal opening on August 6, 1927, the Globe joked that “it took Edward, Prince of Wales just eight and one-half minutes on Saturday morning to accomplish what all of Toronto has been trying to do for the last six years.” When regular service launched four days later, the press gushed about improved passenger amenities and safety. Among the modern conveniences were a lunch counter, large dining room, full telegraph and telephone facilties, barber shop, beauty parlours, and, as the Globe noted, “individual bathrooms containing the most sanitary appliances.” Lingering viaduct work delayed Union’s final completion until 1930.

Stylistically, the new Union benefitted from its Beaux Arts design, especially in illuminating the Great Hall. In their survey of the city’s architectural history Toronto Observed, William Dendy and William Kilbourn praised main architect John M. Lyle’s work with natural light, which “gives the Hall its special character as light floods in through windows set high above the cornice on the south and north sides, and especially through the four-storey-high windows framed by vaulted arches at the east and west ends.”

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The second incarnation of Union Station was also a major transfer spot for the military during the First World War. Here, the 48th Highlanders are returning from Europe in 1918. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 823.

During the Second World War, Union was an important military transfer point. Morley Callaghan described for Maclean’s how a soldier on leave could enjoy Union’s creature comforts, especially while killing time before a hot date:

If someone important is waiting, not there in the station but up in the city, and the date is a few hours off, the soldier can wait there in the station and enjoy all the comforts of a hotel. He can go into the drug store and buy himself a bottle of eau de cologne, if he wants to smell like a rose, and then go downstairs and take a bath. Then he can come up to the barber shop and be freshly shaved. If he is hungry he can go to the main dining room, if he has the money, or he can go to the coffee shop or the soda fountain. He’s not just in a depot, he’s in a communal centre.

After the war, Union’s amenities were among the first tastes of Canada thousands of immigrants enjoyed.

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Toronto Calendar, December 1971.

As intercity train travel waned during the 1960s, and plans for the redevelopment of the railway lands emerged, it looked like a fourth incarnation of Union might emerge. The destruction of Pennsylvania Station in New York City in 1963 to make way for a new Madison Square Garden and a nondescript new train terminal was echoed when the Metro Centre proposal emerged in 1968. Had it proceeded, office towers would have replaced the Great Hall, while train service (including the recently launched GO) would have moved south into a primarily underground structure. Proponents argued that, as with its earlier incarnations, Union could not be expanded to handle projected passenger growth.

By the time local councils approved Metro Centre in 1970, the project faced public outcry over Union’s death sentence. Grassroots preservationist groups, having witnessed heritage demolitions galore over the previous decade, were buoyed by fights over the Spadina Expressway and Trefann Court, as well as the rescue of Old City Hall. “Union Station became a rallying point for those who might not have otherwise become involved in the issue of planning downtown,” John Sewell observed years later. “That planners and city council would be so cavalier about this structure was something that raised the ire of many—to such an extent that the Ontario Municipal Board refused to approve council’s decisions implementing the scheme.”

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Cartoon by Andy Donato, Toronto Sun, July 21, 1974.

With the election of David Crombie and a reform-minded council in 1972, Metro Centre’s days were numbered. Though elements like the CN Tower went ahead, the province killed any notion of demolishing Union when it announced expansion and renovation plans for the station in 1975. Work was carried on as the station’s function continued to evolve into primarily serving GTA commuters.

In recent years, Union has been a construction site, as years of squabbling over how to revamp the facility are finally showing results. GO’s new York Concourse opened in April 2015, while work on the Bay Concourse (last renovated in 1979) is scheduled to finish in 2017. The subway station gained another platform. An outdoor market proved popular this past summer. One can argue that the station will continue to be the city’s pulse for decades to come.

Additional material from The Open Gate: Toronto Union Station, Richard Bébout, editor (Toronto: Peter Martin Associates, 1972); Toronto’s Railway Heritage by Derek Boles (Chicago: Arcadia Publishing, 2009); Lost Toronto by William Dendy (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1993); Toronto Observed by William Dendy and William Kilbourn (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1986); The Shape of the City by John Sewell (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1993); the July 2, 1873, August 8, 1927, and August 11, 1927 editions of the Globe; the March 15, 1943 edition of Maclean’s; and the May 28, 1975 edition of the Toronto Star.

Shaping Toronto: The Old City Hall Cenotaph

Originally published on Torontoist on November 11, 2015.

