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George Brown College: An Exciting Step Forward with a Reverential Nod to the Past

Jun 28, 2016

The George sits adjacent to the new Cooper Koo Family YMCA and former CN Police Building at the corner of Cherry Street and Front Street.

The George sits adjacent to the new Cooper Koo Family YMCA and former CN Police Building at the corner of Cherry Street and Front Street (Image from Urban Toronto)

By: Meghan Hogan

When the school year commences this fall, more than 500 students will move into their new home-away-from-home at George Brown College’s first student residence, located at the corner of Front Street and Cherry Streets in the West Don Lands. To celebrate this exciting milestone, George Brown College asked students, staff and faculty to help give the new space an iconic name and identity. 

After receiving more than 300 creative and thoughtful suggestions, and with the participation of 1,800 staff and students, The George was selected and recently announced as the official name for the residence.

The brand new facility also contains a spacious conference centre that will be made available for the use of college staff, students and the larger Toronto community. This fall, the space will officially be known as The Lucie and Thornton Blackburn Conference Centre, in recognition of two important leaders in the anti-slavery struggle in Toronto and who were long time community contributors. 

During the 1830’s Lucie and Thornton Blackburn escaped slavery in Kentucky and fled to Canada via the Underground Railroad. They made their home in Toronto on the current site of Inglenook Community High School – located just up the road from The George near the corner of Eastern Avenue and Sackville Street. Once established in Toronto, the Blackburns helped others to make their way to freedom and safety through the Underground Railroad. Thornton Blackburn was also well-known for establishing Toronto’s first horse-drawn taxi cab business – known as The City – which helped jump-start the future of cab companies in Toronto.

Fun Fact: Thornton Blackburn worked on an anti-slavery initiative with the Globe newspaper founder and Father of Confederation, George Brown himself. 

Located at the north western edge of the West Don Lands neighbourhood, Site Specific by Scott Eunson sits adjacent to the site of the Blackburns’ home.

Located at the northwestern edge of the West Don Lands neighbourhood, Site Specific, by Scott Eunson and Marianne Lovink, sits adjacent to the site of the Blackburns’ home. 

The Blackburns' important contribution to our city's history has been recognized in more ways than one in the West Don Lands. The public art installation Site Specific, located at the corner of Sumach and Eastern Avenue, portrays the deep history of human existence in the immediate area, with a focus on the era of Lucie and Thornton. When you study the various details of the piece, you will notice that the only human figure is that of Thornton driving his carriage and the most personal human items within the installation (a silver spoon, lace doily) all represent artifacts from the Blackburns’ residence. 

The profound history of this area had a significant impact on the planning of this award-winning neighbourhood right from the start.  As one of Toronto’s oldest areas, dozens of heritage buildings and sites were identified early on and inspired the look and feel of the new community. By preserving and incorporating these historic elements into the design, it gives the neighbourhood an organic, developed-over-time feel that appeals to locals and visitors alike, much as the Distillery District has successfully done. 

The West Don Lands is steeped in charm that’s ready for you to explore.


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post contributor

  • Meghan Hogan

    Meghan Hogan was previously a communications and public engagement manager at Waterfront Toronto.