In the reform-obsessed Toronto of a century ago children had a very special place. By their very nature they were like the disease-causing microbes that people were learning about. Children were willfully ignorant of the demarcations of class, culture and morality in the city. Joining the fluid movement of streets they traveled daily between their poverty-stricken immigrant neighbourhoods and those of the wealthy establishment. They drifted freely from the safe zones of schools, backyards and church halls to those of drinking, gambling and vaudeville shows. Sometimes it made the news. Young Rosie Stance a “Russian Jewess” was found on the Bloor streetcar in a somnambulistic state induced by a mysterious disease contracted in her homeland. For many Torontonians, Rosie embodied the germ of anxiety. Floating in the body of the city like many other children, she symbolized the danger of anarchy and contagion.
Children figured frequently in the disaster reports of a city in the midst of a massive building boom. Children were enlisted as agents of street beautification and fly eradication campaigns. Children of “the Ward” were photographed and their images used to wheedle money to save them from their environment of poverty and ‘foreign-ness’. These particular children, it was felt, needed to be corralled and subjected to strong corrective and charitable intervention. They would be the beneficiaries of the first city playgrounds.
Read about the Toronto campaign for public playgrounds here.
– Teresa Casas
This article is part of our issue: Public Space/Public Art