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When this photo appeared in the November 12, 1925 edition of the Globe, the caption read: “The picture was taken by the Globe staff photographer shortly after the cenotaph had been unveiled by his Excellency, and before the hundreds of wreaths which now cover the base of the monument had been deposited in token of remembrance by the relatives and friends of the noble dead to whom the memorial is erected.” City of Toronto Archives, Globe and Mail fonds, Fonds 1266, Item 6584.

Noon, November 11, 1925: Governor-General Lord Byng of Vimy removes a Union Jack flag to reveal the city’s permanent memorial to the soldiers sacrificed during the First World War. As he unveils the granite monument outside Old City Hall, he looks, according to the Star, “not into a sea of faces but a sea of poppies. Miraculously in a few hours the restricted area that does duty as Toronto’s place d’armes had been carpeted with the fragile scarlet blossoms that are more imperishable than brass and marble associated with the glory and tragedy of the greatest of world conflicts.”

As the cenotaph marks its 90th anniversary this Remembrance Day, it’s worth reflecting on the role such monuments play, and, especially in light of current debates on appropriate memorials, what some people have considered to be desecrations.

When a city council special committee contemplated permanent sites for a monument in 1924, its members felt that erecting it in front of Old City Hall would render it inconspicuous due to space limitations and the height of surrounding buildings. While they preferred replacing an old bandstand in Queen’s Park, veterans felt it should remain at Old City Hall, where annual ceremonies had been held since 1920.

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Three of the potential designs for the cenotaph. Toronto Star, October 27, 1924.

A design competition attracted 50 entrants. The $2,500 prize went to architects/First World War veterans William Ferguson and Thomas Canfield Pomphrey (the latter would work on the R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant). The cornerstone of the granite cenotaph was laid with a silver trowel by Field Marshal Earl Haig on July 24, 1925. As the unveiling neared, city council ordered a change to the front wording from “To those who served” to a phrase specifically geared to those who fell in battle, “To our glorious dead.”

When city officials arrived at the cenotaph at 6 a.m. on November 11, 1925, they found two memorial wreaths had been left overnight: an anonymous assembly of chrysanthemums and one in memory of Private William Bird from his children. During the ceremony, only wreaths presented by Haig (who, unable to attend, drafted Byng as his stand-in) and the city were allowed to rest on the monument. Dozens of others, representing everything from orphanages to Belgian soldiers in town for the Royal Winter Fair, were banked around Old City Hall’s steps.

“It is true that there is nothing we can do which will add to the honour in which their memory is held,” Mayor Thomas Foster observed during his speech. “But in performing the ceremony arranged for this occasion we follow immemorial usage, and we inaugurate a memorial to the lasting honour of the men of this city who left their homes and the pursuits of peace and gave up their lives for their country.”

One addition was made almost immediately. Members of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve Officers’ Association were upset that none of the seven battle names inscribed on the sides involved the Navy. Their suggestion of Zeebrugge was added to the rear.

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Macedonian parade, scene at cenotaph, September 1, 1929. City of Toronto Archives, Globe and Mail fonds, Fonds 1266, Item 17805.

The cenotaph quickly became the site of memorials by numerous groups honouring their war dead. Mohawk singer Os-ke-non-ton laid a five foot long “arrow of memory” in December 1925 to commemorate First Nations soldiers. The monument was an official stop during the annual July 12 Orange Parade. Few days went by where there wasn’t a fresh wreath lain upon it.

By the late 1940s, as the dates to another world war were inscribed into the cenotaph, some quarters felt the public wasn’t respectful enough. Letters to newspapers complained about workers resting on it for lunch or smoke breaks, drunks sleeping on it, and the occasional dice game at its base. Police placed “keep off” signs on the cenotaph, while some city councillors wanted to erect spikes to prevent anyone from leaning too close. Some of these efforts to turn the monument into an untouchable shrine echo current arguments on how displaying Christmas decorations too early offends the sanctity of remembering dead soldiers, even if they fought for the freedom to do such things.

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Toronto Star, October 29, 1956.

