Down, Down the Don

22 August 2016 – Who needs the Loch Ness Monster? We have our very own mutant fish, right here in the Don River.

detail, fish mural along the Lower Don Trail

Oh, all right, beside the Don River.

I don’t know that he, specifically, awaits me downstream, but I do anticipate art-by-the-Don, as I drop down from the Riverdale Park pedestrian bridge to join the trail heading south to Lake Ontario.

A powerful reminder: Bridgepoint Hospital there on the east bank, with its Bill Lishman sculptures tumbling down the river-side terrace.

view south down the Don, from Riverdale Park pedestrian bridge

I can’t, from here, see the sculptures with my physical eye, but my mental eye conjures them once more. (You can conjure them with this link to my December post, Artful Flows the Don.)

Some traditional graffiti art under the Gerrard St. bridge — framed & enhanced by reflections in the river itself.

under the Gerrard St bridge

Then again, who needs graffiti?

River reflections make art all by themselves.

reflections in the Don

I promise you: this image is right-side-up. That buff-colour horizontal line at the top is the far bank of the river; the greenery bottom-left is right at my feet; everything in between is converging reflections from a playful sky.

More not-amazing graffiti under bridges as I go, ho-hum, yawn.

I perk up again south of Queen Street, with this view westward through various bridge underpinnings to the edge of — I’m pretty sure — Underpass Park. Major-fine murals & graffiti in there!

view west toward Underpass Park

This means I’m approaching Don Landing, and access to the West Don Lands Park, once toxic wasteland, now wonderful. This takes me off-river — but hey, this is my walk, right? I can divert if I want to.

Up the stairs to Corktown Common, the playground at the park’s high point of land. Full of parents & kiddies — here a dad carrying off his toddler after patiently pushing her in one of those bucket swings for ages. (I know, I’ve been sitting under a tree watching.) They leave, but another little girl has already claimed a seat, and a young boy is fast approaching.

Corktown Common, West Don Lands Park

It’s all charming, but I find myself most charmed by the water-fountain arrangements. First, that they exist, because I am thirsty and appreciate free, pure water.

water founains, Corktown Common

And, second, that there is tri-level water for everyone: the Big People fountain, the Little People fountain, and the Doggie water bowl bolted into position on the ground.

Back to the Lower Don trail, and on to that mutant fish, just a little farther south.

mural south of Don Landing

I cannot find an artist’s signature. Sorry!

Then, just north of Lake Shore Blvd. East, I hit more expressway trestles & more art. Memory clicks in: I came by here in spring, when the artists were first beginning to lay on base coats.

Well! Look at it now …

expressway trestles n. of Lake Shore Blvd

The fish is the work of an artist that’s new to me. Correction: two artists, known as PA System.

Next up, girl with green hair, by MC Baldassari, someone I’m beginning to appreciate a lot.

MC Baldasaari's trestle

And then girl with black hair, by EGR — so distinctive! Once you’ve seen her work, you always know it.

EGR trestle

Right here, trails diverge east & west. I could head farther east, on to Ashbridge’s Bay, but I choose west instead, starting to loop back through woodland toward home.

One last art installation to amuse me as I go. Very urban-art. Very downtown.

in the woods...

Oh, those shopping carts. They do get around. (And so much for the vaunted “wheels-will lock” technology.)

I eventually emerge from the trails, pick up Cherry St., and cut north-west through the Distillery District.

Distillery District

Where, to my amazement and no doubt yours, I do not stop for a latte.





Out of Jail

10 March 2016 – And that’s just how we feel, this Tuesday morning, in the unseasonable, spring-like warmth. Out of winter’s jail!

Remember the fox in Joel Weeks Park (previous post), with snow tucked behind his ear? Just days later now, and his beaver colleague basks in the sun.

beaver sculpture, Joel Weeks Park

We bask too, Phyllis & I, both in summer-weight peaked caps and  bare-handed. We have no very precise plan, apart from wandering our way east of the Don River up toward Danforth.

The “toward” takes us to Gerrard St. East, and the still-surprising view of a recently restored, now-resplendent and repurposed Renaissance Revival heritage building.

former Don Jail, from Gerrard E.

Yes. The former Don Jail. It, too, is now “out of jail.”

It was a model of the latest thinking in penal reform when it opened in 1864 — natural light, fresh air, healthy work by day & an individual cell to sleep in by night. It was a dirty, overcrowded disgrace when it finally closed in 1977.

Now it is the administration building for Bridgepoint Hospital right next door, an historically appropriate use since penal & health-care facilities have long shared this site. An Isolation Hospital was built here in 1893, renamed Riverdale Hospital in 1904, the “half-round” hospital went up in 1964, renamed as Bridgepoint Hospital in 2002 and finally replaced with today’s Bridgepoint Active Healthcare facility in 2013.

And there sat the Don Jail, deterioriating in reverse lockstep with the health-care improvements next door. Now, finally, the buildings are in synch, and functionally linked as well.

The public is encouraged to tour the former jail. We march in through the imposing main door with its Father Time gargoyle.

Father  Time gargoyle, main door

Somehow we miss the stack of self-guiding leaflets, and have to depend on our own curiosity.

It takes us first into the central rotunda, to stare upwards at the iron catwalks that ring the rotunda and connect with the building’s two wings. We blink against the daylight pouring in from above — restored daylight, part of the original progressive design, but blocked in later, meaner years.

partial view of rotunda, from main level facing north

The ironwork is original, including the scrollwork dragons that support the wooden catwalk floors.

"dragons" support the catwalks...

Up to level 2, where we can see how cunningly long lines of cells have been joined up to become office space. Many original iron-bar doorways are now blocked, with handsome new wooden doors here and there, to mark the new, more generous footprint.

level 2, east wing

Signs, still, of the former padlocks at each of those one-time doors.

once padlocked

Down, down to the lower level, where some original cells (and heating ducts) have been preserved — though with a spanking fresh black & white paint-job, surely not a feature of the 1970s jail.

original group of cells, lower level

Even so, and even knowing the cells were originally meant to be for one inmate only, and only at night — even so, the size of the cell is a shock.

a cell -- full width!

We leave by the north door, into what is now pleasant park landscaping that leads on up to Riverdale Park. Well, it’s not entirely pleasant. Canada’s last executions took place in this jail in 1962, and these paving stones outline the one-time cemetery. (All bodies were exhumed and now lie in St. James Cemetery.)

site of cemetery

Up into Riverdale Park next, where a man ignores plentiful benches to perch on a tree stump instead, peacefully reading his book in the sun.

in Riverdale Park East

Much later — after a wander along Danforth and blissful coffees & treats at Leonidas — we double back through the Bridgepoint grounds. This time we are between the hospital itself and the Don River.

Where we see yet more out-of-jail joy in light, colour and movement.

e.g. of Bill Lishman's sculptures at Bridgepoint


It’s a return visit to Bill Lishman‘s exuberant sculptures, dancing their way down the slope.




    "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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