“We remember them”

 

10 November 2018 – I am in a hurry, pressed for time, just striding down the Cambie Street hill: “Out of my way! I have things to do!”

And I stop flat at City Hall, not for the architecture I love so much, but for this:

Almost Remembrance Day, and isn’t this cascade of poppies a touching & wonderful sight? How could I power on by, oblivious?

I step into the installation, begin to read its signs.

I keep reading. There is history.

I nod, like these children, to the Tower of London project — but, above all, I nod to Lieut.-Col. John McCrae, the Canadian surgeon, poet, author and artist who enlisted at the outset of the War, in August 1914, despite being 41 years of age. He served as Medical Officer with the 1st Brigade of the Canadian Field Artillery.

In April-May 1915, he tended the wounded at the Second Battle of Ypres, the first battle in which poison gas was used. During that prolonged battle, he wrote the poem that has made poppies a world symbol for remembrance.

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow…

All of it is powerful, but I am most touched by this very human stanza part-way through:

We are the dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders Fields.

The poem has been recorded by Leonard Cohen, another author/poet/global Canadian.

Here at one precise intersection in one city in one province in one country in a whole world of remembrance, I read the words of the children who created this installation, this year.

Stepping gingerly around poppies, careful not to step on a single one, I keep reading.

They should feel good, about their own craftsmanship, along with everything else.

And so history lives within us, and through us, generation to generation, and we interpret present meaning from past events.

John McCrae survived the Second Battle of Ypres, but not the war. His asthmatic lungs further weakened by the poison gas, he died of pneumonia in 1918, in Boulongne-sur-Mer, France.

He lies in the nearby Wimereux Communal Cemetery, one of 2,847 Commonwealth soldiers to share that final resting place. If you’re ever in Guelph, Ontario, visit his childhood home, now museum.

 

A Tug to the West

28 October 2018 – So there we were, admiring the Radium Yellowknife, a Vancouver-registered tug working the Toronto harbourfront …

And here we are, admiring the Ella McKenzie, the 1951 wooden tug who once worked the B.C. coast and now bobs at anchor in False Creek, enjoying her retirement in the outdoor section of the Vancouver Maritime Museum.

She may be retired, and she may bear a notice telling us not to step aboard, but this Great Blue Heron doesn’t care.

He has not retired, and he is aboard, and he ignores our admiring presence on the walkway.

The Ella McKenzie is now his fishing platform.

We work our way past the various exhibits — all a bonus, since this dock also serves the False Creek ferries, and we landed here en route the Museum of Vancouver, also located in Vanier Park.

Another stimulating, intriguing visit to the MOV — I am such a fan — and eventually we’re back on the dock. It’s time to pick up a ferry to downtown and launch our planned evening out in Chinatown.

The heron is still at his hunting station on the Ella McKenzie.

And he is picking off those teeny-tiny fishies one after another, so he is.

See that glitter at the tip of his beak? Gulp! and it’s gone.

Pretty soon a ferry arrives, and we too are gone.

Bye-bye Mr. Heron: we’re off to hunt our own dinner, down on E. Pender Street.

 

Lake. Klezmer. Ghost Lake. And a Bunny-Rabbit

24 October 2018 – Not calendar-Tuesday, but honorary-Tuesday. So says the founding Tuesday Walking Society, reunited and out in full twosome force.

We jump on the southbound Spadina LRT and bail at Queen’s Quay,  just where the train does its dog-leg to the left and starts its run eastward along Lake Ontario.

Once, decades ago, Toronto parks encouraged visitor use by pegging little “Please walk on the grass” signs into the turf. Now, in all the lakefront parks and many others, the welcome is even brighter and more functional.

We walk right past those Muskoka chairs, though. We pay only the briefest attention to the Spadina Quay Wetlands — once mini-carpark, now home to a whole ecosystem of frogs, fish, birds and butterflies — and to the Toronto Music Garden, its layout co-created by cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

We skirt a bike path intersection …

and follow the waterfront west & then south to just below the old Canada Malting silos. Our goal is the tiny, deeply moving park tucked between silos and lake.

Ireland Park.

