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

omni home

It is possible that the archetypally obsessive Anglophilia of the Old Mill complex and its affluent/middle-class Home Smithian west-of-the-Humber offspring (Kingsway Park and its successors; the Royal York/St. George's Golf & Country Club; et al) had a fortifying effect upon its environs. Of all of the former Metro Toronto components, the ex-township/borough/city of Etobicoke, in its dominant political and social culture, was perhaps most redolent of a stolid, doughy, Upper Canadian "Family Compact" sensibility. Politically, it was proudly "Common Sense before Common Sense was cool"; espousing thrift and prudence, good cautious private-businessy values and minimal extraneous overregulation, a spartan (the antithesis of Lastman-style parvenu flamboyance) but from all appearances apparently workable approach to government that presaged Mike Harris by eons. (Its strongest municipal legacy; ex-Mayor Doug Holyday, currently megacity council's arch-maverick for epitomizing the Jack Benny School for Municipal Governance.) The par-for-course hints of scandal and excess that flared here and there were quickly, neatly swept into the skeleton closet, the scars quietly patched over, and Etobicoke was good at that. The place could be accused of entropic complacency, but the secure, prosperous, sway-holding Central Etobicoke establishment earned its right to be complacent, thank you. (Not that it mattered than many Etobicoke pockets, especially in the south and north ends, were a little less than prosperous, more ethnically diverse, and sometimes held by those dreaded New Democratic politicians. Perhaps the attitude towards them was archetypally Harrisian neo-conservative, that the prosperous middle could "show them the way"...not that they had to filthy themselves by actually going down there…)
           In an environment riddled by "Family Compact" conservativism (if not always politically Tory --even the dreaded local New Democrats have been pragmatically conditioned to Etobian prudence and parsimony), there comes a natural, admirable pre-occupation with "roots". Thus, in order to document and celebrate the legacy of pioneering settlers, the communities, the farms and dwellings and outbuildings quickly disappearing though suburban sprawl and the passage of generational memory, the Etobicoke Historical Society was born in 1958, and it remains an active, popular volunteer organization, with a newsletter and well-attended lectures and occasional exhibitions, most often centered around the Ground Zero of Etobicoke's "historical community", Montgomery's Inn.
           And a lot of entrenched Etobian sensibility, political and otherwise, would likely have preferred that it end there. According to the Etobicoke-conservative school a la Doug Holyday, the best government (if not the individuals involved) is fundamentally philistine; that is, it shouldn't be meddling in arts or museums or historical regulation, at least any more than necessary. In due time, the Etobicoke Historical Board (not to be confused with the Society), a municipal body dealing primarily with the operation of Montgomery's Inn as a house museum, was formed --and apparently not without some reluctance, as much of the mid-Etobicoke establishment preferred to keep Montgomery's Inn as something of a private/personal clubhouse or community-centre institution. (Which in retrospect might make sense as an "organic" continuation of its original function, more natural than the period-costumed Williamsburgean museological artifice that many of us have come to revile.)
           Then, when the Ontario Heritage Act (1975) authorized the formation of municipal LACACs --Local Architectural Conservation Advisory Committees, whose function was "to advise council on local heritage matters and to assist the council in carrying out its heritage conservation program" --Etobicoke decided that the good, red-tapeless move was to incorporate its LACAC functions within the Etobicoke Historical Board, which made sense as the latter's core membership (in turn, the cream of the EHS crop) was, superficially at least, best prepared to "advise".
           In effect, it was like a token LACAC function stapled onto the token EHB --but at first, as with many other LACACs (and historic preservation in general in the 70s), there was a touch of heroism involved, Etobicoke's heroic contribution being a booklet, "Sidelights Of History", on "Etobicoke's Century Buildings", and a century-building plaquing program. In this case, legislation allowed the necessary support in order to "do something" --and other publications with some LACAC underpinning followed in the 80s (on Etobicoke's old villages) and 90s (on Kingsway Park). But other than this, the LACAC stuff played a distinct second or third fiddle to Montgomery's Inn programming matters at EHB meetings --and increasingly so over time. It's almost as if with "Sidelights Of History", the Etobicoke LACAC had performed its necessary, most fundamental function, and the rest was regarded as but a tokenism. Even today, the local "historic establishment" can be prone to unapologetically referring back to this quarter-century-old (and recently republished) booklet, as if changing methodology (or the fact that its methodology was already a bit parochial in 1975) meant nothing.
           And this being Etobicoke, there was a reluctance in properly following through with the regulation part of LACAC activity. In fact, a gear slipped in the local heritage ordinance, where it became the request of the property owner, rather than panel recommendations, that preceded listings and designations. What resulted from this inside-outness was an ill-maintained, horribly inconsistent Swiss-cheese inventory of properties; fundamentally, a flock of 1975-era "Sidelights Of History" entries, with some other subsequent quick-issue tokenisms and an inadequate once-overing of the Lakeshore communities, and nothing north of the 401 that wasn't a SOH "century building". Not only was there a plethora of omissions, but also a whole host of inclusions with no real discernable reason for being on a LACAC inventory --perhaps a historical personage here or there, but often perhaps for simple status or NIMBY or insipid "nice house" reasons. An abuse of the whole rationale of the inventory of listed properties. (I seem to recall, some years ago, a bemused anecdote from someone working on the Shaver/Woodsworth house move/restoration about the EHB/LACAC, at one of its meetings, suggesting the listing/designation of a c1948 house/office building in Islington Village, simply on account of its nice historic-style design.)
           The Swiss cheese, in its turn, was aggravated over the years by demolition; according to the Etobicoke system in extremis, the private property owner had the right to do whatever, and the LACAC or whatever passed for it could just as well roll over and play dead, advocacy be darned. And it isn't just for simple "listed" properties (in Long Branch, 1/4-1/2 of those have apparently gone AWOL, without even a proper inventory acknowledgment); actual designated properties, like the Montgomery homestead "Briarly" or the original Thorncrest estate, have slipped away under the most absurdly meaningless circumstances, with the LACAC allowing the avowed, over-accepted "weakness" of OHA designation to run them over roughshod. Or else, the "solutions" offered by the LACAC have been well-meaning but naive, along the lines of offering to move buildings (Briarly) or parts thereof (the ex-New Toronto Post Office, whose interior was threatened with gutting) to Montgomery's Inn.

