Plaques Mark Toronto's Heritage Heroes
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Plaques Mark Toronto’s Heritage Heroes

Heritage Toronto Legacy Plaque outside Massey College.

While London has blue plaques and New York City has bronze plaques and medallions, Paris has thousands of plaques mounted throughout that city paying homage to citizens who died in its defense during the Second World War. Cities the world over approach honouring distinguished citizens and the places they lived—or, in the case of Paris, where they died—with a variety of heritage programs.
So how does Toronto recognize citizens who made a significant contribution to the character of this city, and mark the location where they domiciled?

Until recently, it was through an ingenuously named heritage program known as Cabbagetown People. Since 2002, Cabbagetown People has honoured a slew of Heritage Heroes [PDF] (their terminology), commemorating the likes of author Morley Callaghan and world-famous magician Doug Henning. Though well-intentioned, this heritage program lacked scope, recognizing only those Heritage Heroes who had resided in the Cabbagetown neighbourhood.
Like other metropolitan centres, Toronto was in need of a citywide commemorative plaques program. Earlier this year, that’s finally what it got.
In March, Mayor David Miller, along with Toronto’s first poet laureate Dennis Lee, and representatives from Heritage Toronto and the Toronto Legacy Project launched the Heritage Toronto Legacy Plaques Program. The citywide heritage program recognizes Toronto’s artists, thinkers, and scientists by identifying their homes or other significant locations in their lives.

Heritage Toronto Legacy Plaque outside the Waverley Hotel.

Similar in colour to English Heritage’s popular blue plaques, Toronto’s Legacy Plaques were designed by the firm Hahn Smith Design. Initial funding was provided by the cultural division of the City of Toronto. Future funding, indeed, the continuation of this important heritage program, will be dependent on citizen donations.
To be considered for plaque designation, an individual must meet strict requirements. For one, potential recipients must be dead (it couldn’t get much stricter than that). During their lifetime, the recipient has to have displayed an obvious association with the city, either through birth or through residence of a significant duration. Among other requirements, the plaque must be installed at a location documented to have a strong connection with the individual being commemorated.
In keeping with Literary City, one of Toronto’s 175th anniversary themes of 2009, the six inaugural plaques will commemorate writers Milton Acorn, Margaret Avison, Morley Callaghan, Robertson Davies, Gwendolyn MacEwen, and E.J. Pratt. Three of the six plaques (Callaghan, MacEwen, and Pratt’s) are mounted on properties located in traditional residential neighbourhoods. Of the remaining three, one is mounted outside a not-for-profit retirement home (Avison), and another at the entrance to Massey College (Davies). The sixth is fixed to the entrance of the no-frills Waverley Hotel at College and Spadina. (Who else but poet Milton Acorn? For several years, Acorn rented room 203.)
As for future recipients, many celebrated Torontonians are up for consideration. The public is encouraged to submit their picks to Heritage Toronto.
Since Toronto’s newest heritage program was preceded by the Cabbagetown People program, it is only natural some celebrated Torontonians will be honoured twice, as in the case of Morley Callaghan. That’s okay, though, because in his day, he was a leading figure in Toronto letters. This introduces the question: Does double plaque designation create a league of super heritage heroes?
Photos by Michael Chrisman/Torontoist.