ERA Architects

Toronto Set in Stone

A guest article by Brendan Stewart—Assistant Professor, Landscape Architecture, University of Guelph


Stone plays an outsized role in defining many of Toronto’s most beloved and well-used public spaces. Of course there is something singularly enchanting about the material itself, but as important is how it is arranged and put together — the artistry and craft that elevates the average to the exceptional.

Stone and stone work is something I’ve been thinking about more and more, starting with an article I wrote last year in Ground Magazine about dry stone walls, which has led to my involvement as a guest speaker at the upcoming Dry Stone Canada Festival on Amherst Island at the end of the month, and a talk next week at ERA with visiting Scottish stone artist David Wilson (RSVP here), which will explore ideas about the creative use of stone in public spaces.

In Toronto, a recent recurring theme is the importing and re-purposing of ancient precambrian boulders; carefully selected, removed and transported at great expense from northern Ontario’s Canadian shield wilderness, and strategically re-installed in vibrant downtown settings.

Ryerson Image Centre and Devonian Square (photo: Hoice, Wikimedia Commons).

Think of Devonian Square at Ryerson, created in 1978 by landscape architects Richard Strong and Steven Moorhead, which features artistic groupings of massive boulders scattered around the plaza, and is the setting for winter scenes of ice skaters whose silhouettes are dwarfed as they weave in and around the rock.

Then, there’s the giant granite outcropping that defines Village of Yorkville Park, created in the early 90s by US landscape architects Martha Schwartz, Ken Smith, David Meyer and PWP Landscape Architecture. An iconic landscape landmark to match any in Toronto, the experience of emerging from underground at Bay station to meet a friend for coffee on the warm rock is unique to Canadian urbanism.

Sugar Beach by Claude Cormier + Associés, opened in 2010, pays homage to the granite outcropping at Yorkville Park, but integrates playful white and red candy-cane stripes, referring to the active Red Path sugar factory that animates the dramatic, working waterfront views.

And finally, there is the newly opened Trillium Park, designed by lead landscape architects LandInc, which features the 83 metre long ‘Moraine Bluff’ — an artfully sculpted, complex wall of stone that was designed using an innovative combination of digital modelling and in the field craft. Laid out in full on the floor of a quarry in Dwight Ontario, the wall was then transported and re-constructed on the lakeshore at Ontario Place[1].

‘The Ravine with Moccasin Identifier’ Trillium Park (photo: Brendan Stewart).

‘The Ravine with Moccasin Identifier’ Trillium Park, details (photo: Brendan Stewart).

Moraine Bluff, Trillium Park (photo: Brendan Stewart).

These projects, all representing in one way or another the ancient and sublime landscapes of the near north, all go to extraordinary lengths logistically, technologically, and artistically to bring the sensual and intangible resonance of stone into the city to create powerful civic experiences.

Stone, of course, has been used in many other wonderful ways in Toronto’s public realm. From interpreting and commemorating the history of the Irish Famine migrants who landed in Toronto in 1847 at Kearns Mancini’s Ireland Park (2007), to defining tranquil academic courtyards such as the Quadrangle at University College, executed by landscape architect Michael Hough in the mid 1960s[2].

And before this, there is the rich legacy of carved stone, integrated into the great buildings of 19th and early 20th century Toronto, some of which remain in situ, and some of which can be explored, as salvaged and re-constructed artifacts in the unique Guild Park and Gardens at the top of the Scarborough Bluffs. This wonderful and curious place is described and explored in a 2016 article in Ornamentum by ERA alum Tatum Taylor here.

For more fascinating discussion on the topic of creative urban use of stone and placemaking, join us at ERA on Monday, September 24 with Scottish stone artist David Wilson (RSVP here).

 


[1] See ‘Romance of the Stone: When metaphor meets technology’ by Patrick Morello in Landscapes Paysages v.19, Winter 2017.

[2] See ‘Quiet, Green, and Orderly: The History of the UC Quadrangle’ by Jane Wolff

From Past to Page: Uncovering the Ward

An unidentified man on Centre Avenue, 1937 (City of Toronto Archives).

