the WALKERTON of PRESERVATION By Adam Sobolak

part 6
back to page 5
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 7

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A self-serving, autobiographical note.
           Going into the panel, I was the sole Etobicoke resident; I was the sole person with anything resembling "roots" in Etobicoke; and I latently had an impressive grasp and creative awareness of all of Etobicoke's physical fabric; and my background was architectural history. So, why hadn't I a personal history, even through something as basic as membership, with the whole well-seasoned EHS/EHB/LACAC network? Especially given the fresh, invigorating perspectives I could have brought with my relative youth and education?
           Wild oats. And something deeper in the soil where the wild oats grow.
           On a precocious dilettante basis, I was never entirely disengaged from Etobicoke's historicity; genuine interested curiosity brought me to pubescently browse, however gawkily or ill-digestedly, what passed for Etobicoke's published historical texts in the school and public library. However, for a too-glib young Etobian of the Rheostatics/Cowboy Junkies generation, the Etobicoke Historical Society and its tentacles made no overtures, and besides, it felt like an inert, uncongenial, entrenched, stolid sort of tea-and-social, Montgomery's-Inn-costume-drama square zone--as sleepy as the Cowboy Junkies' "Trinity Sessions" with none of the hip voguishness. Our dovetails never came close to locking; I was never willed over. The sort of nascent "heritage activism" or "community activism" spirit my like was "into" was more cosmopolitan, downtown-Torontoish; in effect, I leapt over Etobicoke in order to find my heritage way, made my way to "the big city" as many a starry-eyed wild-oat-sowing youth is prone to doing. And currently, one may say, I'm bringing the lessons of those wild-oat years back to where I came from, and now all under the hopefully broad cosmopolitan aura of the "Megacity".
           It now seems--and likely not just in Etobicoke's case--that a fatal divide took place, and unfortunately, it was in the nature of the heritage beast. At least a generation of "fresh air" was lost as a result. A generation that grew up with Etobicoke as a suburban entity, that grew up in an age of auto travel and pop-cult influences that ranged far beyond Etobicoke, whose latent positive, creative sense of Etobicoke place had less in common with the familiar, entrenched, myopic historical-society "olden time" tableaus than with, say, Reyner Banham's Los Angeles--or, perhaps, Douglas Coupland's Vancouver. A place where the beating, fascinating, story-telling "heritage" heart very much exists, but inextricable from, even enhanced by, a very vital, dynamic, electric, ever-indeterminate and polyglot ultra-contemporary tableau, the happy if sometimes sloppy and wretched reality of the here and now. Think of an Etobicoke where Montgomery's Inn and the Motel Strip, Applewood and Apache Burger, old farmsteads and contemporary co-ops, Home Smith and Little Somalia, the sidelights of history and the suburban recroom, the whole shebang and the memory thereof is out there to be uncovered, discovered, celebrated under a common apron--warts and all, and god bless this mess.
           What this generation could have brought to "heritage" is a meta-heritage approach, informed not just by the pat, simplistic ident-a-style parameters of most heritage organizations, but also by broader, more current aspects of built culture and vernacular studies, and spreading into other disciplines--landscape, sociology, et al. On the surface, such methodologies may seem too sprawling and "intellectual"; but as applied, perhaps cautiously at first and in tempting increments, they can open eyes and make us richer. And in LACAC activity, it could also work toward a more active, positive, persuasive engagement with the planning and political aspects. Hypothetically, all of Etobicoke, and not merely the creaky "heritage landmarks", are there to be creatively celebrated. We know; we grew up with it, and if we didn't, we're "honorary locals".
           There are pitfalls, especially when the scope's so broad; most particularly, there's a risk of LACAC meetings being bogged down in a plethora of trivial issues. But "meta-heritage" remains not only a reasonable ideal; in increments, it already exists, and it's been "in the air" for some time--one thinks of architectural and urban theses and studies, of literary works and journalistic articles, et al. Indeed, its seeds come from that same young vanguard that helped set the Ontario Heritage Act and LACAC fundamentals into place in the 70s. Many are still there, now seasoned yet far from "superceded" veterans.

