Dubious Views Online Curated Exhibition
Eva Brook Donly Museum Curator's Statement
Townsend Retraced - Project Overview
Townsend Retraced is an ongoing project consisting of photographs, audio installations, historical artifacts, poems, maps, plans, and other text. Through multiple media, Laura Cunningham, Hilary Martin and Stefan A. Rose explore the effects of urban planning on rural residents living near Lake Erie industrial lands in Southwestern Ontario.
Townsend Retraced has been exhibited at:
Eva Brook Donly Museum, Simcoe, Ontario, Sept.- Dec. 2004
Rotunda Gallery, Kitchener City Hall, Kitchener, Ontario, Nov. 2005
Spruce Row Museum, Waterford, Ontario, Jan.- Mar. 2006
The Townsend area near the shore of Lake Erie was targeted in the mid-1970s to be the site of a "New Town" development in response to the intense industrial development in nearby Nanticoke. A new urban population of over 100,000 people was expected to move to this primarily rural area by 2001. The Ontario Provincial Government spent an estimated $23.6 million in order to build the city of Townsend on agricultural land. Phase 1 was completed, including a municipal building, three clusters of housing, four sewage lagoons and a water tower.
By the mid-1980s, it became clear that the urban population would not materialize. The government began to sell off the "surplus" land that had been rented in the interim to the farmers who had originally been pressured to sell to the government, or to farmers who rented the land to grow cash crops. Without direct ownership and without any guarantee from one year to the next that those renting the land would be able to continue farming, the land and buildings had deteriorated. The local church was closed and torn down. The original farming community had dispersed. In many cases, people could not purchase back their family farms.
Almost thirty years later, Townsend is a bedroom community of about 1,500 residents without retail or corner stores, post office or restaurants. It played host to a series of political experiments in the amalgamation of Haldimand and Norfolk counties into Haldimand-Norfolk. In 2001, the counties split into two again, with the resulting county line running down the middle of the current community. Still, the village of Townsend has developed a strong spirit, perhaps built on defending its existence in the area. Shared almost equally between new families with young children and older retirees seeking peace and quiet, Townsend boasts a first-class daycare facility, a multi-phase retirement home, and a provincially recognized community policing organization. It is also home to a modern church built to house community events from basketball to baptisms.
Ironically, Townsend as a car-friendly subdivision built in the middle of farmland with services located elsewhere is the current trend in development along the 401 corridor. Originally however, it was planned to be a green city with integrated pedestrian paths through urban parks, innovative transit, mixed use downtown zoning, many of the features that planners strive to achieve in revitalizing urban areas today. From the renderings in the planning documents, svelte bell-bottomed moms push baby strollers through the riverside park. The airflow from the Nanticoke industrial complex is held back at the city limits by an orange band marked "limit of pollution". Farms are retained at the edge of the city to create a green belt, or converted to golf courses. The realities of urban factory shift worker life do not appear in the pages of the plan. On paper, Townsend looks like a California suburb.
Townsend Retraced explores the way this powerful, utopic vision of an urban centre planned for an absent, imagined population affected a real, working, agricultural community.
What if someone planned to build a city and no one came?
Dubious Views: questioning institutional representations in tourism and cartography
Dubious Views is an online exhibition collaboration between Gallery TPW and Virtual Museum Canada (VMC), that was curated by Michael Alstad, Michelle Kasprzak, and Shawn Micallef in 2005.
The exhibition draws together various web sites, including Townsend Retraced, to examine artists' responses to institutional representations in tourism and cartography. Dubious Views content is copyrighted 2006 by Gallery TPW and Virtual Museums Canada, and is also avaliable in French - the respective sites will open in new windows.
Dubious Views Online Curated Exhibition
Dubious Views in French:
Vues douteuses: Mise en question des représentations institutionnelles dans le tourisme et la cartographie
Eva Brook Donly Museum Curator's Statement
Historical overview by Bill Yeager, Curator of Eva Brook Donly Museum.
