Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Heritage: Old Town Toronto


Heritage Toronto Program Chair and Walk Leader Marta O'Brien spoke in front of the 1827 Bank of Upper Canada, the oldest bank building in Canada, in Toronto, Ontario on 12-September-2010

TORONTO, ONTARIO - On occasion, a visitor to Roundhouse Park will ask for directions to "Old Town." It's usually not clear where they want to be. While the location of the original, 1793 10-block Town of York is somewhat well-known, there actually aren't that many sights there. Heritage Toronto, of course, has put together a tour of many of Toronto's oldest buildings, starting within the limits of the original Town of York and working southwest, and the "Old Town" walk took place on Sunday.


Toronto's first Post Office, opened in 1834, became a working Post Office again in 1984 but was closed on a Sunday, 12-September-2010

This walk was interesting in term of content; I was surprised about how little I knew about the building that survived the Great Fire of 1849 in this part of town. However, what really set it apart were the logistics of the walk. From establishing the meeting place at the fountain in St. James Park since it had places to sit to having the walk leader across the street, with the speaker standing on the same sidewalk as the group, this walk was well thought-out. For the most part, walk leader Marta O'Brien could keep talking except during the highest periods of traffic on the street, and we had a much better view of the buildings being discussed from afar.


The Daniel Brooke Building, at King and Jarvis, had been completed in 1850 and featured small signs indicating its historical occupants on 12-September-2010

The walk was largely contained within the onetime St. Lawrence and St. James Wards of Toronto. I had not known that Toronto had been divided into seven wards in 1861, mostly named after major immigrant groups--St. George for the English, St. Andrew for the Scottish, St. David for the Welsh, St. Patrick for the Irish, St. John for French Canada, St. James for the Native population, and St. Lawrence for English Canada. St. Lawrence being the patron saint of English Canada was a new tidbit for me.


The Heritage Toronto "Old Town" walk paused in the courtyard of the Market Square Condos, a 1982 building designed to evoke a warehouse, on 12-September-2010

The walk did not strictly focus on old buildings. There were several good examples of new construction blending in to an historic neighbourhood to be seen, including condominium lowers with lower levels matching the buildings around them, the incorporation of the facades of previous buildings, and even the Market Square Condos which were designed to evoke resonance with the warehouses around it.


Warehouse buildings along Front Street East dated from the 1870's, including the Dixon Building in the distance with the only surviving cast iron fa├žade in Toronto on 12-September-2010

The next time someone asks for directions to "Old Town" in Toronto, thanks to the Heritage Toronto walk, I will know where to send them.

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