26 January 2018

YOU KNOW MY NAME

GHOSTS OF TORONTO'S PAST

BY: KATIE PAOLOZZA

For the first post of 2018, I'm flipping the formula. Instead of focusing on spaces that have been replaced, I'm focusing on iconic fixtures in the city: the Rogers Centre, the Ed Mirvish Theatre, the Santa Claus Parade, etc. Of course, when I was growing up, they were all known and colloquially referred to as The SkyDome, Pantages, and the Eaton's Santa Claus Parade. The funny thing is that by the time I would have been cognizant of the parade, the Eatons hadn't been involved with it for over 10 years. Yet people still referred to it as such, just as I still refer to the Rogers Centre as the SkyDome.

The Rogers Centre, an almost identical clone of its former self.
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One of the main inspirations behind this blog was that particular feeling we get when we visit a place we once knew well that has been irrevocably altered. However, as my boyfriend pointed out, that feeling can still occur when a familiar place has been renamed or re-branded. Even a place that was originally corporate, like the Air Canada Centre, endures backlash when it changes hands, specifically when it is renamed. Personally, I'm never completely comfortable with transitioning from one era to the next. I'm stubbornly resistant to changes that feel out of my control, but I also think it's a bit of a vanity thing as well. I don't like hearing young people refer to a place by its new name with no knowledge that everyone else once called it something else. Simply put: I don't like feeling old. How many times have we heard our parents or grandparents lament about how in their minds and hearts it feels like they're young, but they see an old person in the mirror?

Talk to Torontonians that have lived in the city for at least 10 years. Most likely they will not refer to every major tourist attraction by its current iteration. There are still tons of people that refer to the Bay at the Eaton Centre as the Simpson Tower, never mind the fact that the Hudson's Bay Company took ownership of it in 1978.

401 Bay St., formerly known as the Simpson Tower. Source.
On the other hand, when HBC sold Zellers to Target, the re-branding immediately stuck. No one kept calling the new Target stores "Zellers," even though the majority of changes that took place inside and outside the stores themselves were superficial. Besides, a lot of Zellers locations had originally been built for other chains that had gone belly-up in the 1950s, '60s, and '70s. Canadians have had a strange, contradictory relationship with themselves when it comes to supporting and sustaining homegrown businesses. "Vintage Canadian Supermarkets and Discount Stores" on Flickr has an album called "Once were Zellers" that features this photo of a Zellers 43 years after it took over a place I'd never heard of called "Miracle Mart":

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Perhaps department stores have too many subtle idiosyncrasies to be truly consistent in the way that theatres and sports venues can be. SkyDome or Rogers Centre, people can still visit and have at the very least an accurate simulacrum of an experience they had decades before. The facade is different, but the guts are the same. The same could not be said of Zellers and Target Canada. Ditto to the Pottery Barn Stores on Bloor St. West, which kept the facade of the much loved University Theatre, but changed literally everything else. 

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Relative consistency, however, is not enough. People will still complain when the ACC turns into the Scotiabank Arena on Canada Day, and not just because they don't like change. There is a deeper undercurrent of dread that grows in response to increasing corporate power in a city that is supposed to be a democratic municipality. It's not that Torontonians are luddites or resistant to progression, we just want our city to remain our city. We want it to grow and flourish in ways that benefit the real people who live here. We don't like the idea of our community being picked apart and sold in pieces to the highest bidder, even if the corporate entity in question is technically Canadian.

Toronto is no melting pot. It's a collection of unique communities and sub-groups that often clash with each other, but also often come together in shared communal spaces. These shared, safe spaces are gradually disappearing. Sometimes the first step in this process is a name change, and sometimes it feels very jarring. I don't think that fact is going to change any time soon.

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