A Secret Handshake on Pape (with cheese)

18 October 2018 – I’m walking north on Pape and stop at the corner of Wroxeter for a fond smile at The Schmooz, where I enjoyed many a fine coffee during my Toronto stay last winter.


(There’s only one of me. Something about that reflecting glass doubles me up.)

But that’s not the best. The best is the café’s sidewalk sign, both sides of it.

A “secret handshake!” I chortle.

And now we digress.

The term is the invention of Douglas Coupland, who first burned his way into the global mind by inventing another term back in 1991 and writing a novel about it: Generation X.

By 2014 he had long since added other media to his initial reputation as a novelist. That year, he had an exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery in his sort-of home town, called everywhere is anywhere is anything is everything. (Though not born in Vancouver nor always resident there, he is very much claimed by the city.)

One of its sections was The Secret Handshake.

Said the VAG:

Through a wide range of media Coupland has persistently investigated Canadian cultural identity, both benign and menacing.  Using imagery and objects latent with symbolic meaning for Canadians, he delineates what it means to be Canadian, offering a “secret handshake” not easily understood by others.

In April 2015, The Secret Handshake was one section of a Douglas Coupland exhibition in Toronto, and I blogged about it. With no pretence at originality, I called that post The Secret Handshake.

End of digression.

We’re back on Pape, with The Schmooz’ addition to the canon of secret handshakes.

North side of sign:

South side of sign:

If you’re not Canadian, but you get the references, then welcome! You are an honorary Canadian, and entitled to say “double-double” with the rest of us.


The Return of Rain City

21 September 2018 – Cartoon explanation of Vancouver seasons, overly simplified but broadly accurate: rain starts = fall; rain stops = spring.

We’ve hit fall. The day is cool-cloudy-heading-for-rain. I’m equipped for rain & heading for Granville Island, to join friends on a self-guiding Textile Walking Tour around Island shops, arranged in conjunction with the Textile Society of America Conference currently underway.

So Vancouverite am I becoming — rain is irrelevant — that I’m not even seeking the protection of a bus. I’m going to walk to the Island along the False Creek seawall, which means that, first, I walk north on Cambie and under the Cambie Bridge ramps down to Spyglass Dock. This takes me past the public chalk board (@chalktalkYVR) screwed into one of the bridge supports. Headings vary, from time to time; currently it is encouraging people to “DRAW your favourite memory.”

Lots of comments, and one drawing …

with an explanation near-by.

Almost at the water, I pause again: the weather tells me it’s fall, and so does this impromptu art installation by Mother Nature.

I like it. I think of the fall colour display I’ll see, or anyway hope to see, while in Toronto, and smile in happy anticipation.

And smile again as I turn west along the Seawall.

I’m not a big lover of Smiley-face, but I just have to love this one, painted on a Seawall rock. And I always love the sight of an Aquabus — my favourite of the two False Creek ferry services — so yes-okay, I am smiling.

Then I look at my watch, and up my pace. Time to hoof right along! I have friends to meet, fibre art to admire …

Which I do, and we do, and the rain comes down as promised and We Don’t Care Because We Are Vancouverites. We up our umbrellas and carry on. So there. (With time out for bowls of chowder in the Market …)

Most of the fibre art installations are in shop windows, viewed from the Island laneways, but some pull us inside.

Where, right at each doorway, sits another sign of fall.

Did I mention that it’s raining?





Meditation in a Bog

23 July 2018 – With thanks to Sally, who provided this photo, with this title, which shows Frances (R) and me disappearing around a bend in the boardwalk, among towering trees.

We are indeed in a bog. Burns Bog.

Located on the delta of the Fraser River, and originally some 10,000 hectares or so in size, it is now reduced to about 3,000-3,500 hectares but is still the largest raised peat bog on the west coast of the Americas. The Joho Maps website has a diagram that situates it nicely — and provides a lot of other information as well in its excellent guide to the Bog.