There’s also the question of whether the cenotaph should just honour the dead from the two world wars, or victims of battle in general. During the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, a group representing 16 ethnicities laid a wreath during a 5,000 person march on October 27, 1956 to honour those killed during the uprising. The wreath was declared a desecration by the Civic Employees’ War Veterans’ Association (CEWVA), whose officials were angered that it represented citizens of a country which was our enemy during the world wars. CEWVA president Al Watson brought a letter to the Board of Control urging the city adopt stricter rules for who could use the cenotaph, preferably for the exclusive honour of Canadian and Allied troops. He didn’t face a receptive audience—controller Ford Brand noted that regardless of Hungary’s past allegiances, its citizens were currently fighting for democratic principles, then asked Watson “how can you distinguish just because of race?” Befitting his nickname of “Mayor of all the People,” Nathan Phillips declared that “the city hall is the centre of the city, a place where all citizens should be able to go express their sorrows.”

But this openness didn’t last long. Following a spat between Croatian and Yugoslavian groups over wreaths that may have honoured soldiers who died while allied to Nazi Germany, the Board of Control ruled in May 1957 that only dead Canadian military personnel would be officially commemorated at the memorial.

Who was considered appropriate to lead a Remembrance Day ceremony at the cenotaph service arose in 2013, when there were calls for Mayor Rob Ford to skip the ceremony a week after admitting to smoking crack cocaine. “That he thinks he has the moral authority to deliver a remembrance address,” observed the Globe and Mail’s Marcus Gee, “is simply staggering.” Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly observed that it was important for the officeholder to show up regardless of their personal problems. Ford was booed as he took the stage.

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Cenotaph, City Hall, decorated with wreaths, Remembrance Day, view from southeast , November 11, 1925. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 41, Item 549.

But booing figures like our former mayor should not be the point of attending a ceremony at the cenotaph. Standing in front of the site should rise above petty concerns like who can or can’t be honoured there. It provides an opportunity to think about military conflict in general, both in terms of the dead and the grey areas which are always present. Don’t restrict your moment of contemplative silence to November 11.

Additional material from the November 11, 1925 and November 16, 1925 editions of the Globe; the July 24, 1947, September 25, 1947, November 1, 1956, and November 11, 2013 editions of the Globe and Mail; and the May 27, 1924, October 27, 1924, November 3, 1925, November 11, 1925, November 16, 1925, December 4, 1925, October 29, 1956, Ocrober 30, 1956, and November 1, 1956 editions of the Toronto Star.

Shaping Toronto: Landscaping U of T

Originally published on Torontoist on October 22, 2015.

As project names go, “Landscape of Landmark Quality” is the kind we’re immediately tempted to make fun of. It’s as if those who came up with this branding for the University of Toronto’s vision of revitalizing its central campus hedged their bets, thinking fate might be tempted if any winning design was firmly declared a landmark.

Cheesy name aside, the shortlist of four design teams—KPMB Architects + Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates + Urban Strategies, DTAH + Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, PUBLIC WORK, and Janet Rosenberg & Studio + architectsAlliance + ERA Architects—revealed plans last month adhering to the principles the evaluation committee set out. These include improving the pedestrian experience, enhancing green space, creating livelier public spaces suitable for events, removing surface parking and reducing vehicular access around Hart House and King’s College Circle, installing wayfinding, and discreetly servicing buildings. As the competition’s welcome page puts it, “gradual changes to the campus over many decades have resulted in a landscape that falls short of its potential as a vibrant and significant series of public spaces, commensurate with the established institutional status of the University.”

Most of the designs revive an early element of the school’s landscape. When construction began on University College in 1856, Taddle Creek ran along present-day Philosopher’s Walk. Three years later, a section around the current site of Hart House was dammed up and, in honour of the school’s first president, dubbed McCaul’s Pond. While a proposed adjacent botanical gardens was never built, the pond provided a contemplative setting for students. It also offered, as an article in The Graduate pointed out over a century later, space for fishing, mischief, and romance:

In those simpler days it was not unknown for undergraduates to spend spare moments beside the pond picking wildflowers and chasing butterflies. Some caught chub and shiners and the occasional speckled trout in its water. In winter the pond made a natural skating rink and the slopes beside were popular for tobogganing. In spring young lovers found it a romantic rendezvous, and in summer families watched while youngsters sailed toy boats on its surface. At least one student prankster made use of it to hide the College lawn mower under several feet of water, where it remained until the pond was drained years later.

As an aspiring poet put it in an early edition of The Varsity, “thy classic flow, thy poetic surroundings, are an education in themselves!”

