Mapping the Stories of Downtown’s Past

Dundas Street, west of Richmond, as seen in June 2013
Dundas Street, west of Richmond, as seen in June 2013 / Matthew Trevithick

Downtown’s historic buildings may be protected by the Downtown Heritage Conservation Plan, but it’s old stories aren’t.

A new year-long heritage project is hoping to change that.

With help from the City and the London Heritage Council, Roberta Santoro, a post-doc in the School of Language and Literature at the University of Guelph, aims to capture stories and memories about 31 buildings in London’s Downtown.

The goal of the project is simple:

“The ultimate scope is to revive the Downtown, but not by pulling down buildings, and erecting some big building, big hall, but by trying to shine a spotlight on what we have,” Santoro said.

The buildings chosen are ones mainly along Dundas that reflect architectural styles noted in the Conservation Plan, and ones in or around the recently proposed Downtown Master Plan.

Santoro says she wants to find stories and memories of the buildings in their pre-1970s heyday, because over the last 50 years, many buildings have been either torn-down or altered completely.

“I think London should really look at its historic core, and look to reinvent it by taking care of its heritage, because the more cities I travel to in Canada, the more I see that many cities, including Guelph, and so many other smaller cities than London, are really taking care of their heritage. They’ve restored a lot of buildings. They have a very aesthetically pleasing downtown. I’m afraid this can’t be said about London. Partly it’s because London has now, for quite a few decades, turned its back on its heritage, and it doesn’t give it enough importance,” she said.

Santoro will begin interviewing people for the project in November, going through December. The interviews will consist of participants being asked to share stories after being shown old photographs of the buildings.

The project will span the course of one year, the length of time given by the grant to fund the project, and will culminate in an interactive map on the website Building Stories, run by the Heritage Resource Centre at the University of Waterloo. The map will showcase both the building stories, and any tours that may be happening in the city.

Some interesting findings Santoro has found in her building selection research includes one of the buildings being previously owned by Guy Lombardo’s father.

“The story goes, this was the place where the Lombardo teenagers used to practice That’s one building that I put in to see what people have to say about it, and what they remember about it.”

The project should be completed sometime next year.

A workshop detailing how to use the Building Stories website will be taking place Saturday and Sunday (September 28th and 29th), from 11am – 3pm, at the London Life Atrium as part of Doors Open.

Those interested and have stories to share can contact Roberta at 519-661-0082, extension 2798, or by email at [email protected].

Matthew Trevithick, XFM News

Building Stories

More information

New City Website to Be Unveiled Tuesday

City Hall as seen in 2011 / Matthew Trevithick
City Hall as seen in November 2011 / Matthew Trevithick

For over a year, city staff members have been hard at work on a new website. The goal: to replace the outdated and user-unfriendly site that has been the worlds gateway to London for many years.

On Tuesday (Sept 24, 2013), Londoners will get their first look at the finished product.

The old website was designed primarily for use by people within City Hall, and wasn’t the most welcome to citizens, according to the City’s Chief Technology Officer Joseph Edward.

The new website development started last September (2012) and resulted in city staff learning their way around newer software called SharePoint (from Microsoft), with the help from Toronto firm Infusion, which was hired on as a project consultant for $340,000. The firm helped train staff and aid the city with design and infrastructure.

The predecessor to SharePoint, Microsoft’s FrontPage, was previously used to update and design the old website, but it has been unsupported since 2003.

The revamp also makes it possible for people in many city departments to keep the website up to date and add content. Before, the website was primarily operated by the Communications department.

Two hurdles in the development process, which Edward cited as primary reasons for the year-long time-frame, included the learning curve of the new software (about 140 people from different departments were trained on how to use SharePoint to keep it updated), and the cleaning up and migration of the staggering number of documents left over from the old website.

According to Edward, the new website was developed by city staff from the Tech Services and Communications departments, adding that SharePoint was selected because of its use in developing future solutions for record management, collaboration, and workflows.

The cost to hire Infusion ran about $340,000 but was paid for with savings from other IT investments, licenses and contracts. Edward says to revamp the website, no new money was asked for from the city.

The website will be unveiled Tuesday at the Corporate Services Committee at City Hall.

