Unbuilt Toronto: A History of the City that Might Have Been

Unbuilt Toronto

For those who love Toronto history, Unbuilt Toronto: A History of the City that Might Have Been by Mark Osbaldeston is a book unlike all others. Instead of telling the story of Toronto’s past as we remember it, Unbuilt Toronto tells the story behind the plans and blueprints that never saw the light of day. How might our city have looked had these architectural proposals been carried out?

I enjoyed every single page of this book. I truly did not want to put it down. I grew up in Toronto and reminisced as I looked at the photos of the city from the late sixties and early seventies. Unbuilt Toronto is full of photos–147 to be exact–and there isn’t a double-page spread among its 255 pages where there isn’t at least one photo included. Some space-age ideas floated their way past city councils and the Toronto that we now know could have been extended out to sea where a sprawling Harbour City would have taken shape, as in Dubai. In Project Toronto, Buckminster Fuller proposed a twenty-storey pyramid and a harbour city that floated. I’d hate to have moved into a floating Fuller condo only to find out that it made me seasick.

Reasons for all of these projects never coming to fruition, and remaining unbuilt, are easy enough to imagine: lack of funds, changes in government (where new administrations later nixed the ideas), and economic downturns. The voice of the people in the form of protest was also a factor behind sending some projects’ blueprints to the shredder; the most notorious example being the cancellation of the Spadina Expressway.

Some construction proposals, such as a bridge or tunnel to the Toronto Islands or the Toronto City Centre (Island) Airport, have been in the works off and on for years. At the time of publication in 2008, Osbaldeston writes:

“Proposals for island bridges (and tunnels) have come up regularly since Lennox’s time. David Miller swept to office on the promise of defeating the last proposal in 2003. It would seem then that that idea has been put to rest. But who knows? The century is still young.”

Too young. In early 2012, work commenced on a pedestrian tunnel, which would spell the end of the island airport ferry service.

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