TEN HISTORICAL SIGHTS
We all know what a historical site is – a specific place, often a building, deemed historically significant. It might have been designed by a notable architect or be representative of a certain architectural style, or maybe it is where an important event occurred or a celebrated individual lived or worked. We can disagree over whether a particular site warrants being formally designated, or preserved, for we do not all revere the same people and events in our history, but the idea is pretty well set.
When one views a city through the lens of urban landscapes studies, however, the concept of a ‘historical site’ has little meaning since nearly everything one sees, no matter how commonplace, has some sort of historical significance. Houses, parks, shops, factories, roads, apartment buildings, parking lots, open spaces … all reveal something about who created them, the world in which they were created, and the circumstances they have endured. Streetscapes become open-air galleries where, if one pauses, looks, and thinks, one can learn – or in some cases, admittedly, conjure up – more history than one can in a gallery enclosed by walls.
Having spent the last few years researching, pondering, and writing the history of Toronto’s Beaches neighbourhood – much of it under the spell of urban landscape studies – I have come upon a good many views of streets, open spaces, and houses that, to my mind, reveal important but overlooked aspects of the neighbourhood’s history. Here are ten that strike me as especially telling. They are, quite literally, views – simply what one sees from a particular vantage point – which is to say historical SIGHTS, not sites. They can be accessed by clicking the title images below. Each begins with a present-day photograph of the Sight and continues with an illustrated historical narrative exploring what it tells us.