Punching Up the Grey

3 December 2014 – Toronto in winter? Very, very grey.  So I have a plan: walk through Yorkville, visit some of the area’s art galleries, and soak up the colour. Along with whatever colour offers itself en route.

The first offer en route is artistic, I’ll grant you, but not colourful. Definitely still in the winter palette.

Wellesley-Magill Park

I’m in a park I didn’t even know existed but should have, since Wellesley-Magill Park is just off the northern reaches of Sherbourne St. — an area close to home territory. I’ve come to like the city’s high-concept, high-design parks, but even so this one strikes me as visually chilly.

Still, it is handsome. I like the polished chunks of rock. And, upon closer inspection, I really like that steel-cut fence at the south end. The work of Ed Pien, Forest Walk consists of 8 panels, which move through our seasons, inspired by city ravines & local life. Panel #2, for example, is “Winter” — dense winter woods, with geese flying overhead.

‘Forest Walk” 8 steel-cut panels, # 2 Winter

See the geese, top left corner?

The next time I stop is for something equally wintery, but totally endearing. Squirrel Highway!

“Squirrel Highway”, Michael Kupka

Michael Kupka painted this Bell box mural, over at Yonge & Gloucester. I’d forgotten about it, I’m delighted to bump into it again.

Even if it is pretty darn grey.

Soon after I find myself in Wabenose Lane — named for an early 19th-c. Anishinaabeg chief — and, as you’ll see, “grey” is not the operative word.

back wall of home, from Wabenose Lane

Just the back wall of somebody’s home. Love it.

And then — hop-step-jump — I’m in Yorkville. “Yorkville Village” as it styles itself (and why am I being snotty about it?). In Yorkville Village Park, to be exact — which replaced a parking lot, which in turn had replaced a row of old Victorian homes, razed in the 1950s to facilitate subway construction.

It is one of our earliest high-concept parks, a series of distinct segments, each presenting a different landscape category — and each taking up exactly the footprint of one of those vanished Victorian residential lots, a detail I like a lot.

So: coniferous forest, deciduous, wetland, prairie grasses, a granite outcropping (brought from Muskoka in chunks and fitted back together), a water curtain (ice shards in winter).

Yorkville Village Park

Back to a severe winter palette, but with redeeming touches — vivid green conifers, mustard-bright grasses, intense brown tree branches arching against the sky.

Close up, you don’t see those branches, or anyway, I don’t, because I look down, not up. I am fascinated by the nuances of their trunks.

tree trunks, Yorkville Village Park

Maybe I should stop moaning about winter grey. It has its moments.

But, hah, I am now in art-gallery territory, ready to soak up colour.

Which is immediately on offer, right outside Kinsman Robinson Galleries, thanks to their current show, a retrospective of the powerful works of Norval Morrisseau (who signed his work with the syllabics for his Ojibway name, “Copper Thunderbird”). He had a difficult life, but he also had the triumph of national & international recognition while still alive, including participation in Magiciens de la terre, an 1989 contemporary art exhibition at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris.

McElchleran sculpture, Morrisseau painting

The chubby bronze businessman apparently reacting to the Morrisseau work in the window? One of the iconic “non-hero” statues by William McElchleran, a Toronto artist also represented by this Gallery and also, like Morrisseau, now deceased.

I spend a long time in there, and come out steeped in colour. Morrisseau is much more than a master of colour, but he is that as well. I am very, very happy as I head on down Cumberland Street.

My next stop isn’t even a stop, it’s a walk-by. I’m really only on that side of Hazelton Av. because I want to take another look at the “Carpenter’s Gothic” board-&-batten exterior of the Heliconian Club, which opened in 1876 as a church but in 1909 became home to an association for female artists (who were barred everywhere else).

So I’m moving pretty briskly, until snagged by a somehow familiar face. Then I see it’s complete with horse, monkey, dog …

“Emily Carr and Friends” by Joe Fafard

Right. Emily Carr and Friends, by Joe Fafard. Thinking of female artists, as I am! How perfect the location.

Except she’s not in front of the Heliconian Hall — or, for that matter, the Bra Bar, whose black-corset window display I later notice is so perfectly framed by the horse’s head & neck. She is mounted in front of the auction house, Heffel Gallery Inc.

