Saturday, February 5, 2011

Foundations of Toronto

With camera in hand, we get off the subway at Queen Street Station and jump on a street car heading towards Church St. The first thing I notice is the various pawnbrokers, these ones have been around for the last 40 years. 

I remember that my grandfather found his stolen guitar at one of these pawnbrokers. I see some guitars in the window so I take the time to go check them out.

My tour guide, Tasha, starts to fill me in on some of the foundational history of where we are headed. Just looking around, one would never have guessed that half the city went up in flames during the Great Fire of 1849. There's no evidence of it anywhere, no ruins or burnt buildings. It was 162 years ago, but it gives me a better understanding of this places significance.
As we make our way down Church we turn left on Court Street to Courthouse Square. There's a large granite wall that Tasha tells me was created by Susan Schelle. There are words inscribed on the large granite wall, "the laws of the land" on one side and, "the laws of nature" on the other. The site it's on was York's original courthouse which also burnt 1849. They originally held political gathering and public hangings on the land. It's funny how something as simplistic as a granite wall can be a reminder of what once was and should be remembered.
The St. James Cathedral is our next stop. It's elegance is over whelming; giant towers, stained glass windows, and structure draw my attention, making it hard to concentrate on the history Tasha's telling me about the church. It's the fourth church built on the land, the oldest congregation in the city and the tallest building at the turn of the 20th century. It opened in 1853 replacing the church the burnt in 1849, but wasn't completely renovated until 1982.
We follow the path into the snow covered St. James Park which was finished in 1997. I can just imagine how green and refreshing the park is in the summer time, a little patch of Eden in the big city. There's a fountain just to the right of the church that's an original addition, it's elegance matches that of the Cathedrals. While walking around, Tasha tells me that this park was once a cemetery when the city was named York. Bodies of the cemetery were moved in 1850, but the north end of the park close to Adelaide is still home to an estimated 5,000 plus bodies. Kind of CREEPY.
Back on King St. I notice a black basin. I've never seen a horse trough like this before. It's from the 19th century and used for horses, a common cup for people and has a basin for dogs.
Across the street from the horse trough is a walkway to the St Lawrence Market, Toronto's first marketplace opened in 1803. The market was another of the buildings burnt in 1849, and is named in honour of Canada's patron saint. It was completed in 1850 and restored in 1967 to commemorate Canada's confederation centennial.
West of the marketplace is an awkward looking intersection. Front Street and Wellington Street merge, but right before the merge is a building. At first glance it's seems to be just another building, but Tasha stands still waiting for me to see its unique architecture. If she hadn't stopped I wouldn't have noticed how much the building looked like a flatiron. Laughing at my ignorance Tasha tells me about the building. The first of it's kind in North America, the 'Flatiron' building, historically known as the Gooderham Building was completed in 1892.
Suddenly the church bells signal that is 3 o'clock, the are so loud, its like we are back in front of the church already. Tasha tells me that the bells were changed in 1997 to the 12 change-ringing bells we just heard. They were changed for the cathedrals bicentenary celebration which was the last time the Queen visited the cathedral. Tasha points down a pathway to show me just how close to the cathedral we are, and to show me the way to our next destination.

But before we head down the path a man walks towards us. He explains that his name is Hanad and that he's searching for an relative by the name of Sarah. A man by the name of Gilbert Boyer told him that the instructions on how to find her were inscribed on a sculpture close to the cathedral, but he looked everywhere and couldn't find anything. He saw us earlier at the cathedral and wondered if our guide had any information about sculptures. Flipping the pages Tasha comes across some information that might help him out, luckily we were going that way as well, so she could read more on the way.

So we head north to the Toronto Sculpture Garden, which is right across the street from the cathedral. I'm told the sculpture garden was founded in 1981 and sits between 2 of the original 'city buildings' of the early 1840's. As Tasha reads on she finds out that the instructions to find Sarah originated in this garden, but it was moved into the St. James Park in 2001 and partially buried in the ground near Adelaide St. Quickly Hanad thanks us for the help and hurries of to find Sarah.

Now that we have come full circle Tasha and I visit the St. James World War 1 Memorial before we head home. On the subway I sit and admire how much I have learned about the history of Toronto.

How much do you know about where you live?