Coming Together at Yonge and Dundas: Liberation, Subcultures, and Media.

Media objects act as markers and makers of subcultures and identities. These media objects can include print publications such as newspaper, clothing and music items, such as vinyl records. Though subcultures rise and fall, and identities may change, these objects of their existence remain in circulation. Ryerson is located in the heart of downtown – the Yonge and Dundas intersection. On the exterior, media objects are bought and sold, yet inside the campus they are created. Ryerson has been home to subcultures and communities and a place for the creation and circulation of their objects – a fact made apparent when examining the history of the campus.

Sharon Zukin’s article “Gentrification, Cuisine, and the Critical Infrastucture: Power and Centrality Downtown” suggests that “the more these groups deviated from an accepted social norm, the closer they were to the cultural and geographical center of the city”. What kind of alternative or deviant groups can be found and linked with the history of Ryerson and the Yonge-Dundas area?  How are these public groups formed?

Michael Warner’s article “Publics and Counter-publics” suggests :

“A public is a space of discourse organized by nothing other than discourse itself. . . . it exists only as the end for which books are published, shows broadcast, Web sites posted, speeches delivered, opinions produced. It exists by virtue of being addressed.” (Warner, 50)

As well, Warner Suggests that there are publics that come into being, solely because of the circulation and influence of “texts”. A text is something that can be seen or read, and not just in a typical sense. All cultural products can be “read” in different ways. In an area like Yonge and Dundas, heavily saturated with these “texts”, and located in the heart of the city, many of them speak to publics that are “outside the social norm.” Mass marketing and dominant ideologies seem to fill the Yonge and Dundas area today, when digging through the history of people and objects that have passed through the Ryerson Campus, one can see where meaningful interactions (whether creation or circulation) with media can be found.

This video from 1986 shows a Yonge and Dundas area that few students at Ryerson may remember. It is diverse, eclectic, and kitschy – the exciting seediness that was erased with the transformation of Yonge and Dundas into what we know it as today. When we spectate upon historical “texts” like this, we can imagine the publics that roamed among them. If we look further back into history, we can discover more about counter-publics and their “texts”, and that is exactly what we as students discovered when digging through archives trying to discover more about the history of social liberation and counter-culture movements in the history of Ryerson.

At the Ryerson Archives and the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives, we learned about the sites of conflict for the LGBT movement starting in the 1970’s in and around the Ryerson Community. The Body Politic was Canada’s leading Gay publication, circulating from 1971-1987 and facing many challenges and victories on behalf of the Gay community. Its pages (and creators) have passed through the Ryerson campus both materially and symbolically, as the issues of LGBT rights and liberation remain important on the Ryerson Campus today.

We discovered the role of music as an escape and means of expression for youth seeking liberation from the restrictions of everyday life. Ryerson’s “coffee house”, The Pornographic Onion, was a place for expression and creativity during the folk music movement. It brought together artists, poets and musicians who sought to create a public that was all their own. As well, used records shops like The Vinyl Museum, carried this tangible history onward for further generations, allowing an alternative experience than provided by most music retailers in the area.

Related posts: Taverns on Yonge Street and Nostalgic for Sam’s

While opportunities in the public sphere for women may have been limited in the 1950’s, Ryerson’s fashion department and its affiliation with the Eaton Center provided creative and profitable avenues for women seeking to step out and find their way in the world. Women were able to enter the sphere of business and design, allowing them opportunities not previously available to them, and a means of creative expression.

When we look at the landscape of Yonge and Dundas, we are bombarded with dominant ideology that seems to fly past us on the busy Yonge street strip. What did Yonge street’s culture industry look like in years before? When entering an archive, touching tangible pieces of paper, we can image the rich visual texts that were the landscapes of the Yonge and Dundas (and Ryerson) area in previous times. Without the preservation of these items, these “publics” may be forgotten or overlooked. As well, popular items, such as the above video, and also personal testimonial and “memories” act to preserve cultural histories.  These fragile documents allow us a glimpse into faces of Ryerson University that are often forgotten. When landscapes (both architecturally, and culturally) how does one remember preceding conditions, and their importance?


About Ryerson On Yonge

A course in the Faculty of Arts, we have been studying the history of the neighbourhood around Yonge and Dundas, and Ryerson campus, in order to consider the social context and cultural importance of the new Student Learning Centre, which will occupy 341 through 355 Yonge Street. This blog is not an official Ryerson publication, and is a student-composed analysis of campus and its neighbourhood.
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3 Responses to Coming Together at Yonge and Dundas: Liberation, Subcultures, and Media.

  1. Pingback: The Body Politic and Ryerson | Ryerson On Yonge

  2. Pingback: Making Ryerson Yonge | Ryerson On Yonge

  3. Pingback: Making Ryerson Yonge | Ryerson On Yonge

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