Stalking the White Elephant

14 September 2016 – And in deepest, darkest downtown Toronto, too! But we know the elephant is out there — NOW magazine tells us so, she is no. 3 in their 25-strong August list of “Hidden Toronto” wonders. I am disproportionately pleased to see that I have already discovered 21 of the 25 — all the more reason to visit the remaining four.

Blogger “Mary C.” (As I Walk Toronto ) & I head out on Sunday, with two of the four on our hit list: White Elephant & the Terracotta House. It offers us a very do-able rectangle (Bloor to Dupont, Christie to Dundas West) in a hugely walkable part of town.

I beat Mary to our rendez-vous, the Christie subway station, so I hike down the alley just east of the station, to see what I can see.

alley off Bloor W., nr Manning

A big, fat mural is what I see, two blocks over near Manning. “Painting to the artist… is like flight to the bird” it says, and the artwork proves the point.

Ooops, time to meet Mary; I stop mooning about & head smartly west again, back to Christie. But stop at Clinton en route, for this.

Clinton, just n. of Bloor W.

Pretty swell stuff, I tell myself, and our walk hasn’t even officially begun.

It augurs well.

Mary & I like alleys. We’re quite capable of walking down city streets, but we both twitch at every alley, can’t help veering into it at least a little bit, just to check it out. So we stalk our white elephant in a looping, circuitous way.

An alley just north of Christie Pits park yields nature’s own art installation. Give vines enough time, and they’ll cover anything. The utility pole is already smothered, and the battered old garage is caught in a leafy pincer movement.

possibly Willowvale Ln

Later, nearing Fiesta Farms, more conventional garage art. This contribution by Pascal Paquette.

behind Fiesta Farms

Well, not signed, but I’m pretty sure it is his work. (Chloe, you’re the expert on PP. Pass judgment, please.)

And then we’re on Yarmouth, count-down to 77 Yarmouth, where Sally the White Elephant is queen. Cherry tree leaves fan her row; sun dogs dance attendance.

Sally, at 77 Yarmouth Av

We do not bang on the door. What I tell you now is thanks to the NOW mag research: artist & industrial designer Matt Donovan created Sally as part of his OCAD thesis project, & in 2003 gave her to his friend James Lawson, who has cared for her ever since.

(Lucky James: fibreglass elephants do not eat you out of house & home, which I gather was the risk when maharajahs gave the real thing to chosen subjects — who then had to feed & keep the brutes in suitably royal style.)

Sally is life-size. That means nearly 3 metres tall. That means she fills the front yard.

77 Yrmouth Av.

Up Miles Place, an alley graced with a name — plus, at this time of year, abundant fall vegetable crops in all these backyard gardens. Which makes the scarecrow perfectly logical.

in Miles Pl.

Now look at the bit of wine-red garage in the lower right corner of the scarecrow shot. It is a very weary old garage indeed, its insulbrick losing the battle with time. But it does have one glorious corner!

in Miles Pl., near Melville

Plus an equally glorious stand of Cosmos, a member of the sunflower family that blooms extravagantly in the fall.

Onto Melville Av., and into another alley. Into other alleys, plural. I try to keep track, but I fail. Let’s all relax and enjoy the fact that Mary & I are following a whole jigsaw of laneways as we head basically north-west toward Dovercourt.

Oh, alleys are a treat! Sometimes the buildings are most strikingly decorated by time, using its favourite resource: rust.


And sometimes a human being provides the decoration. Often visual or, as here, in text. Small neat letters across the top of the garage door, you need sharp eyes to notice.

alley nearing Dovercourt

Let us hope one of those spells will call home the Lost Cat.

The visuals are often walloping great murals — but, sometimes, a single image. All the punchier, for its isolation.

alley nearing Hallam & Dovercourt

We are nowhere near Terracotta House yet.

So you’ll just have to be patient, won’t you? We’ll get there, all right, in another couple of posts …


Leave a comment


  1. A delicious walk, very much to my taste. I particularly love the idea of time and its favourite resource, the wall with the cosmos, the elephant … and everything, actually!

    • You’re so great, thank you! Stay with me for a bit, hecause I’ll take you over the rest of the walk over my next 2 posts.

  2. Mary C

     /  15 September 2016

    I like your approach to the blog for this one. I found it difficult to sort through and figure out how I was going to write my version. Finally done…. and I don’t think we have too much overlap. It’s always fun and interesting how people can see the same things but think about them, and approach them, with a different eye.

  3. You discovered some real treasures! I love looking around corners, particularly in allies, to discover new things. The elephant is fun, but I think my favorite thing was the corner of the red garage – so unexpected!

  1. Love & Bubble Gum | WALKING WOMAN

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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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