Saturday, August 9, 2014

A Quick Thought About Toronto Sparked By London's Tower Bridge

UK TOUR DAY THIRTEEN (LONDON): Tower Bridge. It's one of the most famous historic landmarks in the entire world. When I was there on a Wednesday evening, it was packed with tourists. Foot traffic crawled across as people — like me — paused to Instagram the living crap out of it. When the drawbridge lifted to let a tall ship sail through, things got even crazier. And that kind of crowd isn't unusual: Tower Bridge is one of the Top 20 most Instagrammed tourist attractions on Earth. Photos of the thing get posted with a #towerbridge hashtag more than 200,000 times a day. That's two and a half times, on average, every second.

But what really struck me about the old landmark was just how new it is. I assumed Tower Bridge was ancient. But it was actually built in the late 1800s. It didn't open until 1894. That makes it only 24 years older than the Bloor Viaduct.

And that wasn't the only time I was struck by the age of historic sites in London compared to the age of sites at home. The majestic Natural History Museum opened in 1881. That's only about 30 years before the ROM did. The Houses of Parliament at Westminster were built in the mid-1800s. They weren't finished until after the first Parliament Buildings in Ottawa had already opened. Queen's Park had been around for 20 years by then. Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square is more than 30 years younger than Nelson's Column in Montreal. And while I was awed by the deep groves worn into Westminster Abbey's stone floors by hundreds of years of footsteps, when I got back to Toronto I noticed the same process is already underway in St. George Station.

Of course, there's lots of stuff in London that's waaaay older than the city of Toronto. And far more of their old buildings have survived. But while I expected the UK Tour might make our city's own history seem ever-so-brief by comparison, it was actually a reminder that our history is much richer than we give it credit for. Many of our landmarks are just as old as many of the most famous historic landmarks in Europe. And, of course, our history also stretches back into a time long before Toronto was founded — just like it does over there.

So the trip, in the end, actually made me feel optimistic about the future of Toronto's history. We may never have as many people Instragramming the Viaduct as they do Tower Bridge (though the plan to light up our bridge with LEDs sure won't hurt), but I do think that as we learn to take our history and ourselves more seriously — preserving our built heritage, telling our stories, investing in new landmarks that are worth Instagramming in the first place — other people will too.



Read more posts about The Toronto Dreams Project's UK Tour and the connections between the history of Toronto and the United Kingdom here.

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