“Live, Love, Paint”

There’s Elizabeth Gilbert, American author … and then there’s Spud1, Toronto street artist.

I don’t see his garage mural with this upper-left-corner mantra until later in my walk, but, belated or not, it perfectly sets my theme.

detail, spud1 garage mural nr Danforth & Pape

I’m walking east on Danforth, heading for Main St. or farther, but of course soon find myself wiggling around alleys just north of Danforth. Lively as the street always is, I am endlessly curious about what might be going on behind its store-fronts.

Lots is going on, is the answer. Even in this modest little stretch between Logan & Greenwood.

I’m attracted by this long line of colour blocking. No rambunctious alley art here, just pure hits of colour.

Red. Black. Turquoise. White.

nr Logan & Danforth

I reach the far side of the white building, look left, & start to laugh.

It’s time for rambunctious!

alley off Danforth

The fish in that right-hand garage is particularly splendid.

detail, right-hand garage

Next comes Spud1 — aka Spud, and, especially earlier, Spudbomb, when he was mostly known for his happy-face hand grenades. He’s been branching out in style more recently, and isn’t this a fine example? First I see a curled-up fox; later I see his name.spud1 garage mural

Mantra as promised, upper-left corner.

Some other Big Names in these alleys, including Cruz1art.

I’d like to call this a pink panther, with a bow to Inspector Clouseau, but suspect he’s more likely a tiger. Or something else. (I’m the one who called a baboon a lion in All Along the Milky Way & had to be gently corrected by DJ in a comment, so what do I know?)

Anyway, he’s pink, & he’s pretty certainly a Big Cat, let’s go with that.

cruz1art garage mural

Then there’s haunting lady with mattresses …

artist name covered, if there

Usually alley mattresses are grubby & potentially crawling with life you’d rather not meet. These are pristine, each tidily wrapped, per bed-bug bylaws. Another mystery of alley life.

A whole fence of drip art, over by Donlands.

Look at this, think how ugly the underlying fence really is, and join me in thanking whoever decided to make it, instead, a work of art.

nr Donlands & Danforth

Some sort of Big Cat earlier; three more cats to round out the tour.

I’m practically at Jones when I see The Jazz Cats. This is wonderful! I first saw this cheeky image several winters ago, and here he still is. A little battered — but what true alley cat is anything else?

high on a wall nr Jones

A much sketchier alley cat, but also quite gloriously battered.

guarding an alley intersection...

And, to close, my favourite cat of all.

He is alive-alive-o, sashaying down the alley like he’s channelled Mae West, passing one garage mural & another, and another, and another … and then he makes his choice.

He sits.

the cat that got the canary...

Of course he chooses the canary. (Oh that Uber 5000.)


“Happy Tuesday”

9 November 2016 – The sign has no political import, you understand. It’s just doing its sidewalk job, drumming up business for the café inside — and very time-efficiently at that. Why write a whole new sign, when you can just edit one word?

repurposed café sidewalk sign

But the Tuesday Walking Society is out there on November 8. This is Election-Tuesday in the USA, a day that will make a lot of Americans very happy indeed.

Others, not so much.

In fact, enough others are unhappy enough to cause the Canadian Citizenship and Immigration website to crash the following day. More immigration inquiries than it could handle.

But on Tuesday itself, nobody knows any of this. It’s a warm, sunny morning in Toronto, and Phyllis & I are working our way west on Bloor Street to Christie Pits Park, located at — you guessed it — Christie Street.

A few blocks short of the park, we dive into an alley just north of Bloor. Look! Raccoons!

alley to the east of Christie St., n. of Bloor

Two surprises. First, they are painted on a garage door, not live on the ground. And, second, I find them delightful. (Not necessarily my attitude to their marauding live cousins.)

We have no particular reason to visit the park, except we haven’t done so in a while, and it’s as good a starting point as any for further exploration.

Fall colours have been muted this year, we agree, but the golds are still blazing throughout the park.

still brilliat trees, Christie Pits Park

We kick through the leaves underfoot, wrinkle happy noses at the distinctive aroma, cock our ears to the distinctive sound.