It's the meta-heritage spirit that's informed my dream of an Etobicoke architectural guide, and other potential outreach/enlightenment efforts--and I'll offer a tentative-early-step case in point.
           In my slow quest to grasp (or perhaps reacquaint myself with) "the Etobicokeness of Etobicoke", on a lovely Sunday midafternoon in early August I ventured out to Centennial Park. A place that I long took for granted or even practically ignored, mainly because its cold-war suburban Olmstedian fantasy--embodied by its chief visual landmark, the requisite "Mount Trashmore" garbage heap-turned-ski hill--seemed too banal for reflection or description. I'd gone there for childhood winter festivals, for swim lessons, for friends' hockey practice; but for a quarter century it was, except as a drive-by, terra incognita, at least in part on account of its being too cognita upon a glance (a big green space with a wart in the middle; so what). It isn't that, to use Madonna's words, "this used to be my playground"; it's that it was meant by municipal authorities to be my playground, but never quite jelled. (Unlike High Park, which was close to where I first lived and to my grandparents' house; I got to know and love and use its lay of the land quite well.)
           But now, I decided on a second look. Motivated by (1) my LACAC status and guidebook dreams, (2) my already having practiced this kind of "suburban perambulation" as a means of dealing with anything from Calgarian sprawl to Polish tower-block dystopia, and (3) the fact that, 33 1/3 years later, Trashmore wasn't looking like such a barren lump anymore. And it was a splendid summery day to feel the park in whatever may pass for its current "full use", in an unsystematic, semi-detached, almost Baudelairian way, a lone wanderer and observer amidst the ordinary-folk summer-lifers. To see how it--the park, as a human-made, human-used creation--all comes together.
           It makes a difference.
           I started out in the "quiet" part to the NE, in a mostly empty asphalt sea hemmed in by the backside of the hockey arena, a woodlot, and the ski hill, and set out to ascend the latter. The mature Trashmore, with its over three decades of foliage complemented by currently fashionable "naturalization" parks policy, now feels like a good place to run and hide and frolic, as if its unseemly and rather motley roots didn't matter--even the inevitable vent pipes for the trash heap now look as benign as telephone poles in the Canadian Shield (or, for that matter, the adjacent ski lift). From atop, I noticed that a big westward arc from the cricket pitch to the north to the soccer field to the south was where the "action" was, and it seemed a very diverse, polyglot action, as confirmed upon my descent...the inevitable river/pondside wedding photography; Indo-Asian families picnicking; a buzzy little leased-land go-cart track and bumper cars nearby; a little Caribbean music festival which may have been related to Caribana but was probably just as well an independent "community" event...everything had a happily shaggy and spontaneous rainbow aura, less of stuffy Etobicoke than of the egalitarian promised land of contemporary Brampton or Mississauga that this sector inflects toward. Just ordinary folk having fun, and they're just as fun to watch and waft amidst; and like so much in today's GTA, it was a happy, sense-opening far cry from yesterday's white bread. It really did take mature "multiculturalism" for a Centennial Park to fulfil its Olmstedian dream...though not enough to completely vanquish the core strainedness behind its crafting and programming. In other words, in this suburban park under the brash sun I still couldn't stop the Simpsons tableaus from rushing through my head, even if said tableaus involved more Apus than Homers.
           And it seemed a little odd that the west side of the park was so "jumping", with cars being turned away from grassy overflow fields, while the east side, the "Etobicoke" side, was a dead zone, with plenty of sprawling asphalt-white line emptiness in the lot where I parked--surely, it wasn't that much more of a walk to the Caribbean festival from here? Perhaps it's because this was where the dull founding stench of 60s/70s whitebread hoserdom--through the overwhelming presence of the ski slopes, the hockey arena, the stadium, the Olympium, where the critical "activity" is either internalized or seasonal--was toughest to wash out. Yet something was happening here, too, on this bright and happy day, and something which in a peculiar way hearkened back to the blanched culture of Etobicoke circa 1967; some oddly familiar yet "off" noises wafting from the stadium turned out to be--of all things--a Britney Spears "tribute" act! Which was either performing, or rehearsing--in that vast, underpopulated context, it all looked comically forlorn (and I'll bet that in nearly all these cases, the "Britney" is probably closer generationally to, say, Faith Hill).
