Talking Woman …

9 May 2015 – Sometimes, I am doing a whole lot more Talking than Walking.

For example, on May 7, when I get to add steel-toed boots & a hard hat to my usual tool-kit of notepad, pen & camera. I will be exploring, all right, but up on a roof, not deep in a ravine. And not just any old roof top, either: I’m talking about the green roof now being built, with volunteer help, for the new Cooper Koo Family Cherry Street Y in Toronto’s east end. I’ll be there, interviewing some of the day’s participants for profiles in the new Y’s newsletter.

I have to be at the gates at 8:45 a.m., I’m eager & ‘way early, so I kill a bit of time by cycling into the nearby Distillery District.

It’s so early the café chairs around the big sculpture at the foot of Trinity St. have yet to be set straight. I prop up my bike & prowl for a few minutes, enjoying the strong lines of the sculpture, a tribute to the activities that gave this site its original purpose as the Gooderham & Worts Distillery and linger in its name, the site now repurposed for retail & entertainment.

sculpture in Trinity St. courtyard, Distillery District

To one side, the oldest building in this complex of Victorian industrial architecture, the 5-storey Stone Distillery, built of limestone shipped from Kingston, Ontario and completed in 1861. The limestone gleams in the early rays of sunlight, the elegant severity of the structure in complete contrast to the whorls of the courtyard sculpture.

Stone Distillery, 1861, Distillery District

To the other side, the c. 1895 brick Pump House, wonderfully reinvented by Balzac’s Coffee Roasters as a café in the Grand Parisian, fin de siècle style. (The huge wooden chandelier, rescued from some vaudeville theatre, is somehow the perfect final touch.)

Only Balzac’s has temporarily decamped to Gristmill Lane, while some further restoration work takes place on the old pump house.

restoration work, 1895 Pump House, Distillery District

My cue to get going! Time for me to get up on a roof myself!

So off I cycle, arriving at Cherry & Front streets to peer once again with such anticipation at the building, still a work in progress. It will house Pan Am / Parapan Am athletes this summer before going back to the developers for final tweaking & its ultimate unveiling as the city’s newest YMCA.

I’ve shown it to you through chainlink fence from the Front Street side — here’s a glimpse of those same strong lines, this time punching their way above the Cherry Street white hoardings.

Cooper Koo Family Y, Front & Cherry streets

And in I go, and — after well-focused safety training with the day’s other volunteers — up I go to the roof. Where, April 27-May 22, Restoration Gardens staff & many community & corporate volunteers will together bring a 30,000 sq. ft. green roof into existence.

Everybody else is doing serious things with tools. Not me. Instead, I get to talk with them, see what they’re doing, learn why they have volunteered, share their excitement.

And wear my very own hard hat!

Penny Williams after interviewing

Penny Williams after interviewing

Important note: I had worn the regulation safety vest all day, and had just that moment removed it in the stairwell, since I was about to leave. Then I suddenly decided I wanted a souvenir vanity shot, and stepped back onto the roof, far from any action & right next to the stairs. A colleague took the shot, and I was gone. They are dead serious about safety up there, and people follow the rules.

Curious about the roof? About the new Y? (Or just about another of my adventures?) Sign up for the newsletter. Click here, and then, on the Cooper Koo Family Y page, click again where indicated, inside the “Stay Updated!” box.

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  1. Like the headgear!

  2. lovely series…i love this place…coming this summer 😀

  3. Hi Penny – great photos. When the sun comes out in Toronto, it looks as if it comes out in force. Those skies are blue, blue.

    By the way, I saw a blog post on eL Seed’s Arabic graffiti and wondered if you’d seen any in Toronto. I don’t know if you have many people from Arabic speaking countries in your community, but I thought you’d appreciate the graffiti anyway. It looks beautiful:

    All best wishes

    • Hi, thanks, I just visited his site. I’m interested to see him talk about ‘caligraffiti’ — wonderfully evocative term — since I first heard the word talking with an architect/street artist here, Javid Jah who in his mural work uses it in some designs — for example in work he has done for Arab restaurants & also a local mosque. Visit his site,, click on murals & then mural map & then any of the images. I blogged about him in Jan 2014, but unfortunately his website now is in reconstruction so doesn’t have the elements I talk about in that post.


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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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