Thursday, 27 November 2008

Pacific Yachting Magazine story by Stephen Weir about the St Maarten's 12 Metre Challenge


St. Maarten’s 12 metre Challenge. It’s the 1987 America’s Cup over and over again…


Tired old racehorses are put out to pasture. Over-the-hill greyhounds become family pets. And retired 12-metre racing yachts? For five veterans of the extended 1987 America’s Cup campaign, the Golden Years are spent forever rerunning that famous series of races in the warm waters off St Maartens in the Caribbean Sea.
Now that America’s Cup has switched to the International America's Cup Class size, the 12-metre has begun to fall out of favour with competitive racers. Although not dead yet (there still a few key 12-metre races being held) in terms of the Big Show, the once mighty 12-metre class seems destined for marine museum collections.
But wait, in St Maartens, Canadian businessman Colin Percy has rescued five of the greatest 12 metre yachts ever sailed and brought them to the Dutch/French island of St Maarten. Three to four times a day visitors can now participate in a mini-America's Cup race in actual boats from the 1987 competition, including Canadian yacht designer Bruce Kirby’s Canada II and Steve Killing’s True North I 12 KC-87 and True North IV 12 KC-4.
For over a decade Colin Percy has been operating his 12-metre Challenge races out of the port city of Philipsburg St. Maarten. Headquartered beside a mammoth cruise ship dock which annually welcomes a million tourists, Mr. Percy has no trouble finding wanna-be sheet jockeys willing to pay up to $100 each to crew on the 12-metre boats and spend two hours racing a stripped down version of an America’s Cup race.
Most days the faux competition features two boats from the company’s stable of five yachts. For my race, (held on a day when 4 oversized cruise ships were in port), a “match race” was held with three boats – Canada II, and Dennis Connor’s Stars & Stripes US-55 and Stars and Stripes US-56.
“Star BORED “ complained one teenager as he sat in the Grinder pit waiting for the onboard humourous pre-race talk by the skipper and his three crew members to end. A burley chap wearing a Princess Cruise Line cap (who rate this as the number 1 attraction in the Caribbean) loudly explained to his winch-wench wife that the front of the boat is called the “curtsey”.
This was obviously not a crew who had much knowledge of anything nautical beyond the free rum (and beer, and wine coolers) rations. No matter, over the course of the race the 18 volunteers on each of the three yachts, hoisted the sails, ground the grinders, winched the winches, and screamed at each other across the opens seas as the trio of skippers tried to steal each others wind.
It was a noisy race, with the paying crew depended on the skipper to explain exactly when and why we were whooping it up! But, by the time the boats had completed the triangular shaped course most of the people on board had a clear understanding of how a 12-metre challenge is run and had some insight into strategies needed to win a high stakes race.
“ I was really happy when Colin Percy acquired both True North vessels,” said yacht designer Steve Killing. “True North I raced in Pacific Sea trials, but the other boat was never finished. You know the syndicate ran out of money and her unfinished hull was in East Coast yard for years.”
“They bought her, took her down to St Maartens and finished her. That is great! “ he explained. “They made some modifications, but basically it is the 12-Metre I designed. I haven’t been down yet to see them but I am glad they are still be raced today.”
The modifications that Mr. Killing referred to are minor. The St. Maarten outfit has a policy to maintain the boats in as original condition as possible. The only changes being those designed to improve guest safety, such as lifelines, raising the boom and roller furling systems.
True North never did race in America’s Cup. It was built as the first of two – its owner Don Green (the winner of Canada's Cup) wanted to build one boat from Mr. Killing’s plans and test it thoroughly. From the lessons learnt they would build a second boat incorporating those modifications considered key to improve the speed. Following this, both boats would be "maximized" by racing against each other, constantly improving. Unfortunately, due to over zealous spending in the early days the second boat -- the one designed to compete for the Cup – was never finished.
In preparing for America’s Cup, True North competed in California and lost to Canada II (now also part of the St Maarten fleet).
Canada II was the Western Canadian yacht designed by Bruce Kirby. She was originally built for the 1983 America's Cup and race under the name Canada I. For 1987 she underwent major alterations, in keeping with the Australia sea conditions. Renamed Canada II she was outfitted with a new bow, stern section, and a state-of-the-art winged keel.
Canada II was defeated by Dennis Conner's Stars & Stripes '87 12 US-55. The winning vessel, along with Mr. Conner’s alternate boat Star & Stripes '86, 12 US-56 are now also in St. Maartens.
Quite often these days True North IV 12 KC-4 and Stars and Stripes ’87 face-off against each other in the race that should have been. Guess which boat has won the most races? Nobody knows.
“Due to the fact that we are open 364 days per year and we do up to 4 races per day with up to 2 pairs of 2 boats, we do not keep records of who wins each of our races,” explained Kim Van Loo with the St. Maarten 12 Metre Challenge. “ However, during the Heineken Regatta of ‘96 we invited Dennis Conner to helm his America's Cup winning Stars & Stripes, this developed into a match race between True North IV and Stars & Stripes over a period of 4 1/2 hours of racing during which the lead changed some 8 times.”
“Canada’s True North IV (the unfinished Killing boat) was driven by one of our own skippers,” she continued. “Skippy Hammond managed to pip Stars & Stripes at the post by 13 seconds. This raises the very big question... what if?”


