around 1994, the Old Mill proposal came into play. On the
surface of things, this proposal to "de-ruin the ruin" on behalf of an
ambitious expansion proposal looked prepostrously misguided--conceptually
years, even decades out of whack with good current preservation standards.
But perhaps, one might have naively assumed, it wasn't; maybe, in fact, the
apparent prepostrousness of the idea was such that there had to be some
kind of cheeky method to their madness. After all, the local LACAC had
given it its approval; if that's the case, then it couldn't be that bad...
Think again. Even I, at several removes, could have been fooled, to a form.
From all indications, it was approved on fairly skimpy evidence--a model
and initial drawings, and presumably a pitch that could have been voiced by
Lionel Hutz on how "building within" was to preserve the "deteriorating"
walls of the mill and in turn enhance the whole complex, and it'd be to the
benefit of the community, et al. (And to top it off for "consistency's"
sake, it was handled by the same design hands that carried out the earlier
additions to the Old Mill complex.) There evidently appears to have been,
prior to approval, an utter lack of detailed, thought-out, constructive
discussion, or debate, or questioning of the scheme's appropriateness and
what its execution might involve--and as the scheme in many respects
resembles quite remarkably that recent Toronto preservationist cause
celebre, the proposal to chew up the Concourse Building and regurgitate it
into a superskyscraper, it's an interesting point to ponder. Perhaps they
were scared that by opposing the scheme or questioning it too aggressively,
they might come across as anti-progress obstructionist screaming meemies,
engaging in the kind of Toronto-style "social activism" that gave true-blue
Etobians nosebleeds. Perhaps they were also scared because, with the Old
Mill complex being a true-blue Middle Etobicoke "establishment"
institution, they couldn't afford to "cross their own", to jeopardize their
personal reputations and connections on grounds of principle.
And again, they may not all have comprehended what the desirable "state of
the art" is--especially if they were prone to setting gravestones into
walls or offering to acquire art deco post office interior details rather
than encouraging their retention/restoration in situ. Or maybe, especially
in this case, some didn't want to know, in an act of stiff-upper-lip,
principled-conservative entrenchment; the owners had the right to do what
they wanted to do with their property, it's the Etobicoke way, and if you
don't think it's "acceptable preservation", then, tough. Besides, one
assumes "the people" knew better than the self-styled preservation elite,
and if this makes the crumbling, hazardous ruin "useful" and "enhances"
it--as one former Montgomery's Inn executive jaw-droppingly told me of the
ruinous structure, "where's the value"--so be it. It's the preservationist
equivalent to the McMichael/George McLean/Peter Worthington artistic ideal
according to the ham-handed, stodgily reductivist terms of
Bateman/Danby/Loates schmaltz populism, a bulwark against the avant-gardist
artistic elite which wastes tax dollars on incomprehensible paint-roller
abstraction, meat dresses, and their ilk. Thus, rather than a
"Walkertonian" calamity, the Old Mill might instead be viewed as akin to a
George McLean assuming chief curatorial duties at the AGO or the National
Gallery. The "arts elite" might deem it an unmitigated reactionary
disaster; but good, decent, "real people", or so it's claimed, would find
it an accountable use of taxpayers' dollars--at last!
"Where's the value?" Reduced to such terms, Etobicoke's
existing preservation modus operandi becomes not embarrassingly threadbare
and impotent, but a supposedly "ideal" model. Building owners assert
carte blanche rights over their property, and the more abstract, spiritual,
aesthetic/purist "value" arguments attached to, say, maintaining the
Old Mill in ruinous form become much subjective gobbledygook. And nothing in
Etobicoke is sacred, except, maybe, a public "heritage" institution like
Montgomery's Inn--and hypothetically, for "value" purposes, even that
might ideally be be dismantled and moved to Centennial Park and its valuable
land sold off for condo development.
Or, to take the argument in a "John Bentley Mays" direction, the Old Mill
itself might be justifiably seen as a distinctly un-avantgarde, even
hackneyed schmaltz icon in its own right; therefore, schmaltz deserveth
schmaltz, sentimental piffle deserveth sentimental piffle, so what does it
Maybe so. But it appears that the reaction by many to the Etobicoke
LACAC's approval of the Old Mill scheme was a sort of head-shaking "oh
dear". Almost as if the Etobicoke LACAC was in the eyes of its
neighbouring and parallel organizations what the mill ruin had perhaps been
in the eyes of its owners; an apologetically-treated, needlessly useless,
embarrassing, senile-relativish non-sequitur, like the mill: a millstone.
They, in the Etobicoke LACAC, were naifs who bit the bait, rolled over,
played dead. Or perhaps they weren't such naifs...