Blackfriars Environmental Assessment Passes Through Committee

The Blackfriars Bridge as seen on September 9, 2013. The bridge has been closed to both pedestrian and vehicle traffic since August. (Matthew Trevithick)
The Blackfriars Bridge as seen on September 9, 2013. The bridge has been closed to both pedestrian and vehicle traffic since August.

UPDATE: The environmental assessment plans passed through Council, as were the short-term repairs, which will allow pedestrians and cyclists to use the bridge during the environmental assessment.

London bridge may not fall down after all. The Civic Works committee voted unanimously Monday to begin an environmental assessment of the Blackfriars Bridge. The assessment would determine what long-term strategy is needed to repair the 138-year old structure.

A detailed inspection of the bridge, done earlier this year, found significant deterioration and corrosion, weld cracks, broken rivets, and deformation on the bridge’s arch. The report also detailed how multiple “primary support locations” located under the deck also suffered from corrosion and deformation. The inspection was the first done in 25 years.

City engineer John Braam told the committee that $770,000 had been spent on bridge repairs over the last 10 years, with an average annual repair cost of $60-80 thousand.

A motion put forward by Mayor Fontana, seconded by Councillor Orser, to approve short-term repairs on the bridge which would open the pedestrian sidewalk during the assessment, at a cost of $260,000, was shot down 4-2.

Ward 13 Councillor Judy Bryant was disappointed the short-term repairs didn’t pass through, saying the assessment would heavily affect the people living west of the river.

“It will create a hardship for the people who live there, particularly the people with young families who rely on walking, and don’t have cars, and can’t get a bus to go the short distance that some of them do go, and I do know I’ve already had people concerned about how they’re going to manage,” Bryant said.

If passed through city council, the environmental assessment would be the jumping off point for long-term rehabilitation plans. The bridge would be closed for up to, or over, 18 months, while city staff work on everything from confirming bridge structural issues, to documenting natural and historical environments in the area.

Major rehabilitation of other older bridges in London cost the city $1.5-2 million, but Braam said the cost of the Blackfriars could be up to $3-million.

“I think we can all agree, this bridge is the ‘Grand Old Lady of the Thames.’ It’s been here for 138 years, it owes us absolutely nothing. 138 years of service carrying vehicles, pedestrians. My understanding, this was built in 1875, and it was given a complete rehabilitation in 1950. That rehabilitation is not unlike what we’re facing today. That rehabilitation in 1950 gave us, what, an extra 63 years of service?” Councillor Van Meerbergen told the committee.

The recommendation will now seek approval from City Council next Tuesday.

30 Minutes of Music: Episode 14


30 Minutes of Music – Episode 14
August 1, 2013
*Sounds best with over-the-ear headphones*


Download the MP3 (Right-click, ‘save link as’)

Subscribe with iTunes! (Or other RSS reader)

Track List [PDF] [Spotify]

0:00 – Franz Ferdinand – Right Action (Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action)
3:28 – Laura Marling – Master Hunter (Once I Was An Eagle)
6:31 – Beady Eye – Second Bite Of The Apple (BE)
10:00 –Bjork – Isobel (Post)
16:55 – Nick Drake – At The Chime Of A City Clock (Bryter Layter)
21:35 – Procol Harum – A Whiter Shade of Pale (Procol Harum)
25:32 – The Vogues – Five O’Clock World (Five O’Clock World)
28:19 – Chet Baker – My Funny Valentine – (Chet Plays and Sings The Great Ballads)

Download other episodes here!

A Bit Of The Past

London, 1962 Photograph by Jack Cuthbert
London, 1962
Photograph by Jack Cuthbert

If you’ve checked my blog lately, you know I’ve been scanning slides that belonged to my great-uncle Jack Cuthbert. Jack was in the Royal Canadian Air Force and did quite a bit of traveling. Luckily he had his camera with him for a lot of it. In 1962 he went to England and took photographs of London and other areas, including Cornwall.

This is one of them, taken on the banks of the Thames River, showing Elizabeth Tower – home to the Big Ben bell – and the Houses of Parliament.

Of course, as it was on Kodachrome, the original was shot in colour, but I thought I would take a whack at it and see what it looked like in black and white, as the day he shot it on was a grey and dreary one.

More will be posted eventually to my Flickr page, but I thought it would be nice to throw this one up here in the meantime.

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