East York Mirror
From the brick makers who built the building blocks of the city to the matriarch of the family who found success in the Don Valley to the geologists who uncovered the ancient past of the site, Memory in the Mud unearths and guides people through the history of Evergreen Brick Works in all its incarnations.
The 45-minute drama and historical tour, which moves throughout the Brick Works, is written and directed by Kathleen Payne, the artistic director of Words in Motion, a tenant in the newly redeveloped Evergreen Brick Works site.
Payne said she quickly became captivated by the history of the site.
“Almost immediately I would walk through the kilns and the walls spoke to me,” she said.
She was put in touch with the historians working on the site’s history who provided her with the facts and figures, which she combined with her own research to create the stories.
The show’s audience is guided by Memory, played by Katy Grabstas, who takes them from character to character to hear the stories of those connected with the Brick Works.
“This is a building with a soul, this is a building with a voice, this is a building with a memory,” she said.
The first stop is a Toronto Daily Star reporter (played by Michal Grzejszczak) who uncovered stories about the homeless men who would sleep at the factory - with permission of the manager - during the 1930s. The men would make their beds atop the piles of cooling bricks to stay warm on cold nights.
The story then moves ahead to the 1950s when brick maker Edvins Groskaufmanis, or Big Ed, takes a break from his work to share some insight on brick making.
Workers would labour 15 or 16 hours a day making up to 16,000 bricks each in the kilns - red bricks, glazed bricks, yellow bricks. Everyday at noon there would be an explosion behind the plant in the quarry to break up the shale and while the dust settled, the men would eat their lunch.
Played by James Woods, Big Ed was an actual brick worker who pioneered advances in brick making technology and traveled the world sharing his expertise.
Before stumbling upon the next memory, Memory briefly points out the graffiti along the kiln walls, which speaks to another chapter in the site’s history when artists and party-goers brought life to the abandoned plant.
Next up is Mrs. Taylor, a fictitious version of the matriarch of the Taylor family who owned Todmorden Mills and later started the Don Valley Brick Works after they stumbled upon the good quality clay while digging fence posts.
The Taylors were successful in their new endeavour - especially after the Great Fire of 1904 destroyed many buildings downtown and prompted the city to enact new building standards. Their bricks were used in Old City Hall, Massey Hall, Osgoode Hall and Casa Loma. There was even a special brick created to build a mansion called Ardwold for the Eaton family.
“We Taylors are long gone, but a brick can last, a brick can last 1,000 years,” said Elizabeth Johnston as Mrs. Taylor.
The audience is next introduced to Heinz (Grzejszczak), who represents the German prisoners of war held at Todmorden Mills and put to work making bricks during the Second World War.
Finally the piece makes its way outside where Professor Arthur Philemon Coleman (Woods), a University of Toronto geology professor, shares his findings of the ancient history of the site including the remains of tropical trees and a giant beaver the size of a black bear (which can be viewed at the Royal Ontario Museum).
Payne learned a lot while working on the piece.
“The German prisoners of war, I didn’t know that they were sent to Canada,” she said.
Memory never encounters a raver or graffiti artist because that history was harder to weave into the story and Payne wanted to keep the show family friendly.
The show was first workshopped in the fall and is back for a summer run Wednesdays and Sundays from 2 to 3 p.m. until Sept. 16, and Sept. 29 and 30 at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. In the event of rain, presentations occur in covered areas only. Tickets can be purchased online at http://ebw.evergreen.ca and are $20 for adults and $10 for children.