Reading: Toronto, Markham, Ontario: The Postcard Factory, a Review

Toronto flag at CNE
Toronto flag at CNE | Source

Roots here, from everywhere

Toronto, Markham, Ontario: The Postcard Factory, ISBN 1-55233-064-8 p.p. 32

...

'I didn't know The Postcard Factory published books!' might many people's initial reaction. Well, trust me, it does, and this published item about Toronto which is at least a booklet, contains incisive text — scrupulously bilingual in English and French — by way of descriptions of a good selection of photographs, which (of course) were probably themselves once used in postcards, or are destined to be. (In fact, not all the text is accompanied by photographs, either.)

The text to the photograph selection, written variously by Mike Dobel of Masterfile and Chris Chong and others, gives a pithy and thought-provoking introduction to the history and culture of Canada's largest city. For a work of this nature, I am particularly struck by the historical references.

In Canadian history, the significance of storming of the Plains of Abraham, Quebec City, by British forces is often stressed, but its consequences for what was to be Canada's largest city were to become far-reaching. If Quebec City changed ownership to the Crown, then, under a different kind of transaction, so did what is now Toronto, when, soon afterwards the Crown purchased it from Mississauga First Nations (or 'Indians', as the booklet still calls them). Remarkably, as recently as 1795, what is now Toronto still had as few as 12 houses, but the city saw rapid growth in the 19th century, and was incorporated in 1834 (1).

Toronto's most famous street — Yonge Street — is depicted and described; the editors refer to its various historical aspects (2): its original rôle in military communications from Fort York; the subsequent, cultural presence of the Upper Canada Bible and Tract Society and Teperance Hall; the opening of the first subway in Canada occurred here in 1954; and now its neon lights, which are very much a defining feature.

One of Toronto's most famous, historic buildings, St Lawrence Hall, dating from 1850, is depicted and described (3); and interestingly, this structure, with is conspicuous cupola and neo-Classical lines, is shown flying the Canadian Maple Leaf flag rather than the provincial flag of Ontario.

An interesing, historical event to which reference is made is the visit of novelist Charles Dickens to Toronto in 1840, who reported how this then gas-lit city was well paved and commercially well appointed; thus showing how its contemporary reputation for being very clean and organized has a well founded, historical basis (4). (I myself recently returned to the Toronto area from some towns in Europe and can attest to this being an abiding impression!) Wth its great growth, Toronto having eclipsed Montreal from that city's predominant position in Canada is another, noted, historical fact.

Indeed, the expansion of Toronto has come to include a huge proportion of its population with origins elsewhere: 60%, in fact: almost the concluding portion of the text stresses the great drawing power of the city (5).

Among its fine photos, the one on p. 32 showing the CN Tower at twilight — both sedate and dynamic — with the lights of the city reflected in Lake Ontario, is for me the most impressive of all.

April 29, 2013

Notes

(1) Toronto, p. 9

(2), op. cit., p. 10

(3) op. cit., p. 12

(4) op. cit., p. 25

(5) op. cit., p. 31. Here I am reminded of Edward Said, late, displaced Palestinian author of his memoir Out of Place, London: Granta Books, 1999, where as a longstanding New York City resident, in which everyone seemed to come from somewhere else, he thus felt completely at home!

MJFenn is an independent writer based in Ontario, Canada.

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