Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Fort York Citizenship Ceremony: a Moving Experience

Last week I was invited by the Institute for Canadian Citizenship to participate as a Roundtable Discussion Facilitator as part of their twice-yearly Building Citizenship program at Fort York.

It’s a unique initiative that deserves attention. Just prior to their Citizenship Ceremony, new Canadians are introduced to existing citizens for a welcoming discussion reflecting on what it means to be Canadian.

‘What does it mean for you to be here today?’ 

I found the experience quite rewarding. I was born in Canada, and I take a lot of things about citizenship for granted. In this day and age, it is easy to become jaded or even wary about thoughtless patriotism.

Listening to the backgrounds and stories of the new Canadians was meaningful—these are people that have, with great deliberation, chosen to make this country their home. They’ve uprooted their lives, spent years going through the process, and have fully committed themselves to becoming Canadian and part of our community.

Reflecting on their journeys has given me a deeper appreciation for the simple freedoms (and responsibilities) we have in Canada.

The Judge presiding over the Ceremony

Every natural-born Canadian should witness at least one Citizenship Ceremony. It’s a solemn but joyous affair.

Highlights for me included:
  • Affirming the oath of citizenship (yes, it does require you to pledge allegiance to the Queen)
  • Hearing 40 newly-minted Canadians singing ‘O Canada’ — an emotionally charged moment
  • Enjoying a thoughtful lecture by Wayne Reeves, Chief Curator of Museums and Heritage Services for the City of Toronto, on the meaning of Remembrance Day in the context of Fort York. 

The strength of a nation lies in its people, and I’m proud to say we became 40 stronger last week.

40 new Canadians swearing the oath of Citizenship
Hearty first meal provided by The Meeting Place/West Neighbourhood House

The Institute, founded and co-chaired by the Rt. Hon. Adrienne Clarkson and John Ralston Saul, also runs the well-regarded Cultural Access Pass program, which provides new citizens with free access to more than 1,000 Canadian places and spaces (museums, parks, etc.) 

All told, it was an excellent learning opportunity and I’m fortunate to have observed this important, intimate moment in the lives of 40 citizens. I was also pleased to see the new Fort York Visitor Centre in use—exactly the sort of community event for which it was built. My thanks to the ICC for the invitation.

Photos in this post courtesy of Lambrina Nikolaou.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Heritage Toronto Award: Historical Maps of Toronto

I am the delighted recipient of the 2014 Heritage Toronto Award of Merit (Media category) for my site, Historical Maps of Toronto.

Gee, I’ve always wanted... Rob Ford’s signature?!

The Award was presented to me at last evening’s 40th Annual Heritage Toronto Awards at Koerner Hall. It pleases me considerably to see that Torontonians are using the site as a research resource on a regular basis.

Receiving the award from Alexandra Pike, Heritage Toronto Board Chair

The full list of people I have to thank is extensive, but luckily I’ve already written it up (scroll down to ‘Thanks and Acknowledgments’). Carrie Martin, Elise Paradis, Stephen Otto, and anyone who ‘bought me coffee’: thank you so much for your support.

Historical maps are like a series of snapshots in time. They illustrate the fascinating story of Toronto’s evolution from a compact town a little over two hundred years ago, into the bustling metropolis we know today. Rich in informative detail, yet often overlooked, they lend us a proper sense of context, and of place. They are powerful artifacts which capture Toronto’s defining tension: the ever-present impetus for change, pushing against the influence of what came before.

It is my pleasure to share them with the rest of Toronto—because history belongs to all of us.

If you’re into old maps or the history of early Toronto, I invite you to visit Historical Maps of Toronto, as well as its sister site Fort York and Garrison Common Maps.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Minimalist TTC Subway Map

“Arriving at Bloor, Bloor Station...”

TTC subway map on Toronto Rocket, with cover removed

While travelling on the Yonge line, I happened to notice the LED route map on the Toronto Rocket train I was riding was missing its cover (by the way: this is not cool, guys. If you want a genuine subway map, purchase a ‘classic T1’ map for just $10 via the TTC. Stealing one for your dorm room is lame).

Scrutinizing the map more closely, we can see that it’s already set to handle the upcoming Spadina line extension stations (diagonal line of dots, upper left), whenever they open. No reconfiguration needed, except changing the cover. As for the proposed Scarborough subway...

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Fort York Visitor Centre: An Important Step Forward

The Fort York Visitor Centre is about to open. It is a marvellous accomplishment.

The Fort York Visitor Centre: in harmony with its surroundings

Decades (literally!) of patient, persistent work, wrangling, and planning went into making the Visitor Centre a reality. A generation of stakeholders and all levels of government have been involved.

The Fort has been an oft-forgotten, sometimes neglected gem in the heart of the city, but the Visitor Centre marks an important step forward in the evolution and life of the Fort.

The Visitor Centre is a clean, elegant, low-slung building that somehow manages the trick of bringing solemnity to the underside of the Gardiner Expressway. It was designed by Patkau Architects Inc. / Kearns Mancini Architects Inc. and has already won awards.

On duty at the Visitor Centre entrance

I’m one of those fusty stick-in-the-mud types who are highly resistant to change, and I was anxious that the Visitor Centre might turn out to be an over-expressive architectural carbuncle drawing attention away from the actual historic site.

Not to worry.

The Fort now has a world-class facility with which to welcome visitors and provide context for the history of Toronto, as well as host events and exhibits. It’s part of an overall vision that recognizes that the Fort and the accompanying Garrison Common are an integral part of the community and have a participatory role to play.

Beautiful, functional gallery space 

Inside, the Visitor Centre seems well-laid out, and I look forward to seeing how the space is used by different exhibits. The Immersive Ramp on the upper level is particularly intriguing; I want to see how it develops.

On display at the moment (in addition to materials relating to the First World War) is a donation of 11 paintings inspired by the War of 1812 by noted artist Charles Pachter (if you’ve been to College subway station, you’ve seen his handiwork).

Thirst for Victory, by Charles Pachter
City of Toronto Museums, A14-33

The Fort York Visitor Centre is celebrating its opening this weekend with the On Common Ground Festival. Check it out!

Get Fortified!

p.s. while you’re in the neighbourhood, be sure to drop in to the recently opened 99th branch of the Toronto Public Library, the Fort York branch on Bathurst.

Fort York branch of the TPL

Further reading:

Full disclosure: the Friends of Fort York and I collaborate together on the website, Fort York and Garrison Common Maps.