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Location DB > Canada > Ontario > Toronto > Bata Shoes Headquarters > Air33's May Visit

Gallery Description
Some external shots of the building. Its soon to be demolished, details below. Did not get inside as one access point was far too small to squeeze through (note: for a cat) so took some space age Jetson's shots.


Building new heritage is right choice for city

In any major city such as Toronto, there are inevitable clashes at times between old and new, between those who want to preserve and those who want to build. And, in virtually every case, there is no clear right or wrong choice.

That will be the dilemma that Toronto City Council will face later this month when it is asked to declare a 40-year-old office building a heritage site, which means it could not be torn down. But if the council turns down the request, then the building will be demolished and a massive $200 million project funded entirely by private money will go ahead on the site.

The building in question sits on a hillside at 59 Wynford Drive, near the northeast corner of the intersection at the Don Valley Parkway and Eglinton Avenue East. The building, completed in 1965, is the former world headquarters of the Bata Shoe company.

In 2002, the site was sold to part of the Aga Khan's network of foundations and projects.

The Aga Khan, the spiritual leader of Ismaili Muslims, wants to erect two buildings on the site and an adjoining property purchased in 1996. The structures have been designed by world famous architects.

The Aga Khan Museum would house Islamic art and artifacts and be the first of its kind in the English-speaking world. Many of the works would come from the Aga Khan's personal collection and have been in his family for centuries. It would also host art exhibitions, performing arts, lectures and seminars.

Nearby would be the Ismaili Centre, a place of worship as well as a place for social, educational and cultural events.

Surrounding the buildings would be seven hectares of formal gardens, fountains and two kilometres of walking trails.

Total cost of the project, which would start next year and be completed by 2009, is $200 million, all of it paid by the Aga Khan and the Canadian Ismaili Muslim community.

But the project may not proceed unless the Bata building is torn down. The project's backers say it is impossible to take a 1960s-era office building and integrate it into an Islamic-design place of worship and culture.

In May, the Toronto Preservation Board, which advises city council, recommended the Bata building for designation as a heritage site "for its cultural resource value or interests."

It claimed the building, which was "inspired" by an office building in Connecticut, is an example of the Modern Movement in architecture. The committee said the building is also "historically notable" for its association with Bata.

On Monday, the issue goes before the North York community council. The full Toronto City Council will consider it Sept. 28.

Unfortunately, the council will have to decide between two heritages; one from the 1960s that sits empty; and the other which is touted as part of the current renaissance of celebrated architecture in Toronto — the Royal Ontario Museum, the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Opera House and the Gardiner Museum.

True, the Bata building may have some historical significance, but there are many other examples of Modern Movement architecture in Toronto.

In its deliberations, the council should reflect deeply on the implications of the Ismaili project being in Toronto. As envisioned, the centre seems fully in step with the vibrant multicultural nature of the Greater Toronto Area as it is today.

The centre could also become an international symbol of the diversity and tolerance that should be Toronto's hallmark.

Thus, in this tussle between two cultural assets, councillors must ask themselves this basic question: Do you preserve heritage or do you build it?

In this case, we say the answer is clear: Build it.


Aga Khan centre wins support

Who's Who of T.O. politics shows up to support leveling former Bata building to erect museum, cultural centre

An Ismaili cultural centre is one step closer to reality as North York Community Council voted unanimously Monday against granting the former Bata Shoe Company headquarters heritage status, paving the way for the much anticipated centre on Wynford Drive.

The land on which the 40-year-old Bata building sits, which was designed by Toronto architect John B. Parkin, was bought by the Aga Khan Foundation Canada in 2002 with the hopes of tearing down the building to make way for a $200-million cultural centre, museum and public park on the 17-acre site. Construction would be slated for next year.

But the Aga Khan Foundation Canada was up against a potential roadblock should community council designate the Bata building under the Heritage Act, which meant the foundation would have had to go through a lengthy process from council should they wish to dismantle certain parts of the building.

Without the heritage designation, it would virtually pave the way for the project, making Toronto home to only the fourth Aga Khan cultural centre in the world.

Supporters of the project packed the council chambers Monday, many standing at the back, as council heard from 18 speakers - including Sonja Bata, wife of the shoe company founder - the majority of whom were in favour of tearing down the Bata building to make way for the new project.

Representatives from several architectural companies and Heritage Toronto failed to sway council to designate the Bata building heritage status after pointing out the modern-era historical and architectural significance the building.

"In the interest of the whole city, the cultural centre should be built," Bata said. "It is an honour Toronto was chosen for the project and this opportunity should not be passed up. It would be most unfortunate and a great loss to Toronto if this marvelous project does not go ahead."

Former Toronto mayor Barbara Hall also threw her support behind the Aga Khan project, adding she was excited about the proposal for the Don Mills community.

"This community wants to make a contribution to Toronto," she said. "It is world class in the real meaning of those words. Don't put barriers and roadblocks in the way of this proposal."

Terry West, president of the Don Mills Ratepayers Association, said debating which side to throw his support behind was one of the most difficult decisions he's had to make.

"We treasure our cultural centres and this is a world-class development," he said. "I believe this (project) is a great asset to our community and we welcome it."

One by one, the nine councillors took a moment to praise the project proposal before voting unanimously against granting the Bata building heritage status, which drew a standing ovation from the audience.

Ward 8 Councillor Peter Li Preti (York West) was absent from the meeting and Ward 26 Councillor Jane Pitfield (Don Valley West) abstained from voting, citing what she called a "quasi" conflict of interest.

"I was the former representative for Don Valley West and I agree that it's (proposal) a jewel in the Don Mills community," said Ward 34 Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong (Don Valley East). "Cities cry out for these investments. It is a fantastic proposal."

Ward 23 Councillor John Filion (Willowdale) said he's going against his normal principals of designating significant buildings with heritage status because he was thoroughly impressed with the presentations in favour of the Aga Khan project.

"We are replacing a building of value with a building of greater value," he said.

City council, which still has to approve the recommendation, will vote on the issue next week.

Air33's May Visit
Bata May, 2006
Bata May, 2006
Bata May, 2006
Bata May, 2006
Bata May, 2006
Bata May, 2006

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