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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Lost grandeur at the curb

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Nestled behind the Edwardian factory buildings of Spadina and the Victorian storefronts of Queen, a little park sits in quiet contrast to the city around it. The parkette on Phoebe Street (really an extension of the Ogden Junior Public School yard) is not only a quiet space to pause, it's also a great place to uncover some of Toronto's architectural history.

Toronto has been known to disrespect its architectural inheritance. It's nothing new — we've been doing it for decades, choosing to do away with anything that's old rather than adapting it for modern use. With the advent of modernist architecture, thousands of buildings were lost by way of the wrecking ball, some ending up in the lake (and creating the Leslie Street Spit). It's common enough, when walking along the waterfront, to stumble across a piece of sandstone, rubbed smooth by the lapping shore, and know that it came from a long-lost building.

This is what I thought of the first time I encountered the benches near Ogden school: Where did they come from? Why are they here? These benches are comprised of five sandstone fragments, dating to the 19th century, and spread around the tiny wing of the schoolyard. They are hand carved sandstone capitals (tops of columns), which must at one time have been part of massive Greek-style columns or pilasters supporting neoclassical buildings. Three of the benches are tooled Doric capitals, and they look similar to one another — perhaps they came from the same building. The fourth and fifth are fairly ornate Ionic capitals; it is easy to picture them at the top of an imposing classical bank once located somewhere in the financial district.

While not as flashy as the collection at the Guild Inn, with architectural fragments from a number of famous buildings, including the former Bank of Toronto and the Temple Building (one of Toronto's first skyscrapers — see page 10), the Ogden school parkette benches still allude to the same lost grandeur. Perhaps these humble slabs share a common provenance with those grand old buildings; perhaps they are the forgotten orphans, separated decades ago by the march of progress and the waves of time.