Sunday, November 13, 2005

Toronto's History in Her Architecture: Cut off at the Knees

Quite awhile ago, I was going up University Avenue and was shocked to see the original hospital in the midst of being slaughtered by a giant wrecking ball. Today all signs of that first tiny hospital are gone, and it's tragic. I grew up seeing that hospital domineered by the buildings that rose around it over the 20th century and seeing in each building how the Toronto General Hospital had evolved over the years. The children I know will never see that. They will see a renovated College Wing and think that is the first hospital as it looks quite old and quite different from the ones around it. The only other vestige of TGH's evolution is the Norman Urquhart Wing and the Eaton Wing. The original Gerrard emergency ward has been modernized -- sometimes it's good to modernize, and this building deserved it. The tiny hospital did not. And the Bell Wing with its majestic spaces did not.

A city tells its story in its architecture. Toronto developers are only too happy to smash old buildings to smithereens to erect tall, glistening postmodern ones. It would be good if they set their sights on the Four Seasons or the TorStar building, as ugly inside as it is out. Or the monstrosity of a hotel at the foot of Yonge that so successfully blocks Lake Ontario from view that during my whole childhood I had no idea that there was a lake on the other side. But no. Developers choose buildings that tell the story of our city, like that tiny hospital, or that serve a valuable function, like the McLaughlin Planetarium (one good thing: popular outrage had its way!).

For too many years, children in Toronto have not been able to see our heavens. City lights obscure the sky at night; we think we're OK because we can see the moon or the Leonids, until we go to a place like the McLaughlin Planetarium. Then we're amazed. Even as a young adult, I was happy with any excuse to go there, recline, and watch the stars.

Children who have no opportunity to leave the city for the cottage or riding camp or a relative's farm have been deprived by the mindset of mediocrity and bottom line that gripped leaders and developers of our city over a decade ago and led to the closing of the Planetarium. Seeing the stars and planets on a computer screen, no matter how good, is a poor substitute. I never understood why this treasure was closed and ultimately made into offices for the ROM.

The story of how TGH came to be has been cut off at the knees, but citizen boldness has saved the Planetarium for now. We need to demand it be restored. Torontonians deserve to see the spectacular stellar discoveries being made in a way only the Planetarium can show. And our children deserve a place to see the stars.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Here's an interesting website on the former Bell Wing of the Toronto General Hospital.
http://www.bellwing.info