Comstock: Badly managed surroundings won’t mar Old Town TO Festival

By Mike Comstock –

I was considering what visitors to the upcoming Festival of Old Town Toronto, scheduled for Sept 12 – 14, will find. We are going to have Walking Tour groups raising funds for the Homework Club, led by our local guides Bruce Bell, Richard Fiennes-Clinton and Bill Genova. They’ll be wandering around the ‘hood, talking about and visiting the old sites of this and that, from the Market to the Gooderham & Worts complex. And two heritage concerts during these dates as well. I wanted to know what conditions would meet these urban history explorers.

And, it‘s not a great show right now!

Starting at the St. Lawrence Market, I can’t help wondering why the place isn’t kept clean and tidy like the museums or any civic-owned treasure of its importance. It’s one of the top public markets of the world, and one of the 25 best markets in the world according to Food & Wine Magazine, netting the city a tidy profit from the merchants’ rents. So there is no excuse to continue the deferred maintenance practice that ruined Union Station.

The Christmas lights are still up and they don’t have a grounds keeper for the three buildings. Down Market Street most of the block is the old Armoury Hotel (former Old Fish Market), which continues to sit empty. Across the street the ugliest Farmers Market building possible sits there, after 10 years of meetings on its revival, it continues to grind though an uncaring city hall bureaucracy.

If you get steamed at the Market and turn away, don’t look at the “Flatiron” Gooderham Building’s scaffolding cover up. Up on Adelaide and George streets you find the Bank of Upper Canada and the First Post Office in complete disarray.

Sandwiched between the massive Vu condo being built and George Brown College’s new addition, these old stones look abandoned. I hear there’s a new ownership so one can only expect yet another glass tower popping up from the backyard. The stairs of the Post Office are crumbled and flanked by a garish For Rent sign and graffiti-painted post box. The Town of York members are not amused.

Walking in the original 10 blocks that formed the Town of York we see the old warehouse buildings being torn down for the new towers. The streetscape is forever altered by SAS’s architecture, and the inevitable growth in height continues. Just down the street is the site of the First Parliament of Upper Canada. Soon they say, someday they say, it is to come into the public domain. The community of heritage activists has rallied before and can rally again. But, for now our First Parliament Site, has a car dealer and car wash but you do not see a heritage plaque. Opposite the mess that is the First Parliament Site is the 51 Division Police Station, built out of a Consumers Gas factory. This is a turnaround story, converting a Victorian workhouse into a great usable structure. Maybe the trick to saving our heritage buildings is incorporate them into newer structures, but it would be a shame to not save a few complete buildings. The Distillery company is the biggest condo developer in the east end. It has brought entertainment to the old stones and put people on the streets of Corktown. Much is being lost, but what is being saved seems to be sustainable and profitable.

Come on the Walks with these great tour guides and see for yourself. Bring your parents or children along; adult tickets are only $5 for charity. Come and enjoy Where Toronto Began. These guys are entertaining; you can discover new old places and pick up some facts to spout at parties this winter. If you like music the Toronto Heritage Concert on Friday evening is $18.12 and gives you classical strings (The Arioso Quartet) and heritage tales by The Tour Guides of the hall you will be sitting in, 1812, and the Rebellion of ‘37, music of the Underground Railroad (Chris Whitley and Diana Braithwaite), and finished off with Classic Jazz (The Happy Pals).

Corktown and the old Distillery area has for years been a forgotten urban backwater, but an area rich in history. Corktown holds the Enoch Turner School House, the Lucie and Thornton Blackburn home site, T. Pringle Loblaw’s first grocery experience, the Dominion Brewery, the Distillery and more. Now the warehouse at King and Parliament is completely restored. Jamie Kennedy has a catering kitchen behind the Fresh home décor shop on Eastern Ave. Townhouses are going up on Percy St., Bright St., Gilead, and Sumach. SEDERI’s last hurrah was the very successful Victorian-style streetlights out front of the Little Trinity Church. On Sunday the Oldest School House in Ontario, the Enoch T. will host more tales and music of Old Town. Dr. Sally Gibson and Dr. Karolyn Smartz-Frost will tell the researched truth and the music (Random Roads) will be acoustic folk, period-chosen tunes with stories in them. This $17.93 ticket includes an Ontario sweet corn and pea meal back bacon dinner. Details of all this is on the web at

With the change that comes in the new ownership of the Flatiron and Market Street, the Bank of Upper Canada and the First Post Office, and maybe at long last a board of governors for the St. Lawrence Market, we hope for a brighter future for Old Town Toronto by the 2012 Commemoration of the War of 1812.