Stephen Otto - Ontario Heritage Trust

Stephen Otto, Toronto

I feel a sense of belonging when I walk down the Main Street of almost any Ontario town or small city where many of the buildings date from the late 19th or early 20th century. This sense comes partly from efforts by the Ontario Heritage Foundation [now the Ontario Heritage Trust] and Ministry of Culture & Recreation in the late 1970s to raise awareness of the importance of preserving our Main Streets.

Postering was a big thing when Ontario's heritage conservation programs were new. The ROM showed the way by supporting special exhibitions with striking posters that seemed to be in every shop window in midtown Toronto. This pattern was copied by the Toronto Historical Board in advocating saving the Don Jail. So successful was this latter campaign that the same approach was taken in introducing Ontario's Main Streets as a worthwhile focus for conservation efforts.

Working together, the Foundation and Ministry set out to produce a 'landmark' poster. The design idea was copied from the 'Doorways of Dublin' eyecatcher seen often at that time: a series of similar images on a theme arranged in rows and columns. Except that the Main Street poster took pictures of buildings in eight or nine Ontario places and arranged them to resemble a typical downtown streetscape. This was accompanied by the invitation 'Take a Closer Look' pinched from the Don Jail poster, and the presses began turning out thousands of copies.

LACACs and local museums were sent large numbers of posters for free distribution. Then, because the program had Ontario Government sponsorship, every LCBO and Beer Store in the province was cleared to post copies. I knew the initiative had been a success when I wandered into a Beer Store and asked the men behind the counter where the buildings shown were found. They had identified all but one of them!