It also stunk. By the dawn of the 1880s, sewage carried downstream from drains flowing out of Yorkville transformed Taddle Creek into a polluted disgrace. McCaul’s Pond was drained as part of the waterway’s conversion into an underground sewer in 1884. While no longer visible, the lost creek’s presence created challenges when Hart House was built 30 years later.

The pond may have been gone, but the centre of campus was still graced with a large green space. That area was gradually encroached upon with the arrival of the automobile, eventually leading to the current roads clogged with cars, delivery trucks, and tour buses.

Master plans proposed over the past century have discussed ways of making the campus greener and more pedestrian-friendly. The reconstruction of St. George Street during the 1990s showed how a major revitalization project could improve the landscape. A 1999 plan outlined the possibilities of creating more open space across what had become a concrete jungle.

The current proposals offer many improvements for pedestrians. Plazas and more outside seating prevail, with ideas ranging from turning Tower Road into a processional path to turning the road outside Convocation Hall into a vehicle-free gathering spot. Parking could be moved underground or replaced with gardens. Access from Queen’s Park could be improved with a pedestrian bridge. Brick or cobblestone could replace concrete roadways. Skating trails and room for seasonal events like farmers’ markets could all help create a livelier space.

The winning design will be chosen by the evaluation committee in November. The competition’s website cautions that none will implemented exactly as presented, but will spur a critical review process to develop a new master plan over the rest of the current academic year. Developing landmark quality will take time.

Additional material from The University of Toronto: A History by Martin L. Friedland (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2002); HTO: Toronto’s Water from Lake Iroquois to Lost Rivers to Low-flow Toilets, Wayne Reeves and Christina Palassio, editors (Toronto: Coach House Books, 2008); the September-October 1979 edition of The Graduate, the September 29, 2015 edition of the National Post; the October 5, 2015 edition of The Varsity; and the April 14, 2013 edition of Water Canada.

Shaping Toronto: Reusing an Old City Hall

Originally published on Torontoist on September 30, 2015.

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Crowd gathered at the opening ceremony of (Old) City Hall, 1899. Photo by Galbraith & Lewis. Toronto Public Library.

From Old City Hall to mall?” To some web denizens interested in heritage and urban affairs, headlines along those lines have likely induced fits of anger lately. On the surface, you’d suspect the denigration of a National Historic Site was upon us.

Take a moment to breathe.

The suggestion in the city staff report to the Government Management Committee to convert Old City Hall into a retail centre as a future source of rental income is tempered by other recommendations to replace the provincial and municipal courts when they vacate the premises. Based on analysis from real estate brokerage Avison Young, stores could be part of a multi-use facility incorporating food, event, and civic uses. Such a fate is not unusual for other cities across North America dealing with historic city halls, or even our past municipal battlegrounds.

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City Hall on Front Street, 1895. Picture by Frank William Micklethwaite. Toronto Public Library.

When the city’s second city hall opened at the southwest corner of Front and Jarvis in 1845, it was intended as a mixed-use complex to ease overcrowded, unsanitary conditions across the street at St. Lawrence Market. While Henry Bowyer Lane’s design included a clock tower that visitors recognized as they sailed into the harbour, it lacked the imagination of its successors. Architectural historian William Dendy assessed it as competent, but hamstrung by “providing for too many functions with too small a budget.” The building was outfitted with more retail space than planned, as City Council desired more rental income.

Their greed may have been hasty. Merchants felt their shops were too small. Structural faults emerged as the building settled into the ground. Lane soon left town, leading a contemporary observer to reflect that it was “a very strange building and it was unfortunate for the reputation of the architect that he had not left the province before he completed the building instead of afterward.” The city stepped in to improve the building’s structural integrity.

By the end of the 19th century, the site was too tiny to meet the needs of a growing municipal bureaucracy, and too old-fashioned to meet contemporary ideas about grand civic architecture. The city decided to integrate it into an enlarged south St. Lawrence Market. While its wings were demolished, the centre was encased within the new façade. After decades of disuse, the old council chamber was reborn during the 1970s as the Market Gallery.

Replacement proposals during the 1870s and 1880s faced Toronto’s deathly fear of spending one cent too many. When the city purchased the site that would become Old City Hall in 1884, it was intended as York County’s new courthouse. But a committee viewing of Buffalo’s combined courthouse/city hall prompted a public referendum to borrow $200,000 to build a similar duo here. Opponents such as the Board of Trade and the Globe raised the spectre of spiralling costs due to potential political corruption and argued that a new trunk sewer was more pressing. The vote failed. Years of wrangling ensued until the cornerstone for E.J. Lennox’s design was laid in 1891.

