Editor: Spacing is pleased to introduce our newest contributor, Lauren Archer, a budding heritage professional working in and around Southern Ontario. Her posts will explore heritage issues in the GTA, and are crossposted on her own Her*itage and His*tory blog.
For decades the provincial government has been encouraging smaller municipal governments to amalgamate. Counties have become cities, towns and villages have joined to form larger municipal governments and outlying suburbs have been merged into continuous centralized landscapes. These amalgamations, a response to rapidly increasing population sizes, happened two distinct waves in the GTA: the first occurred between the mid-1950s and the late 1970s as a response to the end of World War II. The second, marked by the incorporation of a singular City of Toronto in 1998, is still ongoing. It is generally accepted that these amalgamations allow municipalities to provide services in the most cost-effective and efficient way possible. However, the full extent of the effects of amalgamation are still being explored today.
One such area is Bronte, a small village nestled around the mouth of Twelve Mile Creek in the west end of the Town of Oakville. Bronte was amalgamated with the rest of the Township of Oakville in 1962. As is the case in many of the smaller, subsidiary communities that were amalgamated at this time, the delocalization of government has led to the loss of a significant amount of built heritage.
Because of its proximity to central Oakville, development in Bronte boomed after amalgamation and because of this development the community is currently flourishing. Good development is a good thing, but the Village of Bronte is now just beginning to realize the cultural value that their heritage streetscapes could have had.
Photo from Our Oakville
This streetscape above, for example, was formally found at the corner of Lakeshore Rd. and Bronte Rd. In the background you can see a number of small businesses, such has Fredrick’s Groceteria, Johnson’s Furniture & Hardware, and a Jewellery Store.
Photo from the Bronte Historical Society
In the foreground you can see Allan Pharmacy, built by the original store owners in 1935 and demolished in 1979 when, two generations later, the Allan family decided to move the pharmacy to a larger location with more available parking.
Model image from the Bronte BIA
And here is a 3D model and a satellite image of what it looks like today. The streetscape has been entirely replaced by Bronte Village Mall, a strip of doctor’s offices and a gas station.
Looking at these pictures I tried to evoke the sensibility of the day and thought: “You know, it must have looked really neat right after they tore those buildings down”. The entire street was opened up, you could see the sky from the sidewalk, there was a ton of parking, which was always a problem before and, when the strip malls eventually opened, there was even more space in brand new, modernized buildings for businesses to rent.
It must have seemed like a really good idea, and in a way, it still kind of does. The demand for such properties was probably very high, too high to ignore. Which is why its important to learn from the past, even when you can’t protect it retroactively. In hindsight Bronte had such a beautiful downtown core, and with current planning trends favouring the traditional style of heritage streetscapes, this attractive commercial district would have been ripe for a highly lucrative revitalization project.
Strip malls had (and have) their purpose and thousands upon thousands of them across the continent define North American streetscapes. Today, they all look kind of drab and pathetic to many of us — even if the people and businesses that rent these spaces are really great — but were streetscapes like Old Bronte just the strip malls of their time? Is Bronte Village Mall the desirable heritage streetscape of tomorrow?
You never know. Well, you never know today.
photo by sssteve.o