Signs, Portents & the Occasional Purple Bear

16 January 2014 — Last time around, I put “signs and portents” in Gaia’s mouth; this time I want them for myself. Both seemed much in evidence during our Tuesday outing to Roncesvalles and Queen West — fortunately of a happier kind than last week’s examples of volatile weather. Today, they are all about street art.

Shall we start with a purple bear?

graffiti Roncesvalles & Howard Park

There he is, looming over Roncesvalles Av. at Howard Park, and what fun. (He’s also fuzzier than he should be. Sorry.)

Roncesvalles is always good for creative people, great signs and — when you’re lucky — quite glorious juxtapositions. Like all these flowers, at the corner of Roncy & Neepawa.

flowers! Roncy & Neepawa

The truck’s flowers will probably last longer than the ones displayed at the corner store…

Phyllis and I — the Tuesday Walking Society in full complement — turn east on Grenadier Road. No particular reason, we just decide we’d like to zigzag a bit as we head south to Queen St. West. Grenadier is residential, so we don’t expect any interesting signage until we again head south on the next main street over, Sorauren.

Which just shows how wrong you can be.

King George VI identifies a home...

How nice of King George (“His Majesty’s Highway”) to identify the street number of a Toronto home.

We’re still chuckling when we are stopped, just a few doors farther down the street, by a gentleman who has just parked his van. He asks, “May I help you?”

Turns out he lives at no 23, and he is now very politely wondering what I was doing halfway up his front walk. I explain. He laughs. Yes, it’s an old provincial highway sign; yes, he found it in a collectibles shop outside the city somewhere; and no, he doesn’t know where this particular highway is (or perhaps was) to be found.

Another sign, this time on the edge of an alley just off Queen West near Dufferin St. It’s as arresting as Highway 23 and equally unofficial, but touching rather than whimsical. Later, online, I read the obit: Paul Quinn died, “too young,” of cystic fibrosis.

side alley, Queen W nr Dufferin

Another sign, still on Queen West but farther east, between Trinity Bellwoods Park and Bathurst. At first I nod at it vaguely, a trendy shop’s trendy sidewalk promo, whatever-whatever… Then I read it. Then I do a double-take. Then I spot the “most handsome guy” they’re talking about.

754 Queen St. West

Yup. He’s the one all wrapped up in Golden Lab golden fur, snoozing peacefully in the shop window. This Toronto outlet of the English gentlemen’s shop will sell you the finest suits, shirts and accessories. (Or you could just wrap yourself in golden fur.)

From signs to portents. Here I go cheerfully out on a limb, ‘way out, because this is just my own theory. It is also my own definition of portent, I must add. Dictionaries say the word means a sign or warning of a calamitous event; I choose to use it in a neutral sense, simply to mean sign-of-the-times.

(And who am I to go around redefining words? William Zinsser, author of the 1976 style classic, On Writing Well, defended his judgments with the observation: “It’s my book.” Well, it’s my blog…)

Right. Back to portents. Signs of what’s trending. Either more and more shops are commissioning work by street artists, or I’m just noticing more and more of it. I’m certainly asking more store owners about it, and here’s an example from early in our walk, at Queen West & Sorauren.

Troy Lovegates mural, 1590 Queen W

Stunning! In I go. Kirk, owner of West End Comics, explains that the deal came to him. A local organization phoned to ask if he’d agree to have his side wall painted, and though the initial plan fell through, another eventually worked out. “Troy Lovegates — that’s his street name — was looking for a wall, he’s a local artist, I was happy to say yes.”

Now I’m on the lookout for more examples. The style of the art, of course, varies with the shop or organization offering the wall. Take Sanko Japanese Foods & Gift Shop, Queen West & Clarendon…

730 Queen St. West

Then there’s the side wall of a tattoo parlour at Queen West just east of Bathurst …

522 Queen St West

… and the EMS facility at Queen West & Noble.

EMS parking, Queen West & Noble

Finally, my total, hands-down favourite of the day.

It takes us back to the animal world, even though it’s draped all over an artisan ice cream shop, the Boreal Gelato Café at Queen West near Dufferin. First the doorway bear …

Boreal Gelato mural, Jeff Blackburn, 1312 Queen W

… then the owl, peering down wisely from between two windows…

Blackburn's owl, Boreal Gelato

… and finally the pop-eyed lemur, clutching a convenient cable against the far wall.

Blackburn's lemur, Boreal Gelato

I must confess I first took that lemur for a raccoon. Well? Which seems more likely, in Toronto?

And just when I thought the signs, happy portents and furry animals were done and dusted for the day… one more purple bear.

Jeff Blackburn's Pink Grizzly, Queen W & St. Patrick

We began with one, we end with one — and this guy (Pink Grizzly traffic signal box), like those animals wrapped around the Boreal Gelato Café (Monsters and Ice Cream), is the work of Toronto artist Jeff Blackburn.


Leave a comment


  1. Great shots -makes you appreciate how colourful the city really is even in the depth of winter. Love the truck in front of the flower shop juxtaposition.

  2. This is very inspiring…..get out and walk in the winter!

    • Thanks Paula. I’m about to go out again now (Saturday, sunny after the morning gloom & snow), but will probably skip next Tuesday if the high is -14C as predicted. Brrrr.

      • What I meant is that you inspire people to get out and walk….although this has been a tough winter for walking – cold, ice, wind….

  3. Rosa de los Vientos

     /  23 January 2014

    Can I hire that purple bear, I need one.

  4. LL=large like, here’s my bear: 🙂
    * * *
    take care, stay healthy, have a sunny Thursday and friendly hugs, Mélanie

  5. Mike

     /  25 February 2014

    Love it Penny! I really like Jeff’s work 😉 The huge red one above the animals says Parkdale and I believe it was done by Kwest. Please keep the great stories and shots coming!!!


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    "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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