TORONTO RAPTURES

On Tuesday, June 17, The Toronto Star ran a huge photograph of me.

It took up most of page 3.

I expect that future Gibson biographers may find their initial excitement tempered by the fact that the fine photograph contains hundreds of thousands of other people.  It is also the reverse of a closeup, since the photographer was high in a helicopter when he snapped the shot, dangling above the crowd at University Avenue and Queen Street. We were all waiting for the Toronto Raptors to parade past us in triumph.

I took up my place at the south-east corner of University and Queen around 11 o’clock. Surrounded by eager Torontonians of all sorts– including an amazing number of babies and little kids in strollers (“You may not remember it, but you were there! Wow, we weren’t going to let you miss that!”) — I began to wait. And wait. And wait.

Finally, close to 3 o’clock, the heroes who had scaled the traffic lights at the intersection began to wave excitedly, telling us that the parade was in sight. When it finally inched its way up University Avenue, three things became clear. First, the Raptors players, who  had been waving to cheering crowds since 10 o’clock, were exhausted. Second, the forest of raised arms holding smartphones to record the moment for posterity had only for a moment the look of a Nazi rally….it was nothing political, you just, you know, like, need to take photos of big things in your life, whether they are an awesome  pizza dish, or the passing of the local NBA champions. And third, although the parade was due to arrive at City Hall at 1 o’clock, nobody seemed to mind all of the hours spent waiting……this was a great Toronto event for all of us, and we were full of smiles and high fives and dazed happiness.

Because I had plenty of time to gaze across the intersection to its north-west corner, I thought a lot about The Campbell House Museum there. That old classical red-brick Palladian mansion has played a large role in the Gibson family. It has also been hugely important for Toronto.

Originally, the house was built in 1822, in the town that was then called York. The owners, William Campbell and his Nova Scotian wife Hannah , were important members of the legal establishment of little York. In fact, in 1825 William became the Chief justice of Upper Canada. The usual boring life story about a successful lawyer, you say?

Read on .

William was born in the Highlands of Scotland in 1758. As a Caithness boy he was almost certainly a Gaelic speaker. After dabbling in the study of the law, he joined a Highland regiment, and was soon shipped off to America, to fight in the Revolutionary War. He was caught up in the surrender at Yorktown, and jailed. In due course he sailed north as a United Empire Loyalist to Nova Scotia.  In Guysborough he resumed his legal studies, married the daughter of a successful fisherman, and did this and that to survive. During this time he rose to become the Attorney General of Cape Breton Island. But his other public posts, leading this group and owning that mine, led to his being suspended from his role as a Councillor, because his behaviour had become “so violent, so disrespectful and indecorous”.

What can you do with such a man?

After Campbell had spent some time in London pleading his case, in 1811 the irritated government (involving a promising young man named Robert Peel) solved the problem by shipping him off to Upper Canada, as a judge. And here he stayed, in 1825 becoming the sixth Chief Justice of Upper Canada.

He and Hannah took great pride in their fine house, where they enjoyed entertaining the growing town’s leading citizens.Then, after he had been knighted, Sir William Campbell died in 1834.

Over the next 150 years the old Campbell house, at the corner of Adelaide and Frederick, went through hard times, as the area around it was converted to warehouses and parking lots. Soon the owner was threatening to destroy it . Tearing down our oldest mansions in the 1950s and 60s was so common that the fine architectural historian , Eric Arthur (author of No Mean City) sadly predicted that very soon no buildings from the 19th century would be found anywhere in Toronto.

The Campbell House changed all that. Learning of the threat to the old building , a group of angels, prosaically known as The Advocates’ Society, stepped in. With the assistance of gigantic maintenance trucks from the Toronto Transit Commission, the old house was carefully lifted aboard, then inched through Toronto’s streets . After a six-hour journey of just over 1.5 kilometres the house had reached the current site at University and Queen, where it was slowly, carefully, winched down, into its prepared place.

And there it remains.

I mentioned that it has played a large role in my family. I was there, watching the painstaking moving of the house, alongside my City Planner wife, Sally, that exciting day in March 1972. We, and the thousands who came to see old York resurrected in downtown Toronto, sensed that, as the Campbell House Museum now proudly notes, “the preservation of the house was an important turning point in architectural preservation in Toronto.”

But the Campbell House wasn’t finished with the Gibson family. When my younger daughter, Katie, was in high school, she got an excellent summer job as a guide at the House. Dressed as a Victorian servant, she would take tourists around the house,explaining what went on in this room, then demurely suggesting that we should all move upstairs into that bedroom. I joined one tour group and became a Mischievous Dad,  After Katie had talked about the bedroom where the twelve of us stood, I pointed to a china object peeping out from under the bed and asked, “What’s that?”

“A chamber pot.” said Katie, calmly. Everyone looked at the idiot in the room.

Score one for Katie.

Score two happened in 2014 when Katie chose to get married in Campbell House. A very happy day.

 

 

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