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 rcauchis@london.ca.

Matthew Trevithick, XFM News

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