Cross-street: Dundas St. East and Boulton
The building at 140 Boulton Avenue is a perfectly Torontonian kind of building. It’s the Toronto we know intimately because we walk by this house, and its analogues, all over the city, every day, but rarely pay them any attention; they really aren’t very pretty. There 140 Boulton sits, squat, ramshackle and dishevelled – like somebody who’s been sleeping in the same clothes for days – on the corner by busy Dundas Street, here little more than a traffic pipe for cars and bikes travelling between the east and west sides of the Don River. Few pay it any mind: it’s just one of the thousands of nondescript buildings that make up the wallpaper of our city. Across the street is the Boulton Parkette. It’s also the kind of parkette we like to keep here in Toronto: its dishevelledness matches number 140, with bits of trash blowing around, a rusting iron fence, a worn-out lawn and some uneven interlocking brick. We don’t do the Tuileries in Toronto; Paris can have that kind of finicky formal park space, our city seems to say, but we don’t have time for such frivolity.
We can’t see the first decades of 140 Boulton’s life, but we can see how this one structure has, since 1980, morphed and adapted because Patrick Cummins wandered by one day with his camera, stood in front of it, took a picture, and returned over and over to do it again. Back in 1980, 140 was a residential house, or at least it appeared to be one. It had fake brick siding, the kind made out of the same rough material as roof shingles. There was a little front window with the blind drawn, a screen door with a newspaper stuck in the slightly fancy grillwork underneath a metal awning. The narrow strip of dirt between sidewalk and house was fenced in and a little garden appears to be tended to. It’s summertime, perhaps early in the season as the foliage seems small, and the shadows are long and from the east. It’s morning. Maybe that blind was about to go up and that paper read over a coffee. Toronto daily life carried on, the cars on Dundas went by, and only people like Cummins who pay attention to our in-between spaces and places noticed.
Jump forward a few years to 1988, and 140 has radically changed. Gone is the little garden; it’s been replaced by interlocking brick (perhaps to match the parkette across the street). The little door and little window have been made much bigger, and the fake brick siding replaced by vinyl or aluminum siding. The bars on the windows suggest things got a little harder in the neighbourhood: a ladder stored across the front part of the roof and sign reading Aaron & Greenbelt, General Contractor – Tree Removal – Roofing – Sodding suggest a rapid transformation from residential to commercial. More time passes and another photo is taken that finds a sign in Chinese script has been added and the English sign moved from the left to the right side of the building. The door has been made smaller again and the bars have been removed from the window so plants can hang there. This house should have been built with Lego to make it easier for the owners to change their minds. But times are better, perhaps, and business is good. A decade later, in 1998, the wide front door returns and the window is replaced with a garage door. The Chinese sign is gone, but a miniature Chinese gate has been constructed on the roof where the ladder once was. Sod AND soil are now available too. Pictures from 2002 (look, Dundas has a bike lane now!) and 2007 show 14o’s glory years, when gardens were planted, signs maintained and business concerns continued prosperously. That gate on the roof now frames a bigger sign for Aaron & Greenbelt, and graffiti in the earlier picture has been painted over in the next. The Sod and Soil sign is on the ground in one picture, back up in its place the next. The flowers for sale out front suggest this enterprise is trying to cater to gentrifying Leslieville’s beautification needs, but the For Sale sign in 2007 suggests the end might be near. The final two pictures from 2010 and 2012 show 140 more or less as we know it today (for now, anyway), awaiting another wave of change.