Spring Fever

27 March — I almost set off in a spring jacket & hat, I linger on the doorstep trying to ignore my already-tingling ears & fingers, but finally yield to common sense. Back inside for my winter gear. Again. When I rendezvous with Phyllis centre-town at Yonge & King streets, she confesses she had done exactly the same doorway dance.

But neither of us, wise old birds that we are, made the mistake of letting wishful thinking overtake practicality.

Maybe because it’s Tuesday, not Thursday?

Make Mistake King W & George St

I see this at King West & George streets, enroute to Phyllis, and am properly bemused. Later online searching shows it is student-related (I’m in George Brown College territory), booze-related (there’s a surprise), and I almost didn’t include it here.

But I do love the idea that, on Thursday, it’s OK to make a mistake. So download the photo, tape it to the wall, & cut yourself some slack every Thursday.

The nifty thing about downtown Toronto, say the Tuesday  Walking Society partners to each other, is that it’s so magically close to waterfront, parks & nature. Here we are just a bit farther south on Yonge, almost at the tunnel under the Gardiner Expressway, concrete & cars & fumes & throbbing noise all around us, and there — see there, dead ahead, end of Yonge Street — is the hull of a boat.

lower Yonge St. looking to lake Ontario

In the water. In Lake Ontario. Five minutes from where we stand.

Five minutes later we’ve reached Queens Quay at water’s edge, headed west past the ferry terminal, ducked into Harbourfront Park, and started down the boardwalk.

Harbourfront board walk

What a change from my last visit! Ice & snow up to my knees then, thick ice solid in the harbour, everything frozen & still. And now… still not summer, not even looking much like spring, but definitely spring even so. Some remaining patches of ice, but — like tiresome guests who linger in the doorway — they are remnants, and on their way out.

Birds and waterfowl know this. They are busy.

Harbourfront water fowl

Practically a roll call of our hardiest overwintering waterfowl: Canada geese, Mute swans, Mallard ducks, and the Common Goldeneye (with the not-so-common blazing orange head). We spend a moment thinking about these guys, the temperatures they endure, the way those naked feet move from ice to water, winter to summer, all the same to them…

… and then we see two dead ducks on a floating patch of ice, apparently frozen in place.  So, yes. There are casualties.

Not only the birds are busy. First eager boaters are already down in their craft, inside the protective swaddling, doing Important Preparatory Things. We can’t see or hear anyone inside the Godspeed’s open doorway, tied up in York Quay, but someone is surely there.

York Quay slip

Beyond that, rack on rack of kayaks just waiting to be tipped back into the water, framing one bitty tugboat in the slip off Rees Street.

kayaks & tug, off Rees St.

And beyond that, the best discovery of the day. The best, because totally unexpected.

We’re approaching the Toronto Police Marine Unit from the west, the side with the glass-walled boat house for their fleet of vessels, which itself opens to the west. We note bubblers in the water, presumably to ensure it stays ice-free even in the depths of winter, and comment idly on the relative lack of waterfowl in the immediate area. (What, they fear a parking ticket?)

Then, just as idly, we press our faces to the glass side of the boat house, for a passing glance at whatever may lie inside. And see, lined up tidily with all the modern synthetic high-tech vessels…

MU 5, a 1939 Taylor-made mahogany boat, Toronto Police Marine Unit

… a wooden boat. Anachronistic as can be, and apparently in perfect working order.

I’ve spent just enough time in the Muskoka Lakes area of Ontario, with its glorious history of wooden boat building (Ditchburn, Greavette, Minett, Duke…), to appreciate the beauty of these craft and rejoice whenever I see one that is loved and cared for. But… here?

So of course we go into the Marine Unit building, and ask. The officer at the desk breaks into a delighted smile. He keeps one attentive ear cocked to the radio, as he gives us a short history, and a commemorative card.

This is the MU 5, the oldest vessel in the Marine Unit fleet, a 33-ft mahogany patrol and rescue boat purpose-built for the Toronto Harbour Police in 1939 by Taylor, right next door in the (then) Spadina boat yards. Still in use, absolutely — but for ceremonial occasions only.