When it opened in 1899, Old City Hall joined a wave of Richardson Romanesque landmarks emerging within the city’s landscape. These included the parliamentary buildings at Queen’s Park, the Confederation Life Building at Yonge and Richmond, and Victoria College. It was also well-placed near the city’s early skyscrapers, such as the Temple Building a block south. “Its clock tower soaring above the vista from the lake,” historian J.M.S. Careless observed in his book Toronto to 1918: An Illustrated History, “this edifice was a testament in lavishly worked buff sandstone to the metropolitan dignity of the High Victorian city.”

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Before Eaton’s revealed models of its proposed Eaton Centre, local cartoonist drew their own visions based on early descriptions. Here’s Andy Donato’s from the September 10, 1965 edition of the Telegram.

Such dignity was less appreciated by the early 1960s. Once the current City Hall was approved, the future looked gloomy for its predecessor. In October 1965 a delegation from Eaton’s department store proposed to buy the building for $8 million from Metro Toronto, who had purchased it from the city four years earlier. Eaton’s, encouraged by city planners, intended to transform the mega-block of Bay, Dundas, Yonge, and Queen into the Eaton Centre a complex of office towers, a hotel, shopping mall, and new flagship store. Officials on the project claimed that Old City Hall was “an insuperable barrier” which, no matter how much they tried, was a square peg in the plan. Their solution was to demolish all but the clock tower, as well as getting rid of nearby Church of the Holy Trinity because of the march of progress.

While many politicians were dazzled by the plans—Swansea Reeve Lucien Kurata said it was “so gorgeous, it’s almost sexy”—public outcry arose. When revised plans called for the full demolition of Old City Hall to make room for the podium of the closest office tower, questions were raised. A lobby group, Friends of Old City Hall, formed, performing actions such as cleaning off a portion of soot to show the beauty of the original walls. Eaton’s suddenly cancelled the project in May 1967, blaming unreasonable municipal demands. John David Eaton, head of the retail empire, bitterly remarked to an associate “let’s walk across the street and tell [Mayor William] Dennison he can shove the Old City Hall up his ass.” The irony is that the building Eaton wanted to vanquish outlived his department store.

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Old City Hall, 1960s. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 220, Series 65, File 651, Item 18.

While our former City Hall carried on as a courthouse, other cities across North America found mixed uses for their former municipal sites, or are struggling with solutions. Boston’s 1865 Old City Hall houses tenants ranging from heritage agencies to law firms to a Ruth’s Chris Steak House. In Indianapolis, the old building housed the state historical museum for four decades, then served as a temporary home for the city’s central library. Vacant since 2007, the city recently entered a lease agreement with boutique hotel operator 21c Museum Hotels to restore the building as arts-related spaces and a museum, and provide a physical link to a new hotel being built in the neighbouring vacant parking lot.

Like Toronto, Tacoma, Washington nearly lost its Victorian-era city hall to demolition in the early 1970s. A remodelling with space for businesses and restaurants fell prey to the real estate market collapse. Falling into the disrepair, Tacoma bought the building from a private owner for $4 million earlier this yearafter a failure to meet repair deadlines. This week, the city is showing it off to potential investors, hoping to attract office use or a hotel.

Being a National Historic Site, it’d be a difficult, protracted process to radically overhaul the building, so anyone fearing a mini-Eaton Centre can probably relax. If such plans went ahead, public outcry would alter them (though the cleaning the soot stunt might not work a second time). What is required is a strong vision which, fingers crossed, can survive the inevitable petty political wrangling. Ideally, the building would house a long-needed city museum or other historical exhibition spaces accessible to the public. Retail tenants could integrate nods to our past a la the current occupants of Maple Leaf Gardens, and include businesses offering Toronto made or inspired products. The city report hints at possible trendy office uses such as a business or technology incubator. Given its long service to the city, whatever goes in the building should celebrate Toronto while continuing to respect Lennox’s enduring design as much as possible. It’s a site with plenty of potential that would be foolish to waste.

Additional material from Toronto to 1918: An Illustrated History by J.M.S. Careless (Toronto: James Lorimer & Company, 1984); Toronto Observed by William Dendy and William Kilbourn (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1986); Lost Toronto by William Dendy (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1993); The Eatons by Rod McQueen (Toronto: Stoddart, 1999); and Unbuilt Toronto by Mark Osbaldeston (Toronto: Dundurn, 2008).

