the WALKERTON of PRESERVATION By Adam Sobolak

part 1
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In the realm of architectural preservation in Ontario, it is the equivalent of the Walkerton water crisis.
           As with Walkerton, it happened in the heartland of values that many feel the current provincial government holds dear --in this case, not small-town and rural Ontario, but the genteel inner suburbs of Toronto. And it happened under a local preservation modus operandi that has long discouraged regulation and bowed to the rights of the property owner to do as one may --not unlike the privatization policies that some say led to the Walkerton crisis.
           It happened to a familiar icon and local landmark whose continued, unmolested or at least properly thought-out survival should have been as much taken for granted as clean, uncontaminated drinking water. And like Walkerton, the very scale of the ever-unfolding disaster and saga behind it continues to boggle the mind, each and every injury-insulting step of the way. How could this have been allowed to happen, one wonders.
           And as with Walkerton, in spite of individual mishandling and ineptitude, it ultimately embodies the failure of a system -- a systemic failure, a failure of well-guided imagination, that has led to the rape of (with due regard to Montgomery's Inn) the most popularly, sentimentally familiar "heritage" icon in Etobicoke, the Old Mill.
           Currently, the ruins of the Old Mill in Etobicoke are being adapted into a "Guest Suite" facility, a signature feature for the massive expansion of the adjacent tea room, restaurant, and conference centre complex --"a boutique conference resort in the city", as it is advertised. This is at the expense of the ruinousness that had been a fundamental part of the Old Mill's mystique for over a century --instead, the levelled-off exterior walls, or the appearance thereof, are being adapted into an ersatz half-timbered "working edifice", intended to be in keeping with the long-established "Old English" theme of the tea room and its adjuncts.
           This scheme is meant to be an enhancement of the site and the hitherto effectively useless "Heritage Building" (as it's patronizingly referred to in the architects' blurb); instead, it is a catastrophe, a hokey travesty, the worst of Disney combined with the worst of Viollet-le-Duc, adulterating what should not have been adulterated in the first place. Conceptually, it would be laughed out of most current legitimate preservationist circles. It's in the same hokey category as London Bridge being moved to Lake Havasu City, Arizona. Amazingly, it was approved by the Etobicoke LACAC (Local Architecture Conservation Advisory Committee) in 1994, with minimal forethought or argument, apparently upon viewing only the most preliminary models and drawings, and without the deep consideration of the significance of the site (or what the worked-out scheme might entail) that one might expect from a properly-functioning LACAC . (Or, if it existed, it was discouraged, politically or otherwise.) Allegedly due to economic reasons, and perhaps with a faint undertone of protest, the expansion scheme remained dormant until the spring of 2000. Then, mysteriously, construction started, which as it turned out, involved greater "work" upon the ruinous mill structure than allegedly anticipated. It happened silently, with minimal press, but before long the Old Mill had all but "disappeared", dismantled in preparation for its overadulterated reconstitution, and passersby couldn't figure what had happened. And when alerted as to what was actually happening, the thoughtful folk who long revered the ruin could only wonder why. And despite protestations from the protagonists' end, it all probably could have been foretold from the start.
           With the Old Mill, they intended a landmark; instead, they created a laughing stock. And in terms of historic preservation, it portrayed Etobicoke citizens as comical, susceptible yokels straight out of a Leacockian Mariposa, with a touch of the Simpsons' Springfield tossed in for good measure. And it's all the more embarrassing for existing directly in the shadow of --and now amalgamated into-- Toronto.

As current Vice-Chair of the Etobicoke Community LACAC Panel, I will admit that we have no power to halt the scheme, especially in its currently advanced stage --the pre-ordained damage has been done. However, (and a caveat: I speak individually, rather than on behalf of the panel) those of us within the Panel do have the power to censure, whether legally (through de-designation) or through written/verbal outreach. And the act of censure can be a strong demonstration of responsibility --to our community, and to the preservationist cause-- even when it involves self-critique, or contradicts the decisions of our predecessors. As the municipal nexus dealing with information and outreach on architectural/preservation interests, a LACAC has it well within its purview to enlighten people on negative examples just as much as positive ones.
           Because, in a sense, the current Etobicoke LACAC Panel --the first "independent" LACAC Etobicoke has ever had, free from being shackled to a museum programming organization-- has inadvertently been handed a signature issue on a platter. Even if the issue's a bit posthumous --which may, however, enhance its potentially powerful reverberations. For in its sleeper way, the current activity at the Old Mill, more than many of the much vaunted and more fashionable preservationist "disasters" current and pending (including the present redevelopment scheme for the Concourse Building, which spurred Rosario Marchese's current Private Member's Bill), is the best demonstration there can be for the reinforcement and effective communication of standards and an effective strengthening of the always-weak Ontario Heritage Act. And all the more so for its being practically in Torydom's back yard, and involving a much more popular --almost to the point of schmaltzy overfamiliarity-- heritage icon than the Concourse, or 999 Queen, or other such lost/victimized landmarks can hope to be.


back to press clippings
prologue    zero    press
December 26, 2000      1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9
to be continued... 2002    
glossary    notes    links   
onwards to page 2

 

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PICS        Before...
old mill old pic 1  old mill old pic 2
old mill old pic 3  old mill old pic 4
old mill old pic 5  old mill old pic 6
old mill old pic 7  old mill old pic 8
...& Aug. 2001
old mill new pic 1  old mill new pic 2
old mill new pic 3  old mill new pic 4
old mill new pic 5  old mill new pic 6
powered by
i*d*i*o*t*s
®
can't call it
Watergate
       

 

" How do I do a film called
'The Old Mill'
...when i don't have
an old mill?
"

 

cannibal kitsch

 

birth of a folly
1848-1975       
pathogen
just part of
the scenery
1975-1990

 

de-ruin

 

Etobicoke's
"heritage community"
was a vacuum,
a nullity, a dead zone
Old
33 1/3 years later,
Trashmore
wasn't looking like
such a barren
lump anymore...

 

On one thing
everyone agrees:
the mill is
finally "
finished "

 

...it's like
Mitch Miller

vanquishing
rock'n'roll!
ruinousness
Petersdorff
dept. store:

think of
Carson Pirie Scott
transfused
with a little
Mazda zoom-zoom

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

millstone