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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

An architectural graveyard

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In the eastern end of the city, along the shores of Lake Ontario, there is a geological wonder that stands tall and majestic. Created thousands of years ago, the Scarborough Bluffs are 350-foot-high deposits of silt, sand, stone, and clay. Running along the southern edge of Scarborough, these beautiful cliffs offer more than just wonderful views of Lake Ontario; they're also home to the Guild Inn — an architectural graveyard of sorts. Here, remnants of Toronto's structural past are haphazardly displayed: old entrance ways, arches, sculptures, and other forgotten historical artifacts.

Originally, the Guild Inn was a large estate that belonged to Gen. Harold Bickford, a celebrated Canadian military figure. In 1932, Rosa and Spencer Clark, a couple who had once spent their honeymoon there, purchased the property. Soon after, the Clarks set up an artist colony known as the Guild of Artists.

The Great Depression had devastating implications for artists, and the Guild became a place for them to work, create, and take solace. As the years went by, artists began to create an outdoor sculpture garden behind the Guild. It soon became a successful tourist attraction, with a tea room and, eventually, a bed and breakfast.

In the 1950s, Toronto began to tear down a number of historical sites in the downtown core. Historical preservation barely existed at the time. To save some of Toronto's past, the Clarks ventured into the city and rescued pieces of the destroyed buildings, bringing them back to the Guild Inn. There, they would be preserved and spread throughout the garden for everyone to enjoy. In 1982, the Guild received its last sculpture: the Greek theatre stage.

The Guild Inn and its buildings have been empty since 2001, but plans are afoot to restore all the properties and create a hotel complex complete with artist dwellings and cultural programming. Upon arrival, don't be alarmed by the abandoned facilities. Choose any of the available parking spots and head to the south side, past the fenced-in buildings. The gardens, which are maintained by Toronto Parks & Recreation, are and have always been the best part of this oasis in the east end of the city. Walk amongst the preserved pieces of Toronto's architectural past, enjoy the manicured lawns and artists sculptures, and maybe share a picnic with a friend, or take in an impromptu play at the intimate Greek amphitheatre. If you dare, venture to the edge of the cliffs for a spectacular view — especially at night, when the moon is rising over Lake Ontario.