           Centennial Park was a humanly created and conceived place (as all designated "parks" are) that succeeded in appearing and in fact being "well used", even in its sometime underuse--a lesson in how in our beholding of the built/created environment, the real-time social and cultural element, as well as the conjunctions with nature, is critical. It allows us to contextualize--perhaps in a different way, and with different eyes, each time. Such an experiential, multifaceted means of beholding is to the traditional heritage/ident-a-style architectural-appreciation approach what, perhaps, the Deweyan educational revolutions of the c20 were to the traditionally rigid 3 R's grade-school routine--an apt comparison in the turf of Canada's first "modern" public school, Sunnylea.
           And as to Centennial Park's "architecture" proper, it may not be not of "heritage" or "designation" quality, even by modern standards, but that's not the point. (Though there's been offerings to move so-called heritage buildings to the park, perhaps as a "heritage village" in utero.) The dominant theme is of a clean, non-demonstrative 60s public modernism in red brick, with an oh-so-slightly thickset quality reflective of the age when Brutalism and Aaltoism were in fashion. The public frontispiece of the Etobicoke Parks greenhouse actually hearkens back to 50s Contemporary, while the slope-roofed ski "chalet" has, through additions, taken on a Postmodern quality--and to top off the innocuous mix, there's a neat if incongrously suspended Miesian pressbox at the stadium. The neutral-to-a-fault theme later reached its apotheosis in the park's supposed "star", the Etobicoke Olympium, which encased its dazzling, talk-of-the-town Olympic-quality facilities in a packing carton whose chief "ornament" consists of dark, horizontally-corrugated metal cladding--that's it. While the cladding's brash wide-lapelled scale (enhanced by the signage) can now be admired for its yet-unaltered 70s qualities, this clearly represents, for a facility of such symbolic importance, a pre-Postmodern architectural reductio ad absurdum--all the more "absurdum" in light of the award-winning pool/public facility building program (Memorial, Rotary Park, Sir Adam Beck) Etobicoke undertook in the 90s. Yet there may be a deeper, and at heart more virtuously characteristic message behind the Olympium's "non-style", especially if the powers that be liked to point to the fiasco of Montreal's Olympic facilities as what happens when style runs amok--maybe those proudly stingy Etobians had it right all along!
           Centennial Park in and of itself, and not just in isolation; the surrounding neighbourhoods, schools, churches, plazas have their "stories" as well, as well as the farming pre-history of the site, and it's all only a hint of what can be done in Etobicoke, comprehensively, sophisticatedly, an endless means of understanding and self-realization--and in a manner that'd do justice to the much-maligned Megacity apron. And as a logical outgrowth, in part, of what a LACAC is.
           But the fatal divide took place. For a fleeting moment in the 60s and 70s when the Modernist hubris pot boiled over, preservationism, long regarded as the realm of tennis shoe'd old ladies where "old buildings" became a stuffy and dubiously loaded (some would say reactionary) metaphor for "old values", took on a vanguard activist aura--yet this was a short-lived, ultimately easily co-opted or corrupted, and mainly "urban" phenomenon. For subsequent conscience-laden activist generations, environmentalism proved by far a stronger draw than the more cerebral realm of architectural preservation, which seemed in some cases to revert to the insulated, fuzzy-wuzzyland pokiness from whence it came. In places like Etobicoke, despite enthusiastic if isolated pockets here and there, the vanguard was but a smokescreen--the historical/(supposed) preservationist community never properly outgrew, or found the means to properly outgrow, narrowly effete preoccupations with "pioneer settlement", "pre-Confederation roots", et al. In fact, it became a little ingrown, its headspace stuck in an eternal Etobicoke-Township rut; imprisoned by its own Family Compactness, its stagnation condoned by the sleepy political establishment.
           Perhaps I'm part culpable; by never having felt "up to" joining this fuzzy-wuzzyness, I and others like me allowed it to sink to a state of apparent slumlorded Mariposan hilarity, where--from some reports--those who "want things done" in heritage in Etobicoke have had to practically work around the designated responsible body in question. And that inertia which never tempted me in the first place now appears, in an Etobicoke that's been transformed--culturally, demographically--even from my own youth, nothing short of grotesque--grotesque to the point of apartheid.
           And a little pathetic, like the forlorn Centennial Park "Britney".
           They failed me; yet, through non-involvement and non-engagement, I failed them. And thus schemes like the Old Mill project could only waft in as easily and lazily as an autumn leaf. It was "just Etobicoke", after all. Big deal. Who cares?


back to page 5
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 7

 

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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
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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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

drops

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ill

 

 

 

 

 

torent