Walking with the M-Words

15 March 2015 – Five of them, as it turns out: melt, moisture, mist, murals, music.

Plus-zero temperatures create melt, creating moisture, creating mist. Towers fade from view as I head west toward the centre of town.

towers looking west from Jarvis

I’m barely past that, when M-for-mural makes its first appearance.

It would have been hard to miss. I am Spud-bombed!

SpudBomb parking lot mural, Richmond East & Jarvis

Oh that Spud. More than 12 years a professional artist, very much out there on the streets, first as the individual SPUD1 and now working with others in the SpudBomb collective. They’ve tucked a bit of shameless (but justified) self-promotion into this parking lot mural — check that building top under the rainbow, toward the right.

detail, SpudBomb mural

I’m amused to see that the city-under-the-rainbow is reproduced in miniature within the city-under-the-rainbow — down at the bottom — but I don’t dare go closer, in case I fall right into it & am never seen again.

I get just close enough to notice the tiny slogan in the tiny bit of street art, on a wall by the book just above the bottom rainbow.

detail, SpudBomb mural

“Rules are so fragile,” it says, in case you also choose not to approach too closely.

Just down Richmond East and another mural, one honouring someone whose “M” I forgot to list: Nelson Mandela.

The image covers the roll-down door to the patio for Harlem (“food music art cocktails”) restaurant.

patio door, Harlem “food music art cocktails”

Upper left, Mr. Mandela’s reminder to us that “Love comes naturally to the human heart.” Bottom right, the artist’s tag, which unfortunately I cannot decipher. Both sides of the mural, tributes from other artists and admirers.

By now the mist has lifted slightly, more buildings are fully in view, but it still provides a matte-grey backdrop for their silhouettes. For example, for this edgy (literally!) Richmond East building …

front 60 Richmond E; rear  1 Queen St. E.

… as it plays Call & Response with the mirrored tower over at Queen & Yonge.

Now I’m west of Yonge, the city’s E/W dividing line, and slightly south, down on King. I’ve stuffed my vest into my little backpack, zipped my jacket half-open. I am enjoying the very odd feeling of being just a wee bit too warm.

Temperature still rising. I know this because — as Torontonians have done since 1951 — I check the weather beacon atop the Canada Life building.

Canada Life beacon from Osgoode Hall gate

The structure is wildly outdated by now, even if it has switched to energy-efficient LED lights. Who, in this age of smart-phone apps, needs a weather beacon? Nobody, is the answer — but we love it. Not least for its elegant simplicity: the bars in the tower mimic the temperature outlook, rising (as here, trust me), falling or steady. The cube on top is red, green or white, flashing or steady, to cover sun, rain, fog & snow. (Here, steady red for fog, but bleached near-white by the mist.)

Bonus: I pay my respects to that bit of 1950s heritage while tucked into an equally loved bit of 1860s heritage — the Osgoode Hall cow gates.

The building sits at University & King, on land first acquired by the Law Society of Upper Canada in 1829 and now co-owned by the Province as well. The building went up in stages over the 19th century; the elaborate iron fence was added in 1868, complete with puzzle gates, the “cow gates” that would prevent any passing bovine from wandering inside.

Fond urban legend has it that the gates really kept real cows off the grounds. Functional or not, citizens fell in love with the gates, and protected the whole fence from a war-time scrap-metal drive.

So here it still is, fence plus gates, as much a part of our city as …

bagpipe busker, N/E University & King

… Bagpipe Busker Man. He is a fixture smack at that N/E corner, right up against the Osgoode Hall fence. There’s my M-for-music, and if you happen to think bagpipe & music are a contradiction in terms, well, I’m sorry. (No, I’m not.)

I don’t know that the busker is out there in dead of winter, but he’s there now, much to the joy of all those camera-laden tourists. Also, I remember, to the joy of a young couple Phyllis & I met last summer, farther south on University. She, Scottish, he, English, and both of them asking directions. As we comply, she cocks an ear, widens her eyes & cries: “Bagpipes???” The busker’s location is immediately top priority on her list. We watch her drag her boyfriend north for a look-see, his English eyes rolling in resignation.

Goodness, that’s another “M.” For memory.

Back to M-for-mural. I turn down a broad, paved lane somewhere N/E of King & Spadina, just because some other people do, and I come out here.

Champs Food Supplies; neighbours = TIFF & Hyatt Regency

I love it. Champs Food Supplies, still in business on tiny Widmer St., but being slowly engulfed by the entertainment district all around — the TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) building to one side, and a seriously major hotel chain across the street. Enjoy Champs while you can.

Yet another “M”! My walk’s turning point is Mountain Equipment Co-op where, to my surprise & obscure disappointment, I don’t buy anything at all. But I always like to wander through, linger, touch things, get motivated to stay active. Thanks, MEC.

Eastward toward home, just by Queen & University, for my final M of the day. Two murals, in fact, tucked away behind construction site fencing.

Queen & University

First, Lovebot, just dancing his happy little heart out, while a digger stands guard and …

Anser face, Queen & University construction site

… Anser watches coolly from one side.

‘Bye, guys.

I go home.

Leave a comment


  1. My favorite? “Rules are so fragile.”

  2. and bend the rules…great post 😀

  3. I have enjoyed reading about your observations. Here is a video on Osgoode Hall that you may find interesting: https://vimeo.com/67322062

  4. Just love your conducted tour. What a bright spot is made by the murals especially when so many buildings are nondescript
    I’m off tomorrow to walk some of the Coventry to Oxford canal so more posts soon!

    • I’ll be very interested to see photos of that walk. Canal-walking seems like a wonderful way to explore, and now (I’m guessing) you will already have some spring flowers? lots of wildlife activity, in any event

  5. Another great post about a great city. I just love all the architectural contrasts you presented and I’m quite fond of that old weather beacon as well.


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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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