the WALKERTON of PRESERVATION By Adam Sobolak

part 8
back to page 7
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 9

omni home

So it's all a matter of insulating oneself from a broader context, and settling for the "familiarity" of A.J. Casson. And, as is so often the case these days, I've been prone to raising the current McMichael controversy, particularly in the way that it's become a rallying point for a stolid "old values" aesthetic conservatism in resurgence --an artistic "Common Sense Revolution", as advocate George McLean likes to put it. It's an interesting issue, as at its core it can dovetail into the more traditional, "Old Ontarian" preservationist sensibility --but it's also akin to the final nail in the coffin of preservationism's once-promising vanguard spirit. Unless the "vanguard" one has in mind is neo-conservative --less the sensibility of Thom-Shim-Sutcliffe patrons Barbara and Murray Frum, than of their offspring Linda and David and daughter-in-law Danielle Crittenden. (Who happens to be the stepdaughter of columnist Peter Worthington, perhaps the press's most avid champion of the so-called "original" McMichael vision ...so things come around in a circle.)
           Say what one will about the Concourse project and others like it; they've got that layer of plausibility, if not conceptually, then at least through the individuals involved (Michael McClelland et al). One may argue that they're like the recent forays of the Royal Ontario Museum and the Art Gallery of Ontario, for better or worse, into sometimes arch or glib commercialism; however controversial or deserving of criticism they are, within the curatorial circles in question they still "make sense". While, as I've suggested, the Old Mill, and perhaps by extension the Etobicoke preservation "establishment", is closer to "McMichaelism" --a standpoint that, in its funny way, is more threatening to the aforementioned curatorial circles. The likes of the ROM and AGO might accept sub-Disney dioramas; they might accept overhyped/oversponsored "theme" exhibitions; they might accept the gift-store kitsch that usually accompanies said exhibitions --but they will not accept the kind of "silent majority" conservative-populist reprogramming that banishes the Claes Oldenburgs and Joseph Beuyses and their Canadian compatriots on behalf of Bateman, Danby, et al. Why, it's like Mitch Miller vanquishing rock'n'roll.
           And as with curators, so with preservationists. Interestingly, there has been recent discussion of over-rigorous standards breeding a potential "heritage priesthood", not properly mindful of the variability of personal and cultural values, and that there should be greater looseness and flexibility allowed. Yet when this kind of argument is offered, it is usually framed on behalf of the hitherto dispossessed or isolated, the regional and neighbourhood characteristics, the concept of a building or place as a "living being", a vernacular object, a many-layered piece of our cultural landscape. (Not unlike my own arguments on behalf of "understanding Etobicoke", in fact.) Therefore, what may be cherished under this elbow room is something like the rows of c1920 workers' housing in New Toronto, whole swaths of which have been "debased" through aluminum siding, artificial stone, contemporary sash and other "unsightly" accretions, and whose supposed "original form" an overearnest heritage-priesthoody "purist" might desire to reinstate.
           It is, at heart, a "politically correct" goal --more akin to the controversial-in-its-own-right arts policy under Bob Rae than that under Mike Harris. It might allow for Montgomery's Inn to retain its roughcast-less random stone walls. It might, retrospectively, have allowed it to stay a community centre rather than being co-opted as a house museum. But when it comes to this kind of monkeying with the Old Mill, well uh-oh, that's where, one presumes, the priesthood has to come in with its holy condemnations...
           A parallel 1997-98 incident in Kingsway Park in fact helped set the stage for its current Heritage Conservation District application; a young family's application to demolish a house on Kingsway Crescent and Strath Avenue for their own dream house. What added to the controversy was that not only was Kingsway Crescent something of a "signature street" for the neighbourhood, the house in question was unique; a stuccoed "Mediterranean" anomaly amidst all the variations on "Old English". And furthermore, it was across the street from the home of the (since moved) then-chair of the Etobicoke LACAC! There was the talk of this replacement being a "monster home" complete with a --egad!-- 3-car garage, there were rumours of offshore money; the counter-argument was that the place was neglected and in bad repair and obsolete for the family's needs; besides, they had the right to do what they wanted on the property, and furthermore, it was argued that the new dwelling was in fact going to be quite sympathetic to the neighbourhood and more in keeping than the existing structure. (An interesting yahoo interpretation of "contextualism"; imagine, if you will, if the existing house was not Mediterranean, but machine-age Moderne. Imagine the horselaughs that'd ensue if something like that was replaced or disfigured on behalf of "contextualism" nowadays.) Altogether, it was a bit of a pathetic spectacle --evidence in miniature of how stunted (hypothetical response: "Stunted? Us?") Etobicoke's broad planning and heritage culture was.
           Well, the old house was demolished, and while it perhaps took a bit of negotiation for it to be so (for instance, the garage is only two-car, not three), the replacement actually isn't half bad --a bit of contemporary, albeit conservative, neo-Georgian historicism that succeeds quite well in disguising its purported "monster" quality. One can understand --especially in light of some much more obviously appalling "monster" replacements nearby --that the owners, in their inside-out way, weren't fooling when they promised to really make an tasteful effort to respect the neighbourhood's character. Yet the whole backdrop of the affair still leaves a queasily unnecessary taste ...or perhaps not, according to one's perspective. I argued some months back --long before the recent Federal Election-- that within this conservative neighbourhood, it's akin to the weak, pinkish, Globe-reading Joe Clark Tories being sideswiped by the brash, ambitious, principled young Post-reading Canadian Alliance supporters, and being left with little to do than to babble epithets, throw pathetic brickbats, etc.
