Design - Ontario Heritage Trust

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Interpretive theme for 2022: Design

Design is the spark from which the creative process unfolds. It is defined by the ingenious ways in which we make and have made places and things. Culture, traditions, the natural environment and belief systems are some of the things that influence how a place or an object is designed, and the design influences how people interact with it, moulding the ways in which we navigate and experience the world around us. Heritage is about these connections as well, between people, places and objects from the past that define communities. The impact of how heritage places and objects were designed shapes our communities even today, including where we live, how we live, and what we value. 

In 2022, the Ontario Heritage Trust will explore Ontario’s design heritage and history – from architecture to technology, cultural landscapes to urban planning, art to everyday household devices and the stories behind the creative minds that have transformed, and continue to transform, the lives of people living in Ontario. We will highlight our owned and easement properties, encourage tourism to design destinations through Doors Open Ontario, share Ontario’s stories through digital storytelling and social media, offer new insights through our annual lecture, spotlight provincial plaques, and display our extensive artifact and archival collections.

The Trust’s exploration of architectural design will be central to our journey in 2022 to highlight the heritage of this land over thousands of years, including:

  • the traditional longhouses of the Wendat and the Haudenosaunee, where families lived and where ceremonies were held for countless generations
  • the engineering feat of the Rideau Canal, influential in the development of Upper Canada and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site
  • the innovation of historical industry, such as the neoclassical hydroelectric Toronto Power Generating Station at Niagara Falls that helped to electrify Southern Ontario
  • Trust sites like the beaux-arts Elgin and Winter Garden Theatre Centre, an exceptionally rare, stacked theatre design where people have gathered and been entertained for over 100 years
  • the development of urban planning in Ontario, including unique expressions such as in Kapuskasing, an unusual British garden city design in Northern Ontario’s Great Clay Belt
  • the trailblazing spirit of mid-century modernism that boldly broke with the past and looked optimistically toward the future, such as at the TD Centre in Toronto or the National Arts Centre in Ottawa.

Design is also the creative process that inspires the making of arts and crafts – e.g., the heritage artifacts of the Trust’s museum sites – including the lavish domestic Victoriana of the Fulford Place mansion in Brockville, or the humble but meaningful objects belonging to the historical Black freedom-seeker community at Uncle Tom’s Cabin Historic Site in Dresden.

Design is artistic creation as well, such as:

  • the Agawa Rock pictographs on the shores of Lake Superior, sacred to the Anishinaabe
  • the Group of Seven, who captured the majesty of Ontario’s near north in their paintings
  • contemporary artists, such as those who practise and learn today at the Trust’s Doris McCarthy Artist-in-Residence Centre, the eponymous home of the famed landscape painter in Scarborough.

Finally, design always has room for improvement, which creates new opportunities from old ones to transform our heritage for the future to make it more equitable, accessible and climate resilient. There are heritage places in Ontario reckoning with a history of oppression and exclusion that are being reconsidered, becoming new ones where the voices of racialized individuals and communities are being placed at the forefront of change. There are others that are being adaptively reused with green and accessibility improvements as part of their new centre, to improve their usability and welcome more people into these spaces.

Design is all around us, in the creativity behind the places and things that define the cultures of people living on this land. As you rediscover Ontario in 2022, we invite you to be inspired by the achievements and ingenuities of the past, and to consider how the heritage of design might have shaped how you live today.