BEHIND THE SCENES

Shaping Toronto looks at the decisions, processes, and trends that form the city we know and love.”

Shaping Toronto was my last ongoing series for Torontoist. It was proposed by new EIC David Hains as a means of looking into the mechanics of Toronto history, how our present landscape was shaped, and what examples could we draw on from elsewhere.

While envisioned as being less labour-intensive than Historicist, my work habits prevented that. Ultimately, the series diverted too much time from better-paying gigs, and, likely in a state of burnout, I pulled the plug in March 2016. In retrospect, ending Shaping Toronto began my gradual withdrawal from the site, a process which took a year to complete.

It’s still a great concept, and maybe one of these days I’ll get around to doing something similar either on this site or elsewhere (send your pitches now!).

Revisiting the Past Lives of St. Lawrence Market

Originally published on Torontoist on September 18, 2015.

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Part of the foundation pier from the 1831 St. Lawrence Market.

In the November 5, 1803 edition of the Upper Canada Gazette, a notice from Lieutenant-Governor Peter Hunter addressed an irritant for the early inhabitants of York: “no place or day having been set apart or appointed for exposing publicly for Sale, Cattle, Sheep, Poultry, and other Provisions, Goods and Merchandise, brought by Merchants, Farmers, and others, for the necessary supply of the said Town of York.”

The solution: starting that day, a public open market would operate every Saturday at the northwest corner of present-day Front and Jarvis. Nearly 30 years later, in 1831, the first permanent brick building opened on the site, a structure which ringed an open courtyard. Elements of that incarnation of north St. Lawrence Market, along with its successors, have been uncovered through archaeological work carried out as part of the preparations for the fifth market building to stand on the site.

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Model of the 1831 St. Lawrence Market, looking south from King Street, prepared by Ryerson students for the “Meeting Places: Toronto’s City Halls” exhibit at the Market Gallery in 1985.

Beyond its role as a trading centre, the north end of the 1831 marketplace housed Toronto’s first city council chambers after the city’s incorporation in 1834. But the complex had its problems, especially for butchers: the height of the gallery exposed their meat to the sun; damp and poorly ventilated cellars also provided lousy storage. Space was so tight that farmers were turned away, forcing them to sell to grocers, causing a loss of civic revenue. Part of the balcony collapsed in July 1834 during a tax riot. The solution was the construction of a new south market building, which politicians and produce vendors moved into in 1845.

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St. Lawrence Market. North Market (1850-1904), Front Street East, north side, between Market & Jarvis Streets, showing east side, before alterations of 1898. Toronto Public Library.

The original north market complex was destroyed during the Great Fire of 1849, and was replaced within two years in a project that also created St. Lawrence Hall. That structure met its end in 1904, replaced by one designed to match recent renovations to the south market. For 50 years a canopy above Front Street linked the two markets, as the north side settled into its role as a Saturday-only farmers market. Construction was a bureaucratic nightmare, from cost overruns to the firing of the architects; as a Star editorial put it, “the city’s interests were being looked after by too many men, so that among them all nobody gave the work the determined attention it deserved.”

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Bricks from the 1904 incarnation of the market.

When the next version of the north market was completed in 1968, some tenants were happy to see the demise of the poorly aging 1904 building. “Gone was the dirt and dust,” the Telegram observed. “Gone was the roof which sometimes leaked. The cold and the gloom, the shabby walls and uneven floors had departed. Instead there is brightness under-floor heating and colour everywhere. The farmers have never had it so good.” Opening reviews were mixed, with architectural critics giving the space thumbs down for being too mundane.

Dirt and dust is what you’ll find in the 1968 building as it awaits its end. Its placement atop a thin concrete pad made finding its earlier incarnations easier for archaeologists. Based on the three trenches made in the floor, you don’t have to dig deep to find the foundation piers from the 1831 complex. “Nobody had popped the lid to have a look at the what the preservation was like under the site,” archaeologist Dr. Peter Popkin noted during a media tour of the site on Wednesday.

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Part of the 1851 sewer system.

