Drove him mad, they once said


Here’s a view we don’t often get to see – the Gardiner’s bridge-like britches – excavated courtesy of the massive project to turn Loblaws old downtown distribution warehouse into a new megastore for the badly underserved lakeshore condo community – with every brick of it’s classic historical frontage rebuilt (and a pocket-tower inside, as seems to be mandated nowadays).

Funny how many ways there are to look at something – and also how those ways can change over time. I often do a quick check on Wikipedia before writing-up my notions, and there are many nifty details to be found there – but other stories, once commonplace, have vanished – displaced by the idea of a standardized homogenized digital repository, much as writing once displaced the dazzling multi-level performance-creativity which was surely the hallmark of the age of oral storytelling.

For today’s subject – one of the ugliest roads in the world – the Gardiner Expressway – which had been visually and psychologically dividing the centre of the city of Toronto from it’s lovely lake like a vast prison-wall barricade, ever since the mid-fifties (sort of like the way highway 401 protects the innocents of North Toronto from the slavering hordes of North York). ;o)

I’ve never once heard anyone say they liked it – not drivers, definitely not the pedestrians walking underneath it (threatened by big chunks of concrete falling off the seriously deteriorated structure). In fact, the only people I know who can talk about it without getting furious are transplanted Montrealers – who laugh, because the historical level of mob-corruption in Montreal means most of their public works were built with concrete that never made the original specification (too much sand, much-cheaper, but nowhere near the same load-bearing capacity or endurance).

Not only that, but historically, it was the Gardiner that killed Sunnyside, our original 1925 seaside amusement park, of which only the still-exquisite 20s dancehall ‘the Palais Royale’ and the Sunnyside bathing pavilion remain – though you can visit our exquisite old carousel at the very first Disneyland – (they were delighted to have it).

York-henge! Here’s a part of the beast being excised – the old York street exit – I’ve never seen such fast de-construction (round-the-clock crews now, trading sleep for shortness of disruption – a tactic that seems to be working well around the city so-far).


Decades ago, everyone used to ‘know’ that the poor engineer who had been lead designer of this monstrosity killed himself when he beheld the horror that his efforts of slide-rule and technical pencil had brought into existence.

Torontonians liked that story very much, because nice as we are, it felt like a dramatic apology from someone, for having saddled us all with an intractable problem (certainly far more than one would ever expect from a politician).

Of course – the way interests and perceptions have shifted, there is not even a footnote with that sort of romance or appeal to it on it’s Wiki – nor is a lead engineer even identified, which is another tell-tale. Gone the age of the heroic genius engineers who were bringing us the future – now the individuals are subsumed by the project itself, and the discussion is all policy and detail. Not grand inception, but critique – tres post-modern!

I blame sim-city, and the entire simulation genre of games, in a way – but I thank them also (I play myself). And to be ultra clear – the same generations which scoff at the idea that video games can be art, science or culture, reveal themselves to be hilariously pre-scientific magical-thinkers in their own comprehension of logistics and systems-theory, again and again (violating thermodynamics with their desire, like infants) – not-so their grandkids!

Like the others for this piece – this last photo is not gloriously pretty, but it did strike me as odd, for all the little time-spread layers within. First of all – why is an old school-bus opening it’s door while on the top of the Gardiner? Trust me, there are no schools (or sidewalks) up there! Below that weirdness, we seen a screen of condominium buildings (built on top of old heavy-industrial sites where WWII munitions were made) and nearer to us – one of the blockhouses and the mess-hall from Old Fort York, which dates all the way back to 1793! The original plan for the Gardiner was to run it right through that corridor and move the entire fort! Thankfully stopped.

Nearer still – a brand-new streetcar right of way – electrified urban rail remains insanely popular in downtown Toronto (which makes the arguments about the second-rateness of “light-rail” rather hilarious. Try this – every single time you talk about them, call them friggin’ STREETCARS! – that way it’s not about imposing a modern disruption, but adding a classic luxury!

I know, it’s just language sentiment and perception – which could hardly be expected to change the nature of the thing itself.

But yes, it matters.

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