A pox on your ivy!

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Ivy clinging to walls looks all scholarly and academic, but it can be destructive when its roots worm their way into fissures in the stone.

So I was shocked and concerned when I saw that many of the sculptures on Ryerson University’s Kerr Hall were completely obscured by ivy when I led a Heritage Toronto walking tour there on Sunday, based on Faces on Places, my book about Toronto’s architectural sculpture.

The ivy was much, much thicker than is seen in this picture, shot in 2005. The sculpture pictured here is of a javelin thrower by Elizabeth Wyn Wood. She was one of four leading Canadian sculptors of the mid-20th century (the others were Dora de Pédery-Hunt, Jacobine Jones and Thomas Bowie) who were chosen to decorate Kerr Hall when it was built in the early 1960s with sculptures representing the aims of an institute of higher learning in the heart of a city.

Ryerson president Sheldon Levy has made no secret of the fact that he’d like to see Kerr Hall torn down. He’s been saying that since before the university’s “master plan” was released, envisioning greater integration of the campus into downtown Toronto.

That was four years ago, and Kerr Hall is still standing. Is it Ryerson’s apparent ambivalence about Kerr Hall that has resulted in this inaction? For the sake of the sculptures, which surely will be saved if Kerr Hall is demolished, the ivy should be removed and any necessary repairs or cleaning undertaken. Several people on the tour, unprompted by me, voiced that opinion, which I hope they will communicate to the university.

Speaking of opinions, researchers in Oxford, England, are investigating whether ivy is actually damaging, or whether it plays a “bioprotective role … on the surface of historical buildings and structures as an agent of thermal and moisture regulation.”

Hmmmmm… With all the gargoyles and whatnot in Oxford, you’d think they would know. But over on this side of the pond, Yale University – an actual Ivy League school – has been waging a war on the vines for some time.

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