Sidebar 1 - Just the facts

The dual nation island of St. Maartens and Saint Martin is in the Caribbean Sea, 150 miles southeast of Puerto Rico. It covers 37 square miles, with Dutch St. Maarten on the South spanning 16 square miles and French Saint Martin on the North covering 21 square miles.
As a part of the Netherlands Antilles and the Kingdom of the Netherlands, St.Maarten (population 41,000) boasts 77 different nationalities. Saint Martin (population 36,000) is a commune of Guadeloupe, an overseas territory of France. English is spoken everywhere, but Dutch is the official language of St.Maarten, and French the official language of Saint Martin.
Currently there is direct charter service to St. Maartens from Canada via Conquest Vacations (Toronto and Halifax). Scheduled American carriers with routing out of Canada include American Airlines, Delta, US Airways, Continental and Northwest.
Canadian citizens need only a valid passport and a return/continuing ticket to visit the island. No vaccination certificates are required. St. Maarten is the only completely duty-free port in the Caribbean.
For more information visit: www.st-maarten.com or call the St. Maarten Tourist Office in Toronto (416-622-4300).


By Stephen Weir
416-801-3101 cell
416-489-5868
s1weir@aol.com and/or sweir5492@rogers.com

St Maarten sailing story Sidebar



Sidebar: And try the Aussie challenge!
Cutline: size chart. 12-metre boat vs car

Can’t get enough of the 12-metre Challenge experience? The next time you are in Australia visit the Melbourne 12-metre Challenge experience.

The Aussie 12 Metre Challenge provides a day of America's Cup Style Racing on board the prestigious "Kookaburra" and "Kiwi” and caters for groups from 10 to 120 people.

The Kookaburra I (KA II) is a high profile 12 Metre Yacht, known for its participation in the 1987 America's Cup Defense in Perth. Kookaburra defeated the Bond Group's Australia IV to defend the Cup for Australia. She also appeared as the feature yacht in the movie "Wind".

The Kiwi (New Zealand - KZ3) also campaigned in the 1987 America's Cup. It was nicknamed the "Plastic Fantastic" for being the first fiberglass boat ever built. Kiwi was sold to the Japanese Syndicate and called "Nippon", before being brought back to Australia in 1998.

They are berthed at the RYCV in Williamstown – also the training camp of Australia II and Challenge 12 in 1982.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Feeding Sharks - posting of older National Post article at the request of a reader


Underwater encounters off St. Maartens
The sharks’ bad table manners leave bloody bits of
half-eaten mackerel in spectators’ hair

