Davisville Public School

Toronto set to demolish modern architectural gem

Toronto's modernist architecture just can't get any respect. There's a long and troubling history of tearing down mid-century buildings in this city, and the trend doesn't look like it's going to stop anytime soon.

Joining the ill-fated McLaughlin Planetarium is Davisville Public School, a true gem of modern design that is now slated for demolition.

It dates back to 1962 and it's one of a number of Toronto public schools that are architectural landmarks of the Space Age. Designed under the direction of the Toronto Board of Education's chief architect Frederick Etherington and primary design architect Peter Pennington, it's an important part of the city's cultural legacy.

A number of prominent architects have campaigned to save the building over the last few years, but the calls for preservation have fallen on deaf ears at the Toronto District School Board, who plans to build a new school and community hub on the site.

The TDSB told the Globe and Mail last year that the building is "inherently not suited to the current [student] needs" and cites huge repair costs to get the building up to contemporary standards as justifications for its plans to tear Davisville down.

There's certainly some truth to this reasoning. Plenty of work would need to be done to make it a viable place of learning for decades to come, but there are also other alternatives. Some have suggested using it to house the community centre that's on the way.

The underlining idea is that where there's a will, there's a way. There just doesn't seem to be any will on the part of the TDSB, despite the fact that the Toronto Preservation Board recommended the building be designated under the Ontario Heritage Act.

But, as Alex Bozikovic writes, "though the TDSB is funded by the government of Ontario, which oversees architectural heritage and has a strict heritage-review process for its own buildings, the board has no mandate to protect its buildings and has no strategy to do so."

The architects rallying to save the building have gone so far as to draw up site plans that illustrate how a new school and the existing one could co-exist on the large property near Davisville and Yonge Streets, but that's unlikely to sway the TDSB in the absence of more widespread support for preservation.

As is often the case with buildings from this era, there just doesn't seem to be far reaching agreement that saving the school is a must. For all its architectural flare, it's just not old enough to meet some people's idea of a heritage property.

The stakes are high when it comes to educational buildings, though. What kind of message does it send to students when their own school board shows so little regard for its history?

Lead photo by

Robert Moffatt

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