York nominees come out on top at Heritage Toronto Awards

a picture of Geoffrey Reaume and a wall

York nominees in the running for Heritage Toronto Awards cleaned up Tuesday night at the awards ceremony.

Amy Lavender Harris’s book, Imagining Toronto (Mansfield Press Inc., 2010) received the Award of Merit, along with two other books, the highest honour given out in the Book category this year, while York Professor Emeritus John Warkentin’s book Creating Memory: A Guide to Outdoor Public Sculpture in Toronto (Becker Associates/The City Institute at York, 2010) received an Honourable Mention.

The Psychiatric Survivor Archives of Toronto (PSAT) of which Faculty of Health Professor Geoffrey Reaume is the co-founder and chair, tied for first place in the Community Heritage Award category. The award, says Reaume, graduate program director of the Critical Disability Program in York’s Faculty of Graduate Studies, comes with a $500 cheque. (See nominations story, YFile, Oct. 4)

Geoffrey Reaume and the unpaid patient built wallLeft: Geoffrey Reaume and the unpaid patient built wall

“It was a very exciting and gratifying night,” says Reaume. “It is an important acknowledgement of psychiatric patients’ lives and contributions, past and present.”

PSAT worked for years to save the 19th century psychiatric-patient-built boundary walls at what was once the Toronto Insane Asylum and is now the Centre for Addiction & Mental Health (CAMH) on Queen Street West. Last year, PSAT, along with CAMH, unveiled nine memorial wall plaques at CAMH dedicated to patient labourers of the past.

The citation read out at the ceremony talked about the importance of preserving the history of these patient built walls and how the creation of the wall plaques helps to acknowledge unpaid psychiatric patient labourers. The jury also commended the work of PSAT “in recognizing the significant contributions that a marginalized community has made to the city’s fabric,shedding light on a little known dimension of Toronto’s history.” PSAT was also cited by Heritage Toronto for accomplishing this community work imaginatively and with limited resources.

Amy Lavender Harris holding her Award of Merit for her book Imagining TorontoRight: Amy Lavender Harris holding her Award of Merit for her book Imagining Toronto

Harris, a contract faculty member in York’s Department of Geography in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, created the book, Imagining Toronto, to explore how Toronto’s Imagining Torontowriters have represented the city’s buildings, people, neighbourhoods and natural spaces. It grew out of the 2005 fourth-year geography course – Imagining Toronto: Literary Geographies of a City – she was invited to create, which also led to the Imagining Toronto project, a database of Toronto novels, poems and other literary works.,

“Winning the Award of Merit was a great pleasure, in large part because two other authors whose work I admire very greatly also won the Award of Merit: Shawn Micallef, whose book Stroll: Psychogeographic Walking Tours of Toronto (Coach House, 2010) is a close counterpart to Imagining Toronto, and Ross King (PhD ’92), whose Defiant Spirits: The Modernist Revolution of the Group of Seven (Douglas & McIntyre, 2010), reminds readers of the urban influence of these important Canadian artists.”

Harris gives credit to the staff, students and faculty of York’s Department of Geography “for the creative and collegial environment that nurtures book projects like Creating Memory and Imagining Toronto” and says she is especially grateful for the support the department has provided to the Imagining Toronto project since its inception.

“At a time when municipal administrations are slashing funding to arts projects and heritage preservation, perhaps the most significant accomplishment of books like Creating Memory and Imagining Toronto is their reminder that cities are made not only of bricks and mortar – or bureaucracy and money – but consist at least equally of stories, sculptures, iconic buildings and imagined places,” she says.

John Warkentin and his book Creating MemoryLeft: John Warkentin and his book Creating Memory

Warkentin’s Creating Memory tells the history of Toronto through its more than 600 public sculptures and monuments since the mid-19th century with 20 maps detailing their location.

Nominations for the Heritage Toronto Awards were solicited from the public the following four categories: the William Greer Architectural Conservation & Craftsmanship Award, Book, Media and Community Heritage. Independent juries reviewed the nominations and recommended the award recipients.

The 37th annual Heritage Toronto Awards were announced at a ceremony on Oct. 4. For more information, visit the Heritage Toronto Awards website.