By Stephen Weir

Underwater, a mile off shore from the island of St. Maartens, surrounded by a pack of hungry 10 foot sharks I learned an important life lesson. Always look an incoming shark in the eye and stare ‘em down … and if that shark’s nictitating membrane suddenly drops over the eye you are glaring at, put your hands under your armpits and pray!
“Show fear?” said shark trainer Estanda Koblasa. “You can’t even think fear. They will know and they will be on you like a pack of dogs chasing a mailman.”
Three afternoons a week Estanda is the centre of attention at an underwater sushi party for sharks. While the Czech diver dishes out hunks of raw meat to the sleek gray fish a dozen paying customers sit on the ocean floor and watch this high voltage dinner.
“There are shark feeds in a couple of other Caribbean islands, ” said Estanda. “Here in St. Maarten’s we do it a little different. I have been training these sharks for the past year. I can actually lead an eight foot shark right in front of a diver before it will take a bite from the food.”
How close is close? When I got out of the water after a half-hour shark encounter, I found fish bits, which have fallen from the mouths of the passing sharks in my hair!
Estanda works for Dive Safaris, a dive firm headquartered in Philipsburg, the capitol of the Dutch side of this two country (French & Dutch) island. The local company is kept busy catering to the cruise market – a million tourists make land within site of their fleet of dive boats every year.
In fact most of the people who take part in the St. Maarten’s Shark Awareness Dive, are passengers from any of the 490 cruise ships that call on the tiny Caribbean island.
“We screen out the inexperienced and the nervous by making everyone who wants to take part in the afternoon Shark Awareness trip take a check-out dive with us in the morning,” explained Dive Safaris owner Whitney Keough. “We want them to do at least one regular dive with us to make sure they are competent – their air consumption needs to be good. “
Getting low on air in the middle of the shark feed may not be a very good thing. Imagine swimming up from 50 feet through a dozen circling and darting Grey Reef (Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos) and Caribbean Reef (Carcharhinus Perezi) sharks who are so intent on getting a piece of meat that they would sooner swim through you than go around.
Most days a dozen brave souls qualify to take part in the $100 cd half-hour dive. (Because most cruise ship goers don’t have equipment, the fee includes the rental of all underwater gear, the boat ride and all the raw fish the sharks can drop on you).
“ We advise people to overweight themselves,” said Ms. Keough. “We have placed cement blocks in the feeding area and we ask everyone to grab a block, hold on tight and watch. Having a few extra pounds of lead around your waist will keep you well planted.”
The dive site is a 10-minute run from the harbor out to a sandy shoal a mile offshore. Dive Safari’s boat 38ft Still Waters, has on open transom, you simply get into your dive equipment and waddle back to the stern and step off into the warm blue water.
The feeding zone is a short swim from the base of the mooring pin. In fact as you fall slowly down to the sand bottom 50 ft below, you can see the sharks begin to gather, near a semi-circle of cinder blocks.
Estanda brought a small box filled with pieces of frozen mackerel to this underwater theatre. He quickly transferred the fish into a larger weighted box that is permanently chained to the bottom.
The brief exposure of the “chumsickle” was enough to get the attention of the 14 sharks that could be seen off in the distance. Within seconds the sharks, ranging in size from 3 ft to 10 ft long, began to circle around Estanda and the box. Gil Antigua, the safety diver, positioned himself behind me; he had a small pole that could be used to ward off any shark that might get too frisky.
The glass faceplate on a dive mask magnifies by a factor of 40%. When I went on the solo shark dive with Estanda, the 8ft Grey Reef shark looked about 10 ft long. He said that looking through my mask my eyes were about the size of “soup bowls.”
Estanda opened the box and took out a piece of meat and skewered it with a spear. He looked at an incoming Grey Shark, then nodded at me to get my camera ready.
As the shark opened its mouth and lifted its nictitating membrane over its eye (sharks instinctively do this to protect their eyes when they are taking prey) Estanda began to lead the shark towards my camera lens. When it was 2 feet away, he made an audible click with a dolphin underwater training device and the shark bit down on the food.
Mouth dripping bits of half-chewed fish; the big shark passed right over my head. It didn’t touch, but I could feel the current created by the swimming motion of the shark.
After that the feeding was methodical, with each shark taking its turn. Estanda’s training appeared to work with only a few of the sharks; they would pause in mid-flight waiting for the audible command before snatching their meal from the stick.
All of the sharks were female. One or two nuzzled the feeder and let him scratch their heads and rub them above their gill slits.
Most times when you encounter a shark underwater the meeting is very brief, it happens so quick there usually isn’t time to take a picture of the much-feared predator. In Saint Maarten your face-time with the sharks is only limited by your consumption of the air in your scuba tank.
After the initial rush of having 8 feet of teeth swim under my left armpit, I was able to relax and study the sharks as they whizzed by. Most of them were identifiable. Some bore white scars on their flanks, souvenirs from the aggressive behaviors of males during mating. Others had parasites attached to their dorsal fins.
“I know them all and they know me. They are much smarter than you think. If you work with the sharks on a regular basis you get to easily recognize them.” Estanda said. “ We give them names . . . Big Mama, Scratch, and Notch are just a few of our regulars.
So docile were a couple of the small sharks, they let Estanda flip them over onto their backs. As was first noticed by dive pioneer Jacques Cousteau, when a shark is turned upside down it stops swimming and goes stiff-as-a-board rigid until it is righted again.
Despite his claims that the sharks would turn on him if he showed fear, Dive Safari’s safety record is impeccable. Not a single shark or diver has been injured on the Shark Awareness Dive. And, unlike shark experiences elsewhere, Estanda, and his guides shun the wearing of protective gear (underwater chainmail).
It takes about 20 minutes to conduct the feeding. Even after the food supply has been exhausted, the sharks continue to whizz over my head, across my chest and near underwater camera.
Waiting for the sharks to leave town, Estanda and I kept busy sifting through the sand around the food box. Sharks feed agressively, even when their meal is handed to them on a fork, we found several shark’s teeth which had come loose and fallen out of their jaws during dinner.
By the time we swam back to the boat the area appeared to be shark free. The beasts had moved on to look for the next meal.
“We do not want to harm them in any way,” said Whitney Keough. “In order to preserve their natural feeding instincts, we only feed them a small amount every other day.”
““We decided to feed our sharks for a couple of reasons,” she continued. “First off, we love watching them and diving with them. Secondly, we want to educate divers on how important sharks are to the future of the Eco-system. In addition, we want to dispel and relieve people’s irrational fear of sharks.”
Not everyone agrees that these sorts of programs benefit sharks or people for that matter. In fact, in the state of Florida, shark dives have been banned for the past year.
The state’s wildlife department has made it illegal to feed marine animals. Officials in Florida have not linked shark dives with a spate of shark attacks last year. However they do say that shark-feeding dives cause sharks to lose their natural fear of humans and may serve to attract and concentrate sharks in areas near popular beaches, increasing the possibility of attacks.
The Florida-based International Shark Attack File recorded a total of 60 unprovoked attacks in 2002, down from 72 in 2001 and 85 in 2000. Three of those were fatal -- two in Australia and one in Brazil, compared to five in 2001 and 13 in 2000. None of the fatalities included scuba divers or snorkellers.
“We are monitoring the Shark Awareness dives,” said St Maartens Tourism Director Regina LaBega. “We know that the species of sharks they are feeding (Grey and Caribbean reef) are not particularly dangerous, however we are aware of the Florida concerns.”

-0-

Info on the island

St. Maarten is the smallest Island in the world to be shared by two sovereign governments-namely the Dutch and French. The Dutch side, with Philipsburg as its capital occupies the southern 17 square miles of this 37-square-mile island; St. Martin, a French dependency, occupies the northern half.
On the Dutchside the official currency is the Antillean guilder, but the American dollar is extensively used. The Guilder, the Euro and the US dollar is honouredFrench side.
St Maarten is a safe and pleasant place to visit, The total population has grown from 13,156 in 1980 to nearly 40,000 in year 2003. It is estimated that the population of St. Maarten consists of 77 different nationalities. The native languages are English and Dutch.
There are close to a dozen dive operators on the island of St. Maarten. Dive Safaris is the only firm offering a shark dive. For more information:
Dive Safaris
6800 SW 40th Street #100-46
Miami, Florida 33155
Bobby's Marina In Philipsburg
Shop: 011-599-542-9001
Cell: 011-5995-573436
Fax: 011-5995-428983
La Palapa - Simpson Bay
Shop: 011-599-545-3213
Fax: 011-5995-453209
http://www.diveguide.com/divesafaris/f2115.htm

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Sidebar - Five things you shouldn't do when feeding sharks


cutline - food falling out of shark's mouth at St Maarten's underwater feeding. Photo by Stephen Weir

