The Importance of the Bloor Street Viaduct as a Setting in Michael Ondaatje’s In the Skin of a Lion

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The Bloor Street Viaduct is a landmark bridge linking the eastern part of Toronto with the downtown core. Completed in 1919, the controversial bridge spans 490 meters across and 40 meters in the air above the Don River valley. (Carr 165-166)Designed by Edmund Burke and pushed through by public works commissioner Rowland Harris, the bridge plays a central role in the history of Toronto and in the Michael Ondaatje’s novel In the Skin of a Lion. The description of constructing the bridge in the second chapter of book one introduces the reader to several important characters and themes that carry throughout the narrative but whose importance and connection are not fully realized until much later in the novel. Ondaatje seeks to focus the …show more content…
Rowland Harris was the public works commissioner in Toronto for 33 years and saw “Toronto modernized through such projects as the Bloor Street Viaduct and the Water Filtration Plant…Those works and their building form the skeleton of In the Skin of a Lion.” (Duffy 119) The Bloor Viaduct became a symbol of power and control for Commissioner Harris. The title for Ondaatje’s book was taken from the Epic of Gilgamesh. “Gilgamesh was the first city builder and creator of urban civilization that was unlike the culture of the surrounding nomadic peoples…In the epic, he seeks immortality but cannot evade death.” (Toronto Star 3) Seeking immortality through reputation Commissioner Harris takes on this role and orders the Bloor Street Viaduct be built. The Viaduct “was [Harris’s] first child as head of Public Works, much of it planned before he took over and bullied it through.”(Ondaatje 29) He preferred to visit the bridge at night. Darkness, a common theme in Ondaatje’s novel, allowed Harris to view the

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