Into the Snow

4 February 2015 – It’s grey & mushy today; total opposite to Monday’s bright sky, crisp air, everything wreathed in a big, sparkling layer of fresh powder snow.

Big? Not big in Atlantic Province terms, or Eastern Seaboard of the USA terms, or perhaps your own terms as you read this — but big for Toronto.

And very pretty.

farm-style Victorian house, near Cabbagetown

Snow suits this Victorian architecture, especially with some dark conifers thrown in for contrast.

I’m dressed for the frosty day: my double-layer Mackenzie Delta parka, traditional Inuvialuit style, brought to me in the 1970s from Inuvik, and my tall white Sorel double-layer boots, equally vintage. I’ve worn both a lot on various Arctic trips, and in them, I feel invincible.

Not that I meet anything that dramatic in Toronto’s Cabbagetown! Just more Victorian homes.

Carlton Street, Cabbagetown

I’m on Carlton Street now, looking for this next home, knowing it’s at one of the street corners on my way east to Riverdale Park. The home is notable any season, because of its unusual bay window — V-shaped rather than bowed.

Carlton Street, Cabbagetown

After a snowfall, I also find it notable for the way the snow settles in swirling loops around that low bush in front.

Into Riverdale Park & Riverdale Farm — more precisely, into Riverdale Park West. The overall park covers both the eastern & western slopes of the Don Valley ravine at this point, linked by a pedestrian bridge that spans two expressways & the Don River.

S/W corner, Riverdale Park West

A small plaque tells us the first private owner of this land was Francis Gwillim Simcoe, son of John Graves Simcoe, first Lieut.-Gov. of Upper Canada, 1791-96. That “private owner” reference is a delicate touch: this was First Nations land, before the white man came along with his notions of private ownership …

Small dog in red coat, frisking among the trees, doesn’t know history, doesn’t care. He’s happy in the snow. So are dog walkers, parents & excited children with sleds & toboggans. Not so happy: the motorist out on the street whose starter motor won’t. Start, I mean.

I walk past the 1840s Francy Barn, brought here from its original location on a pioneer’s farm in Markham Township. (For barn enthusiasts: it’s a bank barn, in Pennsylvania German style.)

The paddock for the Farm’s heritage animals is on my right; the pig barn on my left; the signpost points out path options.

direction signpost, Riverdale Farm/Park West

Forget Lower Pond (top right arrow on the signpost). That road is not maintained in winter, it’s piled high with snow and roped off. I’m about to take the middle path (lower arrows on the right) to the duck pond, which is somewhat cleared, when a loud Baa-aa-aaa stops me in my tracks.

I’d already seen that Rooster was in the paddock (he is a Clydesdale horse — named in a contest won by a schoolchild with a sense of humour), but I hadn’t noticed any other animal life out in the snow.

Another baaaa.

So here’s what I want you to do. Roll back up to the preceding photo before you peek below. (No cheating.) See that dark oval beneath the trio of left-hand arrows, next to a dark bin of some kind?

OK. Now you can scroll down.

woolly sheep!

Woolly sheep. Very, very woolly sheep.They’re nosing at feed in the bin and not at all interested in me. Or in the snow, for that matter. (In those coats, why should they care?)

I tromp on down toward the duck pond, glad of my tall boots whenever I step off the central ploughed strip. The pond is pretty well the end of this path, just before the land drops steeply into the ravine.

No ducks.

Just a bench, where you could sit to watch the ducks.

bench, for other seasons...

If there were ducks. If it were summer.

Tromp-tromp back to the Francy Barn, and around it this time to the west, now I’m parallel with another side of the paddock. I watch a young man stick his camera through some chain-link fencing, see that he’s photographing a couple of cows with a layer of snow on their backs.

“Snow on the cows’ backs!” he marvels. “That‘ll tell people in California I’m not at home any more.” I agree. Then — not wanting him to miss the other snowy backs on offer — I tell him about the sheep. And I add, “But first you can photograph Rooster.” I wave in the general direction of the horse.

We do a whole who’s-on-first-what’s-on-second routine before I can finally make clear that Rooster is not a rooster, not even some Clydesdale breed of rooster, it is a horse and …  Well, we get there eventually.

So the California expat lollops off to photograph Rooster-the-horse and the woolly sheep, and I head for the ravine slopes. Every snowfall, they are alive with kids — whether there’s enough snow to justify the enthusiasm or not.

Today there surely is.

Riverdale Park West, look south-east

Much squealing going on.

I now look slightly northward as well as eastward, across the highways & river, bringing into view the pedestrian bridge and the slopes of Riverdale Park East. Jut tiny speckles on the far slopes from here, but I know what they’re doing. Same thing these kids are doing.

looking east but slightly north, over the Don River to Riverdale Park East

The east-side ravine edge is steeper & broader. I remember wading through here in deep snow almost exactly two years ago, then over the bridge and onto those far slopes. Want to see what I saw? Just click.

Today, I turn back on my side of the river. Snow is still thick & fresh, streets largely uncleared, vehicular traffic is light. Most people are happy to be on their own two feet.

needs snow tires...

Not on a bicycle.


Leave a comment


  1. YOUR snow looks ever so nice and pretty. Mine is just bothersome. As they (sort of) say “The snow is always whiter …”

    • By now my snow isn’t so darn pretty any more. But it sure was lovely then — if you didn’t have to get anywhere far away, or on a deadline, that is.

  2. Soooo pretty!! Love Victorian architecture… and the brick really sets it off…

  3. Lovely looking snow – as it always is in pictures. We’ve been promised our first snowfall this weekend, but it probably won’t settle in as picturesquely as yours does.

    My eye was drawn to the Welsh name Gwillim in your post (my family’s Welsh). I looked up Francis Gwillim Simcoe and found this He died aged 20, in the Napoleonic Wars. It’s sad that the lives of young men, on all sides, have so often been dictated and shortened by war and conquest.

    • Your comments always make such a contribution! Thank you. I’m glad you found that particular site, you might also look up the diary & the watercolours of his talented mother, Elizabeth Simcoe. An extraordinary woman, I think for any time not just her own, but truly outstanding for that era — she so transcended the usual role, took such joy in discovery, all this despite the sorrows & losses she suffered while here.

  4. What a lovely day, walk and photos.

  5. Love the Victorian Houses. You must be so fit walking in all weathers. Your ventures North obviously have prepared you. N o w must read the Simcoe post

  6. Lovely post to read as I rock my granddaughter in sunny Alabama! I love that you walk a lot. I feel as though I see and experience more on foot! In Portland, I walk many places including my doctors and dentist. Happy Day to you!


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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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