Memories and feelings are as much a part of a community's heritage as its historical records, old buildings and vintage photographs. "Townsend Retraced" looks back in affectionate remembrance at a time of upheaval and change in a quiet rural community of old Norfolk County.
The multi-media exhibit also reminds us of the ironies of "the best laid
plans of mice and men". Some forecasts never come to pass quite the way the experts and planners tell us they should or they must.
When land assemblers, government planners and provincial politicians
predicted an overnight land boom for industry and housing on the shores of Lake Erie in the 1970s, the quiet farmlands of southern Townsend Township steeled themselves for the shock of change. Farm families left familiar homes and lifelong work, sometimes after generations on the same homestead. Small community institutions like churches and schools closed their doors and sold off their pews or desks.
A huge swath of quiet farmland was slated to be bulldozed for new
subdivisions, streets and stores in Ontario's newest city: "Townsend New
One of the oldest parts of Ontario, Townsend Township in old Norfolk County was first surveyed and settled two centuries ago, beginning in 1794. United Empire Loyalist pioneers, American settlers and British immigrants laid out the rectangular grid of concessions, lots, country roads and farm fence lines that still survive 200 years later. Settlement began in earnest about 1830, with farmhouses, barns and sheds, as well as a handful of mills, cheese factories, churches, schools and tiny hamlets like Rockford and Villa Nova.
Life in Townsend Township - and the rural landscape itself - changed slowly. Though horse-drawn buggies, sawmills and hoop skirts vanished, the 150-year-old grid of concessions, lots, roads and fields still marked the land with their distinctive structure and order. In woodlots, some of the new seedlings of a hundred years ago still stand tall and firm, veterans of ice storms and drought alike.
Back in the 1970s, I was working as an historical researcher for The
Haldimand-Norfolk Study, looking at the impact of massive Stelco, Ontario Hydro and Texaco plants rising up beside the little hamlet of Nanticoke. Even then, most local residents - (including area politicians and municipal staff) - all seemed to look with a healthy scepticism at predictions from out of town planners and politicians that Haldimand-Norfolk would need up to three new city sites.
A few years later, Laura Cunningham was working alongside me as one of the Eva Brook Donly Museum's most memorable Student Curators -creating miniature jewels of pencil sketches on catalogue cards among her various other tasks. Years later, though now removed from small town Simcoe for big city life, Laura turned to memories of her grandparents' Townsend farm for inspiration for "Townsend Retraced", a multi-media exhibit with long-time friends and collaborators, Hilary Martin and Stefan A. Rose.
The exhibit's title recalls Townsend Traces, a thoughtfully articulated 1976 report published by the Historical Planning and Research Branch, for the Ministry of Culture and Recreation. Highlighted by dozens of photographs of farmhouses and rural views, that book has already become an historical record of the changes in rural Townsend Township.
Researchers Joseph Bucovetsky and Michelle Greenwald reminded us of the heritage values of ordinary life in rural Ontario's setting of historic
farmhouses, country roads and woodlots. Even though the Townsend city area was not marked by any outstanding sites and monuments, efforts should be made to preserve and incorporate much of this comfortable and familiar network of roadways, historic architecture and green vistas into plans for new subdivisions and city streets.
Today, thirty years later, Laura Cunningham, Hilary Martin and Stefan Rose have added their own insight that the memories and feelings of the people who once lived in Townsend are also priceless historical records.
They have talked with and listened to many of the people who once called old Townsend Township their home, as well as some of the new residents who now live in the new village of Townsend. They have gathered memories, opinions and feelings of the people whose lives were so dramatically changed by the city that never was.
Review by David Garneau of Dubious Views in Ciel Variable Magazine (CV) issue 77
Townsend Retraced home page (opens in new window).
Gallery TPW: Dubious Views Parallel Programming (opens in new window).
More of Stefan's Townsend Retraced photographs are in Photos - Townsend Retraced on this site.