Though, inevitably, now much disturbed by mankind, Burns Bog  is a globally unique ecosystem, a major regulator of regional climate, a stopover for more than 400 species of migratory birds, and is still home to a wide variety of plants and wildlife.

And trains.

Freight trains run along one edge, which is also the side that, in the Delta Nature Reserve, affords the only public access. As we descend into the Bog proper, we hear and then see a train train start rumbling by.

It takes a while, freight trains being the length they are.

Clatter-clatter, rumble-rumble, thump-thump, squeak-squeak…

Then all those other sounds of train-in-progress give way to the squeal that signals either (A) a 4-year-old throwing a tantrum, or (B) a very long freight train grinding to a halt.

There is no 4-year-old in sight.

The freight train stops. Blocking our cross-over access to the Bog and its trails.

Mature, philosophic adults that we are, we stand about in some handy shade and admire the boxcar artwork.

And then, squeal-rumble-rumble, the train shakes itself into action again and rolls on its way.

We take the now-available access path, and hop over the tracks.

I promise you, Sally (L) and Frances are athletic and nimble of foot. I consider them my personal trainers (along with much else), and I am grateful for the on-going stimulation and physical challenge.

My camera just happened to catch them … ummm … like this. Sort of a Lindy Hop, as performed by the Marx Brothers?

Over the tracks, and now across a stream. “It’s called the River of Dreams,” says Frances, who is a veteran of many Bog walks over the years and effectively our tour guide today. The water is so astoundingly clear that, in a photo, it is transparent to the camera. All you can see is the thin line of reflected sunlight …

but water does fill the riverbed, bank to bank.

Moments later, I think we are stretching our greedy fingers toward wild raspberries, but Sally knows better. “Thimbleberries,” she says, and she’s right. (Rubus parviflorus, if you want to get all official about it.)

Soon after, Labrador Tea blossoms (Ledum groenlandicum — curiously attributed to Greenland in the Latin). So delicate, and so sturdy! So tall, also — the shrubs tower over our heads.

At one point there is a choice of loops. We opt for the one promising us a sunken tractor and Skunk Cabbage Meadow. I think of my dear Ontario-based friend DJ, who has a thing for skunk cabbages, and can’t wait to see a whole meadow of them, alive-alive-o.

Can’t miss ’em, once you’re among ’em.


I send DJ this photo and, thanks to her reply, I now know one more difference between The East and The West.

Aha!  This, my dear Penny, is indeed skunk cabbage, but the western one (Lysichiton americanus) with a big yellow flower, followed by HUGE leaves, as your photos show!  The eastern one is Symplocarpus foetidus — a smaller, shyer version with purplish flowers and smaller leaves.  They’re both in the arum family and both smell skunky in bloom to attract flies and beetle pollinators, hence sharing the common name.  Thank you!!

On past the half-buried tractor, left over from days when peat was being harvested and equipment often met with misadventure.

Bog beside our feet, towering trees overhead.

And, always, boardwalk beneath our feet. Kilometres of it — installed, watched over, patched and replaced as needed by volunteers with the Burns Bog Conservation Society.

Sometimes the Boardwalk Gremlins wisely leave a gap. No need to argue with tree roots.

We head back out …

climbing past homes on the bogside slope and somebody’s welter of birdhouses as we go.

Into the Market

18 April 2016 – On Sunday I had a terrific time being guided through a walk, instead of inventing one of my own. (Small tip of the hat here to Jackie, of Tour Guys.)

The day is gloriously warm & sunny, everyone in the group is silly with pleasure as we cluster at our meeting spot, Henry Moore’s Two Forms outside the AGO. But this is just the meeting spot, soon we’re in neighbouring Chinatown, and ultimately spend most of our time in …

at Augusta & College

Now you get the “Market” reference.

Factoid about these Ken Market elevated signs: each features two of only three symbols — a globe, a chair, a cat. I’ve often enjoyed the signs, never before noticed the pattern. See? Tours can be wonderful.

Now a quick back-up into a Chinatown alley. Jackie wants everyone in the group to see & appreciate graffiti, tags, throw-ups, street art & the rest of the terminology — and the corresponding realities, right here on walls & doors.

