ERA Architects

The Brickworks and Toronto photo-bloggers

The Brick Works, located on the west side of the Don Valley just north of Bloor viaduct, is not only an ERA client but also one of Toronto’s most significant heritage sites. Besides being the source of bricks used to build many of Toronto landmarks and homes from the 1880s and well into the 20th century, the location has taken on many different narratives during its existence: a place to sleep for out-of-work people during the Depression, a dumping ground for the earth excavated during the construction of the Scotiabank tower, a secluded haven for graffiti artists, and now an exemplary model of soil remediation, mixed-use planning, and environmental regeneration.

above photos by Sam Javanrouh

But over the last decade, the Brick Works have become a de facto studio for Toronto’s ever-expanding photoblog community. While the site has long been explored by curious urbanites and industrial fetishists, it’s the photography from the Brick Works that has captured a wide audience. On Flickr alone, over 2,700 photos exist of the Brick Works. Everything from the chimney to the rusting machinery has been documented in fantastic detail.

photo by Metrix X

While ERA can’t condone this type of infiltration, we are grateful that Toronto’s photo-bloggers have taken the time to chronicle the Brick Works site. Essentially, they are the silent voice of heritage preservation in this city. Without their contribution and prolific documentation of sites like the Brick Works, many derelict buildings and spaces would have been long forgotten by the general public. By taking it upon themselves to explore damp, dark, and elusive sites, photo-bloggers have embedded the imagery of these places into the public’s consciousness.

Personally, I don’t have the inclination nor the intestinal fortitude to visit places like the Hearn Generating Station (in the Port Lands), the Whitby Psychiatric Hospital, or the Canada Malting Plant (at the foot of Bathurst), but I am indebted to the brave and curious photographers who have helped give these spaces a renewed narrative.

R. L. Hearn Generating Station by dmealiffe

Canada Malting Plant by h-e-d

Whitby Psychiatric Hospital photo by sigma

Preparing for Toronto the Good party

The 2006 invitation to the Toronto The Good party

This coming May will mark our fifth installment of the Toronto The Good party. Back in 2005, ERA teamed up with Spacing and murmur to produce the event in hopes of fostering a greater appreciation of Toronto’s built heritage while bringing together a mix of people from various professional backgrounds. Since the inaugural event, we’ve added other partners like the Toronto Society of Architects, Wireless Toronto, and Heritage Toronto and made the event one of the most popular during the Festival of Architecture and Design held each May. The event has been hosted once at Fort York and three other times at the Fermenting Cellar in the Distillery District. We are currently working on the 2009 location with details to come soon.

We’ve programmed the evening with different themes and games, with the most popular activity being our giant map of Toronto — eight feet high and eighteen feet wide. We ask attendees a question like “where is the heart of Toronto?” and have them place a sticker on the map identifying their preferred location (see photos above and below). The only catch is that the map shows buildings and green spaces, but no street names. It forces people to look at the map in a different manner — in order to find your desired spot you need to understand Toronto in a deeper way by being able to recognize the unique qualities of intersections, like a curve in the road or the shape of specific buildings.

The map also encourages people to talk to the stranger standing beside them, something totally un-Torontonian.

For the last two years, the kind folks from Wireless Toronto have provided us with an interactive feature that allows anyone to text a message to a displayed phone number and have that text projected onto the wall within a few seconds (see photo below). The messages can be provocative, poetic, and, um, immature. Of course, things get a little silly the later the night goes, thanks to the wine and the folks from Mill Street Brewery.

We are now preparing for the 2009 edition of Toronto The Good. We want to hear from you what kind of programming and activities you’d like to see this year. We’ll definitely have the giant map and hopefully the texting game again, but what other fun things can we add to the event?

photos by Yvonne Bambrick

Parkdale’s coat of arms — for 10 years

The 1998 creation of the “megacity”, a merger of all of metro Toronto’s cities and boroughs, was the last in a long line of annexations. Places like Forest Hill, Swansea and Parkdale were once independent towns with their own municipal buildings and councils.

I was perusing the book Parkdale In Pictures: Its Development To 1889 by Margaret Laycock and Barbara Myrvold and published by the Toronto Public Library, when I stumbled across the former town’s coat of arms (Parkdale existed only as an incorporated village/town for 10 years from 1879 to 1889). Unlike Toronto’s or other Canadian coat of arms — which usually depict beavers, bears, lions, griffins, etc — the Parkdale version was much more humble and personal (shown above).

The town seal reflected the occupations of the first elected members of the village council. It was made up of five representatives: one reeve and four councillors for each of the wards (St. Vincent’s, St. Martin’s, St. Mark’s, and St. Alban’s). John Gray Jr., elected as Parkdale’s first reeve, was a nurseryman, so he was represented by the maple tree near the top; the scales of justice symbolized the barrister James B. Davis; a book for bookseller Charles Frankish; a bull’s head for butcher Joseph Norwich; and a quill for the local bookkeeper Udney A. Walker.

And just like the massive opposition to the 1998 megacity creation, the annexation of Parkdale created a lot of debate. After the votes were cast on October 27, 1888, the pro-annexationists won. Laycock and Myrvold described the the hours and days that followed: “A victory parade of about 100 annexationists carrying torches or lit brooms was led by the Toronto Bold and Iron Works band. The public arguments continued for days while accusations of cheating spread… Ex-Reeve Hugh McMath even launched an unsuccessful lawsuit to quash the vote….” An editorial cartoon in the local paper The Grip captured the mood of residents (see larger version).