In 2015, ‘The Ward—The Life and Loss of Toronto’s First Immigrant Neighbourhood’ was published, documenting the area within Toronto known as St. John’s Ward (or simply “the Ward”), home to thousands of immigrants between the mid-1800s and the mid-1900s. With little of the neighbourhood’s physical fabric remaining, The Ward had largely faded from public consciousness, but following the book’s release it quickly became a topic in public discourse with critical questions about how contemporary cities handle immigration, poverty, urban renewal, and the geography of difference.

At the time of that publication, Infrastructure Ontario (IO) and a team of archaeologists had begun digging up a parking lot next to Toronto City Hall on Armoury Street, the site of the new Toronto court house, and uncovered an extraordinarily rich buried history, which provided new material for the editorial team to start compiling a follow-up volume.

The new anthology, ‘The Ward Uncovered—The Archaeology of Everyday Life’ was published in June of 2018, bringing an important urban history to life through the findings of one of North America’s largest urban archaeological digs to date.

Excavation site on Centre Avenue (photo: Holly Martelle).

Assorted glass bottles

A leather shoe and ceramic container.

With a range of essays and images, the latest book further explores the stories of The Ward’s buildings, institutions, communities, and individuals. It aims to inform readers about the history of this neighbourhood, and to provoke discussion about how the Ward’s past informs Toronto’s present and how and why places are determined to be historically valuable and consequently preserved as “heritage.” ERA Architects principal Michael McClelland and heritage planner Tatum Taylor co-edited the book alongside archaeologist Holly Martelle and Toronto journalist John Lorinc, with support from the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council, and the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund. Nearly 30 contributing authors include journalists, politicians, historians, architects, urban planners, archaeologists, artists, and descendants of Ward residents.

Ultimately, the book continues a public conversation that began with the 2015 publication of ‘The Ward’—how history can be conserved and understood into the future. ‘The Ward Uncovered’ highlights the immense importance of urban archaeology in meeting this task, creating for us a tangible link to the past and reclaiming an historic account that accurately reflects the diversity of immigrant experiences in building the City of Toronto.

“The Armoury Street Block is municipally, provincially, and nationally significant on many levels. Representing the remains of most of a city block, the site provides a rare glimpse of a neighbourhood and its evolution over time, as revealed by building remains and objects left behind. Equally rare is the opportunity to visualize intimate details of the daily life of the working class and immigrant families who helped build the city. Descendant communities, researchers, and the public will benefit much from the story-telling and educational opportunities this work has afforded.”
—Holly Martelle, Project Archaeologist, Timmins Martelle Heritage Consultants)

‘The Ward Uncovered—The Archaeology of Everyday Life’ is the fourth in a series of books published by Coach House Books that Michael McClelland has co-edited. Each book has dealt with a specific role of heritage and architecture within the City of Toronto. The first was called ‘East West—a Guide to Where People Live in Downtown Toronto,’ and focused on the development of Toronto’s neighbourhoods. The second, ‘Concrete Toronto—a guide to concrete architecture from the fifties to the seventies,’ focused on the architecture of the recent past, and the third, ‘The Ward—the Life and Loss of Toronto’s First Immigrant Neighbourhood,’ (eds. John Lorinc, Michael McClelland, Ellen Scheinberg, Tatum Taylor) looked at diversity, immigration, and urban renewal from an historical perspective. The intention of each book has been to highlight the need to continually re-evaluate our perceptions of heritage and cultural value in our urban environments.

In the same spirit of re-evaluating perceptions and understanding cultural heritage value, several Ward-related projects have grown from these books and have captured the city’s collective imagination: from the Mysuem’s walking tours, to an ongoing public exhibition of artifact displays at City Hall in partnership with IO and the City of Toronto, and even to a Ward Cabaret musical, created in collaboration with Juno Award winner David Buchbinder and performed to sold out audiences during Toronto’s 2018 Luminato Festival.

ERA-initiated series of books (CoachHouse Press).

Exhibit space at Toronto City Hall, curated and designed by ERA Architects, 2017.

The Ward Cabaret at Luminato, 2018.

