Don Loucks: Elevating modest places and stories of hope

For Don Loucks, a walk through Toronto neighbourhoods like Leslieville, Corktown or Bathurst and Bloor is an experience steeped in architectural and social history, and poignant stories of hope and perseverance.

An architect, urban designer, and cultural heritage planner with forty years of project experience, Don has become fascinated with Toronto’s workers’ cottages, and the stories of their early occupants – immigrants who arrived with nothing, many of them escaping slavery, religious persecution, famines, and poverty. Modest Hopes, his recent book with collaborator Leslie Valpy brings a loving lens to those modest houses and their residents, following the trajectory of eight families from the 1820s to the 1920s: where they came from, how these simple homes helped shape their destiny and how they, in turn, shaped the city growing up around them.

Don’s evocative line drawings shine a spotlight on homes often characterized in today’s terms as small, cramped, poorly built, and in need of modernization or even demolition. Thousands have already been lost. When asked why we should preserve these homes, Don shares an analogy he often uses with his students in the heritage conservation class he teaches at Ryerson’s Chang School of Continuing Education:  “This heritage is like pages in the book of the story of Toronto, and when you tear them down you are ripping pages out of the book. It becomes unreadable and we lose it.”

Throughout his career, with a focus on sustainable design, accessibility, and heritage, Don has done his part to keep pages in Toronto’s story intact, with key roles in projects to renew sites like the John Street Roundhouse, the Gooderham & Worts Historical District, and Union Station train shed. Active on the boards of Heritage Toronto and the Canadian Association of Heritage Professionals, Don brings a focus on the intangibles to his work with heritage places. “Heritage resources do many things. They represent amazing levels of hope and perseverance. Heritage can mean values, and references to the past, and connection.”

Check out The Champlain Society’s podcast, Witness to Yesterday: Good Homes for Toronto Workers for an interview with Don Loucks and Leslie Valpy about Modest Hopes.