ANSER eyes on a Chinatown alley wall

ANSER eyes for sure, but not that mouth!

We spend a lot of time in … if not always exactly alleys, certainly very-very-very narrow-&-hidden little streets. Where sheer streetscape can itself be a form of street art.

With prayer flags, for example …

inside Kensington Market

or an ode to means of transportation.

in a Kin Market back street

Oh, go ahead, start counting. One canoe, with wheels; several bicycles; one wagon; one bright red come-along. And I may have missed something. (Surely not all needed to transport Chinese herbs from hither to yon?)

Then again, sometimes the alley/street is not about streetscape at all. It’s total street art, in every direction.

Like this.

in a Kin Market back alley

Multiple works of art, and multiple mail boxes too!

Around another corner, and the unmistakable work of one of the city’s most unmistakable artists: Birdo.

wall mural by Birdo, In Ken Market

This one looks curiously like a muzzled dog.

The next Birdo creation, around a few more corners, gets me thinking instead about lobsters & parrots. Then I shake my head & just let it be whatever it wants to be.

by Birdo, in an alley N/W of Queen & Bathurst

By now our tour is finished, I’m just N/W of Queen & Bathurst, and I nip through an alley onto Bathurst itself.

Where I see an old fave.

on Bathurst, just n. of Queen West

I hope you get a kick out of it …


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.


The Creek, the Cats, the Café

22 January 2014 – On Saturday, I wanted both nature and city. Thanks to the magic of Toronto’s ravines, I could have both: down the slope of a ravine into trails along a creek, back up the slope again for city pavement and its attendant delights. (Cafés, for example. With lattes.)

First, nature. I head north on Coxwell, cross O’Connor Blvd and park on the edge of Cullen Bryant Park. It is one of a series of connected parks that collectively embrace both sides of Taylor Creek as it flows across town to the Forks of the Don River, where it becomes part of the Lower Don and runs on south into Lake Ontario.

I’ll just stride through the upper park and skip on down those stairs to creek level, I think as I lock up the car. Silly girl! All that snow hides ice. Reaching the stairs without falling down even once is my first challenge. And that’s nothing — nothing, my friends — compared to all those icy snow-crusted stairs, down-down-down-down to the water.

stairs from Cullen Bryant Park to Taylor Creek

I make it. Sideways, hand-over-hand on the rail and cautious foot-over-foot on each step, very inelegant, very slow… but successful. I am proud of myself. “No winter maintenance” says a polite little notice at the foot of the staircase. Right.

It’s worth it, and not just for the (if only to myself) bragging rights. How pretty it is, looking upstream as I cross the little wooden footbridge.

Taylor Creek from footbridge below Cullen Bryant Park

I pick my way along the north side of the creek, heading west. No particular reason for the choice, just… because.

It takes some picking. In addition to no-winter-maintenance, there are great tangles of ice-storm tree branches. Like this.

Keep Right says the signs by Taylor Creek

“Keep Right,” says the blue sign; “Bike Route” says the larger green one, its arrow also pointing right. In summer, they merely show where the trail does a dog-leg. At the moment… well, it’s not like you have much choice!

So I keep right, and carry on, and soon there’s some open space, just opposite another footbridge that crosses to Coxwell Ravine Park. I don’t take it, I’m fascinated by what I find on this side.

First, a reminder that the seasons do cycle ’round, and summer comes again.

fire pit in Taylor Creek Park opp. Coxwell Ravine Park

All set for summer fire circles. A few lonely picnic tables stand nearby as well, snowy at the moment, but patient. Their time will come.

And this. A charming little wreath, carefully made and so neatly bound with criss-cross pink ribbon.

small wreath in Taylor Creek Park

The supporting branch has splintered so the wreath hangs at an odd angle, but it is still very sweet. I can’t find any identifying notice or plaque. It is just there, a quiet tribute from someone, to someone.

Not many klicks under my belt yet, but I turn back.