These emaciated figures are the work of Irish sculptor Rowan Gillespie; this park is the new-world companion to the famine memorial in Dublin, for which he also sculpted the figures. Together, they commemorate the Great Famine of 1845-51. I never knew the impact of this famine on Toronto until I read the stats: in the summer of 1847 alone, more than 38,500 desperate migrants landed here. At the time, the city had a population of 20,000.

We stand behind one of the five figures (two less than in Dublin, to represent deaths en-route), and follow her gaze. The scene is not as migrants saw it, obviously, this is just our attempt to imagine their relief at being still alive, and on land.

Now we head east, to walk all these enchained lakefront parks toward the heart of the city. A first goal is to decipher the name on the red tugboat — it doesn’t look like a tourist vessel, yet despite all that bright red, doesn’t seem to be on government service either.

Tug-side, we learn she is the Radium Yellowknife. What a pan-Canadian world she represents! Named for the capital city of the Northwest Territories, registered in Vancouver, tied up right here in Toronto.

And working here, too, we learn, thanks to the guy who steps aboard to unlock a door and retrieve his bicycle. Once, in some vague past, she was in the NWT; now she helps shunt barges & whatnot from hither to yon, as needed in Toronto Harbour.

On past the yellow umbrellas of  HTO Park, enjoying the punning name as always. I wonder who first saw the possibilities in Toronto’s nickname and the symbol for water?

On and more on, enjoying water and waves and strollers and dogs and still-brave plant life and the whole happy mix. Past the first quay-side Wave Deck, then the second, then a pause to salute the third and loopiest of them all: the Simcoe Wave Deck.

For Phyllis & me, all this is a reunion with sights we already knew and wanted to see again — park after park, garden after garden. Then, boom, right in front of Queen’s Quay Terminal, a tiny park we knew nothing about: the Toronto Book Garden.

The zig-zag path is studded with the names of authors, and dates.

Ondaatje, plus Dionne Brand, Anne Michaels, Timothy Findley, Margaret Atwood, Morley Callaghan, Robertson Davies … you get the idea. Each has won the Toronto Book Award in a given year. The author needn’t live here, and the book may be of any genre, but it must contain some clear Toronto content.

Still heading east and now, we agree, we’re into a boring bit, with concrete towers to both sides. As always, construction. As almost-always, a CAUTION sign. Suitably red. And, as-sometimes, one of the jokes people like to play when the City hasn’t specified what to be cautious about.

Ho-ho, we agree, and soon after that, we part ways — Phyllis off to vote in the municipal elections, me to wander a few more parks before joining another friend mid-afternoon.

Next up, the refurbished Berczy Park at Front & Wellington, just behind the city’s flat-iron building. I knew about its two-tier dog fountain — multitudes of life-sized dog sculptures, each squirting water (from the mouth, I hasten to add) back into the ever-receptive fountain. The dogs all look upward, to the bone topping the fountain. There is one cat statue slyly tucked into the mix, but he is looking sideways, eyeing a bird.

There is now another sculpture in the park, a pair of giant arms & hands thrusting skyward from the earth.

There are no “do not climb” signs, so I relax & enjoy the kids’ enjoyment.

Up to King & Church now, into the Toronto Sculpture Garden just opposite St. James Cathedral. The current installation is a cheerful steel structure called Pigro, the work of Tony Romono, its loops further be-looped with lights.

“It’s even better at night when the lights are on,” says a voice behind me, a man at peace on a bench. Signage tells me it’s meant to evoke Italian festival lights, which are strung along streets and illuminate church façades as they go. How perfect here, against the Cathedral spire.

I’m now making tracks for my friend on Church Street, deep in territory where I first worked decades ago. All is familiar.

Except for this, on Church just south of Front.

Shoreline Commemorative, by Paul Roff, reminds us that Front Street — now well inland — once deserved its name. Infill, not natural processes, have moved the shoreline farther south, and it’s good to remember where lake once touched land.

I salute the ghost lake, and go meet my friend.

