A school trip to London with a Kodak Instamatic camera

I think I’ve posted these scanned photos before, but today’s festivities along the River Thames brought back wonderful memories of a class trip to London which took place during March Break in 1976. The camera was a Kodak Instamatic – not very sophisticated – and the prints have not fared well in the ensuing years, stuck – literally – in photo albums which featured a lot of plastic and glue as I recall.

How fortunate I was – what a privilege – to have been able to go on such a voyage as a high school student! We flew out of the then-brand new airport, formerly known as Mirabel, just a few months before Montréal was to host the Olympic Games, as a much different London is now preparing to do in mere weeks.

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“Neuf couleurs au vent” by Daniel Buren

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Montréal’s steadfast, enviable care for public art, as a community (elected and unelected alike), is no better exemplified than in what flaps gloriously in the breeze just off the south-west corner of Parc La Fontaine in another little park unto itself – Place Urbain-Baudreau-Graveline.

Nine rectangular banners are fixed on individual brushed aluminum poles with vertical stripes of green, red, yellow, blue and black.

Originally commissioned by the Centre international d’art contemporain de Montréal (CWC) the work, by Daniel Buren (1938-), originally from les Hauts-de-Seine, France, was presented in Québec City during festivities held to mark the 450th anniversary of the arrival of Jacques Cartier in 1984. It then made its way to Montréal in September of 1996.

Neuf couleurs au vent is known as a sculpture in situ, and on a gusty day I can state from personal experience that it makes a gentle, almost nautical-seeming, alarm clock – should you be staying close by as I do when in Montréal!

Montréal gives me the rainy day treatment – it`s all good!

I started out at Le Château Ramezay where flashes are not permitted so my luck with photos was limited. After dodging showers in other parts of Old Montréal I took in some of the public art available in the city`s beautiful Métro system. (I cut the tour short so did not get a representative sample.)

Then I walked the rain-soaked neighbourhoods of Le Plateau, ending at Saint Louis Square, not far from Claude`s.

Another long spring walk in Toronto

Bleecker Street Housing Co-Operative

Wellesley-Magill Park

Wellesley-Magill Park

Steam Plant Lofts (part of the former Wellesley-Princess Margaret Hospitals)

Verve condominiums at Wellesley and Homewood

Public art on a utility box near Jarvis and Gloucester Streets (one of many in the area)

One of the former Gooderham residences, this one at Jarvis and Cawhtra Square

Magnolias on Cawthra Square

Toronto AIDS Memorial at Cawthra Square Park, behind the 519 Church Street Community Centre

519 Church Street Community Centre (“The 519”)

Former Oddfellows Hall (1891) at College and Yonge Streets

College Park, the former Eaton’s Store at Yonge and College Streets

A notorious Bay Street dive emerging as a boutique hotel

Walking the labyrinth at Bell Trinity Square

Osgoode Hall, Law Society of Upper Canada

Canada Life

Campbell House, the oldest remaining home from the original site of the Town of York, was built by Upper Canada Chief Justice Sir William Campbell and his wife Hannah in 1822.

OCAD University’s (Ontario College of Art and Design) Sharp Centre for Design, Will Alsop, archt. with Robbie/Young + Wright Architects Inc., is a box four storeys above ground supported by colourful pillars; it is often described as a tabletop.

The spire of St. George the Martyr Anglican Church near The Grange

The Grange (1817) behind the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) and now part of it, was built for D’Arcy Boulton (1785–1846).

Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO)

Victoria University, University of Toronto

“Crucified Woman” (1976) by Almuth Lutkenhaus at Emmanuel College, University of Toronto

Victoria University reflected in the Isabel Bader Theatre

Church of the Redeemer (Anglican)

The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM)

The Royal Conservatory of Music

Queen Alexandra Gateway, at the Bloor Street end of Philosopher’s Walk, next to the Royal Conservatory of Music, was built “To commemorate the visit of TRH the Duke & Duchess of Cornwall & York Oct. 10th 1901.” The Duke and Duchess later became King George V & Queen Mary.

The entrance to the Royal Conservatory of Music’s Koerner Hall

Town of Perth, Ontario moves to conserve downtown’s beautiful buildings

Perth Town Council has taken the bold, even if obviously necessary, step of creating a formal Downtown Heritage Conservation District.

It comes in the form of a by-law which outlines the boundaries of the district – North and Harvey Street (to the south) and Wilson and Drummond Streets on the west and east sides, respectively. There are also a few encroachments across these boundaries south of Harvey and north of North Streets.

A staff report to Council stated that by approving the Plan, Council would “ensure that the Town’s heritage conservation objectives and stewardship will be respected; strengthen the relationship of our heritage brand and cultural tourism goals and objectives; ensure a culturally and economically vibrant downtown core; preserve the Town’s built heritage; set the stage for the Town’s 200th Anniversary celebration in 2016; ensure that guidelines pertaining to emergency preparedness are in place in the event of a natural disaster. (Ex. Town of Goderich)”

Well done Perth!

Recalling the optimism of Expo ’67

It’s hard to believe that it will be forty-five years ago this spring since the opening of Canada’s first World’s Fair – Expo ’67.

I have assembled a number of post-card images from that summer (some photos, a few just artist’s concepts).

(Post-cards were the text messages of the day, sent by Canada Post with 5-cent stamps!)

We lived about an hour’s drive away, all the faster thanks to national centennial projects such as four-lane highways! I was seven years old so my memories have that bias but a brief film introduces the International and Universal Exposition:

“Passports” were issued, both day and season passes, and visitors were encouraged to have our passports stamped at each pavilion visited.

I remember arriving at huge parking lots near the Expo site, divided into sections with signs on light standards picturing animals and sub-divided by number, so our first task as kids was to commit to memory where we had parked: “Giraffe 7”, “Penguin 4”, etc.

