Estlandler, Arvo Part
I received a press release on January 3 that these historic hangars up at Downsview, currently owned by the Canadian Military, are about to be ripped down. You can read the details courtesy of Built Heritage News below in Press Release #1.
As if losing the Avro Arrow back in the 50’s wasn’t enough, it has come out of the blue that these hangars are suddenly slated for demolition, going the way of the dodo bird as it were. Located just east of Downsview Park* these classic hangars built in 1944 might very well have housed a few of Arrow prototypes, who knows? Well that is at least before we sold out to the US, the planes were dismantled and Diefenbaker essentially gave away our hard-won, space-age and proudly Canadian technology. Or at least that’s one version of the story, which led to the first prominent brain drain south of the border.
But I digress.
Demolition of these extraordinary, historic buildings has commenced, and this after pitched lobbying from conservancy and heritage groups which include some of the most prominent architects in Canada. Advocates for creative use of this space have been in dialogue with the various players – including the Department of National Defense who own the site – for well over a year, travelling to Ottawa and criss-crossing the continent in discussions which have included exploring the idea of a land-swap with the park and possibly converting these terrific buildings into a public-use aviation museum.
Preservation and public use sounds good by me.
But the end result of all these discussions? The military suddenly broke rank and announced that demolition would begin immediately in the New Year. And this was announced on December 22nd, just before the holidays, a classic move aimed to reduce outside interference. With condos going up right across the street, one can only wonder if it might be some kind of cash-grab.
If these buildings indeed were coming down, I was determined to get up there and record in the space for posterity, and perhaps generate enough public interest that the buildings might yet be saved. Traipsing across some snowy fields with my cohort ArcticLamb, we found the place eerily deserted. However from beyond the barbed wire and chain link fencing, I can confirm that there indeed was demolition equipment on the site.
The place was completely empty, and perhaps there was a work-stoppage in effect – one can only hope! And speaking of the Department of National Defense, I guess I’ll go so far as to suggest that we jumped de-fence to wander in and explore one of these massive hangars!? We didn’t stick around too long – getting escorted off a property by security is one thing, but messing with the military is something again and we didn’t want to push our luck!
There are six conjoined hangars like the one pictured above, replete with a classic control tower at the far south-west corner of the site. Just head to the top of the Allan Expressway if you want to catch a glimpse of the hangars in question. It would simply be a shame to see these historic buildings ripped down.
One of several pieces I recorded that day, crouched down behind a protective bunker of old pink insulation, this flute solo is my version of a musical play on words: written by Arvo Part, this is intended as an ode to the Avro Arrow.
So I hope you enjoy Arvo’s ode to the Avro, recorded in the very hangars where the infamous Arrow perhaps once proudly stood!
NOTE: And good news arrived as I was mid-draft here: as of today, demolition is suspended and they are back at the bargaining table. See Press Release #2 below for more information. Congratulations, Lloyd, and best of luck at the bargaining table.
* The site of SARS-stock (remember that?) and a visit from the late Pope, Downsview Park was inspired by none other than Bruce Mau Design. It might seem that with Mau now based out of Chicago that this might be yet another example of brain drain, but with his strong Canadian roots, I like to think this is not the case!
Press Release #1:
Toronto’s Downsview Hangars Face Immediate Demolition by Department of National Defence
Heritage Canada Press Release
|Photo, Paul Oberman
Demolition is scheduled to resume today on the historic Downsview Hangars (Buildings 55 and 58) at former CFB Downsview air base in Toronto, Ontario. Constructed in 1943, these structures were designated as heritage buildings by the federal government in 1992 for the role they played in Canadian aircraft production during the Second World War. The hangars are owned by the Department of National Defence (DND).
There is strong private sector interest in developing these buildings. Mr. Paul Oberman, President and CEO of Woodcliffe Corporation has been working tirelessly to find a solution that could both meet the needs of DND and save the historic Downsview hangars, including a land exchange negotiated with Mr. Tony Genco, CEO of Parc Downsview Park. On December 24, DND offered a short stay of demolition. Now, DND has taken the position that they are not interested in considering any proposals and are not responding to inquiries.
While some demolition has already been done on the hangars, their potential for redevelopment remains intact. DND still has the opportunity to allow the private sector to recycle and adapt these buildings rather than sending them to landfill.
HCF calls on Defence Minister Peter MacKay to delay demolition and allow interested parties to finalize their adaptive reuse and land exchange proposal.
For further information:
Carolyn Quinn, Director of Communications, Cell: 613-797-7206 or Chris Wiebe, Officer, Heritage Policy & Government Relations, email@example.com. Telephone: 613-237-1066 ex 227.
Press Release #2:
Stop the Emails: Demolition Temporarily Halted
Lloyd Alter, ACO President
We are informed by Major A.J. DeBruin that he he has received authorization to stop destructive demolition until Friday morning. He said that “work would continue in the interim but that no materially destructive work would occur until Friday morning”, to allow time for an offer to be presented to National Defence.
High level officers in the Military have specifically asked that we stop “the barrage of emails.”
I want to thank everyone who supported us in this campaign; clearly it got their attention, finally. No guarantees, but it is the best news we have had to date.
Thank you again; clearly when enough people scream loudly enough, the message can get through.
President, Architectural Conservancy of Ontario
Editor’s Note: Congrats Lloyd