By Donal Murphy
Beacher Donal Murphy has taken his lifelong love of the Beach and its distinctive cottage architecture and produced The Vanishing Beach, 1896 – 2014, A sketch book of early Toronto homes and cottages, his visual and written tribute to the neighourhood.
Murphy grew up in one of those cottages on Victoria Park – the first built on that road, purchased in parts from the Eaton’s catalogue – and his attachment to traditional Beach residences shines throughout the coffee table art book.
In 2007, realizing that many of those original houses were either being torn down or renovated beyond recognition, he began a project to capture examples with a camera and then on paper with pen, pencil, and watercolours.
“I really decided to do this because it’s all going,” he said of the portraits of local houses. “A lot of them have disappeared since then.”
While most of the homes here were modelled after those immigrants from the British Isles had left behind, many of them don’t exist in the UK, said Murphy.
“Those houses don’t exist in England anymore, but there are still some here,” he said.
Murphy’s artistic talent and penchant for quickly capturing the essence of a house were likely nurtured by a life spent in (and in charge of) creative departments at a number of well-known ad agencies. He’s taught classes at OCADU, written books, and spent nearly two decades as a volunteer board member at Beach Metro News.
Murphy’s family ties in the area run back as far as his great-grandparents, who moved to the area to escape the negative effects of the ‘big city’ on his great-grandmother’s health in the 1890s.
“The doctor said she had bad asthma, and she had to move to the country,” said Murphy. In those days the Beach was in the country, considered the edge of civilization.
His great-grandparents operated Victoria Park for a time, an amusement park at the foot of the street of the same name. The donkey rides were particularly popular, he said. The property they rented to house the park is now the site of the R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant.
“I often wish they had bought that property, because I’d be a billionaire now,” he said with a laugh.
Despite the ‘sketch book’ in the title, the more than 30 pieces in The Vanishing Beach are not just throwaway scribbles, but almost impressionist-style works that cover a range of old Beach homes in all four seasons. Murphy has had a number of people ask for individual pieces for framing, and is happy to accommodate such requests.
Signed copies of The Vanishing Beach are available at The Great Escape Bookstore at 957 Kingston Rd.