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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

EXCERPT: The Islands In My Brain, from “I Own This Town” by Mayor Bert Xanadu

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“I Own This Town” is a Toronto-centric collection of essays, screeds, proclamations, asides, orders, observations, outbursts and flattery that draws from the 9,000-plus tweets written by Gerry Flahive as Bert Xanadu (@MovieMayor) since 2009. The book also includes original articles, such as a foreword by Lorne Greene and a sexier foreword by Marlene Dietrich

Xanadu’s first column for Spacing was published in 2011 on banning pedestrians from Yonge Street. The following missive, also posted in 2011, is his attempt not to be upstaged by Doug Ford’s Port Lands mega carousel project.

BUY IT NOW! “I Own This Town” at the Spacing Store

The Islands In My Brain

We have, in this marvellous City of Toronto, a public asset so magnificent in its nascent potential, so well-meaning in its character, so narcotic in its ability to entice people to lie down, that it has no international rival, save for those cities that also have islands.

I am speaking, of course, of the Toronto Islands Park, more commonly known in local parlance as ‘the Island’ (Toronto being still admirably spartan in its civic monikers, e.g. ‘the Museum’ and ‘the Art Gallery’).

I think all right-thinking men would agree with me when I say, as I am now doing, that despite the fond position the Island holds in the bosoms of Torontonians, it is in sore need of re-do.

When I was a lad in the 1920’s, the Island was like what one might imagine as the horticultural love child of Frederick Law Olmstead and Greta Garbo, a fantastical floating lawn of entertainment and class warfare, of sand and sermons, of hypnotic British patriotism and hoochie coochie outbursts.

All that could be eaten or drunk, from racoon-on-a-stick to Boer Lemonade, was there for the buying, along with the enticements of a cinema (my Uncle Charlie’s Dominion Nudie Zoopraxographical Hall), the Moldavian Labourers’ Lacrosse Pitch, the Redundant Circuit Promenade and the controversial Co-Minglers Ankle Bath. On any given steamy August Saturday in those times, the only Torontonians NOT on the Island were the jailed, the veiled and the failed.

I won’t deny that it also throbbed with a heady maritime sexual power. Fortunately, the throbbing was obscured by Christian fabrics and well-positioned shrubbery.

But with the depravations of the Great Depression, many of the Island’s enticements were shuttered, and with the onset of WWII, even the venerable Viceroy Archie Hotel was torn down for firewood, after serving nobly as an espionage/finishing school for seducers and seductresses of Nazis.

With post-war peace came the park bureaucrats, men with a distaste for disorder, men who spent no time outdoors themselves, but who felt that those who did should do so in a barren landscape, the better to be supervised when at leisure.  And so the Island was bulldozed and landscaped into a green tabula rasa, a ‘there’ that once one got to it was so blindingly obvious that the only thing to do was to immediately line up for the next ferry returning to the mainland.

We see the results today: windswept and cheerless picnics, Sahara-like stretches of bleached grass that fry the brain, inconsolable children drifting miserably inside macabre giant plastic swans, and the tyrannical rule of dozens of the Island’s acres by spiteful Canada Geese.

I can no longer stand idly by, watching as I do with my Bausch-Lomb binoculars, as the stolid ferries trundle back and forth across the harbour with a monotony not unlike the tedious journeys of 19th century prison ships on their way to Australia, the main difference being the presence of sun-burnt children wearing Batman bathing trunks.

I have a vision of the Centre Island of the future, a vision so powerful and clear that it came to me with a searing pain in my temple, a small amount of bile in my throat, and a complete set of landscape architecture blueprints in my brain.

Think skeet shooting.  Think nightly re-enactments of the parting of the Red Sea. Think toothless freshwater sharks.  Think artificial spelunking. Think barbequed steaks so thick you’d trip over them.

Think an archipelago of islands of delight so enticing that Venice, Italy will hang its excessively pomaded head in shame.

I have assembled a group of top men to put forward my plan, and, firstly, to build a meticulously-detailed architectural maquette so life-like and compelling as to render impotent any of my political opponents (so to speak).  We’ll draw on the greatest minds the world has to offer, from Butlin’s Holiday Camps, to NASA, to Kresge’s, and you’ll begin to see what can be!

We’ll complete the work in time for Dominion Day in 1975.  What can a visitor expect on that glorious day?

You’ll arrive at the newly re-designed ferry docks, made to resemble the space station from 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY.  There, after a jaunty time spent being interviewed by Liquor Control Board employees, you’ll be escorted on board one of our mammoth canoes – I’m talking 400-seaters, with on-board washrooms and Fran’s luncheon counters – and paddled to paradise!

Upon arrival at Centre Island, you will stare, slack-jawed in wonder, at the Plaza of The Snack Bars – and its most bejewelled establishment, Lady Eaton’s Fort Pork, where all manner of cuisine, including hot dogs, wieners, franks, frankfurters, sausages and tube steaks, will be piled high. Sated, you can then waddle or be wheeled to the Western Hemisphere’s largest pine tree maze, three acres of coniferous confusion, designed to mimic the hallways of City Hall’s own beloved Department of Human Resources.

Or cool off in our million-gallon wading pool, shaped like the almost-Great Lake, Lake St. Clair.  (But wear your goggles! Chlorine levels will be at DEFCON 3, or yellow, to offset children’s inevitable urine).

The current ‘residents’ of Ward’s Island, who I am sure simply missed the final ferry of the night, will be gently whisked to higher ground, i.e. Barrie, to allow for the demolition of their rustic tarpaper shacks, and the erection of the world’s widest tetherball court.

A human pyramid training school, a suntan lotion sluicing pit, a 1000-seat slide projector theatre, a charades stadium — all this will be yours, dear people of Toronto, and so much more.  Foreigners will flock here as well, their journey eased by the extension of the Island Airport runway through the soon-to-be-former Hanlan’s Point beach to allow for landings, and attempted landings, by top-notch Boeing 747 Jumbo Jets!

How will I/you pay for all of this? In the fullness of time.

The cost?  No man can say.

But hey! No man is an island!  These things cost cash money, kiddo!

This satirical column was originally published in September 2011