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Architecture Toronto

Two buildings that truly define Toronto

City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 46, Item 12. Creator, Harvey R. Naylor
City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 46, Item 12

The first tower of the Toronto-Dominion Centre, from Front and Church Streets, 1967

Back in May and June of 2015, the Guardian newspaper ran an intriguing series on its Cities page entitled “A history of cities in fifty buildings.” The list is quite interesting: it includes several buildings no longer standing, such as the infamous Pruitt-Igoe housing complex in Saint Louis, Missouri, and the World Trade Center in New York, and some iconic, transformative landmarks such as the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, and even the first Starbucks location in Pike Place Market, Seattle.

In Toronto, the Guardian chose Honest Ed’s as Toronto’s entry on the list. Of course, the Guardian’s list wasn’t meant to include the world’s most famous or iconic buildings, but chose an assortment of structures, standing, demolished — or in Honest Ed’s case, imperiled — meant to “tell unique stories of our urban history.”

[Disclosure: I contributed to the Guardian Cities site in February, 2015, discussing new streetcar systems in American cities.]

Over six months later, the Toronto Star finally noticed the Guardian’s inclusion of Honest Ed’s in its list of fifty buildings. The Star sought the opinion of two local architecture professors, Vincent Hui, of Ryerson University, and David Lieberman, of the University of Toronto. Hui agrees with Honest Ed’s inclusion, while Lieberman says that “at first glance, [the Guardian’s series] is a really dumb list.”

In some ways, Honest Ed’s — that kitschy emporium of bargains, bad puns, and faded memorabilia, fits the criteria of the Guardian’s list. The store was innovative (it was one of the first stores to feature “loss leaders” and store greeters), it served the needs of Toronto’s growing post-war immigrant communities, and was the starting point for a larger empire that included theatres in Toronto and London. The store’s replacement by a new mixed use development proposed by Westbank, is also part of Toronto’s story, as it becomes an increasingly high-rise city. So I agree with its inclusion in the Guardian’s list, based on the newspaper’s interesting (and provocative) criteria.

But if you were to ask me, I’d select two different buildings that would best represent Toronto’s modern history: the Toronto-Dominion Centre and City Hall.

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City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 124, File 2, Item 9