Monthly Archives: November 2013

Aerial Scenes From My Neighbourhood (1947 to 2013)

Having already conducted and written about a walk around my neighbourhood in Agincourt, I was looking for new ways to understand my surroundings. The City of Toronto Archives website has aerial photographs dating from 1947 to 1992 . I was already aware my local subdivision grew out of the post-WWII suburban boom, but this was a very visual way to track that growth and development.

Fulbert1947

1947

I had to stitch together two portions of the atlas to retrieve this image. The street running north-south on the left side is Kennedy Road and is the only route that exists – other than what appears to be a farm road for one of the two properties in the area. The CNR track runs north-south on the right hand side. Also of note is the landscape in the lower left corner – quite distinct from the adjacent farmland on the east side of Kennedy. Today this is the Tam O’Shanter Golf Course.

Fulbert1953

1953

We have roads! To the north Linwood Avenue springs up and south of that, Havendale Road. The farm is now not the only residence either.

Fulbert1957

1957

Fulbert1962

1962

Other than the angle of the first image, there is very little difference in nine years. The houses are quite  set back from the street which leads me to believe that during the next decade at least some were lost. Also, I especially enjoy the consistency in the topography of the golf course.

Fulbert1971

1971

The rise of the subdivision – at least partially. There is a portion of a side street – Fulbert Crescent – that has not yet been built due to the existence of a farm or an orchard on Kennedy Road south of Havendale. I am fascinated by what went on there between the owner and the city that made that portion of the street develop later than the surrounding environ, and whether this sort of event happened in other parts of the city. In addition, there are ‘gaps’ in the street, where houses now exist, which have been pointed out by a darker set of markings.

Fulbert1983

1983

The subdivision (I’m picturing the Rush song with the music video partially set in Scarborough) is complete! The park in the northeast portion of the image now has a baseball diamond! Also, according to this post on the Golf Werks website (I was unable to track down more supporting sources), by this time in 1980, Tam O’Shanter Golf Course would come into existence after being redeveloped from the old Tam O’Shanter Country Club.

Fulbert1992

1992

Fulbert2013

2013

Having lived here for nearly the last twenty years, the neighbourhood is well past its growth period. As a final note, I will say that the property mentioned in the 1947, the one south of Linwood Avenue, still exists. Growing up I thought it was odd because unlike the rest of the houses on the row, it is set back from the street and has this long driveway. I have still never seen the house. Who knew it was a heritage farm property!

‘David Bowie is…’ a vast insight into a complex artist

David Bowie is is a simple, yet fitting title. At its core, the Art Gallery of Ontario’s big ticket exhibition is about definition and identity – and for David Bowie is, identity is a fluid and complex thing.

David Bowie is an artist. David Bowie is a visual artist. David Bowie is a musician. David Bowie is pop musician. David Bowie is rock musician. David Bowie is a folk musician. David Bowie is an entertainer. David Bowie is an actor. David Bowie is a shape shifter. David Bowie is a mask-wearer. David Bowie is Ziggy Stardust. David Bowie is The Thin While Duke. David Bowie is a style icon. David Bowie is a creator. David Bowie is a provoker. David Bowie is an icon.

The vital first room superbly introduces the visitor into the complexities of a Mr. Davie Jones. From here, David Bowie has proven his ability throughout his career to draw from multiple influences whether it was 1984 or the American space missions or Andy Warhol or the Dadaist art movement or Kabuki theatre. He is a multidisciplinary artist who did not place parametres on  what or who David Bowie is or could be. A paraphrased quote that stuck out in my mind was Bowie’s assertion that he wanted to do more than write pop songs. There was so much more to the imagination.

David Bowie Is poster

No photos allowed in the exhibition, but a promotional poster outside was worthy of a snap. He is forever.

The ‘ping’ moment for me came on the fifth floor while watching a performance of “Boys Keep Swinging” and reading about Bowie’s tendency to dress in drag. It was amazing to see the hand written lyrics to “Rebel Rebel”. ‘She’s not sure if you’re a boy or girl’ sums it well; David Bowie tested his audiences to figure out what exactly he was. Whether he was dressing in drag or appearing as half-man, half-dog, David Bowie could not be simply defined.

The audio guide was not your typical audio guide. Like Bowie himself, it was very innovative. In the large ‘live performances’ room, one can read a sentiment of Bowie’s that asserts his desire to generate visuals based on how his music sounded. This need to create a full experience is echoed with the area triggered sounds of the guide and the imagery of the exhibition that perhaps, for me, only became overwhelming when having to process text with the headset on.

All in all, David Bowie is is an extraordinary exploration into a great figure in popular culture. Even with the hour and fifteen minutes spent, I was not able to take in everything as wanted. But this only speaks to the richness of the exhibition. Bravo AGO.

Related Links

thirty four princess – Review: David Bowie is at The Art Gallery of
Ontario
labuhrows – Stardusted: “David Bowie is” mesmerizing at the AGO
Toronto Star – David Bowie Is opens at the Art Gallery of Ontario

Sam The Record Man Sign Belongs in a Yonge Street Museum

Sam the Record Man Sign

Credit: Shane S. Flickr stream

I have never stepped inside Sam the Record Man, and I shamefully admit my memories of walking by the famous neon signs at Yonge and Gould are vague at best. My experience is limited to exploring my father’s record collection which he purchased at the store in the 80s, and sifting through what would be become new favourites like Bowie’s Let’s Dance and the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. With this said, personal memory and collective memory are separate yet connected ideas, and while my own past does not directly intersect with the life and times of Sam the Record Man, I feel part of a collective whose past indeed does – even if those memories aren’t mine.