5 things to avoid doing during a shark dive and their consequences if you do

1. Don’t pet the sharks.
They may nip at your hand thinking you are another shark trying to steal their food. Because of the sharp nature of those teeth, even a small nip requires immediate medical attention. If still have to stroke a shark, wear gloves, their skin is sandpaper rough.
2. Don’t pick up discarded meat and hand feed the sharks yourself.
Sharks rip, they don’t chew. When the meat is grabbed the shark will immediately shake its head back and forth with enough force to dislocate you shoulder (if you don’t let go).
3. Don’t point! These sharks aren’t interested in you, but, if you offer finger food ….
If you aren’t holding a camera, and hanging on to a cement block the experts advise you to put your hands under your armpits.
4. Don’t use an external power source for your underwater flash.
Sharks are very sensitive to electronic noise. The sound of a flash recharging can attract the unwanted attention of a shark (from personal experience, while in Florida my cameraman’s underwater housing was constant being bitten by angry sharks). Best is to use an underwater digital video camera with the light constantly on.
5. Don’t leave the dive until the food has gone.
The shark dives are usually held on a sand bottom. Both the fish and the spectators get rather excited during the feed and as a result the water gets very murky, what with the dust and the fish bits. It is hard to see and you don’t want to block their way to the buffet table! Always make sure you can see who has come to dinner before you decide to leave the dining area.

Diving in St Maartens by Stephen Weir
Published in Diver Magazine and the National Post Newspaper

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Metro picks up Toronto Star story about College Park





cutine: artist's drawing of an Aura condo suite

College Park condo set to top Eaton’s vision
Stephen Weir, for Metro Canada
13 November 2008 01:31

(The subway newspaper Metro - owned in part by the Star - picked up my College Park story from the Star, edited and added a couple of sidebars that they found on this website.) The article had two pictures.

College Park is on the upswing of a roller-coaster ride of boom, bust and boom all over again.
A revitalized Eaton’s College Park building, with its iconic, five-star Carlu Hall, has reignited an economic fascination for one of downtown Toronto’s most prestigious and historic blocks, bounded by College, Gerrard, Bay and Yonge streets.
Canderel Stoneridge is poised to begin construction of Aura, a 75-storey condominium tower just south of College Park at the corner of Yonge and Gerrard. The residential skyscraper will cover the last street level parking lot along Yonge Street downtown. It will create a vertical community of close to 3,000 people on a block that was once supposed to be the retail epicentre of Canada.
The British Empire is now a dusty memory, but an 80-year-old architectural dream for a classier, bigger and higher College Park still lingers. Aura will be one of the tallest residential buildings in the Commonwealth of Nations and will almost fulfil a corporate dream made by the Eaton family business during the Depression.
When the sod for the limestone and granite College Park store was turned back in 1928, Eaton had grandiose plans to construct the tallest building in the Empire, says Toronto historian, author and broadcaster Mike Filey.
The lower levels would become the retail flagship of Eaton’s department store chain and the upper floors would become both corporate headquarters and rental office space. Before the stately skyscraper could become a reality, the plans were drastically slashed from 36 floors to just seven. The dream of international greatness for the College Park block was put on hold.
“I believe, among other things, the designers (the same firm that designed the Royal York and Maple Leaf Gardens) ran into water problems on site. And while they dealt with that (there was) the economic downturn caused by the Depression,” explained Filey.
The seven-storey limestone and granite Eaton emporium, complete with a looming street-level Roman style archway, wasn’t noteworthy by British Empire standards, but was a bold retail statement for the Dominion. In 1977, the Eaton College Street store was shut down with the coming of the Toronto Eaton Centre.
College Street was converted into a warren of street level, small high-end boutiques. Most of the upper levels were converted into apartment and courts.
Six years after the close of the College Street Eaton store, a decidedly not art deco-style building was cleaved onto the west side of the building — 777 Bay St., a 30-storey sterile glass and steel office tower best known for housing a Haida totem pole — Three Watchmen — carved by Haida artist Robert Davidson.
A row of 10 multi-storey townhouses now line the west side of the Barbara Ann Scott Park and ice rink that is right outside the back door of the old Eaton store.
Two new tall condos — The Residences of College Park — have been built on the west end of the block and are now linked by tunnel to the retail malls and subway station. The Liberties, a 20-storey L-shaped condominium complex at the southwest corner of Bay and Gerrard, completes the block.
In 2003 and 2004, the Carlu — named after its famed designer, French architect Jacques Carlu — was reborn. The banquet facility and auditorium now look exactly as they did in the glory years, except that they are updated with 21st-century technology.
The challenge for the Aura architects is to make sure their super-sized condo does not completely overshadow the Carlu — the very building that is attracting buyers to the block as it is in constant demand for five-star wedding receptions, private parties, fundraisers.
“The Aura will respect the lines of the Eaton building. The podium matches the height lines of the old building. It is an art deco treasure. We cannot mimic it, our design refines it,” said Berardo Graziani of Graziani + Corazza Architects.
Aura will be massive. Its builders will be pouring concrete for the next few years as it goes up 75 storeys (including a four-storey podium). There will be a large retail operation in the podium, above and below the street. An underground mall will link Aura with College Park and the subway.
Eventually, all the buildings on the College Block will be linked to the city’s underground “Path” network. There will be no surface level parking around the Aura. With entrances off Bay and Gerrard streets, a massive garage and loading dock will connect the condo with College Park, 777 Bay St. and the two other Canderel Stoneridge-built towers. The building plans have gone through many changes to answer the concerns of the community.
When will the big hole begin to get dug? The answer, like the multimillion-dollar suites that will populate the upper floors of the Aura, is up in the air. A construction start is dependent on the overall sales of the condo units (they range in price from $500,000 to $17.5 million).
“We are very close to that point,” said Dhanji. “We have sold approximately 75 per cent. Once another 5 to 10 per cent have moved we can begin.”

