What makes a city move? A history of Toronto by its most influential movements

19Mar12

The recipe is simple: friends meet over food, satisfying their biological urges while talking, ambitions and insecurities are thrown into the mix, and by some magic, the inertia that often dampens human imagination is overcome. The place can be any place, as long as it is one — cyberspace will not do. You need physical proximity for the ideas to flow. Toronto has its share of legendary nooks and crannies, where quintessentially Canadian narratives have emerged.Royal Ontario Museum, ca. 1922
Royal Ontario Museum, 1922
Photographer: Arthur Goss, City of Toronto Archives

2: 1952: The Toronto School of Communications
100 Queens Park, Basement coffee shop in the Royal Ontario Museum
Most weekdays, 4 pm

A group of friends gathers most weekdays at the coffee shop in the basement of the Royal Ontario Museum. Among the regulars are the anthropologist and filmmaker Ted Carpenter, the artist and curator Harley Parker, the political economists Harold Innis and Tom Easterbrook, and the then little-known English professor Marshall McLuhan.

They converse freely and throw around theories about radio and television. They suspect that these disruptive new media technologies are having an effect on society as well as the psychology of individuals.

This decade-long interdisciplinary exchange of ideas culminates in the publication of The Gutenberg Galaxy by McLuhan in 1962, which popularizes what comes to be known as the Toronto School of Communications. In The Gutenberg Galaxy, McLuhan follows the work of Innis in positing that not only radio and television but all forms of media — especially print media — influence how we view the world through our senses.

3: 1963: Centre for Technology and Culture
39A Queens Park, Coach House, St. Michael’s College, Mondays, 7 pm

The coffee shop group receives an official home with the establishment of the Centre for Technology and Culture. Students flock there every Monday night as McLuhan hosts a seminar in “open mic” format, where ideas bounce around an increasingly star-studded crowd: the likes of John Lennon, Pierre Trudeau, Woody Allen, and Buckminster Fuller. McLuhan offers up koan-like “probe” statements (“The medium is the message!”) designed to provoke discussion and expose the role of electronic media in everyday existence.

Overdue international recognition is given to Toronto’s intellectual community, long populated by luminaries such as Northrop Frye, McLuhan’s long-standing rival. After his popularity wanes in the 1970s, McLuhan’s work is rediscovered with the advent of the Internet, a development which he had anticipated decades in advance.

1925: The Arts and Letters Club
14 Elm Street, The Great Hall of the Arts and Letters Club. Mealtime

 On another evening, this one coloured by the sounds of J. Humfrey Anger tinkering on the spinet and always a debate, Wyly Grier (who will later become the first Canadian to be knighted) proposes that the meetings be named the “Arts and Letters Club.” The men agree. In 1925 (after a couple of evictions) they find a home at 14 Elm Street. Here, A. Y. Jackson (of Group of Seven fame) will bring his friend, Frederick Banting, a reticent scientist (who only a few years earlier helped to discover insulin) trying to evade the media hounds still lurking about the University of Toronto.
The Arts and Letters Club will over time entertain the likes of Robertson Davies, man of letters, and the creator of CBCʼs The National, Mavor Moore. [Marshall McLuhan was also a member there from 1964 to 1967, when he went to Fordham University in New York.]
 
– from The Varsity, the University of Toronto student newspaper (since 1880): http://thevarsity.ca/2012/03/19/26567/ 
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