From there we took the “Expo Express”, trains that looked like today’s older subway cars in Toronto, over to the main entrance.

Notice Habitat ’67, an architectural gem which remains a very special place to live even to this day. Hard to believe it was the product of Moshe Safdie‘s thesis at McGill University!

A great place to start, and meet up were we ever to get lost (I do not recall any such emergency), was the site of the iconic Canada and Katimavik Pavilions.

Like most of the exhibition buildings these are long gone but a nearby sculpture has lived to see many another day, as documented during my winter visit to Montréal two weeks ago, when I posed at Alexander Calder’s “Man”:

The exposition’s theme “Terre des Hommes – Man and His World” was so-named before such exclusive language would have been over-ruled.  Yet a more optimistic time, in my limited life-span, has never been seen.  Remember the first IMAX theatre, I believe it was Bell’s, where visitors stood along a circular railing while all matter of stomach-quivering adventure was experienced as we travelled across Canada?

The Federal Republic of Germany:


The United Kingdom:

The U.S.S.R. (when the Soviet Union was in a space race with its Cold War adversary the United States):

Buckminster Fuller’s spectacular geodesic dome, the United States of America pavilion, worth two post-cards – day and night – is one of the few structures still standing, with one very important foot-note. Now home to Montréal’s Biosphère which, with an irony next to foreboding, the federal government translates as “Environment Museum” the building suffered a major fire in 1976, destroying the transparent acrylic coating, and remained an empty shell for many years. Its surviving steel truss structure remained in place, however, thus making the Biosphère possible.

The Biosphère as I saw it earlier this month:

Another surviving – thriving – edifice from Expo ’67 is France’s pavilion, now home to Casino de Montréal (alas Expo’s monorail – named “Minirail” if memory serves – was dismantled when Terre des Hommes was no more):

Living as close as we did to Expo, it only seemed natural that guests of an aunt and uncle’s collection of cottages in Portland, Ontario, should come to our place to stay for a few nights. Our make-shift B & B, while charging less than even the cheapest motels, made enough over the summer -as I think I’ve recounted before – for Mom and Dad to pave our driveway.

The Winchester – from draft beer to coffee since before Confederation

I did a short double-take walking up Parliament Street today, approaching the former Winchester Hotel. At the sreet-level entrance to what are now apartments upstairs – to the south of Tim Horton’s – a sign says something to the effect “Winchester Gardens – since 1861”.




That would be the landlord’s way of putting a time-stamp on the building, I suspect, whose main floor has undergone more than one transformation over the years.  When I first moved into the neighbourhood nineteen years ago it was still the Winchester Hotel, in its original incarnation, run-down and seedy, a tavern with rooms upstairs.  (They may even have called themselves apartments by then.)

The second photo shows the Winchester Street side which, as I recall, was once the “ladies and escorts entrance” – an archaic designation, commonly seen at watering-holes across Ontario, mandated by liquor control authorities of past generations.

The tavern, modernized with a kitchen serving finger foods, continued to try to make a go of it until relatively recently – my last visit there being a Michael Shapcott election campaign celebration.

Things changed, however, when the building’s fine brick-work had the beejeezus sand-blasted out of it a few years ago in preparation for its current main floor tenant, a Tim Horton’s coffee shop.

Neighbours will remember the fight Tim’s had to wage to claim its place on the corner as heritage preservationists rightly demanded that the franchise adapt its typically cookie-cutter plans to befit the historic Victorian architecture of the Winchester.  Even skeptics would be hard-pressed to argue that they haven’t done a good job with the thick brick interior walls accented with framed pictures of the hotel and Parliament Street.

Like any Tim’s location in Canada it is a busy spot, even without the customary drive-thru window, and is a meeting place in Cabbagetown for people of all ages – men, women, escorts and children!

The Town of Perth, Ontario’s appreciation of her past

My heart goes out to the people of Goderich who learned this week how quickly our architectural heritage can be severely damaged or wiped out completely.

Having recently returned from a summer visit to my ancestral home (in Canada, at least, say ancestry.ca friends) I am renewed in my delight of how seriously the Town of Perth and her proud people take the idea of preserving the past. Whether it is her dubious distinction as the site of Canada’s last fatal duel (and accompanying folklore), the storied Tay Canal, or her prominent stone architecture (both commercial and residential), Perth is continuing to entrust future generations with a town of sheer beauty.

This next photo shows what happens when a landlord starts to renovate an ice locker-turned-apartment building.  A smaller, original stone building with an amazing round window has emerged.  Town historians are scrambling, I am sure, to find out what went on here.  It might well have gone back to the town’s founding, as a military settlement after the War of 1812, when military stores were located in the next building down the hill.  I look forward to seeing what else might be revealed when I next visit at Thanksgiving.

The Perth campus of Algonquin College is renowned for a program in trades geared to architectural preservation and authentic restoration.  Below the stone walls at the Matheson House on Gore Street, Perth’s Museum now for many years, are being re-pointed by a crew.

When an Algonquin-trained crew set to work on this place below from the inside out, one of them – a family friend – told me how interesting it was to work with original logs, unfinished to the point where he called them trees,  in the building’s structure.

Perth is considering a proposal to designate a Heritage Conservation Area. They should meet no opposition. Meanwhile, just this month, it has launched a Facade and Signage Improvement Program – again something which should be encouraged. These things matter! More can be read at http://perthcanada.com

Toronto’s Distillery District a destination unto itself

I had occasion to attend a meeting today at the former Gooderham & Worts distillery complex, not having visited “The Distillery District” since shortly after it opened as a pedestrian attraction of shops, art galleries, outdoor sculptures and condos.  It’s close enough that I’m almost certain to spend more time there after today’s experience!