Dream Some Little Historical Dreams of Toronto
Some Toronto Dreams Project postcards by Adam Bunch, to be hidden soon in a city near you.
Look, we’re just going to come right out and say it: Adam Bunch is a goddamn Toronto-lover. He wants to make you love Toronto, too, and he’s planning to catch you when you’re not expecting it. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.
A writer, editor, and musician by day, Bunch is working on something he calls The Toronto Dreams Project. He’s creating a series of about one hundred different postcards: on one side is a collage, and on the other is a short story of a historical Torontonian figure’s dream. Multiple copies of each card are being hidden around areas of the city that relate to the story, and they link back to an accompanying blog of the historical ephemera Bunch uncovers in his research. We spoke with Adam Bunch about his insidious plan to infect the city with these small markers of Toronto’s quirks and secrets.
Torontoist: Where did the idea for the Toronto Dreams Project come from?
Adam Bunch: It’s a combination of ideas that have been kicking around in my head for a while. I’ve known for a long time that I wanted to do some sort of art/writing project where I left things to be found in unexpected places. I love the ideas behind street art—of, say, Keith Haring going down into New York City subway stations in the ‘80s to draw with chalk or even the Toronto Public Space Committee planting a guerrilla garden in some neglected space. I mean, I’m sure there are lots of people in the world who think that kind of thing is frivolous or naive, but it always struck me as such a simple and easy way of using your talents to make a small, positive contribution to the city and to peoples’ days.
When the Banksy graffiti started turning up around the city a few weeks ago, I got thinking about those kinds of ideas again, and about how you could do something that was uniquely tied to the city (as opposed to something you can build a stencil for and redo pretty much anywhere in the world). I can’t draw worth I damn, but I’d recently been writing these really short, absurd, dream-like stories that I wasn’t sure what to do with. And at some point I realized I could put all those ideas together in the Dreams Project.
How long does the research for this stuff take you? Are you hunched over microfilm at the City Archives, or are you hitting Google?
So far I’ve mostly been reading books, searching online, walking around the city, visiting historical buildings, reading a lot of plaques, things like that. I’ve been spending a lot of time on the research, but that really has more to do with how much I’ve been enjoying it than with having to spend long hours dredging up obscure details from some dusty corner.
One of the most exciting things about the project so far has been realizing just how easy it is to find neat, unknown stories about the city’s history. Once I started poking around they were everywhere. I mean, I had no clue that, say, Toronto firemen once started a riot by burning down a circus because the clowns had cut in line at a brothel. Or that there’s a species of prehistoric fish in Lake Ontario that can grow to be nine feet long and 150 years old. And when I started telling my friends about this stuff, we all sort of had the same reaction: why don’t we already know about these stories? Why don’t people talk about them more often?
History: what gives? Just kidding. Actually question: what does delving into the history of places and spaces in Toronto tell us? What do we get from it?
Well, for one, it’s just plain fun. I’m clearly a huge nerd for this stuff, so maybe I’m not the best example, but I know that my commute to and from work everyday has been made a little happier knowing the stories of the places around me: being able to think, “that’s where Hemingway lived,” or “that used to be the tallest skyscraper in the British Empire,” or “this is where Samuel Jarvis killed a guy in a duel.”
I think there might be a tendency for Torontonians to look at cities like Paris or Rome with their coliseums and Eiffel Towers and assume that since we haven’t been around for thousands of years and don’t have cobblestones streets or ancient monuments and ruins all over the place, that all the good history must have happened over there and that ours must be short and boring. I imagine it also has something to do with our typical Canadian modesty and our colonial past and the uninspired way our history is frequently taught. We don’t expect to find amazing stories about our own city, so we don’t look for them. But they’re there. Toronto has only been around for two hundred years, but we have had a war and a revolution fought in our streets. Political dissidents have been hanged and there have been plagues and riots and duels, bank robbers and mob bosses and daring prison escapes.
What are your favourite places in Toronto?
Oh, there are so many. Personally, I really love the boardwalk at Ashbridge’s Bay on summer nights. It was one of the first places we started going in high school, when people first learned how to drive. It seems kind of silly now looking back on it, but driving all the way over from Etobicoke in those earliest days of adult-ish freedom, it felt like we’d found this beautiful, secret place no else knew about.
And the Park Hyatt at University and Bloor has a rooftop patio that I love. It has an incredible view of downtown. The first time I ever interviewed a musician in person was at that hotel, and we went up to the patio for drinks after. It was amazing, sitting there with Ian Blurton, a gruff, hard rocker with a huge beard, and his girlfriend and bandmate, Katie Lynn Campbell, who’d been the bassist in Nashville Pussy, drinking cocktails on this ritzy patio with the lights of downtown skyscrapers spread out around us. It was gorgeous, and one of those great moments of cultural juxtaposition that Toronto’s so good at. Have a few experiences like that, and good luck not falling in love with this city.