Popkin and Golder Associates Ltd. conducted the current stage of the archaeological assessment over the past few weeks, and found elements of all pre-1968 structures within the trenches. Besides the original foundation piers, other uncovered features include the 1851 sewer system, and bricks, concrete foundations, and a box drain from 1904. Evidence points toward the existence of the cellars which irritated butchers during the 1830s. While items like animal bones and ceramics have been found, their volume is less than would be discovered at a residential site. The holes in the ground also show evidence of “robber trenches” where fill was dumped during each construction project, especially from 1904.

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Showing the different surfaces over time – the darker area is believed to be the outdoor courtyard surface of the 1831 market.

One interesting find was the discolouration of levels of dirt, especially in the second trench. The darker stained soil was the original surface of the 1831 interior courtyard. While paving stones were contemplated, according to Popkin, visitors reported it was covered with gravel. The evidence points to a sandy material with plenty of pebbles sitting atop a clay capping.

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At the media tour, Deputy Mayor Pam McConnell (Ward 28, Toronto Centre-Rosedale) referred to the discoveries not as “surprises,” but as “prizes” which will help tell the story of the city from their respective eras. Up to 18 months of historical assessment work was built into the timeline for the new market structure, leaving plenty of time for further investigation and a mitigation study. It is expected that some of the material found will be displayed in the new building. It shall be seen how the discoveries affect plans for a 250-space underground parking lot.

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City of Toronto coat of arms, installed 1968.

As it awaits the wrecking ball, the 1968 building feels like an archaeological relic. The tour provided one of the last opportunities to survey it, to notice touches easily overlooked on a busy Saturday morning like the old City coat of arms mounted above the stage. The waterlogged floor of the space which housed the snack bar. A floor painting honouring BuskerFest. The banner inviting visitors to check out the temporary farmers market to the south. Time will tell if this incarnation of the north market will be the least mourned.

Additional material from the September 19, 1904 edition of the Toronto Star and the February 1, 1969 edition of the Telegram.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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St. Lawrence Market, north market (1850-1904), Front St. E., north side, between Market & Jarvis Sts.; interior, main corridor, looking north, before alterations of 1898. Toronto Public Library.

The construction of the 1904 incarnation of the north market was anything but a smooth process. Mind you, if you changed the few specific details, the following Star editorial could apply to many projects which go off the rails.

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Toronto Star, September 19, 1904.

A few weeks later, the Globe offered further details on what was going wrong.

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The Globe, October 4, 1904.

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Looking north along Jarvis Street. The canopy connecting both sides of the market, installed with the new 1904 north market building, is visible. Photo taken October 26, 1904. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 376, File 4, Item 93.

From the 1904 incarnation, we move on to pictures I took of the now-demolished 1968 version of the north market.

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This plaque was installed to mark the official opening of the north side in February 1969. This was among the last ceremonial markers to mention Toronto’s Board of Control, which met for the last time later than year. Elected by the city at large, it was replaced by an executive committee chosen from incoming councillors. The 1969 incarnation included one former mayor (Lamport), one future interim mayor (Beavis), one unsuccessful candidate in that year’s mayoral race (Campbell), and one who never ran for mayor (Marks).

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The neighbouring plaque honoured the establishment of St. Lawrence Market in 1803.

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The shell of the snack bar looked a little worse for wear. I’ll admit that I never ate there (the temptations of Buster’s, Uno Mustachio, and Yianni’s filled my tummy on Saturday trips), but it’s nice to see that a positive, legit-looking review was left on Yelp.

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Upon closer inspection, wading boots may have been required to explore the snack bar’s remains.

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On the main floor, a painted tribute to Buskerfest remains, reflecting the event’s previous connection to the St. Lawrence neighbourhood.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Columbia House

Originally published on Torontoist on August 12, 2015.

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Maclean’s, February 16, 1957.

The bait was hard to resist: up to a dozen albums for a penny. Sure, there was a “small” shipping and handling fee. And buy x-number of albums at full price over x-number of years. And mail back reply cards if the monthly featured selection didn’t appeal to you. And endure legal notices in case you didn’t pay up. And, if you cared to dig deeper, support the no or reduced royalties on those bargain albums paid to performers and publishers. And, if you wanted to dump the albums, discover used music stores that refused to accept them, citing inferior pressing quality.

But a dozen albums for a penny! Even with the additional costs factored in, Columbia House and its competitors were an affordable way to build a music collection, especially back-catalogue items you might not have rushed down to the local bricks-and-mortar store to buy. You could kill hours browsing microscopic print to make the right picks.