We see a big, blue canoe. Phyllis stops, so do I, but I also murmur, “It’s awfully scruffy…”

Community Canoe, in Christie Pits Park

“It’s meant to be,” she replies. (The world’s gentlest reprimand.)

“That’s what native species do, this time of year…” And she then explains Community Canoe, the network of pollinator-friendly canoe gardens, part of the Homegrown National Park Project.

Leaving the park, I turn back for a moment to watch four ladies practise their morning tai chi. Sure, peaceful movements, in a warm, peaceful dip in the ground.

tai chi i Christie Pits Park

Distinct change of mood as we begin exploring neighbouring streets & alleys!

More urban wildlife in an alley off Ossington, once again painted not live.

alley nr Ossington n. of Bloor


As with the raccoons, I find the painted variety delightful, the live variety somewhat less so. (In fact, when it comes to pigeons, I tend to agree with Tom Lehrer.)

More alleys in the general area, some with very fine murals, others that owe their impact more to Mother Nature than to any local artist.

another Ossington area alley

A bit farther north in the alley, though, some happy murals.

A giddy flower …

Ossington-area alley

and smiling faces in an Elicser mural. (The very first smiles I have seen on any work by this artist.)

same alley, farther north

We walk a lot more — up to Dupont, as far west as Lansdowne, south to Dundas and then head east again.

The loop eventually brings us to Trinity Bellwoods Park. I drag Phyllis to a vaguely remembered stretch of pavement, a place where various pathways intersect near the north-east corner of the park.

I want to know if “Sun slant low…” is still visible on the pavement, or if time has scuffed it away.

It is faint, but still there. I am so pleased.

in the N/E corner of Trinity Bellwoods Park

I had to come home & look up old records to see when I first noticed, first photographed, this extraordinary love poem to the sun’s yearly trajectory.

There! 20 December, 2014. (Click: you’ll be rewarded with the full text.)

And when better to honour the poem, than as we approach the winter solstice?


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 …


Philosophy on the Street

27 June 2016 – I have this weaknesses for signs, or, at least, short messages on walls and garage doors. The people’s philosophy, yes?

Sometimes, said People simply latch onto an existing, official sign.

For example, this stern, and very 21st-c., reminder of unacceptable behaviour — even in the wide=open spaces of the Humber Arboretum.

in Humber Arboretum

Get out your little pen-knife, find the next example of that sign, and express your own, more permissive philosophy instead.

in Huber Arboretum

Phyllis & I are impressed by the attention to detail. Any old knife-wielder could have thought to scratch out the word “No.” It took further imagination, we agree, to remove both the forbidding cross-bar in the image, and — especially — the “g” in “smoking.” Gives it the appropriately casual, cavalier air, don’t you think?

Jump to last Saturday, when AGO volunteer colleague Chloe & I are prowling the lanes & alleys very roughly in the College/Queen/Ossington area. Lots of new street art to be seen, much of it being created as we walk by, because Saturday is the last day of Toronto’s “Love Letter to the Great Lakes” international street art festival.

More of that next post, I promise.

Meanwhile, back to Philosophy on the Street, as neatly written on alley walls & doors.

There is the Existential Dilemma category …

alley in Parkdale

and the Moral Imperative category (subset, Specific Applications) …

alley in Parkdale

and the straight-out, all-purpose Moral Imperative …

alley in Parkdale

and, alas …

alley in Parkdale

the reminder of Ultimate Fate.

Garage Math: 1 + 4

20 January 2016 – Let’s start with the 1.

It’s a single garage wall, tucked toward the back of some open space by the south/west corner of Spadina & Dupont, but you notice it anyway.

near S/W corner, Spadina & Dupont

That’s just a bonus.

It’s the 4 — the four sides of a sway-backed garage toward the front of the space — that really inspire you to go walk-about.

Down the east side, which commands attention despite some scrawls & whatever that is, leaning against it …

west side, garage Spadina & Dupont

then around the back, seriously loopy …

back of Spadina/Dupont garage

around & up the west side …

west side, Spadina/Dupont garage

for a major reward, spread across the building’s doors and north (street) face.

Dupont-facing garage doors, nr Spadina

Veterans of this blog may remember that cat face, I’ve shown it before.

This time, let’s enjoy the whole building. Plus its backdrop.

4 + 1.






    "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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