And then I cross the street, because I want to visit Loch Gallery.

And I do, but not before giggling at their offering of public statuary.

folk-art goalie sculpture, by Patrick Amiot

I pretend great horror when a gallery rep inside tells me the artist is the Québécois folk art sculptor Patrick Amiot. What? and he glorifies the Toronto Maple Leafs instead of the Montreal Canadiens? 

I hear how the Gallery cannily exhibited a Habs (= Canadien) goalie for a while, when a Montreal collector came to town — who promptly bought the piece. We laugh. Then I slope around the gallery for a while.

Here, as in some of the others I visit, they are between shows. It makes for quite a different kind of energy — juxtapositions of works you might not otherwise see, even works leaning (carefully) against a wall.

After a while, that’s that and I’m heading south again on Church Street. Art done & dusted for the day, right?

Wrong. Right there next to the beer store, I find myself being beckoned down an alley by this figure on the end wall.

detail, 91 ft mural of Toronto TBLG people 1949-2014 for World Pride 2014

Then I look along the wall, and good grief, there is this enormous mural, rolling on & on & on. And on.

Endless tableaux of night-life and night-life characters. Like this.

another detail, Ultra Church mural

None of whom I recognize; all of whom, I am sure, are recognized by those for whom this Ultra Church mural is intended. I’m right in that: later online I learn this 91-ft mural was created for World Pride 2014, to celebrate the party people of gay Toronto over the last 65 years. Read more on artist Lily Butter Land’s website.

Some Follow-Up

1) Message deciphered

Barkside Bistro side wallLast post (Slice by Slice to Little India), I showed you this faded bit of old advertising, lamenting the fact that while I love its soft, blurry colours, I also wish I could read it.

Credit to friend & blog follower Chris (who in turn credits his PhotoShop) for restoring those words to focus: “Penny, the Sign just says “Sold Every Where, 5 cents”, possibly with respect to the Coca Cola. Advertising Agency for the painted Ad appears to be Elk Boxes.”

2) Message updated

2014, boards over fire-gutted windowsIn my post, After the Fire, I showed you several shots of an area home totally gutted by fire shortly before Hallowe’en. The owners, an artistic & musical couple, had always put an elaborate, beautiful scene on their lawn for Hallowe’en. This year, they incorporated the charred instruments, & also painted flames on the boards that now covered their windows.

I wrote that I admired them, described their response as “a way to confront tragedy … transforming losses into resources for their celebration of life & community.”

The windows & door are still boarded up. The boards have been transformed yet again.

boarded windows turned into Christmas presents

I thought you might want to know.

Leave a comment


  1. nice color to spice up the grey winter! (looks like Toronto escaped all the snow that landed in Buffalo! You must be happy to have been on the right side of the lake!)

    • Oh yes, we are definitely on the right side of the lake, where snow is concerned. When we occasionally do have a big storm (or several in a row), Buffalo sends equipment north to help us out. But then, there’s a long tradition of the various services both sides of the border, sending equipment & personnel to help as needed.

      • Hydro-quebec just sent lineman down to help the 300,000 NH residents who lost power in the storm we had last week. We love our Canadian neighbors!

  2. You didn’t seem to have much trouble finding splendid colour on a grey day – outstanding tour! Thanks for the update on the fire house – must be very interesting people to carry on decorating.

  3. For colour on the dreariest days I play with bits of fabric and pour over Kaffe Fasset quilt books! Thanks for these bits of colour! Winter is already wearing us down!

    Love the Morrisseau/bronze business man!

    • As a kid, I’d play with my mother’s skeins of emroidery silks, so many colours, such rich hues. As long as I didn’t unravel them, she was happy for me to sort & arrange them in whatever colour combination I fanced.

  4. “the Bra Bar, whose black-corset window display I later notice is so perfectly framed by the horse’s head & neck”

    I love happy accidents in photos. It’s grey and dull green here. By the end of the winter it will be dreary yellow. Thanks for finding so much colour and sharing it.

    • So true (happy accidents)! Often you are entirrely unaware at the time, even though you’ve squinted through the viewfinder, & only see what’s happened later on. I felt like that corset photo-bombed poor old Emily!

  5. Your tours are always breathtaking.


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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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