In 1874, two Toronto inventors demonstrated a working electric incandescent light bulb — five years before Thomas Edison produced one that was commercially viable.
Henry Woodward and Mathew Evans couldn’t convince the public of its brilliance and weren’t able to secure funding to continue their research so they sold their patent to the famous American inventor for $5,000.
Today — 143 years after their contribution to light as we know it — the same fundraising problem is frustrating a dream to put up a plaque to commemorate the pair’s scientific efforts in Toronto.
Bruce Gates wants to put a plaque on the spot where the inventors’ experiments took place, but can’t come up with the $6,500 necessary to make it happen.
So far, he said, “it’s a dead end.”
After reading about the two almost-famous inventors, Gates got the idea to celebrate them while in Paris for a holiday. He thought, “hey, Toronto is a City of Light, too, since we had a role to play in developing the light bulb.”
The honour he dreams of could be made possible through Heritage Toronto, which offers four types of plaques to remember key people, places and events in the city’s history:
- Century house: Torontonians who own houses built 100 or more years ago can apply for a custom-made historical marker commemorating their property’s longevity.
- Heritage property: Recognizes properties listed or designated under the City of Toronto’s heritage register. There are 150 of them across the city.
- Commemorative: Tells stories of important people and events in Toronto’s history where they happen. The 300 plaques across Toronto are each made of enamel or bronze and about 61 by 38 centimetres (24x15 inches) big.
- Toronto legacy: Historical plaques similar to the famous “Blue Plaques” of London, England. The 40 that are up in Toronto recognize the city’s greats by indicating where they lived or worked.
The city agency relies on plaque applicants to lead fundraising efforts, said Camille Begin, the plaques and markers coordinator with Heritage Toronto.
“We do hope this plaque project will be realized soon,” she said.
The small Heritage Toronto staff finishes 45 or 50 plaque projects and 100 house plaques a year on average, contributing to what Begin sees as the “diversity of heritage in this city.”
Gates reached out to Enbridge, General Electric, Hydro One and Philips in his efforts to raise funds for a commemorative plaque.
“I never heard back from a single one,” Gates said.
The Ontario Power Authority and the Financial District BIA were also contacted, with no luck.
Another requirement for potential applicants is securing permission from the property where they want to put up a plaque.
Gates is hoping it could be installed where the two Toronto inventors toiled on their breakthrough bulb on what was once 87 Adelaide St. W.
That building doesn’t exist anymore with the First Canadian Place complex closest to that address, between York and Sheppard Sts.
Begin hasn’t given up hope, noting that another project that had been on hold for several years — which commemorated the first airplane flight over Toronto in 1910 — recently found the funds it needed to make a plaque happen.
“We rely on the community because this entire project is community based and every project is a collaboration,” she said. “We tell our stories with the residents.”
Gates doesn’t want to give up, either.
“Every time I turn on a light bulb I like to think that Toronto’s DNA is in it.”
Our editors found this article on this site using Google and regenerated it for our readers.