Isn’t that terrific? Aren’t you glad we looked in that window?

On we go, past the one-time Spadina boat yards, subsequently a grotty little parking lot, now wonderfully repurposed as the tiny but effective Spadina Wetlands. We see, and hear, our first Red-winged blackbird of the season.

Then along the edge of the Toronto Music Garden, a delight in any season though curiously naked in winter, without the towering grasses of summer. But that will come again, and meanwhile, there is clean-up to be done.

spring clean-up in Toronto Music Garden

We head north at Bathurst, back to the urban world, with a passing salute to an earlier world as we go. Fort York, which once defended us from those pesky Yankees and their territorial ambitions, is now surrounded by a different sort of invasion — commecial/residential, not military.

(Every time I look at Fort York, I remember visiting decades ago with an irrepressible auntie of mine, who sighted carefully down a cannon barrel at the apparent target and asked, straight-faced, “Why shoot Loblaws?”)

Fort York, from Bathurst St. ramp entrance

A few steps farther north and we’re almost on the overpass spanning all those railway lines that feed Union Station, where I stop to enjoy what they’ve done with one of the disused spur lines. Maybe in old Hollywood melodramas they tied heroines to the tracks… around here, we prefer flower-filled canoes.

from the Bathurst St railway overpass

Oh, OK, full of dried bleached sticks at the moment. But there’ll be flowers come summer, you’ll see.

We turn east again at Front, suddenly remembering the one-block wonder of Draper St. — a remaining (and much restored) enclave of Victorian row housing between Front & Wellington streets, just a few blocks west of Spadina. There it is, still a delight, such contrast against all the warehouses and condos and redevelopment that surrounds it.

Draper St., between Bathurst & Spadina, north from  Front St.

As we enter, Phyllis reminisces about the big, friendly, stroke-hungry cat we met the last time around. “Wonder if we’ll see him again,” she muses. “Hardly,” I scoff. “Any cat with any brains is inside, keeping warm.”

Which shows what I know about cats Or, maybe, shows the state of cat brains. Whichever, an explosion of fluorescent orange fur hits Phyllis’ legs and — after suitable adoration from her — roars over to me. My turn.

the Draper St. Welcoming Committee

I am as soppy as Phyllis. So we weave our way up Draper St., all eight legs of us, four of those legs playing cat’s cradle with the other four, and four human hands taking turns stroking one feline back.

Lots more legs over at Wellington & John, but this time they stay put. We definitely have to go to them.

public art at Wellington & John

Please notice the mesh gate in that mat-line fence: it’s metal, part of the art installation, adorned with tiny fluttering birds at each corner. The matting not only hides the ugly chain link fence, it protects the privacy of children in the playground beyond.

One last observation on spring fever: it snowed today.



Leave a comment


  1. Another great tour and this snow is bound to stop…isn’t it? Always enjoy your route when it takes in the lakefront – thanks.

    • Hi, you’re right, today is 10C! Above zero, that is. It will surely dip again, but I begin to believe it is spring. I’m so glad you enjoy the waterfront walks So do I.

  2. I just love that last shot Penny….what a fun and beautiful installation.
    Also loved hearing about the ceremonial wooden patrol boat 🙂

    • As you can tell, I was really excited about the wooden boat. They are all so beautiful, so elegant, it was a delight to find one being cherished within the Marine Unit. Oh and yes, those bunnies…

  3. Those were wonderful pictures and a delightful commentary as you walked. ‘Loved it!

  4. I do also really enjoy your walks and that you take us along. And I do agree – not sure about the idea of Make Mistake Thursdays (although I did notice you can get in without a cover charge with student i.d. – just one more perk for me in the fall – ha!).

    I cannot wait to get out on the bike and re-discover Toronto!

  5. Thank you for this interesting guided tour – has come alive as I have visited Toronto and Lake Ontario – obviously a lot more for me to see – one occasion travelled from America to Wolfe Island. I look forward to your blogs

    • Wolfe Island is wonderful, I’ve also crossed that way. I admire you for seeking it out! There’s something about island communities, isn’t there?


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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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