Archives for posts with tag: storytelling

This post originally appeared on Spacing Toronto and accompanied the most recent edition of the Learnt Wisdom Lecture Series in downtown Centreville.
People coming from the city were met at the ferry by Jimmy Jones, a lifelong Islander who grew up scurrying around Centre Island’s main drag. He shared anecdotes and history as we walked across the Island and down Manitou Road. Downtown Centre Island was repopulated for a few hours last Sunday afternoon. Read more about Learnt Wisdom here, and look out for our next event! 

Main Street Centre Island, Manitou Road in the early 1950s, from A Toronto Album 2: More Glimpses of the City That Was

At the peak of it’s population in the 1950s, homes, cottages, and mansions lined the entirety of Toronto Island from Ward’s Island in the east all the way to Hanlan’s Point in the west.

Toronto Island map at the peak of its population, from Derek Hayes' Historical Atlas of Toronto

At the time, there were also many Island-side amenities to serve its full time residents, including a movie theatre, a bowling alley, grocery stores, and dance halls. Most of these services were concentrated on Manitou Road, then the main drag of Centre Island.

A 1953 parade on Manitou Road, from A Toronto Album 2: More Glimpses of the City That Was

With its businesses and active street life, Centre Island was a bona fide, full-service small town abutting one of Canada’s largest metropolises.

When Metro Toronto decided to convert the Island to uninhabited parkland in the early 1950s, they began a program of demolishing Island homes starting from Hanlan’s Point and slowly moving east.

Before homes were demolished, Metro Toronto razed Manitou Road, the heart of the Toronto Island community. According to Sally Gibson’s More Than an Islandthe Island’s services were eliminated to make it easier to convince Islanders to give up their homes. How could they live on the Island, especially through the winter, without a grocery store?

With main street extinguished, Metro easily began expropriating houses and demolishing them. As we know, the city only got as far as Algonquin Island before they were halted by protests and a peaceful uprising.  With their main street demolished more than 60 years ago, today’s Island residents continue to rely on city-side grocery stores, movie theatres and dance-halls.

In 1967, Main Street Centre Island was replaced by the Versailles-style gardens of the Avenue of the Islands and by Centreville Amusement Park down the road. Along with its rides and petting zoo,  the amusement park includes a full size replica of Small Town Ontario, complete with a Town Hall, town square and Ontario heritage homes with decorative bargeboards.

To add insult to the displacement of most of Toronto Island’s residents, it seems the city demolished a living, breathing town and replaced it with a bogus version of itself.

Downtown Centreville replaced Manitou Road, from Chuckman's Toronto Nostalgia blog

Keep this in mind next time you find yourself at Centreville. It gives new meaning to the idea of a ghost town. A ghost town is usually a place that has been abandoned, but has been left largely in tact. Centreville is a stranger kind of ghost town, not abandoned, but replaced with a toy copy of itself. Centreville is an echo of history distorted by historic grand plans and visions of the future. It’s a simulacra of the town it replaced, barely able to speak for itself and its history. This feels especially true when it is doubly abandoned in the quiet winter months.

Downtown Centreville is a town doubly abandoned when the amusement park closes for the winter.

To bring attention to the strange history of Manitou Road and Centre Island, the next edition of the Learnt Wisdom Lecture Series is being held in Downtown Centreville this Sunday February 1st at 2pm. Join us for an afternoon of story telling as we consider the theme “Reckless Abandon.” Catch the 1:10 boat to Ward’s Island and take the half- hour walk through the beauty of the winter Island, all the way to Downtown Centreville.

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Toronto is a city of ravines and river valleys — and it needs a vast system of bridges to stretch over them. While these bridges are built to maintain the integrity of our famous grid, they inadvertently create amphitheatre like architectural spaces that beg to be explored, along with other overlooked parts of the city. Likewise, Toronto is filled with interesting humans with captivating narratives who need a space to share their stories.

LW LogoWith this in mind, my partner Natalie Amber and I began hosting the Learnt Wisdom Lecture Series last Fall. Building on the success of 2013’s Under the Grid concert, Learnt Wisdom invites attendees to “explore the city as we explore our hearts”, by holding story telling events in interesting and overlooked spaces across Toronto.

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Each event features four speakers from a diversity of backgrounds, sharing stories inspired by a set theme. The event is accompanied by an illustrated map showcasing the lecture location, and a short walking route from a set meeting point. While Natalie waits with the speakers at the lecture location, I go and meet the attendees at the meeting point, creating a psychogeographic procession as we make our way to the lecture space.

At the beginning of each event I introduce the space by sharing a brief history, including First Nations history, lost rivers, poignant events and quirky trivia.

Mount Pleasant Bridge

The first Learnt Wisdom Lecture was held under the Mount Pleasant bridge along Rosedale Valley Road. Rosedale Valley Road, voted the best route for motorcycling by YouMotorcycle.com, is in a ravine created by the now buried Castle Frank Brook. It was the site of the first Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada’s mansion (Castle Frank), and one of the city’s first breweries.

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Inspired by the theme Thing Your Parents Never Told You, our lecturers regaled attendees with stories of finding roots, overcoming narratives of strength, and breaking into hotels. Sipping pay what you can mulled cider, it was an absolute pleasure to take in stories under the breathtaking arches of the Mount Pleasant Bridge.

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The second lecture, this time in the afternoon, took place under the soaring Dundas Street bridge by the beautiful Humber River. Despite the Humber’s eden-like qualities, many Torontonians have not explored this verdant paradise – a linear park that stretches, only somewhat interrupted, from Steeles all the way to the lake. I was excited to share one of the most breathtaking, but least known pieces of infrastructure in the city with friends and strangers.

