In memoriam: Doug Taylor, heritage conservationist and historian

On July 27, Toronto lost a giant among the city’s amateur historians.

Doug Taylor, the creator of the Historic Toronto blog and the author of dozen books, died at age 82.

His titles include four books about Toronto’s architectural heritage – Lost Toronto, Toronto Then and Now, Toronto’s Local Movie Theatres of Yesteryear, and Toronto Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen.

The depth and breadth of Doug’s passion reached beyond the bricks, mortar and masonry of Toronto’s architecture.

“Since I was a boy, I have been captivated by history that’s rich in romance, adventure and murder in historic buildings and landscapes,” he wrote.

He was a member of the faculty of the Lakeshore Teachers’ College (York University) and the Ontario Teacher Education College, where he says he “had the opportunity to share my love of history with promising young teachers-to-be.

“Today, I hope that they have forgiven me for the sin of believing that history, especially Toronto’s, is fascinating.”

During the 1970s, he was among the first to conduct walking tours of Toronto’s historic districts. Chinatown, Kensington Market, and the historic town of York and its cemeteries were favourite destinations.

In more than 1,000 posts for Historic Toronto Doug says that he “tried to capture the architectural features of Toronto’s heritage buildings so that if they are ever demolished, there is a detailed visual record of them.”

Hs also tried to inspire interest Toronto’s built heritage “so Torontonians are aware of the great losses such destruction entails and they do their best to oppose it.”

Doug was a proud participant in the fight to save Old City Hall. Old City Hall survives. The saving of it inspired the Ontario Heritage Act.

But Doug knew there was still much to preserve. He also knew that the Act would be toothless without people to fight to broaden its scope.

As well as a dedicated professional (never enough of them) Doug was a heritage wonk, photographer and storytelling fanatic.

He set out to tell the stories of the architecture he loved and to share with his readers everything he learned through his exploration of the city’s archives, as well as from his own observations. Doug documented it all.

But in recent years, there have been more architectural losses than wins.

Recently they included the art deco Stollery’s men’s clothing store – that’s now being replaced by Toronto’s tallest skyscraper – the 110-year-old Bank of Montreal at Yonge and Roselawn and the exquisite Schindler “Rain Beau” racquet string factory in Mimico. Doug documented them all.

Doug will be missed but not forgotten –he has been nominated for Architectural Conservancy Ontario’s Award. There are also plans to preserve Historic Toronto online and ACO Toronto is keen to add Doug’s descriptions of buildings to its Toronto building and structure database, TOBuilt. If that happens, it will be a marvellous marriage.

As for Doug’s enormous archive of photographs, its future remains to be determined.

Meanwhile, Historic Toronto remains online. Dive into it. Visit the buildings. With Doug’s words to guide you, it will be doubly fascinating.

Richard Longley is former president of Architectural Conservancy Ontario.

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