“History is a verb. The passage of time is a constant. But what we seek to preserve from our past and what we choose to cast away has always been a selective process often informed by unexamined motives and biases.”
—Michael McClelland, The Ward (Co-Editor) & Principal, ERA Architects

Is there just one way to understand and interpret the histories of our city? How will we tell these stories into the future? How does a city remember? These collective projects each trace the past conditions of immigration and urban growth in Toronto in their own ways, promoting dialogue and understanding of neglected heritage landscapes. Once we are able to appreciate the history of marginalized areas such as the Ward, we can begin to reclaim an historic account that accurately reflects the diversity of experiences that have built the City of Toronto.

 

Creative Space & Urban Stone: Public Talk

Stone is the most fundamental material but over the last 50 years its creative use has declined in the public realm. Through a Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Fellowship David F. Wilson aimed to discover how other creatives are exploring the space between tradition & current practice, travelling in the USA & Canada through the summer months of 2017.

Where problems exist, new opportunities open up. Using photos and examples, David’s talk will explore the findings of his North American tour, the challenges posed to creative stone craft through modern building practice, and innovative ways to keep stone craft alive in urban spaces.

Through the lens of his landscape architecture practice and university teaching, Brendan Stewart will respond to the report and extend the conversation, relating these findings, challenges and opportunities to urban spaces in Toronto and Canada.

Report here: https://www.wcmt.org.uk/fellows/reports/creative-space-contemporary-use-stone-urban-spaces


A public talk by David F Wilson (UK) in conversation with Brendan Stewart (University of Guelph), co-hosted with the Dry Stone Walling Association of Canada (Dry Stone Canada).
REGISTER HERE VIA EVENTBRITE 

Doors at 6:30pm, Talk begins 7:00pm
625 Church Street, Toronto

3 minute walk from Bloor-Yonge Station (TTC)
Car and Bike Parking at the rear of building (Impark Parking)
This venue has elevator access and an accesible washroom

Reception to follow, generously sponsored by Jonathan Kearns, Founding Principal of Kearns Mancini Architects (B.ARCH., OAA, FRAIC, RIBA, FRIAI, AIBC, AANB, AAA) and Member Dry Stone Canada


David F. Wilson
Artist, Designer, Waller, Maker
Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Fellow and author of Creative Space: Contemporary use of stone in urban spaces

David graduated in 1987 from Duncan of Jordanstone, Dundee, with a Masters in Public Art & Design. Following a college art degree, he was inspired by a new trend for artists to work outside the traditional gallery system and decided to pursue a creative career in art for a wider public.

Flexibility has always been an asset in David’s practice when creating works in a public space. Every client & every different situation requires a unique design solution. Combining creativity with a playfulness of technique and form has always been at the heart of his process.

Two public projects that display this aspect well are the Edinburgh Airport Interchange and Livingston Landmarks. The latter was awarded the coveted Pinnacle Award from the Dry Stone Walling Association of Great Britain.


Brendan Stewart
Assistant Professor, Landscape Architecture, University of Guelph; past Associate, ERA Architects, Toronto

Brendan Stewart received his BLA from Guelph, attended Edinburgh College of Art, and received an MLA from the University of California, Berkeley. Brendan’s research focuses on heritage conservation planning and design processes, cultural landscape theory, design history, service learning and participatory design practices.

Throughout his more than a decade of practice experience, Brendan has been actively engaged in the academic, professional, and community spheres. He has been a regular guest lecturer, critic, and instructor at the University of Toronto, Ryerson University, and the University of Waterloo, and was an editorial board member of Ground Magazine, the journal of the OALA.

In 2015, he was involved in organizing and participating in the ‘Leading with Landscape’ conference in Toronto, hosted by the Washington DC based Cultural Landscape Foundation, which was attended by over 400 landscape practitioners and scholars from around the world. He is a director of the Friends of Allan Gardens a not for profit organization with a mission to revitalize one of Toronto’s earliest designed landscapes. Starting in 2017, Brendan is the University of Guelph’s appointed educator to the Ontario Association of Landscape Architects governing council.