           Thus, we don't have a tacky eyesore, but purebred Frum'n'Crittenden architectural neo-conservatism; the response to the "heritage priesthood" from the right. It can also be discerned in the attitudes of the Kingsway Park HCD's neighbourhood critics, who, perversely, show their neighbourhood pride by denying any discernable heritage worth. The word "heritage" as the eternal obstructionist, bureaucratic, progress-stunting stigma; of course, according to said standpoint, there might be virtually nothing in Etobicoke with said heritage worth. You know, not particularly "unique", or there's much older stuff elsewhere, bla bla. And that's just peachy keen. Etobicoke heritage: an oxymoron; Etobicoke's not in the "heritage" business. And thus the ruin of the Old Mill might become a rallying point for this kind of boilerplate-establishment-cult I'm-all-right-Jackism; after all, an affluent-culture "restoration" project that tilts against heritage's politically-correct wing doesn't kill people like Walkerton water does. (And besides, they'd say, it's a darned sight more tasteful than that hideous new graduate residence at Spadina and Harbord; now, there's a scandal. Oh yeah; those cultural elitists actually like it. Tells ya where they're at.) (Personally, the Pevsner-perambulating rebel in me would love to give these stuffed shirts nosebleeds by taking them on a meta-Sewellesque architectural-appreciation walking tour amidst North Etobicoke's "projects".)
           But it is all post-facto judgment. As such, it could make for intriguing debate over the politics of heritage preservation, the "for whoms" and "to whose benefit", and in some eyes it might quite conceivably turn the anti-Old Mill argument upon its head. As with the McMichael mess, it can give the so-deemed bourgeois/middlebrow a feeling of tilting-against-the-wind militant energy --they're doing it all for themselves, without being tied down by cultural-elite diktats.
           Yet there can also be a sinking feeling that through militancy, this self-styled silent majority hurts their own cause more than helping it --that it gives the hitherto innocuous and even genuinely admirable and/or commonsensical a bit of a queasy, repellent feeling. Sure, the McMichaels may have been wronged when the provincial government originally, heavy-handedly swept their gallery from under their feet; and sure, one might say the institution subsequently fell peril to a self-consciously applied "curatorial priesthood" --but in the end, the curdled "original vision" cure is even less likeable in its presentation. Even Robert Bateman and his like don't deserve such offputting inglory, however complicit they were in its generation. It's plain old crankism, cubed.
           Needless to say, I would be concerned about this attitude taking sway in the realm of heritage, as it works entirely against my expansive vision in favour of myopic retrenchment, or even entrenchment --exactly the sort of status quo which allowed the EHB/LACAC in the past to be so horribly ingrown, impotent, and out of touch with current reality, a laughing stock.
           In fact, despite the more garrulous neo-con blatherings, the actual momentum may be in the "expansive vision" end because --quite simply-- it's expansive, and expansively enlightening. Perhaps a little subversive in the process --uncovering not a few skeletons in Etobicoke's closet-- but in the end, it comes back and celebrates that which it's just subverted, and a lot more besides. It even, in a sort of gentler counter-subversion, ventures a bit beyond the raw importation of downtown "urban sophisticate" principles. Altogether, it makes Etobicoke richer --messier, but richer. It's democratic.
           And if it means a little self-criticism, so be it. Even the exemplary Colonial Williamsburg organization has allowed itself to grow over the years, to be attuned with intellectual currents, to the degree that it openly recognizes that its original 1920s/30s "restorations" --the creation of an earlier version of a "heritage priesthood"-- are not only far from correct, but enlightening documents of their own time.
           And to return to that pesky house on Kingsway Crescent; maybe the "principled conservative" approach isn't so airtight after all, even a neighbourhood where one assumes they're a dime a dozen. Rumour has it that due to their pesky little act of neighbourhood "vandalism", the house's occupants are being shunned by their neighbours. Even their kids aren't allowed to play with others in the neighbourhood. By simply "meaning well", making the proverbial kinder-gentler better mousetrap out of their so-accused "monster home", and doing it through a veil of lawyers without doing the proper neighbourhood homework, the poor interlopers --"vulgarians" in spite of themselves-- have become pariahs. And gee, it isn't like they built some Frank Gehry chain-link-and-corrugated-metal eyesore or something ...maybe they would even have been better off doing such a thing...
           Was it all worth it?
           Remember what happened to the Alliance's supposed PM-in-waiting Stockwell Day --or, for that matter, the Tories' supposedly hapless Joe Clark-- in the course of the last federal election.


back to page 7
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 9

arr

 

omnitecturalforum

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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" 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

 

 

 

 

piracy

 

decay

 

 

 

millstone

 

 

 

 

 

peril

 

drops

 

drifting

 

stolen

 

 

 

warning

 

neglect