June 10, 2015
By Shawn Micallef
A striking thing about visiting the Toronto Public Library’s brand new Scarborough Civic Centre Branch is that it feels like it was always there. Or at least, it should have been, in what is essentially downtown Scarborough.
It’s tucked in behind the Scarborough Civic Centre, the former city hall of the former municipality of Scarborough. Opened in 1973 by the Queen, the Civic Centre still looks as space age as it did when it was plunked down in the middle of farmland.
“From farm to fork” is a saying in the local food movement, but “from farm to city” could be a Toronto slogan as so many parts of this place are only one or two generations removed from farmland. Along with the Scarborough Town Centre mall that opened the same year here, it was like an outpost on the edge of the city. Scarborough continued to grow of course, and beginning in the early 2000s the area directly around the Civic Centre began to fill with numerous residential buildings that, according to the Toronto Public Library, have brought the immediate area’s population to over 33,000.
Designed by Toronto architect Raymond Moriyama, the Civic Centre is really two separate midrise buildings connected by a soaring atrium with his signature zigzag staircases and cascading terraces, and the original plan did include a library that wasn’t built.
The building itself holds up well but it’s a little worn out now. The carpet is frayed and there are old City of Scarborough no-smoking signs around, nice vintage relics to be sure, but a sign not much has happened here since amalgamation in 1998. The city council chamber is mostly dark and the former “press lounge” is now used for other purposes.
The marriage chapel here still functions regularly though, a vase of dried flowers placed on a table to mark the happy occasions. Earlier this week the big atrium where Terry Fox arrived in 1980 to a crowed of hundreds was being used as an immunization clinic for children. Tired, but no ghost town, the building is filled with civil servant offices.
Outside the Civic Centre is Albert Campbell Square, named after Scarborough’s first mayor and it too is worse for wear. The band shell is dirty, an outdoor drinking fountain is filled with cigarette butts, and Moriyama’s water fall has left yellow calcium depots on the white surface, giving the impression the building has smoked a lot of cigarettes.
The space feels unloved, but lots of love is coming. In 2012 local architecture and planning firm DTAH completed a new master plan that was approved by Toronto city council that will gradually revitalize Scarborough’s civic heart.
“The 100th branch of the TPL opened last month and it is a stunning addition to the Scarborough Centre, creating a front door of sorts,” says Kelly Dynes, the Toronto senior planner leading the project. “We are actively working on the Civic Green, immediately to the west of the new library and are hopeful that it will be completed later this year.”
Other parts of the master plan soon to be implemented are a new park to the west of the square and revitalization of the square itself. The new library is rich with wood beams and almost entirely surrounded by glass and designed to evoke the Scarborough Bluffs when seen from the outside. There’s a green roof up top and inside there are views south to the dense Frank Faubert woodlot, named after Scarborough’s last mayor.
It’s a thick bit of forest and a vestige of the farm days that wasn’t bulldozed for development. Signs along the edge warn of poison ivy, the offending plant visible below it. With condos and the library across the street, the rural life, so recently a part of Scarborough’s past, still insists upon itself here defiantly.