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First Parliament Interpretive Centre 
Front & Berkeley Streets, Toronto
Developer:

First Parliament Site (271 Front St E, City of Toronto)

Discussion in 'Projects & Construction (high and mid-rise)' started by Torontovibe, Oct 10, 2010.

  1. Torontovibe

    Torontovibe Senior Member

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    I couldn't find a thread for this.

    Rendering here http://www.thebulletin.ca/cbulletin...5903826875608670601&ctid=1000136&cnid=1002610

    Spectacular plan for Toronto’s most significant site
    “Place is absolutely important in our history. Time and place are interconnected and we must have a sense of roots in a city so diverse. The collective memory is anchored and connected in place. This site was a game changer in the civic life of Canada and it is long overdue that we have civic access to it.” DAVID CROMBIE Toronto Mayor 1972-78

    By Frank Touby
    Print this story


    Proposed Founders’ Courtyard, looking toward library, left, with community space at right.

    The return to the public of the site of Upper Canada’s First Parliament Buildings, 1798, is now under active pursuit—even hyperactive pursuit. Detailed plans for a stunning interpretation centre, park, library and pilgrimage centre that have been praised by a wide array of citizen, business, political and history groups are being made public for the first time.


    Canada's First Parliament Buildings

    Whether this can become reality for residents and tourists depends upon how we respond to central questions about our history.

    Is there such a thing as hallowed ground? Should we really care whether we can be on the actual place where monumental historic events occurred that were crucial in creating our present time? Or is a carwash or a condo on the site just fine, so long as there’s perhaps a patch of commemorative ground or a plaque?

    One of the most significant sites in all of Ontario is in the St. Lawrence Neighbourhood of Old Town Toronto. It’s the site of Upper Canada’s (Ontario) First Parliament buildings, burned to the ground in the War of 1812 and situated on the southwest corner of Front and Parliament streets.

    The place just brims with important aspects of our history, likely more so than any other patch of ground in Ontario, and certainly more than any other industrial property in the province. If there are ghosts, they are surely on this site of distinction, of glory, and of untold misery and suffering.

    Parts of it remain in private hands, though most have been acquired for heritage interpretation. Yet there’s still the off chance that a condo or some other use could end up where the car wash is.

    Certain warehouse-types of buildings (car dealers, the Staples store) are often used by landowners to get revenue while storing land that’s expected to jump in price. Downtown the highest price for land is if a high-density condo can be built on it.

    The Porsche site is now in provincial hands and the dealership is relocated across the street on the northwest corner.

    An offer of a land swap has been made to the owners of the carwash, but the deal has lagged too long, according to Rollo Myers of Citizens for the Old Town historical preservation society. It’s been 15 years in the works, Myers says. He’s also manager of the Toronto office of the Architectural Conservancy of Canada.

    The urgency comes from plans underway to commemorate the War of 1812 in Old Town Toronto with the First Parliament site playing a key role. The First Parliament buildings were burned down by the Americans in 1813 during that war which the U.S. lost and which ended in 1814.

    There is time to construct some version of the hoped-for park-interpretation centre and library facility by 2013. An option discussed is to relocate the warehouse-like Toronto Library distribution-centre building across Parliament on the east side onto the site which would include the planned West Don Lands library that was intended for across Parliament.

    That was phased into the plan created with lots of stakeholder input by local resident and architect J. Michael Kirkland, who recommended the library inclusion.

    The proposal, which has been seen by hundreds and is shown here in part for the first time, includes an indoor-outdoor community space that opens onto a landscaped courtyard when the weather permits.

    An architectural dig on the site in 2000 showed foundations and evidence of burnt floor boards dating to the American attack in 1813, says Myers. The site has artifacts from pre-European days, to parliamentary, to penal, to industrial in the form of Consumer’s Gas early times

    The dig also uncovered the horrors of an early jail, the York County Jail, precursor to the Don Jail. The jawbones of oxen found there told the unappetizing story.

    In Myers’ words: “Completed in 1842, this muscular limestone jail was the last word in penitentiary design, and said to be a modified version of the UK’s Jeremy Bentham’s ‘panopticon’ (“to observe all prisoners”) dating to the 1780s and ‘A new mode of altering power of mind over mind in a quantity hitherto without example.’

    “The radiating wings reduced staffing since the cells could be supervised from the central tower. Clearly built to last for a century or more, it was phased out after just 16 years and replaced by the Don Jail. The panopticon had come to be known more for prisoner isolation than prisoner surveillance.

    “Perhaps a more enlightened age of prison reform caused its premature closing. Yet even the Don Jail gained a reputation for breaking a man’s spirit, and one is left to wonder what dire conditions existed here.

    “One clue is that during the archaeological test dig at the site in 2000, a great number of bone fragments were found and determined to be from the jaw bones of oxen. Seems that if as a prisoner you didn’t have someone to help secure better rations, jaw-bone soup— the least appetizing meal—was all that was provided.

    We learn from the past, or we are bound to repeat those errors. Many citizens of Downtown Toronto are convinced that a combined teaching, tourism, recreation and community centre on this rich historic site, incorporating most or all of the plan they’ve seen, is the best use of the land and that it must be totally in public hands.

    Construction in time to commemorate the bicentennial of the Americans burning down Upper Canada’s First Parliament buildings in 1813 is a timely target to aim for in their opinions.



    2010-10-05 10:24:10
     
    Last edited: Oct 10, 2010
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  2. dahusbandofbath

    dahusbandofbath New Member

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    This is a really important piece of land that deserves better than what it's had! I would love to see this project proceed.
     