And now for that bunny-rabbit

Time-jump. It’s now calendar Tuesday, the Tuesday Walking Society is again on the prowl, and I have decided to put away my camera. Let nothing stand between me and this walk through Moore Park Ravine! Let me be fully present; eyes, ears, boots, nature and dear friend are more than enough.

But out comes that camera,  just once.

Hello, Poser-bunny.

And on we go into Evergreen Brickworks, for lunch and latte and elbows-on-table conversation.

 

X-Power

22 October 2018 – I’m not sure how to pronounce it, but I for-sure like the results when womxn street artists are invited to paint up a storm in a particular city alley.

I’m here thanks to a tip-off from Chloe, another onetime AGO colleague who has turned into a continuing good friend. She’d have cause to know about this 2018 project: apart from anything else, it’s virtually across the street from the Art Gallery of Ontario — in the alley on the north side of Dundas, between McCaul & D’Arcy streets.

So right after Anthropocene, I cross the street and left-turn into the alley from McCaul. First up, a big black blank canvas — probably not part of the project, but something Chloe told me to check, since it is regularly repainted with another quote. Current version is:

One other person is prowling the alley, camera in hand. I mean, a real camera, with attachments and everything. Backpack Guy and I dance around each other very agreeably all the way down the block.

And there’s lots to see.

Down at the end of that long shot, you’ll see the multi-coloured suggestion of this (I think) leopard, who leaps right at me once I reach that particular garage door.

He’s in high contrast with an image more often associated with women …

I particularly like the jaunty angle of the needle.

There are eyes, twice over …

and dancing cranes …

and dancing water-babies. A splashy great mix of diving styles, complete with a couple of exuberant cannonballs.

As I head back to Dundas West, one final message.

Life philosophy all wrapped up in a tongue-twister. I twist my tongue around it a time or two, as I wait for my streetcar.

Sur/real

20 October 2018 – What do you do when the real keeps crashing into the surreal? If you are Edward Burtynsky, you document it.

This Canadian photographer & artist has been doing so for a while, mostly recently with his enormous multi-media project, Anthropocene — in collaboration with Nicholas de Pencier & Jennifer Baichwal — now on view at the Art Gallery of Ontario.

I have loved Burtynsky’s large-scale, high-resolution photographs of human impact on the earth (“built landscapes”) since I first saw a show of his works at the AGO during its 2008 expansion — and as a result decided to become a Gallery volunteer.

Here he is again.

The show is epic. And it deals with an epic new stage in human history. As Burtynsky points out on his webpage devoted to this project:

The Holocene epoch started 11,700 years ago as the glaciers of the last ice age receded. Geologists and other scientists from the Anthropocene Working Group believe that we have left the Holocene and entered a new epoch: the Anthropocene. Their argument is that humans have become the single most defining force on the planet and that the evidence for this is overwhelming.

When your skills and technology allow you to view our impact at something approaching its true scale, real does indeed merge with surreal.

I walk about, disoriented once again by the way large-scale destruction can often look so beautiful.

Is this a Georgia O’Keefe flower painting?

No. It is Phosphor Tailings # 5 near Lakeland, Florida.

Is this a Renaissance tapestry?

No. It is waste at the Morenci copper mine, Clifton Arizona.

Are these snail shells?

Again, no. This is Uralkali Potash Mine #4, Berezniki, Russia.

Other confusions are also possible, and more charming.

My one-time AGO colleague and continuing good friend Cyndie joins me. She leads me to this video of coal trains coming & going.

A visitor told Cyndie about standing here with her young son, someone who had heard his parents discussing jazz giant John Coltrane. “Look!” cried the child. “Coal train!”

The technology on display, and the skills of those using that technology, are staggering. Huge scale, huge depth of field, and razor-sharp focus. Here’s another sweeping view of the land and a phosphor trailings pond near Lakeland, Florida …

 

and, look, here is a croc, sunning himself at pond-edge.

Sometimes, the team is able to document “good anthropocene.”

Take this short video sequence shot by Baichwal and de Pencier in Cathedral Grove, Vancouver Island.

Before …

and — boom! — after.

All good.

So-called “danger trees” — ones that through age and other frailties pose danger to workers and visitors — are routinely exploded. Their debris settles back to the forest floor, hastening the return of their nutrients to the soil.