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Before getting to the lectures inspired by the theme Over the Hill, I shared a brief history of the site with attendees, including the Humber’s importance to First Nation’s as a trading route, the River’s role in the naming of Toronto, and the flooding caused by Hurricane Hazel, remembered vividly by Anne Michaels in her Fugitive Pieces. The lecturers shared stories of epic travel, bicycle-based endurance, and the struggle of moving on from unhealthy situations. As the river flowed, we drank spiced chai under the soaring arches of the beautiful Dundas bridge.

Learnt Wisdom Lecture Series has been a huge success. Each event has brought out impressive crowds, and a chord has been struck by an event that combines storytelling and urban exploration. Natalie and I appreciate the support of our friends and collaborators in these early stages of Learnt Wisdom, and thank you for coming out!

For now, Learnt Wisdom Lecture Series is taking a little hiatus until the new year. We are actively looking for appropriate indoor space for our next instalment. This is harder than you may think! Many of Toronto’s indoor spaces are privatized, and require lots of money or business insurance to use them. Learnt Wisdom Lectures has neither. But we won’t give up our search, and hope to announce our next lecture somewhere in the PATH system, 2015.

See you there and then, under the bridge, in the ravine, or under the grid! 

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This post originally appeared on Spacing

The Storymobile has been parked in front of the Mimico Centennial Library since October, as part of the Tale of a Town’s cross-country story gathering quest

If you’ve travelled through Mimico – a waterfront neighbourhood in Toronto’s west end – during the last few months, you may have noticed a tiny retro trailer parked in front of the local library. It’s the “Storymobile” (a mobile recording studio somehow squeezed into the trailer) producing the Tale of a Town and has been traveling across Canada, gathering community memories from the country’s main streets. At a time when big box multinationals are moving into urban centres, the goal of The Tale of a Town is to inspire people to make meaningful connections with the small businesses that form the backbone of Canadian downtowns.

The Storymobile in Windsor, Ontario

The Storymobile in Pasadena, NewfoundlandThe Storymobile in Saint John, New Brunswick

Above, the Storymobile in Windsor, Ontario, Pasadena, Newfoundland and Saint John, Newbrunswick

Led by arts and media company FIXT POINT, the Tale of a Town has so far had stints in towns and cities in Ontario, PEI, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and have just begun a stay in Ottawa. The Canada-wide quest will culminate in a multi-platform celebration of the country’s main street culture, alongside Canada’s 150th anniversary in 2017.

As part of the Toronto Public Library’s Artists in the Library program, the Tale’s team of radio-artists have been recording interviews with Mimico’s business owners and residents and posting the best of their collection of local lore and personal histories online.

An independent town since 1911, Mimico was merged back into Etobicoke in 1967, amalgamating with the rest of Metropolitan Toronto in 1998. Despite amalgamation, Mimico still feels like small town surrounded by Toronto.

Image courtesy of John Chuckman, http://chuckmanothercollectionvolume2.blogspot.ca/

Mimico's lakeside Westpoint Motor hotel stands alongside mid-century low rise apartment buildings

Mimico’s lakeside Westpoint Motor hotel stands alongside mid-century low rise apartment buildings

On the western shores of Humber Bay, Lakeshore Avenue West winds through a not yet complete condo neighbourhood before crossing over Mimico Creek and turning southwest to become one of Mimico’s main streets. Serviced by the 501 streetcar, the area is defined by small shops, diners, grocery stores, single family homes and mid rise 1950s apartment buildings that line the waterfront. The area has a seaside vibe – the mid century apartment buildings feel like a part of Miami Beach that has yet to be ritzed up.

Storygathering

Ask any town a question, and you’re bound to get an earful. With it’s own distinct history, it’s no surprise that the stories from Mimico are plentiful, eclectic and quirky. There’s the one about the barber who was too drunk to cut mustaches straight, or the time when Santa Clause made a surprise helicopter appearance at the Pickin’ Chicken. And of course, there’s the classic ghost story that will make you think twice about walking past the library after dark. 

As the winter comes, the Storymobile is getting ready to move on from Mimico, where they’ve been stationed since early October. To celebrate the end of their residency, a Tale of a Town has collaborated with Sean Frey to create an interactive installation in the Mimico  Centennial Library, transforming it into a city of books – books that you can listen to. 

The audio installation will launch as part of a community celebration at the library on December 13th  (here’s the Facebook event) and will stay up until December 20th.

This post originally appeared on the Pop-Up City

A project by FIXT POINT, a Toronto based arts and media company,  A Tale of A Town is a roving radio station that operates out of the “Storymobile”, a travel trailer-turned-recording studio making its way across Canada, collecting memories of the country’s main streets.

Even though North Americans are choosing to live downtown in record numbers, vibrant main streets are overshadowed by big box stores and multinational chains. A Tale of a Town wants to inspire people to remember why main street matters and how supporting small business is vital to 21st century urbanism.

The Talle Of a Town

Their most recent stop is in front of the Mimico Library in west-end Toronto. Mimico was a small lakeside town that was swallowed up by Toronto’s voracious growth. A team of radio artists have been inviting local business owners, heroes and residents to the Storymobile to record their memories of the town, and have been sharing their favourite online.

The Talle of a Town

The Talle of a Town

A Tale of a Town is part of the Toronto’s Artists in the Library program, an exciting initiative highlighting how libraries are reinventing themselves asessential spaces for the 21st century city. With free wifi, meeting space, and media collections libraries have become a choice workplace for the mobile class.