Old Toronto Houses

by Tom Cruickshank, John Visser
ISBN: 1552977315

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A Review of: Old Toronto Houses
by Greg Gatenby

To its disgrace, no other big city in Canada pays as little respect to its history as Toronto. Where Montreal, for example, happily honours its historical figures with street names, parks, and squares, Toronto, in contrast, avoids naming streets after heroes, preferring the addiction of naming its streets after yet more trees or after the relatives of property developers. The politicians untroubled by this amnesia clearly do not read books, for the city has been blessed with many fine histories-and one of the best has just been published: Old Toronto Houses. The text, by Tom Cruickshank, exudes the confidence that comes from formidable research. He has chosen to organize the chapters according to architectural styles and eras, but, like Suarez, he is not an intimidating or sneering guide even if you have forgotten the differences between the Second Empire and the Queen Anne period. He explains the points of difference, and then proceeds, clearly and elegantly, to highlight the material or historic details of individual residences. The admirable writing is overshadowed only by the stunning photos of John de Visser. This renowned Canadian photographer has illustrated many books before, but he surpasses all of his previous work with this volume. The pictures are so well shot and so beautiful, they may even convince those, who think trashing Toronto is a mark of sophistication, that the city may be redeemable after all. Because most of the photos are of Victorian buildings, the book's only weak point is that it reminds us of how physically attractive Toronto must have been from circa 1870 to 1910. John Cheever once told me that what stunned him most about Toronto was the beauty of the sunlight here at dusk. Many of de Visser's pictures are shot at either dawn or dusk, and manage to convey the splendour of that singular light. That such photos also manage brilliantly to complement the text is a measure of de Visser's formidable skill.

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