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Toronto 150+ Success at the Science Centre
Catherine Nasmith | April 27, 2017

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From Issue No. 258 | May 1, 2017

Architect Raymond Moriyama appears by video Symposium Poster

It was a terrific day for those who came out to the Science Centre to talk about Toronto over 150 years.

The day was roughly divided into pre-confederation Toronto, and in the afternoon Centennial Toronto.

Being at the Science Centre, Ontario’s pre-eminent Centennial project, in a building that embraces the landscape, on a beautiful spring day, was a great place to think about the marks that have been made on this land for over 150 years. While architect Raymond Moriyama was unable to greet us in person, we were treated to a delightful short video of his commentary on the process of a young architect being asked to undertake such an important project.

We opened the day with welcoming remarks from former Mississauga of the New Credit First Nations chief, Carolyn King, because they were here first! Ms. King then outlined the Moccasin Identifier project, a public education tool to stencil the image of the Anishnawbe moccasin in public places. The goal of the project is to have the public education system implement annual programming on June 21, National Aboriginal Day, in which school children would explore the history of the First Nation closest to them, and stencil the appropriate moccasin in washable paint in the schoolyards. That these images disappear signifies the lightness on the land of the Anishnawbe. The treaties guaranteed First Nations access to all lands…..  No one will be hunting in your garden in the near future, but it is worth reflecting that it is the right of First Nations to do so. On June 21 you will find First Nations programming at Fort York in Toronto, a great chance to learn and meet the First Nations who share this land with later settlers. A major moccasin stencil installation is in progress, carved into new stone retaining walls at Ontario Place.

Madeleine McDowell gave a wonderful talk about the history of the Humber River Valley, the Toronto Purchase and the Toronto Carrying Place including quotes from Elizabeth Simcoe about the long established routes which were of such military and trading significance.

Michael McClelland talked about the number of surviving pre-confederation buildings in Toronto, material researched for the exhibition Found Toronto. There are more than you might think. Sharon Vattay was tasked with talking about Confederation buildings, of which there are far fewer than Centennial buildings 100 years later. Interestingly, the forward looking style of the day was Second Empire, and was used as the modern style in France, Britain, U.S. and Canada. It was used in Canada post confederation, in new buldings like the Federal Post Office building that stood at the head of Toronto Street, designed by prominent architect Henry Langley.

Alex Bozikovic moderated the afternoon session on Centennial projects. Eb Zeidler, architect of Ontario Place told a quite different experience from Moriyama of the principles behind Ontario Place, including the most important first decision not to build at Exhibition Place, which is Toronto owned but to build in Lake Ontario which belongs to all Ontarians. Zeidler continues to mourn the bitter loss of the Forum, noting that the replacement by the Molson Amphitheatre ruined the circulation patterns and marked the beginning of a striking drop in attendance.

Marco Polo spoke to the nationwide centennial construction program, focusing on the Confederation building in Charlottetown. Many of these projects were done on a scale not see before or since. Polo noted the common theme of “building as landscape”, buildings often built in concrete, breaking out of rectilinear geometry, and built into and embracing Canada’s landscape. The exploration of concrete as a plastic material, humbler than stone or marble, was making a statement of how Canadians see themselves in relationship to this vast land we live in. John Andrews’ “sublime” Scarborough College was also noted.

PHd candidate David Leonard spoke about the impact of Expo 67 on Toronto architecture, (very limited) first noting the limited number of Toronto architects who were represented at Expo, and then why Toronto had been uninterested in bidding on the fair. While he was able to make some connections, the overall impression was that not much travelled along the 401. Montreal embraced modern planning and large scale re-development for a long period of time, fundamentally changing the character of the central city. In contrast, Toronto’s Jane Jacobs’, Sewell and Crombie and the Reform Council ended projects like Metro Centre and the Spadina Expressway.

While Toronto did not have a lot of Centennial buildings per se, Toronto experienced a major building boom during this period giving many architects chances to build major projects early in their careers.

One of the questions that came up after the session was how is it that we are not seeing bold public projects showcasing our best architectural talent 50 years later. There is no one reason for it, perhaps it is because we may still be paying off some of those costs! We are definitely in a different age, less concerned with architecture as an expression of the spirit of the nation.

All the presentations are online at acotoronto.ca

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