At their peak in the mid-1990s, record clubs across North America raked in $1.5 billion annually. At the end of the 1990s, Columbia House Canada held the second largest market share among Canadian music retailers, behind bricks-and-mortar retailer HMV. Their power over sales was such that many large chains boycotted the 1996 Juno Awards when Columbia House was named an official sponsor.

Then the Internet came along. The only surprise over this week’s announcement that the American remnants of Columbia House has filed for Chapter 11 is that any trace of the former giant still existed.

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Toronto Star, October 17, 1955.

Columbia House’s half-century presence in Toronto began when the Columbia Record Club launched on both sides of the border in 1955. It was promoted via ads through local retailers ranging from Eaton’s to Sniderman’s Music Hall (the College Street forerunner of Sam the Record Man). The original offer was a choice of one free record from a list of 12. After that, you had to buy four LPs at list price over the next year, with a free record tossed in for every two you bought. The offer was adjusted over time: by 1968, the deal was eight free records if you bought nine over the next year.

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Globe and Mail, October 15, 1955.

The company experienced pains after purchasing the rival Capitol Record Club of Canada in 1974. “Quite frankly,” Columbia House Canada VP/GM Richard Gurian told the Star, “we didn’t do such a great job in taking over” after discovering how many bad accounts were inherited. Moving its computer services from its Don Mills office to the headquarters in Terre Haute, Indiana created customer invoice problems.

One result: for the rest of the 1970s, Columbia House provoked the highest number of complaints about a single firm received by the Star’s Star Probe consumer-help column. Most aggravating was the steady stream of increasingly threatening notices to pay up in cases where items didn’t arrive or requests to close properly paid accounts were ignored. As Star Probe columnist Rod Goodman put it, “It is a shame that the law allows firms to throw legal notices at customers without making even a token effort to determine the facts.” Readers frequently vowed never to deal with direct marketers ever again.

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Maclean’s, February 1968.

Goodman published an example of the form letters complainants received. This one was the first stage in prodding a delinquent customer, utilizing an obnoxious “friendly” approach:

Have you ever tried wishing away your troubles? They just don’t go away. The only way troubles will disappear is by doing something about them. In our case, I mean yours and mine, our troubles could disappear if you would only pay your bill. We would both be relieved of a big burden. Especially since the time is rapidly approaching when I must make a decision whether or not to turn your account over to a collection agency. Send your payment today and breathe a sigh of relief.

That letter may have been signed by “Douglas Mitchell,” the fake name Columbia House used for its friendliest reminder. Not as nice was “Frank Pearson,” who asked if you forgot the bill before demanding payment. If nothing was resolved, “Clark Weatherbee” threatened legal action or harassment from a collection agency. These names helped Columbia House staff determine account status whenever a frazzled customer called in. “Suppose everyone wrote to me and I wasn’t here,” Gladys Perry, Columbia House Canada’s manager of fulfillment, told the Globe and Mail in 1982. “Imagine all the frustration that would build up. And what if I were to leave the company?”

Sometimes the form letter went too far. One Weatherbee form used in the early 1980s advised clients that “we are now fully aware of your extremely poor credit risk status.” While Parry dismissed complaints about that wording, noting that those who supposedly owed Columbia House did “not necessarily have a poor credit rating in the whole community,” lawyers took the company to task. The wording was removed.

Perhaps employees were fatigued by legitimate deadbeats, who made up to 35 per cent of their customer base. Some went far to get their cheap albums: a North York couple was charged in February 2000 for defrauding Columbia House out of $20,000 over the previous year. Under different names (yet using the same address), the couple submitted 28 handwritten and over 1,000 online club applications, yielding a bounty of 900 CDs.

Columbia House soldiered on even when rival BMG Music Service launched with a Boxing Day advertising blitz in 1994. BMG’s promise of no further obligations past the promotional offer was an immediate hit, drawing 300,000 members in 10 months. Both services, and their offshoots, fought it out in mailers, ads, and online until BMG pulled the plug on its Mississauga facility in early 2000. As online shopping cut into its base, Columbia House was sold to a succession of new owners. The end for its Canadian operation came in December 2010, when Direct Brands closed its east Scarborough office.

Additional material from the August 16, 2008 edition of Billboard; the October 15, 1955, April 15, 1982, and August 26, 1998 editions of the Globe and Mail; the March 1968 edition of Maclean’s; and the October 12, 1976, March 24, 1977, April 10, 1979, and December 10, 2010 editions of the Toronto Star.