In the Key of Saturday Afternoon

31 March 2014 — A Saturday walk through Regent Park, looping into Riverdale and back… I never thought piano keys would enter into it. But they sure did, top & tail.

Overture & finale, I should say.

Play Me piano in Regent Park Aquatic Centre

So terrific. It’s located right inside the doors of the Regent Park Aquatic Centre on Dundas St. East, a feature of the Regent Park transformation that I’ve been meaning to visit ever since it opened about a year ago… and somehow never did.

I stare through the glass walls at the amazing stretch and range of water facilities, and at all the people enjoying them. I’d show you what I saw, except that photography is forbidden without express prior authorization. (Quite right, too; there are lots of children about.)

So I’ll show you the “Play Me” piano instead.

in Regent Park Aquatic Centre, artist Jose Ortega

This is one of 41 pianos dotted about the city, the poster tells me, one for each of the 41 countries taking part in the 2015 Pan-American/Parapan-American Games, which Toronto will host. Later online research adds that our street piano installation makes us one of 26 cities around the world taking part in this very inventive, very charming art project. This particular piano is the work of Ecuadorian-born artist José Ortega, now both Toronto & NYC based.

Back outside, I talk briefly with a mother who can’t say enough good things about the Aquatic Centre. “It’s free, it’s wonderful, I bring my little boy at least once a week.” He is already swaying drunkenly ahead of her, that distinctive toddler walk, eager to get inside.

Regent Park Aquatic Centre, Dundas St. East

Isn’t that handsome? (Even better, once the grass is green again, and the adjacent recreational park/community plaza is completed.) The facility, the work of Toronto-based MacLennan Janukalns Miller Architects (MJMA), includes a lap pool, leisure pool, warm water pool, Tarzan Rope (!), diving board & water slide. There are classes and courses and open-swim periods and sensitivity to the surrounding population — the schedule, for example also includes a Ladies Only time slot.

Such a pleasure, to see this rolling transformation, section by section, of a once-pioneering, now-outmoded housing complex. A mural on one of the old sections tells some basics of its history and demographics:

mural on old section, Regent Park

The old Regent Park offered nothing beyond housing units; the new Regent Park includes sports and cultural facilities. Another change: the new complex is open to mixed income levels. The old ghetto image (& reality) is being erased.

Still heading east on Dundas St., I decide to walk south on River St. to Queen, and cross the Don River on that iconic bridge. I meet a pleasant woman with an opinionated dog, said dog glossy with good care and firmly leashed. Her name (dog…) is Shady Lady, and she is 18. I complement her on her beauty and continued vigour. Woof-arf, she says.

Start south on River, turn east again on the first street south to explore the maze of old-delapidated, old-restored, new-infill buildings that crowd the two cross-streets and several alleys between River St. and the drop to the river itself.

I show you tons of alley art. This is not art, but it sure is streetscape, and I like it a lot. Maybe because it is so untouched, either by gentrification or graffiti??

Mark St & Carfrae Lane

Down the lane & around a corner, a big old warehouse to one side now repurposed as storage units; on the other side, the sleek new Audi Downtown Toronto facility. Assorted film & multimedia offices tucked into odd buildings, social service offices… the usual mix, in mixed neighbourhoods.

Oh, and some glorious old buildings, resplendent again. At 19 River St., for example.

Queen City Vinegar Co. Limited

Now condos, what did you expect, “true lofts” says the online publicity, but I am not sneering not even slightly. I’m just so glad this 1907 warehouse lives again, with such panache.

A few more skips & jumps south, I turn left on Old Brewery Lane just north of the Humane Society (which patiently taught me so much about feral cats, when I so desperately needed to learn). Yes, there was a brewery right here, built in 1876. Yes, it is no longer a brewery, and yes, there are new infill residential units in the development… but also yes, the old Malt House remains. “Loft townhouses” is the sales description.

The Malt House, Old Brewery Lane

Enough! Time to walk around the Humane Society onto Queen St. East and cross the Don River. I stop on the bridge to look north and east, take in a bit of the river, the expressway on the right, bordered in turn by Davies St. running north to Matilda St. and my regular Saturday-morning café of choice: the Merchants of Green Coffee.

Merchants of Green Coffee

Excuse me, you say: “& jam factory”?