The issue to me is not losing the store itself. Business is a tricky endeavour, and recent high-profile examples unfortunately show that even the most profitable and high profile enterprises can fold. There are many that would like to see it in existence, and I am not diminishing those sentiments. But since it is gone, we are faced with a ‘now what?’ situation.

Well, the ‘now what?’ is what do we do with the giant neon signs. The signs are the most tangible remnants of that store, along with perhaps the records purchased from the record shop that still exist in the collections of its former patrons and the auctioned memorabilia distributed in the store’s final days. The issue is commemorating, through the signs, the importance of Sam’s and its owner Sam Sniderman in the narrative of our music and cultural history.

Many assign Ryerson University – a rapidly expanding institution and the current owners of the former site of the store – as the villains in this saga. Many lament the loss of the Yonge Street Entertainment Strip (located between Queen and Gerrard Streets), of which Sam’s was a big part of, and dismiss its current incarnation as a soulless commercial and educational strip filled with an upcoming Ryerson student buildings and a mix of big and small name shopping destinations.

Sam The Record Man, Steeles Tavern, A&A

A&A, Steeles Tavern, & Sam The Record Man ca. 1971
         City of Toronto Archives           Series 1465, File 312, Item 51

For me, times change and there should be no qualms about new epochs coming into fashion. That’s fine. The fascinating thing about Toronto is its layered history. Different occupants, one after another (or sometimes at the same time), move into an area, set up their establishments, and in doing so they transform the character of their locale. This is perhaps no better manifested than in Kensington Market.

As these transformational processes take place and time, the altered urban landscapes have the power to reveal and conceal the layered history of their use. From the 1960s to about the 1990s, The Yonge Street Strip was for the most part a music and entertainment epicentre in Toronto. The sites which have contributed to this characterization have largely disappeared. Some buildings currently employ different uses (like Friars Taven at Dundas), others have been demolished completely (like the Colonial Tavern at 203 Yonge St). The loss of Sam’s and the Empress Hotel (which has quite the history itself) were the latest in this episode. The only visible reminder is Zanzibar’s, although even that has shifted identities from a music club to a purely adult entertainment establishment. Take this further and one hundred years ago the history of the Yonge Street Strip comes a bit full circle with how we might see it today. In 1912, for example, Sam’s was Curtis-Wilson Furniture Co. and Byers Albert Jefferies, Ltd., furries. 349 Yonge – Steeles Tavern, which Sam Sniderman eventually took over – was Hele’s Ceramic Art. Co. A&A at 351 Yonge was owned by Walker Frank, a man in the clothing business. In other words, this was a retail strip in its own right.

SamsDirectory1912

Today, the site of Sam is occupied and owned by Ryerson Univeraity – a booming educational institution that has seen tremendous growth since its days as a polytechnic. One has to guess that growing levels of enrollment within existing programs and the addition of new programs has necessitated its spatial growth, so as much as we might curse the ‘takeover’, perhaps we cannot fault that from occurring.

So the question remains: where do the signs end up? They are doing no favours to anyone stored in a North Toronto trailer.

The original plan was to have them mounted within the new student centre as a part of the deal struck by the Ryerson-Sniderman deal. Much fuss has been made about a broken promise on Ryerson’s president who has said that signs would clash with the modernist style of the new building.

Recently renewed talk has called for the need of a Toronto Museum. Whether we have the site and leadership to finally execute such a needed endeavour is another story. It does remain, however, that the neon signs would be ideal artefacts within such as a space. This would help in telling the musical and cultural narrative of Toronto as well as the role of Yonge Street.

Ideally, I’d like to see them back a part of the street, which also was the proposal put forward by Councillor Wong-Tam and supported by Mayor Rob Ford. The signs are best preserved and presented in context. Sam’s was an important part of a certain era of Yonge Street, and its signs should be displayed at its historic intersection. In doing so, in the end, we are putting them in a museum – albeit one that lacks physical plant and invites the components of the urban landscape to be the artifacts themselves.

Urban landscapes as museums are not a new idea. The Textile Museum’s mobile app TXTile City turns the city of Toronto into a museum whose artifacts are the sites – the built forms and their related oral histories — themselves. A recent TedTalk promoted the idea of the built and natural forms of Indianapolis – the city itself – as a science museum. A Toronto Star column has outlined the importance of Yonge Street. This is our Saint Laurent Boulevard of Montreal fame. Like The Main, Yonge Street, our spine, bisects the city, connects neighbourhoods, serves as cultural and commercial epicentre, and has a very layered past. In other words, it is important in the historical, geographic, cultural, natural, economic, sociological development of Toronto.

Fortunately, we already have something like what I’ve been proposing already underway. Youryongestreet is an online crowdsourcing initiative, launched by the Toronto Public Library, aimed at celebrating the history of Yonge Street. The potential age range of participants (and backgrounds in general) allows for exactly what I’ve been talking about: the presentation of the diversity of Yonge Street. The exhibits collection features a range of images, videos, audio accounts, and written tales about Yonge Street.

Youryongestreet and the urban landscape museum I have presented are two parts in an grander museum that showcases Yonge Street’s past. No doubt the Sam the Record sign should be an artefect in that museum, too.

Random Scene: Montgomery’s Inn

Montgomery's Inn (1)
Montgomery's Inn (2)

Related Links

Montgomery’s Inn Community Museum
Explore Toronto’s Historic Sites – Montgomery’s Inn
Facebook – Montgomery’s Inn