The City, the Country, and Toronto's Bloor Viaduct, 1897-1919

Article excerpt

There are certain structures in cities that exemplify the grandiose designs of the city builders at the turn of the twentieth century. The Prince Edward or Bloor Viaduct is one of these structures crossing Toronto's key landform, the Don Valley, immortalized in Michael Ondaatje's In the Skin of a Lion. Plans to build the bridge emerged as early as i-897, although the construction did not begin until 1913. The Bloor Viaduct can help us consider the progressive era by examining how discussions ofnature/culture and country/city were incorporated into the discourses of its planning and construction. Technically, the bridge was an engineeringfeat spanning three valleys, making east-west travel in the growing city more efficient, improving the transportation offood and lumber. Symbolically, this monument highlighted the ability to overcome nature with a bridge and bring an aestheticized nature to the city. This contradiction between overcoming and improving access to nature is built into the bridge's planning and construction history. By exploring the symbolic and material aspects of this bridge, the contradictions of nature in the process ofnation building appear more striking.

Il existe certaines structures urbaines qui illustrent les conceptions grandioses des beitisseurs de villes du tournant du XX' siecle. Toronto, le viaduc Prince Edward ou Bloor, qui en est un exemple, traverse la vallie de la riviere Don, l'un des elements topogra-phiques des de Toronto, immortalise par In the Skin of a Lion de Michael Ondaatje's. Les plans de construction de ce viaduc out ete developpes 4 partir de 1997, mime Si la construction n'a commence qu'en 1913. Le cas du viaduc Bloor nous permet de considerer La mentalite progressiste de cette epoque en nous donnant aced.; la facon dont les discours de l'epoque sur le rapport entre nature et culture et campagne et ville, se sont integres dans les discours entourant la planOcation de sa construction. Sur le plan technique, le viaduc etait un exploit d'inginierie enjambant trois wallies, qui facilitait la circulation entre rest et l'ouest de la yille, ainsi que ricbange des denries alimentaires et du bois de construction. Symboliquement, ce monument illustre l.a capacite des batisseurs de maitriser la nature a vaide d'un pont et ainsi de crier sine image esthetisee de la nature an sein de la ville. Les plans et la construction de ce viaduc intigrent cette contradiction entre la maitrise de la nature et lamelioration de son accessibilite. L'exploration du symbolisme et des aspects materiels de ce monument rend d'autant plus remarquables les contradictions a regard de la nature dans le processus de construction de la nation.


The bridge goes up in a dream. It will link the east end with the centre of the city. It will carry traffic, water, and electricity across the Don Valley. It will carry trains that have not even been invented yet.

Night and day. Fall light. Snow light. They are always working--horses and wagons and men arriving for work on the Danforth side at the far end of the valley.

There are over 4,000 photographs from various angles of the bridge in its time-lapse evolution. The piers sink into bedrock fifty feet below the surface through clay and shale and quicksand-45,000 cubic yards of earth are excavated. The network of scaffolding stretches up.

Men in a maze of wooden planks climb deep into the shattered light of blond wood. A man is an extension of hammer, drill, flame. Drill smoke in his hair. A cap falls into the valley, gloves are buried in stone dust.--Michael Ondaatje (1)

Michael Ondaatje's novel In the Skin of a Lion vividly describes how class, gender, and natal origins are lived, and how the lives imagined from these origins enrich our understanding of the human experience in place. (2) Ondaatje uses an astounding amount of historical data to set this novel in Toronto in the progressive era of the early twentieth century. …