More good anthropocene — a thriving coral reef lying more than 18 metres underwater in Komodo National Park, a World Heritage Site in Indonesia.

As we walk out, I tug Cyndie over to the huge work hanging by the exhibition entrance, one I have always loved in the AGO’s permanent collection.

With that coral reef still dancing in my mind, I suddenly know why this glorious work by Québécois master Jean-Paul Riopelle …

is such an appropriate visual introduction to the show.

 

 

 

A Secret Handshake on Pape (with cheese)

18 October 2018 – I’m walking north on Pape and stop at the corner of Wroxeter for a fond smile at The Schmooz, where I enjoyed many a fine coffee during my Toronto stay last winter.

Click!

(There’s only one of me. Something about that reflecting glass doubles me up.)

But that’s not the best. The best is the café’s sidewalk sign, both sides of it.

A “secret handshake!” I chortle.

And now we digress.

The term is the invention of Douglas Coupland, who first burned his way into the global mind by inventing another term back in 1991 and writing a novel about it: Generation X.

By 2014 he had long since added other media to his initial reputation as a novelist. That year, he had an exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery in his sort-of home town, called everywhere is anywhere is anything is everything. (Though not born in Vancouver nor always resident there, he is very much claimed by the city.)

One of its sections was The Secret Handshake.

Said the VAG:

Through a wide range of media Coupland has persistently investigated Canadian cultural identity, both benign and menacing.  Using imagery and objects latent with symbolic meaning for Canadians, he delineates what it means to be Canadian, offering a “secret handshake” not easily understood by others.

In April 2015, The Secret Handshake was one section of a Douglas Coupland exhibition in Toronto, and I blogged about it. With no pretence at originality, I called that post The Secret Handshake.

End of digression.

We’re back on Pape, with The Schmooz’ addition to the canon of secret handshakes.

North side of sign:

South side of sign:

If you’re not Canadian, but you get the references, then welcome! You are an honorary Canadian, and entitled to say “double-double” with the rest of us.

 

HOME and Democracy

15 October 2018 – I tilt backward, slide my eyes up those skyscrapers, know I won’t see any for the next few days.

I’m heading out of town, north to join friends who live by Lake Simcoe, in a community just outside Barrie.

They pick me up at the GO (= Government of Ontario) bus station, explain we have one important stop to make on the way home.

This is the first voting day in the municipal elections being held throughout the province. First voting day? Times have changed. It used to be, one official voting day plus several advance-poll days. Now, with the switch to electronic voting, people may vote across a range of days — or from home.

My friends will do it the (relatively) old-fashioned way: we’ll stop at the Innisfil town services building, where they will make their electronic mark in person.

The building is festive. Voting has become a family-friendly event. There’s a (I swear to you) Batmobile parked nearby, to amuse the kiddies, and balloons galore.

Balloons plus a list of relevant stats and fun factoids …

balloons plus pumpkins plus local band (plus Batman watching) along one side of the building …

and a Batman-meets-shy-fan moment when said hero finally walks away from the band.

We go in. Assorted smiling helpers on all sides, both town staff and volunteers, and welcoming signage right inside the door.

My friends head off to find voting kiosks. I spy all these rosettes clustered on a far wall …

and go investigate.

Turns out to be the results of a local ideaLAB & Library project, which invited people to paint a pair of donated shoes to symbolize what “HOME” means to them. Participants also stated what they were portraying, and their comments were neatly printed up and put on display as well.

I start checking out the many meanings of HOME.

Dogs!

Forest & lake — though with a nearby sign talking about a “very fat cat,” which I found confusing …

until I looked to the right instead of the left.

Certainly a very black cat and, I am happy to assume, the beloved Chubby-chubbs in question.

Someone loves his solo life …

someone else loves Toronto …

and someone else creates delicately intricate waves.

Someone reminds us that all Canada is HOME.

And what could be more appropriate than that, as, all around, citizens are gathering to care for their home with this fundamental act of good stewardship?

Much later that day, in failing light, I sit on a rock on the beach, and think about voting, think about HOME, think about that final shoe.