Thus it was that Etobicoke's "heritage community" was capable of responding to the vast bulk of its real and threatened losses with little more than a resigned "that's progress" regret straight out of the 1950s. As a regulator and, just as important, as a motivator, the Etobicoke LACAC was impotent, useless; relative to how a good LACAC ought to function, it was like what a thalidomide flipper was to an arm and hand. And this entrenched inertia grew over time; by the 90s, it seemed as if listing and designation was actively discouraged, perhaps for fear of its bogeyman characteristics. (According to Ontario's designated-property website, the last of the handful of designations fully in Etobicoke were in 1983; there were a pair of dual-municipality designated heritage bridge structures a few years later.) There was a very worthy "flagship" exception, in recent years, the Kingsway Park Heritage Conservation District proposal --but even that had what could be easily interpreted as unfortunate self-serving NIMBYish tones in its genesis (aggravated by the fact that its instigator, the former LACAC chair, was a neighbourhood resident and lived across the street from a controversial teardown-rebuild). Meanwhile, other active, major (and quite successful) heritage projects like the current running activity on the Lakeshore Psychiatric Grounds have been primarily community-generated, with the LACAC involvement as such appearing to be strictly nominal. The sinking feeling was that it was the same old Central Etobicoke Family Compact in play, uselessly fiddling at Montgomery's Inn while the rest of the jurisdiction was burning, and if anything was done right, it was in spite of those fuddy-duddies. And many of them were probably, relatively speaking, innocent in this matter --even I might have been consumed by the entropy, were I part of the system.
           Within the shadow of Toronto, it was particularly embarrassing --but it was perhaps not an uncommon situation among Ontario's LACACS. And it was a bit the nature of the beast; the state-of-the-art standards of the LACACs' provincial-ministry landlords, whether in preservation methodology, public outreach, or built-culture consciousness, didn't have an easy go in the trickling-down process, especially among fragile municipal volunteer committees whose membership consisted primarily of interested amateurs and whose perspective remained, with few exceptions, largely parochial. Insular "Family Compactness", in fact, verged on the rule rather than the exception, and obsolete notions or definitions of "heritage" (including, even, Etobicoke's early "Century Building" obsession) proved difficult to be weaned from, or to grow from; not only might 1965-style methodology be used in 1975, but that legacy of said methodology might have been lackadaisically, uncritically be accepted a quarter century later! (As if, they identified their relevant "heritage buildings" at the start, thank you, goodbye.) Another pitfall is what I call the "historical designation welfare bum" syndrome; that is, to either use designation as a panacea-for-all-evils slap-it-on crutch, or to regard designated or absolute designation-worthy properties as the only ones of discernable architectural/historical interest and LACAC concern, and myopically turning away from everything else --"if it ain't designated, I guess it ain't no good". (And by extension, Etobicoke's designation-as-avoidable-bogeyman syndrome simply seized up the whole system.) More often than not, the end result was an insipidly grinning "We Are Your LACAC and These Are Our Designated Heritage Buildings" impression --a good, healthy idea degenerated into small-town tourist-bait kitsch. And to top it off, the individual LACACs weren't always equally up to current-standards snuff as to how to desirably maintain or encourage maintaining its heritage. Thus, if the Old Mill proposal smacks of the same obsolete, disavowed logic as "preserving" stones from a graveyard by setting them in a brick or stone wall, it helps to know that this was done relatively recently in the Islington Burial Ground --and a former EHB/LACAC member spoke about it with innocent pride to a current member only months ago!
           It isn't that either the Ontario Heritage Act or the LACACs they mandated are a failure; it's just that, a quarter century later, they deserve a good, thorough looking-at and strengthened renewal according to current standards. But keep in mind that the malaise isn't only Etobicoke's or Ontario's; as Richard Longstreth implied in a JSAH essay last year, the pattern of the grassroots preservation movement resting on its laurels since its 1970s time in the vanguard is an American one as well. Perhaps it just takes a few, good, visionary leaders to shake the dust out...

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





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
can't call it


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


cannibal kitsch


birth of a folly
just part of
the scenery




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


On one thing
everyone agrees:
the mill is
finally "
finished "'s like
Mitch Miller

dept. store:

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