Friday, October 8, 2010

Quote: A Couple Of Great Paragraphs From In The Skin Of A Lion

Construction of the Bloor Street Viaduct, 1917

Turns out I'm not the first one to come up with the idea of giving  Toronto's historical figures fictionalized dreams. (Which is what the whole postcard part of this project is all about.) Last month, I read Michael Ondaatje's In The Skin Of A Lion. It was mostly pretty disappointing, but still worth it thanks to all the Toronto history he plays around with: the building of the Bloor Street Viaduct and the majestic water treatment plant on Queen East; the mysterious disappearance of millionaire Ambrose Small; the unheralded contribution of immigrant construction workers. And then there was the dream, recounted in a speech in the last few pages. It's Rowland Harris speaking, the Commissioner of Public Works who oversaw the construction of the viaduct and the water plant:

"One night, I had a dream. I got off the bus at College—it was when we were moving College Street so it would hook up to Carlton—and I came to this area I had never been to. I saw fountains where there used to be an intersection. What was strange was that I knew my way around. I knew that soon I should turn and see a garden and more fountains. When I woke from the dream the sense of familiarity kept tugging me all day. In my dream the next night I was walking in a mysterious park off Spadina Avenue. The following day I was lunching with the architect John Lyle. I told him of these landscapes and he began to laugh. 'These are real,' he said. 'Where?' I asked.  'In Toronto.' It turned out I was dreaming about projects for the city that had been rejected over the years. Wonderful things that were said to be too vulgar or expensive, too this too that. And I was walking through these places, beside the traffic circle at Yonge and Bloor, down the proposed Federal Avenue to Union Station. Lyle was right. These were all real places. They could have existed. I mean the Bloor Street Viaduct and [the water treatment plant] are just a hint of what could been done here.

"You must realize you are like these places [...] You're as much of the fabric as the aldermen and the millionaires. But you're among the dwarfs of enterprise who never get accepted or acknowledged. Mongrel company. You're a lost heir. So you stay in the woods. You reject power. And this is how the bland fools—the politicians and press and mayors and their advisers—become the spokesmen for the age. You must realize the trick is to be as serious when you are old  as when you are young."

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