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2005 06 05
Finding Fort York

Bathurst and Queen’s Quay, 7pm, 2005

As I stand here at the corner of Bathurst Street and Queens Quay, waiting with my bike for the light to change I can’t help but think about the city and it’s starting point. I realize that I am actually not standing on history, but landfill, which is okay considering the context. If I turn my head and look north I see an ever present marker of the original shore line, that of Fort York. I can see the mounds that rise in front of it just as they did in 1793 when it stood there proud and protective of what would become our “Toronto”. I look down and am reminded that I am standing where those who would be approaching the Fort years ago by boat would sit (give or take a couple of metres lower), perhaps beguiled by the lack of architecture while respectful of its purpose – after all, the idea was not to see the fort, rather to be submissively surprised by it.

And I wonder, is that not still happening today or, is the reverse not in effect here? Does it surprise us that it exists? Do we even see it? I mean this in the most honest questioning possible. While Fort York sits in it’s same spot, the city has evolved and morphed around it – literally, around it and in the process has altered it’s scale and essentially, it’s presence, however, unlike many of the large cities in North America housing historical sites, Toronto has not “Disneyified” Fort York. Yes, of course, there are tours and the staff dress in costume for demonstrations, and you can book space for special events, but on a scale of 1-10 Fort York would come in at about a 9 in my opinion for preserving it’s presence in a dignified manner as the true essence of the Fort lives on. Everything today remains in keeping with the original Fort, including the fact that it is the original location with the original structures that now house a museum. There are no huge sponsorship posters, food vendors or amusement rides and as the light changes and I bike up to the fort I am shadowed by the Gardiner Expressway which ever so gently traces the Fort, not blocking but respecting the marriage between the National Historical Site recognition and Toronto as urban metropolis. The very fact that Fort York has not been uprooted to Markham or elsewhere to make way for urban land use is cause for celebration. From the way in which the city is developing it appears that the city has in fact “protected” Fort York by building around and even over it to a certain extent. In this sense Toronto has repaid it’s debt to Fort York by honoring the very spot in which it was conceived and implemented as protection for the once naïve and young city. But has it really, or am I just waxing eloquently on the romance of the idea?

As the wonderful mounds strategically designed around Fort York years ago addressed a form of “homeland security” to protect the barracks which, in fact, protected the city, we now have a taller version, not so landscape based and known as the “condo” which, due to the sheer scale and proportions dwarfs the Fort, almost sinking it into the ground. Sadly, within the next 5 years the numbers of condos will increase in the area and they will act as a reinforcement to the idea of “protection” except addressed in a somewhat surreal manner. In this sense, Fort York inadvertently becomes “reinforced”, even somewhat gated by the very enemy that appears to be advancing; the critical mass. So, I wonder about this inverted sense of preservation. Yes, we are protecting the National Historical Site status, but to what ends? Should we just take down the protective mounds around the Fort and settle for the new protective measures of the advanced urban living front, or can we just say that from the views on those condos, folks will really be able to get a bird’s eye view of the origin of Toronto?
[email this story] Posted by moimoi design on 06/05 at 01:38 PM

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