[URBAN NOTE] “Humble Christmas trees light up anonymous corners of the city|”
The Toronto Star shares Shawn Micallef’s timely article about humble overlooked Christmas trees. This does matter, perhaps particularly tonight, when my Instagram feed is still fresh with photos of the great showy trees of the Eaton Centre and City Hall. Less showy things also matter.
The hardest-working Christmas tree in Toronto is in Cumberland Terrace at Yonge and Bloor Sts. It stands resolute in a back hallway of this near-forgotten 1970s mall, tucked in behind the shiny Bloor shops, a place slated for demolition and redevelopment.
Each year somebody pulls out the stubby artificial tree from storage and sets it up with care on the disco-era brown tiles, decorating it with white and gold ornaments. As holiday trees go it’s understated, without a star or angel, just an electric cord running out of the top. There’s a certain nobility to it among surroundings that are no longer in style (though for those of us who hold a candle for these sorts of accidentally retro places, the tree is an added bonus).
I like to think it’s a memorial tree for the Potter’s Field that used to be here, Yorkville’s non-sectarian cemetery for the poor. Though closed in 1855, after which the 6,685 bodies were moved to the Toronto Necropolis and Mount Pleasant Cemetery, this was their first resting spot and these unnamed, dispossessed early Torontonians deserve a nice tree of their own.
All over the city trees like this, sometimes humble, sometimes spectacularly grand, decorate the most everyday, ordinary, unremarkable and usually ignored places. All are gestures of joy and light, secular or sacred, depending on who’s doing the viewing. Building lobbies, corridors and concourses get the treatment too; the Scrooges won’t notice but the holiday decorations are the one time of year when often anonymous architectural spaces get a lot of attention.
The building lobbies of office towers have the most elaborate decoration schemes, the handiwork of interior design teams who do this kind of thing for a living. More interesting perhaps are the ones that are obviously done by non-professionals, those found in apartment building lobbies and businesses without big decor budgets. The ornaments may not have the sentimental value found on domestic trees, but these still have a quirky human touch the big corporate decorations don’t.