1 Cat, 2 Dogs & a Tangle of Lanes

22 April 2014 — Can you guess I’m back in Toronto? Hasn’t that title a Toronto sort of ring to it? Especially the “lanes” part of it…

I won’t try to orient you on all the Cabbagetown-area lanes I wandered on Saturday, you’d get dizzy and fall off your chair. But I will tell you some of the names, starting with the first one to draw me in, one I’d never noticed before.

Darling Ln, nr Parliament & Wellesley

Isn’t that terrific? How could I resist? Especially when it offered such a cheerful, bucolic mural – stark contrast with the rest of the lane-scape.

Welcome Cabbagetown mural in Darling Ln

The message you can half-glimpse on the side wall to the left says “Welcome to Cabbagetown.” The main mural face is signed “by Nettleship’s [Hardware] and Tokyo,” and in large letters urges us all to “Support Riverdale Farm.” Immediately under the lane signpost you see a horse & a donkey — that’s Rooster the Clydesdale & his companion donkey, and they enter this story again later on.

Right opposite the mural, a ultilitarian building for a good cause: the Warehouse Mission of the Salvation Army. It has beautifying touches along with the usual notices of classes & services — wall-mounted flower baskets and, high up, two trompe-l’oeil shuttered windows. Plus, ground-level, Man On Bench with Paper.

detail from Salvation Army Warehouse Mission

There’s even art on a residential brick wall at the south end of the land, at Prospect Street.  I’m not sure, but this Victorian-era building may be part of the City-owned stock of subsidized housing. If so, kudos for (1) not blatantly announcing that fact out front and (2) adding the artwork.

Darling Ln at Prospect St

I see another lane just opposite, Flos Williams Lane, and I take it. And — bang — I come to an intersection with a building I recognize, but have never seen from this angle. One remnant of Victoriana, isolated amidst all the subsequent redevelopment.

Flos Williams Ln & Lancaster Av

See what I mean? It’s surrounded by contemporary-utilitarian. The grey building to its left, on that same side of the street, is the back of the local Beer Store outlet on Parliament Street. Immediately opposite, with the blue recycling wheelie out front, a concrete-block community centre. It advertises both a nursery school and a boxing club — is one the training ground for the other?

I head out toward Parliament, passing the Beer Store parking lot as I go. It’s a mild, sunny Saturday, and the world is going about its chores. Getting in a stock of beer being one of them. One car has a passenger, patiently awaiting Beer Man’s return.

Beer Store parking lot, Parliament St

I take a short hike down a service alley just the other (east) side of Parliament, drawn in by what I think will be an interesting palimpsest of old brickwork and signage on a wall. It isn’t all that interesting after all, too bad, but I cheer up at the cat on the gate just opposite.

Looking a little scruffy, peeling off in fact, but somehow all the better for that. Raffish. Proper alley-cat.

Merryberry gate cat

I promised you names. I’ve just had Darling and Flos Williams lanes; now I’m headed for Iroquois, Jeffreys and O’Riordan, then Coltsfoot and Goatsbeard and Fresh Air.

Jeffreys Lane yields some garage art that I’ve already photographed, thanks to friend Kay who told me about it. But oh, how much more pleasant to photograph it now, than in freezing mid-winter! (Such a palaver of mitts and freezing finger-tips and for that matter freezing pens and tricky footwork on the ice.)

Now it’s easy to photograph, and — bonus — no parked car this time to block the near side.

garage in Jeffreys Lane

It’s signed “Oriah,” I notice for the first time, and I’m happy to give credit. Lots of neat details, including a fixation on red doors that I don’t understand but love anyway.

detail, Jeffreys Ln garage art

Out of Jeffreys Lane, across Sackville, into Coltsfoot and from there into O’Riordan Lane. Where I first see the picturesque ivy-on-collapsing-shed image, and only afterward notice the words. Hmm!

no parking? O'Riordan Ln

As names go, “O’Riordan” hasn’t the charm of Coltsfoot, say, or Goatsbeard, but later a website (see Click!!) gives me reason to admire it all the same. Mary O’Riordan — “Dr. Mary” as she was known — was born in Ireland in 1925, and became the country’s first licensed female veterinarian before immigrating here. Hurray for  Dr. Mary, and hurray for a lane in her honour.

Perhaps thanks to that message on the Darling Lane mural — “Support Riverdale Farm” — I decide to loop through Riverdale Park and its farm before heading home. This takes me past the Toronto Necropolis, where the grounds are still being tidied after the winter storms, but the 1872 buildings glow in the bright spring sunshine.

Toronto Necropolis porte-cochere 1872

Love the slate work, love the gingerbread, love it all. This is the porte-cochère, linking chapel (left) and lodge (right). The Necropolis, Toronto’s first non-sectarian burying ground, was opened  to replace the old Potter’s Field at Yonge & Bloor, and had its first internments in 1850. It’s a great place to walk, a lot of our history is memorialized here.

And then a dip through Riverdale Farm, dropping down behind the Francey Barn to see if any animals are out in the paddock. Yes! there is faithful donkey in one corner, and Rooster — Rooster the star, Rooster the diva — holding court by a hay trough.

Rooster & fans, Riverdale Farm

Adoring admirers call and plead and wave grass stalks, trying to get the great Clydesdale to lift his head. Nope. His muzzle is firmly in the hay, and there it stays. Doesn’t matter. They love him anyway.

And so do I, but I am not patient enough to wait for him finally to acknowledge our presence. I start for home.

I promised you two dogs, didn’t I?

Unlike the Beer Store charmer, this one is inanimate, and not even what first caught my attention. (Truth to tell, I know this dog and his companion,  a matched set that has guarded this Cabbagetown doorstep for many years.) No, what stops me is that I suddenly notice the sign in the window.

Cabbagetown window

I almost go looking for an ice cream cone somewhere — I seem to be having a highly suggestible day — but in the end decide not to. It’s not quite that warm.



  • Cabbagetown lane names — thank you Cabbagetown Preservation Society, you have a webpage that lists the lanes and explains the names: http://www.cabagetownpa.ca/whats-lane-names . So many to check out: the ones named above, plus Rev. Boddy, Clara, Mickey, Neutral, Prohibition, Cat Mint, and lots more.
Leave a comment


  1. Adored this walk, and dr Mary, your beautiful, interesting pictures! My fav sign spotted in tiring some years back was ‘squeeze left’! I find it funny!

    • Yes, isn’t it great to know about Dr. Mary? Thanks for telling me about “Squeeze left.” I think it’s funny too.

  2. Charming post. It’s like I’m there.

  3. Absolutely fantastic – are you a journalist

    • I mostly was, in my working years — some time in international development (and even part of that involved writing), but mostly magazine & radio-documentary journalism. So blogging is a natural projection… And you? Is the blog a projection of your professional life?

      • I was a teacher but blogging comes from later experiences – leading Art Appreciation and leading photography. Also gained Associate of Royal photographic Society

  4. I didn’t know that lanes had names – how interesting! Love this neighbourhood and yes let’s save the Riverdale farm.

    • Not all Toronto lanes have names, & sometimes smaller ones do while some larger ones don’t, so the process is a bit confusing. Having names though greatly helps with any emergency calls, since the responders know exactly where to go. I love when the names have local meaning, e.g. O’Riordan.


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

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