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Toronto Star: Remembrances of Stephen Otto
Shawn Micallef | May 21, 2018

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Stephen Otto was a champion of Toronto

https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2018/05/11/stephen-otto-was-a-champion-of-torontos-history.html

From Issue No. 269 | May 21, 2018

Stephen Otto on Queen Street West

Stephen Otto was a champion of Torontos history

One of the great joys and privileges of living and working in this city has been meeting and learning from people whove long tried to make it a better place. Stephen Otto was one of those people. A historian and civic activist, he passed away on April 22 at age 78, but his impact on Toronto and Ontario will be long felt.

Over the years, Stephen became a friend and he shared his enormous knowledge about this city and province. He also knew how to negotiate politics and personas, and when to be loud and when to quietly work in the background. Though a historic preservationist, he also knew the city was not a museum and thought it could grow while still respecting its history.

Stephen Otto, shown at his home in 2010, was a preservationist knew the city of Toronto was not a museum and thought it could grow while still respecting its history..
Stephen Otto, shown at his home in 2010, was a preservationist knew the city of Toronto was not a museum and thought it could grow while still respecting its history..  (MICHAEL STUPARYK / TORONTO STAR FILE PHOTO)
 

To say his knowledge of this place was enormous would be an understatement. During even a casual conversation with Stephen, in person or during one of his many phone calls, he would mention enough names and events to make my head spin. History is so immeasurable  theres just so much of it  that it can be difficult to know and understand anything more than isolated snippets, but Stephen was somebody who could see the entire arc of it, at least in Ontario.

One summer day about 10 years ago, Stephen picked me up in his ancient Volvo sedan. A tank of a car, he famously purchased it without air conditioning, driving it until late last year when the cancer he fought off the last decade returned for a third and final time. We were heading up to Alliston for a historic plaque unveiling at the Stevenson Farms where Theodore Loblaw was raised before founding his chain of grocery stores.

It was an excuse for a day trip outside the city, and a chance for him to say hello to Lincoln Alexander, the former lieutenant-governor and an old acquaintance from his years in the public service, who was presiding over the ceremonies. Stephen seemed to know everybody, but he never made a big deal about that.

Instead of driving straight to Alliston, Stephen chartered a meandering route northwest from downtown Toronto roughly following the Grand Trunk Railway (GTR) route out of town. We stopped in Weston to get a glimpse of the GTR bridge crossing the Humber River valley and further out we stopped in Georgetown to see the bridge crossing the Credit River valley. Both are beauties and date to the 1850s but are still put to great use, carrying UP Express and GO trains everyday. Useful and historic at the same time, Stephen wanted me to appreciate that they were there and to see a bit more of that arc.

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