Monday, August 23, 2010

Heritage: Toronto's "New Town"

One of the first stops on the "Royal Alexandra and its Neighbourhood" Heritage Toronto walk was the site of the third Toronto location of Upper Canada's Legislature on 21-August-2010

TORONTO, ONTARIO - I spend a fair amount of time around the CN Tower in Toronto, and walk to the northwest on a rather regular basis. Yet, in all of my wanderings through what was once "New Town," I had never passed some of the most historic buildings in that neighbourhood, as I learned from Saturday's Heritage Toronto walk, "The Royal Alexandra Theatre and its Neighbourhood."

31 Mercer Street was constructed in 1939 as offices for the Pilkington Brothers glass manufacturers in the art moderne style, seen on 21-August-2010

Even Simcoe Park, where the walk led by Janet Langdon began, offered surprises. I had never noticed the small holes in the tent of the "Campsite Founding" monument to Elizabeth and John Graves Simcoe--it turns out they are designed to create the constellations that the Simcoes would have seen in the sky. The biggest surprise of the walk, though, turned out to be Mercer Street between John Street and Blue Jays Way (once Peter Street). It turned out to have a wide variety of historic buildings, including a 1879 brick building and a 1939 art moderne office building shown above. Being introduced to this block alone justified going on the walk.

This block of King Street West featured a variety of one-time townhouses constructed between 1856 and 1880, viewed on 21-August-2010

The walk centered on far more common places, such as the block of King Street shown above. I had always thought it was an interesting stretch of King Street, but I had not known that the buildings dated from as far back as 1856. Furthermore, I did not know the "Bell Lightbox" being constructed for the Toronto International Film Festival had been the site of the 1819 York General Hospital.

The Royal Alexandra Theatre had opened in 1907 and was still in operation on King Street in Toronto, Ontario on 21-August-2010

The jewel of the neighbourhood, lending its name to the walk, was the Royal Alexandra Theatre. The 1907 Beaux Arts structure, designed by John Lyle, had been saved in 1963 by "Honest Ed" Mirvish and now serves as the anchor of the theatre district, along with the much larger and more modern Princess of Wales Theatre from 1993.

The walk ended at the 1875-built St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church at the corner of King and Simcoe on 21-August-2010

The biggest problem during this walk was construction, leading to narrow sidewalks and background noise. At one point, a construction worker kicked us out of a parking lot, saying we required safety shoes to be there (which wasn't posted). As I was wearing safety shoes and overalls from a work session before the walk, I pointed at my feet and said, "Good! I'm wearing steel-toed shoes, so I'll stay here." The guy shook his head and ignored me as he continued to insist that everyone leave. Such are the interesting moments of the Heritage Toronto walk.

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