Beyond the brick: IPF architectural heritage exhibition

Date: 3 October, 2019

We sat down with our researcher Tatiana Poluch to talk about the exhibition she is organizing and has been working on for the past couple of months. The exhibition turns out to be an incredibly fruitful occasion not only to have a look at old buildings, churches and dwellings, but also and foremost to trace and recount the many stories of the Irish in Canada.

Irish in Toronto? Groundbreaking news! Tell us more about your exhibition project, what’s new about the history of the Irish in our city?

Through the process of crafting an exhibition over the summer, it has become evident that much of Toronto’s history is closely linked to the Irish community. Landmark Toronto buildings such as University College, Old City Hall, and Osgoode Hall were all touched by the creativity and craftsmanship of Irish architects and builders. The exhibition initiated by IPF will explore the stories and histories of fourteen buildings scattered across Toronto to showcase the wide variety of contribution the Irish had to our city.

What is the nature of the buildings you have taken into consideration?

Ranging from vernacular to ecclesiastical, each building chosen for the exhibition has served a purpose to the Irish, whether it be built by an Irish architect or is remembered as a place of significance to the Irish community. The project entails archival research, secondary resources, source community consultation, as well as a fresh perspective not only on the Irish in Toronto, but other communities who contributed to the growth of the city.

How did you conduct your research?

I have spent much of my time conducting meetings, interviews, and visiting a variety of archives and databases to best inform this research. After finding ties between many of Toronto’s buildings and the Irish, it quickly became clear that each building is unique, both to the period it was constructed in and as a reflection of the builder. For instance, the personality of E.J. Lennox, architect of Old City Hall, became part of the building, carving “E.J. Lennox, Architect, 1889” into the four cornerstones of the building. His essence is also evident in his integration of grotesque caricatures of city counsellors he did not like, allowing E.J. Lennox to have the final word. Other reflections of Ireland in these buildings can be found in places like Osgoode hall, which has a strong resemblance to the Four Courts in Dublin, in both architecture and function.

What’s the silent story that these buildings tell us?

These buildings not only tell us about how the city was constructed, but also the stories behind the individuals. Throughout the last two centuries, the staggered waves of the diaspora have created an architectural, landscape and urban design osmosis between Toronto and Ireland. This influence is not limited to famed architects or their grand civic building.

What’s the ultimate focus of this project?

The focus of the exhibition is to encompass builders, artisans, and different communities, who shaped the urban environment seen today. In this exhibit, visitors will discover how the world around them can evoke the tangible embodiment of the economic and cultural forces carried over to Toronto by those emigrating from the island of Ireland.