Art & the Annex

9 February 2014 – And a bit of architecture, too. All in all, an A-list post.

Now that I have you deep in the land of shameless, obvious word-play… how about this?

Chew Chew's wall mural, Gerrard nr Sherbourne

I’ve never entered the door, let alone chew-chewed anything on the menu, but I do love that mural.

Especially this time around. The brilliant sky is the perfect match for the blue at the far end of the train tunnel, enough to make you blink and wonder — just for a moment — whether the building itself is pierced right through.

And as if that trompe-l’oeil weren’t enough, you get a real live pigeon as bonus. (Posing on the peak of the roof.)

On I go. I’m meeting Phyllis near Yonge and Wellesley, since finally the weather is cooperating and the Tuesday Walking Society is back in stride. Our plan: a big loop up through the grounds of University of Toronto and on into the Annex neighbourhood behind. Plus… whatever.

We enter U of T grounds, Phyllis reminiscing about her grad student days on campus, and head for Hart House. Maybe their art gallery will be open? A hit of art before we even enter: this fine statue by Sorel Etrog, the Romanian-born artist and sculptor whose works are a familiar part of the Toronto cityscape.

Sorel Etrog sculpture, Hart House, U of T

This sculpture, it turns out, is more than an object of beauty. It is also the classiest, sturdiest bird house on the planet.

bird's nest in Etrog sculpture, Hart House

Love it.

One small disappointment in Hart House: no, the art gallery is not yet open for the day. One big reward for our chance visit: a series of art works along a main corridor, all celebrating  renowned Canadian female politicians. Agnes MacPhail is surely the stodgiest looking, but far from stodgy in her achievements. She led the way: Canada’s first female Member of Parliament, later a member of the provincial parliament, and founder of the Elizabeth Fry Society of Canada.

How did she manage to do all this? She had the right spirit. Check the quote…

Agnes MacPhail, in Hart House corridor

See what I mean?

Phyllis and I are still grinning as we leave the building, and cut across the green space (snow space…) to revisit Convocation Hall and a few other venerable campus buildings. We swerve as we go, for a closer look at…

on campus, U of T

Not exactly cleared for hockey, not even large enough for hockey — but hey, you have to love the attitude. And the commentary on that Viagara sign. Somebody wrote next to it, “Love to puck”;  somebody else, with a day-glo marker, wrote a different consonant over the P.

Finally we’re out of U of T, heading north-ish, west-ish into the Annex. I don’t know why it’s called the Annex. It just is, and it’s home — as you’d expect — to large numbers of students and professors, its buildings speaking of established affluence, though some are in better repair than others, and not everyone here is well-off or campus-linked.

That said, it’s a much-loved neighbourhood. Witness this bit of sidewalk art, carefully etched into permanent place while the concrete was still wet.

etched into an Annex sidewalk

Phyllis and I cock our heads at one building on Spadina, near Sussex — first because it’s so skinny and different from its neighbours, but then because…  Well, just look at it. Throw in a bit of anthropomorphism.

'surprised house' on Spadina nr Sussex

Shock and amazement. As if all the other buildings had just jumped out from behind the furniture and yelled “Surprise!” at it. Big startled eyes, and a gob-smacked mouth.

Speaking of big startled eyes…

detail, alley mural, Sussex nr Spadina

Mr. Green Gremlin is part of a larger alley mural, just around the corner on Sussex.

alley art, Sussex nr Spadina

I think he’s the best part…

Another amusing house, this time on Major Street.

on Major St

Amusing? you mutter to yourself. I don’t think so. Just kind of dilapidated, squashed-in-the-middle, so what.

Ah, but look up. Three canoes, stored on the roof. Waiting for summer. I love the city in winter, all the ways that other seasons peek through…

Now we’re on Bernard, and we nudge each other in delight, me at first focused on the art and Phyllis first to enjoy the clever name. So much niftier than “moving van”!

moving truck seen on Bernard St

Maybe this was commissioned? I recognized one of the three names signed to it (Jarus, along with Tika and Joe Huffer) as being a graffiti artist… but doesn’t it look very carefully composed to you, designed to flow with the company name and vehicle structure?

Idle question, but in a passing way I remain curious about legal vs illegal, and who does what, under what circumstances.

Now I’m heading home again. Phyllis and I have gone our separate ways at Yonge, I’m in Asquith Green Park north of Bloor East & Church, a tiny parkette with wonderful sculptures. Like this howling cayote.

cayote sculpture, Asquith Green Park

I angle for another photo, wanting to include him as perfect backdrop for the words on this section of sculptural fence.  There it is, and there he is, his song eternally joined with ours.

fence in Asquith Green Park

And there’s a pigeon!

I’m about to flap my arms at the bloody pigeon, and get another shot without him, pure art no pigeon… and then I realize, no, wait, the pigeon is perfect.

I share Tom Lehrer’s opinion of pigeons (“Poisoning pigeons in the park” tra-la), I really passionately do, but this pigeon is perfect. If you’re going to celebrate art-nature, you’d better be prepared to welcome real-nature as well.

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  1. Another great collection Penny, and what a beautiful looking university.
    That lady sounds fierce but awesome….and clearly knew how to get things done 🙂

  2. Another great tour – that mural on Chew chew’s diner is lots of fun!

  3. Thank you for this post; the small park at Yorke Street brought back happy memories of our trips to Toronto. Love the diner sign!


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

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