Yes. Lucky us. All Canada is home.

Meanwhile, back in Digbeth …

Click right here: This is what happens when a whole chunk of Birmingham decides to woo street artists.

Thanks, Rick!

T-Time

11 October 2018 – T-Time, not as in fine china & scones.

T-Time, as in YYZ; as in 43.6532°N  79.3832° W.

T-Time, as in … Toronto.

Here I am.

With luck, there will be wonderful autumn colour. With certainty, there are wonderful friends, and that is quite enough already.

A first walk-about, with assorted friends, and there’s the city, amusing me as I go.

In front of a construction site at Bathurst & Bloor, for example …

with my tummy already warm with a Green Beanery latte, so this is a bonus.

Later, down in the financial district, I look up at this play of black-on-white.

The black is one edge of one building in the cluster of buildings that make up the Toronto-Dominion Centre, designed by Mies van der Rohe in the 1960s.

I’m not there for those knife edges, however, not even for how they play out in geometric shadows on the ground, at precisely 2:13 p.m. on a sunny October afternoon.

I’m there for what I know lies through that arch, over by those luminous trees. Something I have loved (and visited) in every season of the year. Something I want to visit again.

The PastureJoe Fafard‘s wonderful pasture of seven life-size bronze cows, at peace and at home in the courtyard of the TD Centre.

Later yet again, Phyllis (yes! co-founder of the Tuesday Walking Society!) and I are taking a pedestrian overpass across the Yonge Street subway line, between Eglinton & Davisville.

I’ve had cows, now I get racoons. A distinctly less classy setting than a Mies van der Rohe architectural design, but perhaps better suited to the animal in question. Or, at least, showing him in one of his typical urban habitats.

Down an alley.

There’s the guy in the garbage pail, claiming the pizza box …

and the guy navigating a ladder …

and it’s all so Toronto I am giggling my silly head off.

Please, raise your glass to T-Time.

 

Oblivious. And Observant

5 October 2018 – These people are oblivious …

to the whole busy other world going right here next to them, all around Norman’s Fruit & Salad market .

They’re put to shame by these Plum Birds, who are so observant they’re practically falling off their wire.

See? It’s a world of activity, all stretched out, right beneath those bright beady eyes …

layer on layer.

All quite fanciful, too, with a certain ornithological flair.

That’s a cardinal on her head, I like to think, and on his finger, oh, let’s call it a cockatoo. (The rare crestless variant.)

Perhaps distracted by the wine, they are oblivious to the scrutiny from above.

Up there, an observant trio, who watch what’s happening below …

despite their own distractions of book, apples and, I’m willing to guess, a daffodil. (Clearly they are not the least bit distracted by untied shoe laces.)

Beside them, a second trio, the sleeping cat nicely counterbalanced by two watchful crows.

Beside them, yet another trio. A trio of trios! This time it’s a sad clown, a perhaps-concerned crow and, underneath, an I-have-my-own-problems sad civilian.

I confess. This is not where I began. Not what first switched me from oblivious to observant.

I was hiking right along at that street corner, when the young Joe Stalin caught my attention.

There he was, back from the dead to glower over a box of cabbages.

It took me a long while to notice the — what? Benedictine monk? — reading his breviary in the background.

What I noticed next was the bad-tempered cat, there at young Joe’s feet, giving that Plum Bird on the pole a hard time.

Or, perhaps, Joe & the cat are just ticked at whoever scrawled all over them.

Street artists should respect existing street art, right?

 

Good-bye September

30 September 2018 – Simply bucketing down as I write this.

All the more reason to share these photos. (With thanks to Frances, who took them & sent them to me.)

But perhaps you prefer words to images?

Oh yes. If there’s one word Vancouverites should know in 19 languages, it is surely “umbrella.”

  • WALKING… & SEEING

    "Traveller, there is no path. Paths are made by walking" -- Antonio Machado (1875-1939)

    "The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes" -- Marcel Proust (1871-1922)

    "A city is a language, a repository of possibilities, and walking is the act of speaking that language, of selecting from those possibilities" -- Rebecca Solnit, "Wanderlust: A History of Walking"

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