Tuesday, October 29, 2013

How does a city remember?

My first time at Honest Ed’s, I got lost. I had just moved to Toronto and walked down the street to check out the monstrous, garish store on the corner near my new apartment. It beckoned me at night with its flashing circus lights and stupid joke signs. How does a place like this even exist? I walked through housewares and continued up and down stairs, only starting to panic when it seemed as though I was going in circles. Hadn’t I seen that display of Lady’s Fashion Leggings before?

But it may be Honest Ed’s turn to be lost—at least, its physical presence now that owner David Mirvish has announced he has sold the property to Westbank, a Vancouver-based developer (which, interestingly, is responsible for the redevelopment of another iconic department store, Woodward's, in Vancouver). 

I’ve learned in my three and a half years in Toronto that if you mention Honest Ed’s you should be prepared for a story. Whether it’s someone’s first encounter with the store, the way their mother used to eat fries and gravy in the basement, or how they furnished their new apartment with its cheap products, every Torontonian seems to have a little nook carved out in their brain filled with hand-painted signs, light bulbs and weird Elvis busts.

But in the face of inevitable urban change, how does the city itself remember?

Is it enough to preserve the iconic sign? Does it need to be the whole sign or just a bit of it? Any preservation of a part of the former store or sign would certainly only serve a metaphorical purpose, an evocation of the something larger that was once there. A fragment like that may simply collapse under its own weight.

Should we just march blindly forward with a clean slate and post a bronze plaque out front with a few words like some sort of gravestone? How do you fashion something to hold all those memories in place and do you even need to?

No doubt all these and more will be discussed, debated, shouted and written about to death over the next few years. For some, preserving just a part of the whole is worse than doing nothing, while others may hold on to whatever fragment they can get with dear life. There are people who scrapbook and there are people who don’t.

What I do know is that when I walk by the corner 30 years from now, dodging the hover cars and walking my genetically-modified meowl, I will be able to point to whatever building lies on the corner and say that’s where I got lost by the Lady’s Fashion Leggings.