It’s another Victorian building, twice repurposed. Originally the Sherriff Jam Factory, then the Empire Furniture Warehouse, then bought by Merchants of Green Coffee in 1985 and transformed. They import green coffee beans (all Fair Trade); sell them both green & roasted, both retail & wholesale; run coffee-related workshops, a membership-based bean-buying program, and a very fine café. (Where Luna the Cat was a regular, until health inspectors got all shirty about it.)

Then, still on the bridge, I look up to admire yet again the 1995 art installation, “Time and a  Clock,” which has turned a purely functional 1911 bridge into a Riverside neighbourhood icon. Thank you Eldon Garnet, whose innovative public art works are to be found elsewhere in the city as well.

Queen St East & Don River, "Time and a Clock"

The full inscription, borrowed from Heraclitus, reads: “This river I step in is not the river I stand in.” If you’re wondering about that odd graphic of an eye, in a largely black & white design element just below the steel arch… no, it’s not part of the artwork. It’s publicity for something or other, wrapped around a passing streetcar.

I feel silly to confess that I had to pass this 641 Queen St. East café a couple of times before I got the joke. How thick can I be?

F’Coffee, 641 Queen St. East

Goodness, what a final pronounced vowel can do…

Up Broadview, quick peek into the service alley immediately north of Queen. I don’t know if this rooftop deck belongs to the bakery or someone else, but I like the artwork. And I like to think that soon — soon! — it will be warm enough for people to enjoy it.

alley n. of Queen & e. from Broadview

I almost drop into Merchants of Green Coffee for a second hit of the day, but decide to keep legging it, and instead take myself back up to Dundas St. and retrace my way west through Regent Park. At the corner of Regent Park Blvd., I am charmed by some bike art. And very spring-like it is, too.

bike at Dundas E. & Regent Park Blvd

It’s parked right at one corner of the Daniels Spectrum building, part of the reborn Regent Park complex, this whole building devoted to arts & culture. The emphasis is grass-roots, and community relevance. The tenant list includes COBA Collective of Black Artists, the Native Earth Performing Arts, the Regent Park School of Music, ArtHeart, the Regent Park Film Festival, the Centre for Social Innovation… you get the idea.

The building’s visual vocabulary continues the spectrum theme.

Daniels Spectrum, 585 Dundas East

In the foyer — are you expecting this? — there is another “Play Me” street piano, this one decorated by artist Sandra Brewster.

Two young children are exploring sound, making happy little cries of delight when they hit a note or combination that especially pleases them. Their patient, smiling mother gives me permission to photograph them. (I always ask, and never show faces.)

"Play Me" in Daniels Spectrum

I am not naïve enough, and neither are you, to believe that all the old social ills have been cured and Regent Park is now a beacon of perfect justice, love & harmony. But there is a lot that is a whole lot better. Including pianos.

An upbeat not on which to end.











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  1. DJ

     /  31 March 2014

    Oh I give up! I’ve nearly stood on my head trying to work out the pun or secret meaning in F’COFFEE and no brain synapses engaging! Do explain!

  2. Another great tour – as I take the GO train past the old distillery district I can never decide if I like the transformation of the old distillery/ warehouse district into yet more towering condos … But it has happened! Liking the Regent Park transformation though and here’s hoping it means a better neighbourhood!

    • I’m disappointed that Distillery District is not doing more to honour and showcase the architecture/history, and make it a living feature of the district today. Still, I’m glad the buildings are restored, preserved and again in use. As for Regent Park, it is definitely an improvement … according to our lights of today. We have to remember that in 1948 the old complex was an astoundingly brave and pioneering thing to do. This time around, residents had a lot of input, and lessons were learned from the consequences of the old, enclosed design. So far, it’s better.

  3. Great wanderings. I loved the piano. We had similar in our town, with pianos placed all over for the public to use! Such fun. I wish you’d help me out as I must be equally thick on the coffee sign…! ~SueBee PS: Love the bicycle 🙂

    • The cafe… Take away those final EEs, so the word ends on FF. (F’COFF.) Pronounce it. Ooops!

      The bike: I totally loved it Her helmet (I assume female) really makes the statement complete, doesn’t it?

      • ooooooh, now I get it… although it still took me a pause or two, lol. Yes, the helmet is the icing on her bike cake!

  4. What a cheerful post and lovely tour!

    • It was a dull day, I had quite low expectations, and it turned out to be such fun. I’m glad that came through.

  5. Love this title!


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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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