A Short Guide To
Architectural Guidebooks


Leaving aside the usual gaggle of individual walking tours of whatever disposition, the first book for Toronto with true architectural-guide aspirations was "Exploring Toronto" (1972, 1977), a compact little book, sponsored by the Toronto Chapter of Architects--the " East/West" of its day--containing 12 walking tours authored by a 70s Who's Who of Toronto's architectural noteworthies (Thom, DuBois, Gustavs, du Toit, Klein, Markson, Clarke, Baird, Acland, Diamond, Myers, Zeidler, Grossman, Parkin, Vaughan --and an intro by Eric Arthur). It was part of a 70s series of "Exploring" guides (including Montreal, Halifax, Niagara-On-The-Lake, and perhaps the Kalman guides might be regarded as outer satellites), and looks pretty dated today, albeit in a wistful, "People City" retro flashback kind of way. Its most myopic boner: the "Water Works" (i.e. the R.C. Harris Filtration Plant) referred to as "disasters inside and out".

explore toronto

By comparison, the agreed-upon standard guide, Patricia McHugh's "Toronto Architecture: A City Guide" (1985; 2nd ed. 1989), was a quite successful (and rare for Canada) adaptation of a general Gebhardian formula (though with a bow to Goldberger in details such as mapping and organization). Like its American forebears, but quite unlike the prevailing Canadian pattern, McHugh eschewed the strictly linear "guided tour" format, although the entries still followed a logically-followable "walking tour" sequence; nor was she overly beholden to any specific historic period or afraid to provide pithy opinion (that hallmark of many a good, fun-to-use architectural guide) when necessary. And if the hallmark of a good guide is its impact on public consciousness, explicit or implicit, McHugh wins; not only did she succeed in contextualizing much of what had hitherto stood mutely within the closed realm of scholarship and historical inventory, but her identification of such genres as Toronto Bay-n-Gable quickly seeped into vernacular usage. (Indeed, McHugh shone best when covering old Toronto neighbourhoods such as Cabbagetown and the Annex--the very places that are chock-a-block with Bay-n-Gables and their contemporaries.) Far more than a banal "tour guide" shill for tourists and dillettantes, TA:ACG became an important secondary source and matrix-definer in its own right--and as we've seen, ever since the Pevsner guides it's been a familiar story for the architectural guidebook genre.

There remain problems, not the least of them being that with 10-15 years of architectural/physical flux in the interrim, TA:ACG shows its age (though it's not as embarrassingly/charmingly dated as "Exploring Toronto"). As an architectural judge, McHugh's always been a bit on the mannered side for my taste--though, given the subsequent trajectory of popular architectural judgment, perhaps we should be thankful that TA:ACG came out when it did. And even, loosened as it is, the "walking tour" format remains a crimp, confining one to "walking distance" central-core environs while leaving what lies beyond--or even some downtown-proximate zones of interest, such as the waterfront--untouched. (The 1989 division did little to remedy this, other than tacking on a couple of chapters on Rosedale.) One gets an uneasy feeling that TA:ACG hasn't *completely* shaken out its tourist-shill (including the upscale or domestic tourist) impulse, that it still tilts the Pevsnerian/Gebhardian/Goldbergerian spirit a little too inadvertently far toward Mike Filey country. That McHugh does a fine job, but this is only a tempting glimpse of (or maybe, more promisingly, a useful foundation for) what Toronto or even the GTA really deserved, if perhaps in the longer term...

east/west toronto

          Oddly enough, as far as I know there's only one volume which attempted to apply McHugh's formula elsewhere in Ontario--Katherine Ashenburg's "Going To Town: Architectural Walking Tours in Southern Ontario" (1996)--and it highlights both the plusses and the pitfalls of the original. Despite what past issues of Frank Magazine might tell you, it's actually quite good--surprisingly good, in fact; Ashenburg's digested her McHughian lessons so well that one wonders why others across Ontario or even Canada failed to follow suit. As it turned out, the very urban, urbane notion of the architectural guide translated quite well to those exemplars of small town Ontario: Cobourg, Goderich, Merrickville, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Paris, Perth, Picton, Port Hope, St. Marys, Stratford. The problem is --those exemplars: archetypal destinations for the upticket "cultured" daytripper or B&B crowd, i.e. over-galleried, over-gift-shopped, over-glamorous, over-marketed coffee-table Upper Canada. (No wonder Frank Magazine sneered.) The true Pevsnerian, meanwhile, might desire a bit of grit coupled with standard gloss, their Brantford with their Paris, their Niagara Falls with their NOTL, their Smiths Falls with their Perth or Merrickville, and everything in between and beyond, from Cobalt to Clarington. We really ought to hurry up with that "Buildings Of Ontario" series...

ashenburg's southern ontario guide


Pevsner and WPA

America: the first wave

AIA Guide to New York City

David Gebhard: America's Pevsner

Goldberger, Banham, and Moore (and more).

Buffalo: Vindication

Chicago: Maturity

The Buildings of the United States series

London + Vienna + Berlin = Cartesian Europe

One Vancouver, many Montréals

Toronto: Opportunity

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