Big

• With close to 1,000 condo units, Aura will have the population of a town the size of Lakefield.

Standing tall

• The tallest residential building in the Empire and the world is the Eureka Tower. The 12-year-old building is a 300-metre, 91-storey skyscraper located in Melbourne, Australia.
• The 78-storey Q1 Apartment Tower, also in Australia, claims that it is the tallest residential building in the world when measured to the top of its spire, which reaches a height of 322.5m.
The Council of Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat note that there are several residential (condominium) towers being built that will eclipse the Eureka Tower when completed. They are:
• Burj Dubai, Dubai. 160-plus storeys. Office, condo and hotel building and 800m tall.
• Pentominium, Dubai. 120 storeys or 618m.
• Russia Tower Moscow 118 storeys. Office, hotel, and residential building, 612m.
• Chicago Spire, Chicago 150 storeys. Condominium building standing 609m tall.

Memories
Historian, author and broadcaster Mike Filey remembers the great Eaton College Park store:

• Building showed the status of the Eaton firm, to be able to build that big during the Depression.
• Building was designed by the same firm that designed Maple Leaf Gardens and the Royal York hotel.
• Building was to showcase what was then the northern end of downtown Toronto. However, expansion jumped over College Park to the Bloor-Yonge intersection.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

The rebirth of a Depression-era dream





An artist's rendering shows Eaton’s original plan in the 1920s for a tower at College and Yonge Sts. On a block once meant to be Toronto's retail epicentre, a 75-storey condo is poised to rise


November 08, 2008
Toronto Daily Star. Saturday Condo Section. 3-page Cover Story
Stephen Weir
Special to the Star


