Two Railways & One Great Big Storybook

28 January — It turned out to be a faces & façades sort of walk, the images of artwork and architecture, the stories they tell.

I see this glowing  doorway art early on, in an alley north of Queen St. East between Munro & Hamilton. She’s striking, is she not?

alley n of Queen, e from Munro

I don’t know it, but later images in my walk will loop back to this one. I will meet that gaze again — that level, considered, slightly troubling gaze. It will be on a different face, in a different style, scale and context, but still that same gaze.

And I will meet some other door treatments with as much impact as this one. Again, very different in style!

This one, for example, back on Queen East at Sumach, well into the Riverdale neighbourhood with its strong Victorian legacy.

Dominion Hotel, 1889, Queen E & Sumach

The Dominion Hotel it was, 1889, with all the confidence of the era carved right into the building’s architecture. (I particularly like the face and other detailing to the right of the doorway arch.)

Now I’m at Queen & Grant,  enjoying the juxtaposition of faded old advertising on the brickwork against today’s chalkboard lure of hot cider, great coffee, lunches & dinners, here or take-out.

N/W, Queen E & Grant St.

Right opposite, the side entrance of a 1905 branch of the Canadian Bank of Commerce. No bright, cheery chumminess for banks then, no sir; all was quiet, serene, and from-a-very-great-height.

side doorway, Cdn Bank of Commerce, Queen E & Grant

Today it is a retail shop, but still quiet and serene. Possibly also from-a-very-great-height!

I’m snagged at the corner of Saulter St. by this back-alley view of some row housing. It is in no way extraordinary architecture, or a dramatic scene, but I like it. It is very downtown old-Toronto, and very winter, with its watery sunlight and grimy, eroded snow.

S/E from Queen E & Saulter

Only later, at home, do I see its resemblance to a watercolour I own by Canadian artist John Kasyn (1926-2008). I look up other images of his work  online (see CLICK!!) and realize this was very much his home territory, and a favourite theme.

Speaking of Canadiana, time for a railway station. An ex-railway station. A now-demolished railway station, its imprint — and its successor  technology — still marking the land.

In 1896, the Queen East Station was built at Queen East (where else) & De Grassi  streets, to serve passengers on the new Grand Trunk Railway service. As the commemorative plaque rightly notes — and shows, in the photos below — it had the turret, bay window and overhanging roof that all typified our smaller railway stations of the era.

Riverdale Railway Stn, from historical plaque, Queen E & De Grassi

History rolled on, clickety-clack. It was renamed Riverdale Station in 1907; moved in 1927 when embankments and underpasses lifted train tracks above street level; closed in 1932; and demolished in 1974.

But tracks, embankments and railway underpasses still snake through the city. Most feature varying combinations of underpass art — some of it official! Here at Queen East & De Grassi, for example.

railway underpass at Queen E & De Grassi

The underpass is pretty battered, and so are the murals. But they still glow, the tenderness of their imagery still touches the heart.

panel in the Queen E / De Grassi railway underpass

My favourite, and it’s hard to pick one favourite, is the fox.

panel in Queen E / De Grassi railway underpass

I walk as far east as Pape Avenue before the sloppy weather makes me huff rather crossly into my collar, and decide to turn back west. So it’s north to Gerrard, and left turn.

Pretty soon I catch up with that same railway line, this time at its Gerrard East underpass just west of Logan. More mural work, equally battered, still engaging, different mood and theme.

railway underpass, Gerrard E & Logan

EVOLVE, say the stencilled letters that punctuate the images. I’m not so sure the chosen sequence shows much evolution (in terms of any moral progress), but who asked me, and anyway, does it matter? Nah. This is not about morality.

RR underpass, Gerrard E & Logan

Evolution of transport seems to be the idea, though chronology may be off. Are handcars earlier than the Penny Farthing?

panel, RR underpass Gerrard E & Logan

Or earlier than the race horse (his nose poking in from the right)? But yes, one must agree, the Penny Farthing does predate the modern bicycle, its rear wheel there on the left…

Final images, child on his peddle car and man on his Segue. (Hah! remember the Seque?)

panels, RR underpass Gerrard E & Logan

Speaking of evolution and chronology, I must now confess that I’m about to fiddle with both.

These upcoming, final images burst upon me between those two underpasses, not afterwards. But they’re near-as-dammit, also on Gerrard and just east of Logan. Are you okay with that?

Storybook time! Giant Storybook Project time. It looks like this.

Herakut 2012 mural, Gerrard E nr Logan

I’ve noticed it a few times before, it would be hard not to, and I cannot quite account for my relative lack of interest until now. Perhaps I thought it was just some swanky-condo commission? Not “street” enough?

So this time I stand there, and stare at it, and admire the skill, and notice the artist credit painted into that upper-right corner: Herakut 2012.

Turns out they, yes they, are a German street art duo, Jasmin Siddiqui (Hera) and Falk Lehman (Akut). This panel is page 5 in their Giant Storybook Project about the adventures of Lily, Jay and two giants. Each page is in a different city around the world.

And here, in one detail on this huge wall, is where I meet that level gaze again. Quite different from the door art version over by Munro St. And so very similar.

detail, Herakut mural Gerrard E nr Logan


Leave a comment


  1. It’s funny…I spent Saturday at the AGO and it’s like you spend each walk at the Art Gallery of the Street……Thanks for sharing

  2. I never realized there was this much street art in Toronto. The ducks and fox murals on the underpass are special. Thanks again for the tour.

    • I agree, the ducks & fox and other panels of wildlife are really sweet, and beautifully executed, even though showing a lot of wear & tear by now. I’m glad you enjoy it. thanks

  3. Mike

     /  25 February 2014

    Herakut is amazing!!!


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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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