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  3. T-Bor

    T-Bor Active Member

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    I love how it's so frequently mentioned that it was 'the war that the US lost'. Its true, just funny how it's so explicitly stated
     
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  4. DSC

    DSC Senior Member

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    This is the wording of the motion adopted by City Council at their August 2010 meeting.

    City Council authorize Community Planning staff to undertake a study of the First Parliament Building site (lands bounded by Front Street East, Parliament Street, Berkeley Street and Parliament Square Park) on the suitability of the Reinvestment Area (RA) designation, given the discovery of important historical archaeological remains; this planning framework address open space, public and private uses appropriate to the national significance of this heritage resource; the property owners be consulted during this study, and that this report be submitted to the Toronto and East York Community Council by the second quarter of 2011.
     
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  5. maestro

    maestro Senior Member

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    Americans gleefully consider it a war they won so someone has to set them straight
     
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  6. Tewder

    Tewder Senior Member

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    I'd love to see something done with this site but I'm not sure I love the approach. Changing it from a car wash (or whatever it is now) to a library is a vast improvement, obviously, but still seems to be somewhat of a timid gesture. They argue that this is the single most important historic site in Ontario ('hallowed' land) yet propose a community centre/library for it? Banal, if you ask me. Where is the drama? Where is the monumentality? Why do they shrink from the very symbolism of the place by reducing it to ordinary civic functionality? A strong pure gesture here would be far more powerful and would have a far greater chance of resonating in a meaningful way than this. I think of an approach that is some sort of combination of Riopelle's fountain 'La Joute' in Montreal with the Champs de Mars site (once a parking lot), and I think of moving monumental spaces/gestures like the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington. Bold design and dramatic statement are called for here and will do far more to rehabilitate the profound symbolism of this site, of this community and of our collective identity. Instead, a library... really?
     
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  7. Towered

    Towered Senior Member

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    ^ I agree completely, Tewder - this once again reflects the civic timidity that Toronto seems well known for. When is this city going to finally grow up and think big, grand, and epic? The symbolism is deserving of it, even if the original buildings were modest. This site could, and should, become a focal point, a destination. It's right next to the Distillery District for eff sakes, it should tap into that.

    As for the land swap offer with the car wash owner that has disgustingly been allowed to drag on for 15 years - what is the problem?? Expropriate the damn thing already. That's the kind of government BS that fuels the Rob Ford's of this world.
     
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  8. Red October

    Red October Senior Member

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    I also agree, though it is sad some of the buildings that were required to die, City Hall is a great example of something epic that Toronto can be proud of, same with the CN of course..
    But we should give a site like this the sort of thing it deserves.. (possibly reconstruct the buildings and make it into a museum?)
     
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  9. Peepers

    Peepers Banned

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    Not mentioned in the above article is the fact that it was in retaliation for burning down the first Parliament Building in 1812 (and the looting of York) that the British set much of Washington ablaze in 1814 including the White House and Capital so this site has great historical importance http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burning_of_Washington

    Given this importance I agree something much more monumental than a Library needs to be built on this site - including perhaps a re-creation of the original buildings. The city should not waste any more time trying to negotiate with the greedy owner of the car wash. The city should expropriate this land and move forward with commemorative plans.
     
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  10. gristle

    gristle Senior Member

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    The difference being that the Americans rebuilt the White House and capital buildings.
     
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  11. Red October

    Red October Senior Member

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    The White House and the Capitol Building (either fortunately or unfortunately, based on your views), were not completely burnt down, as in a strange twist of fate, Washington experienced a freak tornado that put out the fires..
    The damage was done, but it wasn't completely burnt to the ground, so they had something to work with. (I could go on for days on the War of 1812, I've had to debate with many Americans about it)
    As I suggested in post #8, I think they should pull a Fort York and reconstruct the buildings, and have the original set up (if such records exist), and become a museum.
     
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  12. Northern Magus

    Northern Magus Active Member

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    This site is a natural complement to Fort York, yet it needs to avoid duplicating the role and function of the Fort York Visitor Centre. It's also a natural complement to the Distillery District, but lost its heritage buildings decades ago. Reconstructing the original buildings might suffice, but from the render picture they appear to have been small and unexceptional, and they could possibly have been used for other functions at the time. So perhaps a community centre and library -- ie public asset buildings -- are a fitting tribute.

    But what appears to be completely missing is a historical/memorial component that reifies the symbolism of the site and its significance. The War of 1812-1814 was essentially a triumph of self-determination and freedom from assimilation. There needs to be something that ties that in to the site and really drives it home ..... something definitively memorialistic, perhaps something involving a fire motif and/or flame.
     
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  13. Urban Shocker

    Urban Shocker Doyenne

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    Building a library seems like a perfectly wonderful way of commemorating the site - and the American invasion - since among the buildings looted by the invading army, after the terms of the surrender were ratified, were the Library of the town of York, the Church of St. James and private homes.

    Whatever civic and cultural building they construct there, it ought to be a fitting terminus for the Esplanade as it continues to evolve as a pedestrian thoroughfare linking the downtown core to the Distillery and the new developments beyond.
     
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  14. Red October

    Red October Senior Member

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    I like your idea about the tribute with the flame.. How about something like outline the original buildings with bronze and cobblestones or something, with some eternal flame-esque monument in the center?
     
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  15. Tewder

    Tewder Senior Member

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    .. and as US suggests lets hope they do not overlook the excellent opportunity for grand city-building gestures a site like this offers, in terms of view termini etc.
     
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