College Park is on the upswing of a roller-coaster ride of boom, bust and boom all over again.
A revitalized Eaton's College Park building, with its iconic, five-star Carlu Hall, has reignited an economic fascination for one of downtown Toronto's most prestigious and historic blocks, bounded by College, Gerrard, Bay and Yonge Sts.
Canderel Stoneridge is poised to begin construction of Aura, a 75-storey condominium tower just south of College Park at the corner of Yonge and Gerrard. The residential skyscraper will cover the last street level parking lot along Yonge St. downtown. It will create a vertical community of close to 3,000 people on a block that was once supposed to be the retail epicentre of Canada.
The British Empire is now a dusty memory, but an 80-year-old architectural dream for a classier, bigger and higher College Park still lingers. Aura will be one of the tallest residential buildings in the Commonwealth of Nations and will almost fulfill a corporate dream made by the Eaton family business during the Depression.
When the sod for the limestone and granite College Park store was turned back in 1928, Eaton had grandiose plans to construct the tallest building in the Empire, says Toronto historian, author and broadcaster Mike Filey.
The lower levels would become the retail flagship of Eaton's department store chain and the upper floors would become both corporate headquarters and rental office space. Before the stately skyscraper could become a reality, the plans were drastically slashed from 36 floors to just seven. The dream of international greatness for the College Park block was put on hold.
"I believe, among other things, the designers (the same firm that designed the Royal York and Maple Leaf Gardens) ran into water problems on site. And while they dealt with that and the economic downturn caused by the Depression, the city's downtown business leapfrogged from Queen right over College to Bloor," explained Filey.
"Bloor and Yonge became one of the important intersections. However, College Park was still a terrific building and store. Carriage trade, for sure."
The seven-storey limestone and granite Eaton emporium, complete with a looming street-level Roman style archway, wasn't noteworthy by British Empire standards, but was a bold retail statement for the Dominion. With its indoor art deco shopping concourse and an exquisite seventh floor Round Room restaurant and auditorium, the store catered to the rich and famous without forgetting the needs of the common folk.
It was the first real carriage trade super store for Hogtown's hoi polloi. Fine furniture ("the largest furniture and house furnishings store in the British Empire") was its stock-in-trade. There was also an art gallery that regularly exhibited Group of Seven painter Frank Johnston. Dinner in the banana yellow seventh floor Round Room – formal dinner wear, please – before attending a Leafs game down the street, was the real Hockey Night in Canada. Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra, the National Ballet of Canada and Glenn Gould all performed in the auditorium.
In 1977, two doors close, one big set of glass doors opens. The 56,000-square-metre Eaton College St. store and the Eaton store at Queen and Yonge Sts. were shut down with the coming of the Toronto Eaton Centre. College St. was converted into a warren of street level, small high-end boutiques. Most of the upper levels, excluding the now-empty auditorium, were converted into apartment units and provincial court facilities.
Six years after the close of the College St. Eaton store, a decidedly not art deco-style building was cleaved onto the west side of the building – 777 Bay St., a 30-storey sterile glass and steel office tower best known for housing a Haida totem pole – Three Watchmen – carved by Haida artist Robert Davidson.
Once the headquarters for Maclean's magazine and the Maclean-Hunter publishing company, the building's office floors are now leased by the province. About 65 per cent of the building houses government activities.
While all this business brought thousands of people daily through the building's subway station, that traffic did little to halt the building's slide into a land of fast food, coffee emporiums, magazine stands and dry cleaning dropoffs. Today, the biggest retail tenants at College Park and 777 Bay are Winners, Metro (formerly Dominion) and Dollarama.
There is also a bank of criminal and youth provincial courts, holding cells and probation offices installed in the upper floors of the old Eaton's store, making the decline of high-end shopping complete.
However, the winds of change are blowing hard. Very few empty spots can be found on the retail levels of the block buildings. A row of 10 multi-storey townhouses now line the west side of the Barbara Ann Scott Park and ice rink that is right outside the back door of the old Eaton store.
Two new tall condos – The Residences of College Park – have been built on the west end of the block and are now linked by tunnel to the retail malls and subway station. The Liberties, a 20-storey L-shaped condominium complex at the southwest corner of Bay and Gerrard, completes the block.
For a brief moment in time, the 51-storey Residences of College Park was the highest – based on floors – condominium in the city. That has been eclipsed by the 54-storey Minto North Tower on Yonge St., and over the next five years will be dwarfed by its own 75-storey Aura condominium, shown left.
"I think what really held the rebirth of College Park back," said Kyle Rae, the city councillor for the ward, "was the reluctance of the caretakers of the building to preserve and restore the iconic seventh floor. They wanted to gut it and turn it into offices (for the Toronto Dominion bank). We wouldn't let that happen."
As a result of city opposition, that floor sat empty for 25 years. They (Toronto College Street Centre Ltd., controlled by London Life Insurance) found themselves at odds with the city. Great West Life (GWL) bought London Life in 1997 and made a commitment to restore what was a badly damaged and neglected historic site. The city, in return, supported GWL's bid to build two huge condos on Bay St.
"Yes, we put a gun to their heads, but look at what has been achieved," said Rae. "The Carlu is the linchpin for the rebirth of College Park."
In the summer of 2001, Toronto entrepreneurs Jeffry Roick and Mark Robert leased the seventh floor and began what they called the highest profile heritage restoration in Canada. A year and a half, later the Carlu – named after its famed designer, French architect Jacques Carlu –was reborn. The banquet facility and auditorium now look exactly as they did in the glory years, except that they are updated with 21st century technology.
The Carlu is in constant demand for five-star wedding receptions, private parties, fundraisers and most recently, rocker Bryan Adams (he performed two unplugged concerts in September).
"This was not a Disneyland-style reconstruction, this was the real thing," explained Mark Robert. "Yes, we are pioneers, but there is a real opportunity here and our success has validated that. We show, every night, that people will spend the big dollars to be here. People are even willing to ride the subway in black tie.
"It is fabulous, the city is so gung-ho," continued the Carlu's managing partner. "This is now a 24/7 community where people live and work. There is a greater presence of police – their headquarters are across the street – making it very safe. And having a dedicated elevator service directly to our floor separates us (from the courts and its clientele)."
The challenge for the Aura architects is to make sure that their super-sized condo does not completely overshadow the Carlu – the very building that is attracting buyers to the block.
"The Aura will respect the lines of the Eaton building. The podium matches the height lines of the old building. It is an art deco treasure. We cannot mimic it, our design refines it," said Berardo Graziani of Graziani + Corazza Architects.
Aura will be massive. Its builders will be pouring concrete for the next few years as it goes up 75 storeys (including a four-storey podium). There will be a large retail operation in the podium, above and below the street. An underground mall will link Aura with College Park and the subway.
Eventually all of the buildings on the College Block will be linked to the city's underground "Path" network. There will be no surface level parking around the Aura. With entrances off Bay and Gerrard Sts. a massive garage and loading dock will connect the condo with College Park, 777 Bay St. and the two other Canderel Stoneridge-built towers. The building plans have gone through many changes to answer the concerns of the community.
With close to 1,000 condo units, Aura will have the population of a town the size of Lakefield. Unlike most of the other new condos being built below Bloor St., this building may well need childcare facilities. Aura has a number of family-sized 2 1/2- and three-bedroom suites."When we first looked at the College Park Block, we realized that nothing focused on this beautiful inner city park. There was no edge to it, only back doors," explained Graziani.
"When we designed Phase 1 and 2 (The Residences of College Park) we decided that there should be eyes on the park. The condos that were constructed look directly down into the park. As well, we put in a row of townhouses with front doors that open onto the grass."
"Aura will have a two-storey lobby – a high wall of curtain glass – that opens right onto the park," he continued. "there will be public space inside, the art that will be hung will look more like a gallery than a lobby. It will animate the edge of the park. To have this amount of space is invigorating. Canderel Stoneridge from the start has wanted to fix up this open space, especially in how people come into the park."
The Mississauga-based architect says that right now, most people are unaware of the park. That is because Yonge St. pedestrians must cut through a parking lot, or nip out the back door of the College Park buildings, to reach the well-groomed green space.
Back in the day, there used to be Hayter St., an east/west roadway between College and Gerrard Sts. Once Aura is built, Hayter will return, albeit as a mall, giving pedestrian access to the park, the stores and the skyscraper.
"People love to live in tall buildings, especially tall buildings overtop subways, that is the new way," said Riz Dhanji, Canderel Stoneridge's vice-president of sales and marketing. "At the Aura you can walk to the subway, to work, to school or use your bike (Aura will have 200 bike racks). With a direct link to College Park and its Dominion store, people won't have to go outside.
"We will have a landscaped rooftop (patio) on the fifth floor, and top-notch recreational facilities," he continued. "What people are looking for is convenience, and we will have a combined 180,000 square feet of retail space available for the right set of tenants." All of the stores, boutiques and restaurants will have floor-to-ceiling windows, facing onto Yonge St.
When will the big hole begin to get dug? The answer, like the multi-million-dollar suites that will populate the upper floors of the Aura, is up in the air. A construction start is dependent on the overall sales of the condo units (they range in price from $500,000 to $17.5 million).
"We are very close to that point," said Dhanji. "We have sold approximately 75 per cent. Once another 5 to 10 per cent have moved we can begin. We are (also) waiting on the necessary approvals from the city, TTC and other stakeholders in order to get started, which we anticipate will happen in the spring."
It will take years to construct the 245-metre Aura. Just as the Eaton company dreamed, when Aura is finished, the College Park block will be one of the tallest residential towers in the Commonwealth – but not for long. Already, there are two condo towers in Australia that break the tape measure, and more tall town-sized towers are planned for Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and England.

