Remembering Toronto’s architectural history

 

Guild Inn, Toronto

Planted on the ridge of the Scarborough  Bluffs (65 metres high) are remnants of Toronto’s architectural past, preserved once more by my camera yesterday afternoon. A brilliant day of sun and shadow, Heather and I mingled among the marble Ionic columns, brass iron gates, and fragments of limestone mansions. The large and the miniscule caught the frame of our camera lens: a drowsy monarch clinging to a still vibrant purple hyacinth; the splendor of a brick and terracotta entranceway; late season sailboats mimicking the monarch writ large, wings raised and almost shimmering.

I’m describing the Guild Inn sculpture garden. There are 70 architectural fragments and sculptures gathered from demolished Toronto and Southwestern Ontario buildings between 1950 and 1978. These fragments are the last representatives of a part of architectural history lost before heritage preservation laws protected them.

The smooth, coolness of limestone; a Ravenna sculpture by Sorel Etrog; spindly elm leaves landing on art deco bas-relief blocks from the old Toronto Star Building. These were some of the reasons we paused. There was one statue of a woman framed in a massive stone archway. Her plaque bore no name. Her hands bore no fingers. Her breasts were those of a ten-year old girl and she sat as modestly as a ten-year old girl might sit.

This woman or child remained frozen on her pedestal as decades slid past; she watched us watch her and wonder–at least I wondered: what happened to her name? Her hands? Her stories?

Another nameless naked woman

[Heather just glimpsed this posting over my shoulder and said: “Isn’t she Venus or someone like that? She’s some goddess, they always sculpt some goddess or other.” So my guessing at her is merely an instance of the truth being duller than fiction. And my creative need to stretch it to fit my fantasy. In other words, she is probably not simply a Lolita model.]

I loved stepping through the doorway of the Scotia Bank to find myself in the company of neither a teller nor a vault but rather tangled in the overgrown bush climbing the woods above Lake Ontario. These remnants found their final resting place in a landscape unlike any they would have known during their years of active duty. And yet is this true? Eighteenth century Upper Canada buildings certainly contained many-a-more canopy of trees than the buildings we enter today. Indeed, the wind rushed through differently then.

A couple of hours and sixty pictures later we left the Guild Inn grounds and climbed back in our car–off to tour the Scarborough neighbourhood: lives unfrozen and many of them outside on their lawns, surrounded by Rob Ford for Mayor signs, raking leaves into perfectly tidy piles. “We are back in our childhoods,” said Heather, slightly askance and a bit disturbed.

The houses reflected our little personal histories back to us: suburban Toronto circa 1969. There was a Halloween haunting in these familiar relics but also a chance to shift back to girlhood, a place as similarly frozen to us, most days, as the Guild vista is to the unnamed maiden on the chiseled rock.

And now, I leave you with a view of the Scarborough Bluffs, mere steps from the statues, and part of the lovely lingering thanksgiving hike we enjoyed yesterday in the sun.

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About Nor

I'm a creative non-fiction writer, with a special interest in memoirs and obituaries--life stories, local histories with flesh & blood anecdotal details. I'm also beginning to create podcasts of people's stories and expanding their audiences. I'm a diarist, an editor, and a political activist. I live in Toronto, Ontario, Canada and spend days tapping keys or staining my fingers in ink.
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