Candid travel photographs in the cold and the rain from my – ongoing – summer trip to Toronto, Ontario, a.k.a. (among others) CondoToronto – and rightfully so! Toronto often gets knocked for being an ersatz city, lacking any real sense of place. That “There is no there there,” as Gertrude Stein once said of Oakland. In this photo essay I go looking for T.O.’s genius loci – and find it there, among the historic brick buildings and glass-and-steel skyscrapers. https://medium.com/@aaronpaulson/toronto-kills-me-a8e9b799da5
Toronto has changed a lot in the 46 years since we moved here, especially (the lack of) affordable housing.
Back in 1968 when we emigrated to Canada from the US, Toronto was a very different place from the big, bustling, cosmopolitan, and multicultural city it is today. As my Ma — a Chicago girl born and bred — likes to tell it, the first Sunday she went “downtown” (to the current site of the Eaton Centre and Dundas Square) “it was so empty you could roll a bowling ball down the sidewalk without hitting anyone. When I finally found someone to ask where “downtown” was, she just looked at me and said “This IS downtown!” (thanks for the anecdote, Ma!).
Even if T.O. Hadn’t introduced Sunday shopping back in the early 90’s, downtown now would still be nothing like downtown then. Condos continue to be thrown up faster than beavers build dams in flood season, so there’s a lot more people on the streets now than then. Immigration has also changed dramatically since then, as Edward Relph’s website, an online companion to his new book Toronto Transforms, maps out. Finally, and this is probably old news to most of us by now, Toronto’s housing costs continue to boom and boom and boom: according to this Toronto Real Estate Board website, in 1967 almost 12,500 houses were sold in the city for an average price of $24,000; in 2012 it was almost 86,000 houses at an average price of nearly $500,000 (still well behind Vancouver, Canada’s most expensive city).
This summer, my first stop in exploring T.O.’s neighbourhoods will be Davenport Village. Actually, I’ve been here before. Way, way before: like, 46 years ago. Turns out, this part of Toronto is also where we lived when my parents and I emigrated from the US back in 1968.
Keep in mind that these are my thoughts after a full day’s travel, doorstep to doorstep, from my home in west Tokyo to the place I arranged to stay through airbnb. Things may look very different in the light of morning…
The block of townhouses where I’m staying are quite new, having been built as far as I can tell in 2004. They’re bounded to the north by Earlscourt Park, which runs all the way up to the Corso Italia neighbourhood along St Clair West, to the west by train tracks and neighbouring Carleton Village, to the south by more railroad tracks and eventually Dupont Street, and to the east by some old – historic? – Factories, and by Lansdowne Avenue.
Tonight I walked briefly through the townhouse development where I’m staying, then headed south on Lansdowne to Dupont. Lots of young couples. Mostly residential, with a large playground in the middle of the development and green space near the tracks. Not much in the immediate area by way of stores, restaurants, Tim Hortons, and the like. More development is apparently promised for the Lansdowne and Dupont area, currently being redeveloped as mixed-use condos and commercial space, though at the moment what stands out is the demolition zone to the northwest, and the Coffee Time to the northwest with the kids hanging out front trying their hardest to look like drug dealers.
Guess I can’t complain too much since I don’t remember the last time I actually bought something there. But I doubt that whatever use the land is put to next, it will have the same impact on local character as the Honest Ed’s the store and Honest Ed (Mirvish) the man. The last time I saw him he had just turned 90, and was having a birthday bash on the patio of the restaurant across Markham from the store. A mounted police officer rode his horse up against the patio fence to wish Ed a happy birthday. The next day, as R. and I were getting on the subway, the PA system came to life: “Mr. Mirvish, it’s an honour to have you on board.” He had an impact on people, as in the video below “Ed Mirvish’s Bench” put out this summer by Spacing magazine: Canadian urbanism uncovered.
But there’s more to it than just nostalgia, as John Semley recently argued in NOW magazine,
Oldness, and history, makes us feel connected with the past. They make us feel like we’re living as part of some grander, more meaningful, continuity of existence – let’s call it “civilization” – and not just puttering around glass towers in carefully laid-out micro-communities in our complicated shoes, hauling around our yappy small dogs, until we die, interred to the earth in a brushed mahogany condo-coffin.