Monday, 10 November 2008

Tallest Condo Buildings in the British Empire - sidebar that didn't make it in my Toronto Star feature story



Cutline: Otis Elevator's artist rendition of the Burj Dubai (currently under construction in Dubai) - soon to be the world's tallest residential towers.

On Saturday November 8th, the Toronto Star ran a major feature I wrote about the downtown Toronto city block of College Park. The 3-page story appeared on the cover of the Condo section. There was no room to place the attached sidebar. The actual article appears above (scroll up)

Tallest Residential Building in the Empire

• The tallest residential building in the Empire and the world is the Eureka Tower. The 12-year old building is a 300-metre (984 ft) 91-storey skyscraper located in Melbourne, Australia.
• The 78-storey Q1 Apartment Tower, also in Australia, claims that it is the tallest residential building in the world when measured to the top of its spire, which reaches a height of 322.5m (1,058 ft).
• The Council of Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat note that there are several residential (condominium) towers being built that will eclipse the Eureka Tower when completed. They are:
o Burj Dubai, Dubai. 160+ storeys. Office, condo and hotel building 2600+ ft (800m) tall
o Pentominium, Dubai. 120 storeys. Residential 2028 ft (618m) tall
o Russia Tower Moscow 118 storeys. Office, hotel, and residential building, 2009 ft (612m)
o Chicago Spire, Chicago 150 stories. Condominium building 2000 ft ( 609 m)

#5 College Park Story - Sidebars that didn't make it into print



On Saturday November 8th, the Toronto Star ran a major feature I wrote about the downtown Toronto city block of College Park. The 3-page story appeared on the cover of the Condo section. The actual article appears above (scroll up)

Historian, author and broadcaster Mike Filey remembers the great Eaton College Park store

• It is part of the city’s history, it is part of our fabric
• My Dad worked there … in the men’s wear. That is where my mother met him
• Building showed the status of the Eaton firm, to be able to build that big during the Depression.
• “flagship of the Eaton Empire”, but soil conditions and the Depression caused the company to scale back the size of the building
• A Grey Coach bus would take shoppers from the Queen Street Eaton’s to College Park. They even had their own transit ticket.
• I used to get my car serviced at the BA Gas Station at Eaton College Park’s Automotive Centre off Hayter Street
• Building was designed by the same firm that designed Maple Leaf Gardens and the Royal York hotel
• Building was to showcase what was then the northern end of downtown Toronto. City core grew faster than Eaton anticipated and expansion leapfrogged over College Park to the Bloor and Yonge St intersection
• Carlton and College Streets originally did not meet head on. The city convinced Eaton to give up land so that one streetcar line could run from College to Carlton in front of the store.

#4 College Park Story - Sidebars that didn't make it into print

On Saturday November 8th, the Toronto Star ran a major feature I wrote about the downtown Toronto city block of College Park. The 3-page story appeared on the cover of the Condo section. There was no room for this and several other sidebars. The actual article appears above (scroll up)


Lawyers. Guns and Money

30 minutes in Court Room 2 – College Park, Ontario Provincial Criminal Court:
• A Boston Pizza waitress tells the court that she has found new friends, changed her lifestyle and will go back to school. She was stopped by RIDE on Eglinton Avenue during the summer. She is fined $600
• A translator is needed to help a man plead guilty to drunk driving after he too was caught by RIDE on Eglinton. He is fined $1,000 and prohibited from driving for a year.
• A 19 –year old is lead into court handcuffed. He is sentenced to a few days in jail for missing court dates and for stealing a lap top computer. The judge is told that the man – a professional DJ - went to an apartment to apologize to another man for an earlier incident. When that person left the room he took a computer.
• A young mother is lead into court in handcuffs. She has missed probation meetings and court hearings. She tells the court that she is waiting to get into a rehab programme for crack addicts and wants out of jail to celebrate her daughter’s third birthday. The judge does not want to release the woman but does so after discussions with the Crown Attorney. The woman is shown to the Parole office.
• A man wearing a black AC/DC T-shirt pleads guilty to a charge of shoplifting from a Canadian Tire store. He pleads not-guilty to a charge of possession of a controlled substance (he says the pills are Tylenol) and his held over for trial.

#3 College Park Story - Sidebars that didn't make it into print





On Saturday November 8th, the Toronto Star ran a major feature I wrote about the downtown Toronto city block of College Park. The 3-page story appeared on the cover of the Condo section. There was no room to place the attached sidebar. The actual article appears above (scroll up)

Cutline: artist's drawing of an Aura condo living room

Three new levels of government will be created when the Aura is built!

Condo unit owners of almost 1,000 suites and the owners of the Podium retail floors must belong to self-governing condominium associations:

• Three condo associations based on floor location will be created
• One condo association for the retail floors up to the 4th floor
• Second condo association for floors 5 to 55
• Third condo association for floors 56 and up.

