Saturday 5 May 2012

Jane's Walk - Wellington Place: A Remarkable Neighbourhood Re-Emerges Over The Traces Of Two Centuries, Toronto, ON

Gord and I did a Jane's Walk this afternoon.

Jane’s Walk is a series of free neighbourhood walking tours that helps put people in touch with their environment and with each other, by bridging social and geographic gaps and creating a space for cities to discover themselves. Since its inception in 2007, Jane’s Walk has happened in cities across North America, and is growing internationally.

Jane Jacobs Jane Jacobs (1916-2006) was an urbanist and activist whose writings championed a fresh, community-based approach to city building. Her 1961 treatise, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, introduced ground-breaking ideas about how cities function, evolve and fail that now seem like common sense to generations of architects, planners, politicians and activists.

We did the Wellington Place: A Remarkable Neighbourhood Re-Emerges Over The Traces Of Two Centuries.

In 1793, Simcoe established both the Town of York and Fort York, which were neatly separated by military reserve lands. The extent of the reserve was based on how far a cannonball could be shot from the Fort. These reserve lands included Victoria Memorial Square – the military burial grounds. The Square is now a national historic site and part of the Fort York Heritage Conservation District.

In the 1830s, the government decided to build a second Fort, at what is now Exhibition Place, and to develop the military reserve as an extension of the town. The lands were divided into large lots with the intention of attracting the wealthy upper class away from the east end of the City, enticing potential buyers with a series of lush parks that bookended “Wellington Place”, the name given to this unique ensemble. The development of what was then known as St. Andrew’s Ward had begun, but a dramatic twist of economic fate changed the evolutionary path of the area, with effects still seen to this day.

In the 1850s, the railways acquired lands along the waterfront and pushed residential uses further north. For one hundred years industrial uses monopolized the area and warehouses, lofts and factories occupied the large lots that had originally been planned for residential villas making this area an industrial powerhouse. It then fell into a prolonged period of abandonment and disinvestment until the mid-1990s.

Then in a great testament to Jane Jacob’s thinking, a radical experiment called ‘Kings Regeneration Initiative’ was carried out under Mayor Barbara Hall in the mid-1990’s. Traditional land use controls were set aside so that four hundred acres in two former industrial districts flanking downtown were allowed to develop organically, each with a self defining mix of uses. Now a century and a half after the industrialization of the area, a mixed-use neighbourhood which is colonizing those obsolescent structures and adding new ones, is dynamically growing. Traces of the old plan remain, but change is the only constant. Victoria Memorial Square carries memories that go back to the city’s origins, and its story is now told through interpretative plaques and a renewed landscape design at the neighbourhood’s initiative including defining the historic burial ground with a granite border. Jane supported this effort and in 2002 wrote a letter commending the community’s efforts which is inscribed in a pair of chairs donated in her honour in the square.

The walk was led by Michael McClelland, Principal ERA Architects Inc., and Eti and Ken Greenberg, Wellington Place Neighbourhood Association, who are definitely passionate and knowledgeable about this neighborhood and were friends with Jane Jacobs.

We started in Victoria Memorial Square, hearing about the history of the park and the developments over the years.

Here are the chairs that were donated and dedicated to Jane's memory.

Then we walked to Draper Street, a couple blocks east, a 19th century residential street that had escaped the industrialization of the surrounding area.

Draper Street's empire-style cottages were built in 1881 and 1882, while its larger homes were constructed between 1886 and 1889. The street - a designated Heritage Conservation District - is unusual because its residential character survived the overall industrialization of the King-Spadina neighbourhood in the 20th century. Draper Street has been a haven for people of many backgrounds, such as Lincoln Alexander, who was born here in 1922 to West Indian parents, and who served as the first black Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario from 1985 to 1991. The name of the street honours William Henry Draper (1801-1877), a pre-Confederation lawyer and Conservative politician, who was the virtual 'Prime Minister' of the United Provinces of Canada from 1844 to1847. He subsequently became a judge, eventually being appointed Chief Justice of post-Confederation Ontario in 1869.

It's a quaint street.

A house had burnt down on the street at one time. Rather than rebuild, the land was made into a park for the street's residents. The Thompson family owns it and it will eventually be made into a pedestrian walkway linking the residents to Spadina Avenue.

We headed east again and heard about how laneways are being encouraged because by cutting up city blocks, it encourages residents to interact more.

We finished in Clarence Square.

Clarence Square is one of the oldest remaining park spaces in the downtown core of Toronto. The park became a largely neglected space when the rail yards and industrial warehouses inhabited areas adjacent to the park. There is an initiative to revitalize the park in the next couple of years.

These row houses were built in the late 1800s and eventually fell into disrepair. A few years ago, an architect took it on as her project to fix up some older buildings in the city and this was one of her projects. She did a great job ... I thought they were built in the the 1960s.

It was our first Jane's Walk we'd done and we enjoyed it.

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