City / Seeing

Finn with an Oyster: The Story Behind Toronto’s New City Hall

Timothy Brown

SCREENING at the Gardiner Museum on Thursday November 3, 2016, 6:30 – 8 pm. Tickets $15.

The film Finn with an Oyster won the 2016 Heritage Toronto Media Award of Excellence. The film will be followed by a Q&A with director Michael Kainer and producer Karen Teeple.

Its two curved towers elegantly embrace the centre of our civic life, and stand their ground amidst the rising condo chaos taking over downtown.

Fifty years ago, against a backdrop of opposing visions for a growing and changing city, a familiar refrain for Torontonians, our City Hall took shape. But not before the Finnish architect who designed it, Viljo Revell, died of a heart attack and Mayor Phil Givens, who led the charge in support of purchasing Henry Moore’s sculpture, the Archer, lost an election over it. The project raised a hornet’s nest of opinions that would come to characterize Toronto’s ambivalent view about itself as a city.demolition

“Everyone had an opinion about the building,” says writer, director and producer, Michael Kainer. “Mayor Phil Givens saw the new building as a significant symbol of a new modern city,” Kainer explains. He offers examples of the debate. Givens, an MP, MPP, QC, and graduate of Harbord Collegiate commented, “Toronto was a hick town, and I was interested in seeing that it turned the corner of becoming a great Metropolis.” Frank Lloyd Wright weighed in with a different view, “You’ve got a headmarker for a grave and future generations will look at it and say: this marks the spot where Toronto fell.”

Kainer is interested in the intersection between culture, art, and politics. “The project,” he explains, “was filled with controversy: from the destruction of significant historical buildings to accommodate new City Hall to the selection of a design by the young, relatively unknown Finnish architect. Even the selection of public art proved problematic and the acquisition of Henry Moore’s sculpture The Archer for the City Hall Square was as controversial as the building.”billboard

A retired lawyer, Kainer brings his considerable experience in the arts community and city building projects to bear on his documentary. He strings together pearls of information like the story behind the design competition, itself controversial. “It was the largest juried architectural competition, ever,” says Kainer, “with 520 architects, from 42 countries making their pitches.” He looks at the relationship between Henry Moore and Revell and he interviews Revell’s daughters, prominent Toronto architects, and a number of mayors who once presided over the circular council chamber.

Karen Teeple, former manager at the City of Toronto Archives and City Archivist researched the history of the planning and construction of City Hall for the film.

The project was sponsored by Heritage Toronto with support from the Ontario Association of Architects and the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, amongst others.

“It bravely, almost brazenly, embraced the new and opened the city to big bold ideas and to people from around the world,” Kainer explains of our City Hall, which officially celebrated its 50th anniversary in September. “It is a rare and wonderful thing when a single building epitomizes an era.”

Finally, the story of Toronto’s most visited building gets a thorough airing.

– Elizabeth Cinello

Documentaries by Michael Kainer:

Patron Saint, a 70 min feature documentary about Janusz Dukszta, psychiatrist, politician and art patron. See our write-up here.

Innocence on Ice, a short which uses black and white archival footage to portray the beauty of ice skating.

Succo Pomodori, a colourful depiction of making tomato sauce in the back lanes of Little Italy in downtown Toronto.

Skate to Survive, a project Kainer produced and wrote which recounts the life of Ellen Burka, the world-famous skating celebrity who, after surviving concentration camps, went on to make a name for herself in Toronto as a skating coach and choreographer.

This article can be found in GOING OUT in the section What We’re Seeing, and in WHAT’S HERE in the section The City.

We are @livingtoronto2 on social media. Follow us on Facebook. instagram 1371778321_twitter-128-black

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