#2 College Park Story - Sidebars that didn't make it into print



On Saturday November 8th, the Toronto Star ran a major feature I wrote about the downtown Toronto city block of College Park. The 3-page story appeared on the cover of the Condo section. There was no room to place the attached sidebar.The actual article appears above (scroll up)

777 Bay Street Dollarrama. University of Ryerson students ‘08 version of an Eaton’s department store.

What you can buy there for a dollar:
• Individual plates, cups, glasses and cutlery
• 3 movies on 1 DVD including Peter Lorre in Mr. Moto’s Last Warning
• Pregnancy test kit
• Deluxe can of Vienna Sausages
• Bendable pen in the shape of a dolphin
• 100 sheets of paper
• Squeezy container of bright yellow paint
• CD album case covered in poodle pictures
• Energy star light bulb
• Box of Uncle Ben’s rice

#1 College Park Story - Sidebars that didn't make it into print

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On Saturday November 8th, the Toronto Star ran a major feature I wrote about the downtown Toronto city block of College Park. The 3-page story appeared on the cover of the Condo section. There was no room to place the attached sidebar. The actual article appears above (scroll up)

7 Things To Do At the College Park Block

• Renew your driver’s license in the giant ServiceOntario Centre -- basement of 777 Bay
• Witness people loose their driver’s licenses in provincial criminal court. Justice system at work on the 2nd Floor College Park
• Photograph the Three Watchmen Totem Poles carved by Haida artist Robert Davidson in 1984 to mark the city’s Sesquicentennial year. The work is made up a 50 foot and two 30 foot totem poles – center mall 777 Bay Street
• Do something nice – dig deep and take in a charity event at Carlu
• Get off the subway buy dinner in the College Park Dominion Store (soon to be Metro store) and get onto the College streetcar before your transfer times out
• Dangle you toes in Barbara Ann Scott Park pond
• Buy a tube steak from Mrs. Dalloway’s hot dog stand at the corner of Yonge and Gerrard. Meet Ryerson students and thrifty out-of-town Delta Hotel guests
• Get invited to College Park Apartment tenant appreciation roof garden party
• Buy a coffee at Residence of College Park’s Starbucks (on Bay Street) and listen for stock tips, police stories and political gossip
• Try a West Coast pizza at Ponago. The BC Company has 160 outlets across Canada but only one in downtown Toronto -- the Liberties on Gerrard.

Saturday, 8 November 2008

#6 - Sidebar that didn't make it into print in Toronto Star Story about College Park

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Rent a Piece of the Block

In addition to the condos already built on College Park, there are over 400 apartments available for rent in the old Eaton building. Great Western Life’s College Park Suites has bachelor, 1 bedroom and 2 bedroom units for rent.

• Two bedroom apartment rent starts at $2,250 a month
• Parking for residents is $85 per month.
• 24-hour surveillance and monitoring
• When residents take the subway late at night, they can have a security guard meet them at the station and escort them to their suite.

Last Missing Sidebar from Toronto Star's article on College Block

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Who Lives Where

777 Bay Street

• Retail, service and office building, built in 1983
• 30 floors. 898,060 sq. ft.

College Park

• Built between 1928 and 1930
• 7 floors of offices, Provincial Courts, retail stores, rental apartments
• linked to College Park subway station
• 1979 – reconstruction completed, 210 rental apartments added Approximately 400 residents

Residences of College Park

• Two buildings -- 51 and 46 storeys high
• 10-parkside townhouses.
• Approximately 2,600 residents

The Liberties

• The complex has two 20-storey towers and one 19-storey tower.
• Two towers are on Bay (711 and 717) and the third is on Gerrard.
• Approximately 1,000 residents.

Similar Sized Communities

There are an estimated 4,000 people living in the College Park Block. When the Aura skyscrapper is completed the Block population will be an estimated 7,000 people. According to StatsCan, Ontario towns with similar population include:
• Alymer 7,126
• Crystal Beach 6,686
• Essex 7,002
• Kincardine 6,410
• Lively 6,702
• New Hamburg 7,003
• Porcupine 7,196
• Port Elgin 6,766
• Port Perry 7,244
• Wasaga Beach 7,164

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Books Across The Ocean


Noreen Taylor and the Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction help
promote Canadian books in the United Kingdom


The Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction
is giving the nation's book industry assistance in marketing Canadian
literature to the people of the United Kingdom. At the International Festival
Of Authors (IFOA), held in Toronto over the past two weeks, Noreen Taylor, the
founder of the Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction, donated nearly
140 non-fiction books to the Department of Foreign Affairs and International
Trade (DFAIT), to be used by the Canada High Commission in London, England.
The books, all non-fiction titles, were entered for the 2008 Charles
Taylor Prize. On stage at IFOA Ms Taylor presented a signed copy of the
winning book, Richard Gwyn's "John A.: The Man Who Made Us: The Life and Times
of John A. MacDonald, Volume One: 1815-1867 to John Bonar of DFAIT. Pictured
left to right are: Authors Lewis Desoto and Richard Gwyn (seated), Noreen
Taylor, and John Bonar. Photograph by David Tollington.

The Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction is presented annually
by the Charles Taylor Foundation with the support of its partners: AVFX, Ben
McNally Books, Book TV, Bravo, Canada Newswire, CBC Radio One, The Globe and
Mail, Le Meridien King Edward Hotel, Quill & Quire publications, and
Windfields Farm.

The trustees of the Charles Taylor Foundation are Michael Bradley
(Toronto), Judith Mappin (Montreal), David Staines (Ottawa), and Noreen Taylor
(Toronto.

Photograph and story placed on cross-Canada newswire through CNW Group.