In the 1978 book, Lost Toronto, William Dendy wrote that in the 20th century, many Georgian and Victorian buildings were fated to a date with the wrecking ball because of neglect and “changing tastes.” Now, the architecture that took their place has fallen out of favour and structures such as the Massey Ferguson plant and Riverdale Hospital (pictured above), have been torn down or are slated for demolition.
The goal of Dominion Modern —an archive of 20th century Canadian architecture and design—is not only to collect and catalogue, but also to preserve and promote public understanding and debate. Bucking this trend of tearing useful buildings down just because they’ve gone out of fashion is what its new exhibition and book, both titled Endangered Species, is all about.
Artist, gardener and writer Gene Threndyle contributed an essay about the destruction of the Inglis Plant on Strachan Avenue and East Liberty Street, to the Endangered Species book. He got involved with the preservation of buildings as a private citizen. What vexes him most about what he calls “the culture of demolition” is the waste. “By tearing down Riverdale Hospital, we will be releasing 75,000 tons of greenhouse gas into the environment,” he says (in comparision, if you drive 20,000 miles a year, your car will release 21,000 lbs of carbon dioxide).
“We also lose our stories,” says Threndyle. In his essay, he writes about how in the 1930s, the Inglis Plant was used to make guns to fight fascism. At that time, the factory was almost entirely staffed by women. “That’s an important story.” He cites nearby examples where maintaining the structural narrative of the city was successful. “Where they kept the old buildings in Liberty Village there’s thriving business like Nelvana. And Upper Canada Brewery got its start there.”
Not every structure can—or should—be saved. But for people like Threndyle, “if something is broken, it needs to be fixed or replaced,” not tossed aside. Buildings featured in the book and exhibit include the moderne Maple Leaf Gardens, the Workmen’s Compensation Board Complex, and that soaring example of modernism, City Hall (an example of building that is not, as far as we know, endangered). The exhibition will be held March 3–4, from 1 p.m.–6 p.m. at The Institute Without Boundaries, 207 Adelaide Street East (at Jarvis). Admission is free and books will be on sale at the venue.
Photo courtesy Dominion Modern