The going really is fairly difficult. The few other people I meet are all sturdy young guys, not an Old Wrinkly to be seen except for me, so I feel honour is satisfied and I can do the rest of my walking back up top, on city streets.

It’s only as I retrace my way that I see the big red notice: Danger, it reads, in large letters. Unsafe Conditions.

"Danger Unsafe Conditions"

Well, “unsafe” is perhaps an exaggeration, but the warning does reinforce my decision to head for the urban delights of Danforth Avenue.

So back to my footbridge…

footbridge below Cullen Bryant Park, in Taylor Creek Park

… and back up all those stairs (again sideways, clinging as I go)…

… and a bit south-west to the Danforth…

… where of course I find an alley (excuse me, an official lane just north of Danforth, Dew Lang Lane).

And “The Jazz Cats.”

"The Jazz Cats," Dew Lang Ln

Clever little beasts, don’t you think, to balance so neatly on that ledge?

I drop down to Danforth itself and, at the corner of Woodcrest, have my next happy surprise. Victor’s alphabet is surviving years and winters very nicely indeed.

Victor's sidewalk art, Danforth & Woodcrest

Victor is a sidewalk artist, someone I met more than a year ago doing a paid job on the sidewalk in front of the Red Rocket Café, and he told me then that in addition to commissioned work, he makes some artistic contributions of his own.

One is this glorious series of letters of the alphabet, found along a sequence of Danforth street corners. I’ve never found all 26 letters, I’m not sure he did all 26 — but what fun it would be, to attempt to hunt them down! (I’m only sorry I have no contact info for him, can’t even turn up an online reference.)

More joy on the sidewalk, this time courtesy of a candy store called Sugar Mountain.

Sugar Mountain sidewalk promo

See? If you just walk on by, without so much as a jujube to sweeten your path… don’t blame them. They’ve done their best to show you what’s at stake.

But I walk on by, I do, because I am looking for something else. Also visual, also on the sidewalk, but perhaps harder to find, even though I know the location: Danforth & Logan.

Perhaps harder, because its creator, visual artist Emilia Jajus, has boasted that it is “invisible.” It’s one of the painted traffic signal boxes now appearing around town, but while others are painted to jump out from their surroundings, Emilia says she painted this one to disappear into its surroundings.

And I swear, I approach the street corner with dancing eyes, muttering I’d feel too stupid for words if I couldn’t find the thing, and then I am stunned that — for a moment — I really can’t find it. Good grief.

But then I see it. And laugh. And sketch a salute to Emilia, whom I met (and photographed) when she was transforming the Bell equipment box next to the Parliament St. branch of the Toronto Public Library.

Emilia Jajus signal box, Danforth & Logan

It’s perfect. The lower grey stripes mimic Danforth Ave. behind it, then the upper portion captures the street scene beyond — Yogurtys façade, plus the fire hydrant and red Canada Post box.

Oh, Emilia. Good for you.

And then, café time for me. I’d had a familiar old favourite in mind, but am suddenly taken with the very inviting Leonidas outlet just on the edge of the parkette here at the corner.

my latte in Leonidas, Danforth & Logan

I have a terrific latte, just look at that, and a crunchy-flaky almond croissant. Bliss.


  • Taylor Creek Park – various sites to be had, but the Ontario Trails Council has good info and photos as well  – http://www.ontariotrails.on.ca/trails-a-z/taylor-creek-trail
  • Emilia Jajus – various good pages, but click on Murals for photos showing how she created this particular signal box, plus other projects including the Bell equipment box mural I mentioned next to my library branch – www.EmiliaJajus.com
  • Leonidas Chocolates (Canada) – coffee, as you’ll see, is just a sideline; the big main deal is wonderful confections in chocolate  – http://leonidas-chocolates.ca

    "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"

  • Recent Posts

  • Walk, Talk, Rock… B.C.-style

  • Post Categories

  • Archives

  • Blog Stats

    • 89,281 hits
  • Since 14 August 2014

    Flag Counter
  • Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 1,645 other followers

%d bloggers like this: