Tuesday, March 3, 2009

PDP #5: Fort, Cabin, Turbine

The City of Toronto is celebrating its one hundred and seventy-fifth anniversary this month, but you'd hardly know it was that old by looking around. When I first started living here full-time, and before I began walking the streets with camera in hand, I always thought of it as a city without a history. There just isn't much of it left. Granted, disasters have done their work in that regard - the Great Toronto Fire in 1904 gutted much of the modern downtown - but previous generations of developers and municipal leaders deserve blame as well.

It was the twentieth century that did it; the manic drive of a starry-eyed provincial city to build up in the name of progress. That's why the Temple Building was torn down, and Old City Hall would have disappeared to make way for office towers and retail complexes in the 1960s if the builders had got what they wanted. 99% of this city's history has been plowed under. The legacy of Upper Canada's first parliament only survives now in Parliament Street; the site where the buildings stood is now a parking lot.

So it's easy to look at Toronto and think of it as a purely modern city, perhaps one dropped onto the howling shore thirty or forty years ago almost exactly as it is now. But there are places you can go where history seeps through.

Exhibition Place, the grounds of the Canadian National Exhibition, is Toronto's first footprint. There stands Fort Rouillé, a French trading post built around 1750 and which now exists only as a stone obelisk and a sidewalk outline. A few steps away is the Scadding Cabin, the oldest surviving structure in the city. Just a moment beyond it, and towering thirty stories above like a skyscraper in its own right, is the WindShare Exhibition Place Wind Turbine. It generates, on average, 1000 MW of electricity per year and is visible for a significant distance around - you can even see it in the skyline photo I posted back in February.

Here we have the city's military past, colonial history, and technological future colliding - and as far as I'm concerned, it couldn't be more appropriate.

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