Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Public History from below

Today I drove my daughter to the Toronto Island airport via Bathurst Street, a trip we take fairly frequently, since her uni is in Halifax and we are huge fans of Porter Air. This time, I did a double take on the way back north at Davenport when I glimpsed the sign for the Tollkeeper's Park.

Somewhere in the back of my brain I remember having read about efforts of the local community and the city of Toronto to restore a tollkeeper's cottage and set up a museum-y sort of thing at this site. But it was pretty buried--surprising in retrospect, given that my research revolves around 1800s Ontario local government history, which itself revolved much around roads and the innumerable problems of paying for them.

So I googled the park when I got home and found a couple of entries on the Heritage Toronto website. It seems that the renovated cottage was officially opened in 2008, at which time it was touted as a working class corrective to the better known but undoubtedly elitist public history establishments at the top of the hill:

The historic Tollkeepers Cottage, believed to be the oldest tollgate surviving
anywhere in Canada, was rediscovered 15 years ago and lovingly restored by the
Community History Project and public support. In the 1800s, private companies
were retained to build roads and were permitted to charge road tolls. The three-room cottage was home to the tollkeeper and his family when Davenport Road
was a toll road in the 19th century.

The museum will highlight the history of tolls, roads and 19th century life for those with modest means, a contrast to the wealth and luxury of Casa Loma and Spadina House Museum not far from the cottage site. The park surrounding the museum will be renamed The Tollkeeper's Park in recognition of the site's historic significance.
All of which is well and good. But I can't help wishing that the place had been a little less lovingly renovated. It seems likely that the before picture is probably more in keeping with what a tollkeeper's cottage would have looked like than the after picture. Which somewhat defeats the purpose.

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