A couple minutes walk north of Eglinton on Yonge takes you to one of Toronto's more unique structures, the limestone-clad and Edward VIII emblazoned former Postal Station K. When the postal station was threatened with closure several years ago, (Canada Post started looking in 2012 for more up-to-date accommodation in the area), locals were worried that the handsome building may suffer an ignoble fate as part of a redevelopment. The open space in front of the building had been a meeting place for them for years, and the site's significance to Toronto history went back 99 years before the 1936-built Art Deco structure was erected: this was the rebel's meeting point in the Upper Canada Rebellion of 1837.
In fact, on Monday, July 30, 2012, then MPP for the area Mike Colle organized another set of rebels, gathering locals from around the area on the steps of the post office, making speeches about the site's significance, fomenting sentiment against a redevelopment, and gathering signatures for a petition: despite being a National Historic Site, the Crown Corporation-owned building was only a listed Toronto heritage building, not a designated one, (federally owned buildings are off-limits to municipal designation), and heritage commercial buildings in particular have had scant protection from demolition under the law. The group that gathered declared 'Our History is Not For Sale' and chanted 'No More Condos' in a valiant attempt to convince Canada Post not to abandon the site. For its part, Canada Post was only interested in selling to a developer who had some kind of a plan for a partial preservation.
No-one was quite banking on Jack Winberg and the Rockport Group. Winberg knew he could both retain and improve the postal station's walls while building high behind, so Rockport purchased the property in November, 2012 with backing from Woodbourne Canada. Winberg confirmed to the press in January, 2013 that they would not tear down the front of the building, and would work with community groups to consider their ideas for a public space out front. In April, 2013, a rezoning application was submitted to the City of Toronto with a design by RAW for a 26-storey tower to rise behind the station, with ERA Architects handling the heritage preservation and restoration aspects of the development, and a Janet Rosenberg + Studio landscape design for the square out front. With this proposal immediately outside the arbitrarily drawn Yonge-Eglinton urban growth boundary, Toronto Planning was in no rush to approve it, but in September 2013, after the building was designated with the cooperation of Rockport, and following a positive reception from the City's Design Review Panel, Planning recommended approval of the design. In August 2014 the redevelopment, which "lifts" the new tower above the postal station and allows the heritage structure to remain prominent, was approved by Council.
On June 27, 2019, the efforts culminated in a celebraory opening of the new public square.
Along with a town crier and historical re-enactors dressed as 1837 rebels, the new public square's opening was led by Rockport's Jack Winberg, Mike Colle, now the City Councillor for the area, and Adad Hannah, the artist who designed the new public art on the site. Also on hand were Karen Stintz, City Councillor at the time that the development was negotiated, and many locals who now were quite pleased with the result.
Following speeches by Winberg, Colle, and Hannah, all thanking the many people who helped ensure that postal station would be saved, or who had a hand in bringing about the new development, it was time to cut the ribbon. The ceremonial red band was tied between two sides of one of two 'gates' created as part of Hannah's public art installation. Seen within the frame above are Hannah, Stintz, Winberg, and Colle. Below, the ribbon cutters were soon joined on the new steps by the re-enactors and more of those involved in bringing about redevelopment for a group photo.
So, what will you find if you venture to the corner of Yonge and Montgomery? The simple and elegant Janet Rosenberg + Studio design has brought a 2,800 ft² stone-tiled square to complement the limestone-faced building, a dark band leading towards the front doors. (A few months from now, a restaurant named STOCK TC will be opened by the people behind Terroni, Cumbrae's, and Sud Forno.) Trees have been planted between tiles in deep trenches to support their growth. The tiles extend all the way to the curbs, north, east, and south of the square, a luxurious rarity in Toronto where it takes persuasive political support to override the City's ubiquitous concrete sidewalk regimen.
Adad Hannah's evocative installation 'Montgomery Gates' lines either side of the entry aisle to the building. Placed paralleling Yonge Street, the gates face each other and are meant to represent Montgomery's Tavern, long gone but which stood here in 1837 when William Lyon Mackenzie called the rebels together. The stone at the base of the stainless steel gates has inscribed upon it four lines, two per gate, from Mackenzie's Declaration of Independence of Upper Canada. The south gate reads 'Do you love freedom? I know you do.' The north gate, seen below, reads 'Do you hate oppression? Who dare deny it?'
Throughout the square are polished granite blocks, some upright, some 'fallen' on their sides, some cut short. Shaped in the form of a simplified Canada Post box to recall that era of the site's use, Hannah means the blocks to represent both the rebels and the loyalist militia who clashed here.
Those blocks that stand upright also resemble lecterns, and can by extension be seen as a symbol of free speech and citizen participation in governance, and a reminder of the reforms that Mackenzie was looking for a the time. A plaque attached to one of the blocks explains the history of the site and expands upon the artwork.
Rockport has uploaded a video about the creation of the public space.
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