Generating Magic

20 June 2016 – It’s a trim, 21st-c. logo, don’t you agree?


The decidedly un-trim wall around it is the perfect context. This logo proclaims the current, ephemeral use of an industrial dinosaur, the Richard L Hearn Generating Station — Canada’s first station to produce hydro power from steam, when it opened in 1961, the steam itself produced originally by coal and then by natural gas until the station closed in 1983.

The hulk has sat there in Toronto’s Port Lands ever since, disused (except by film companies, who adore it), a reminder of another era as all around it the once-industrial Port Lands are increasingly detoxified and transformed for entertainment, parkland and other purposes.

The hearn generating station, seen from north side of the Turning Basin

I take this photo Saturday, a steamy Saturday let me tell you, from the north side of the Turning Basin, as I bike around & pay a return visit to “The Hearn.”

Because, you see, the hulk is — at least temporarily — The Hearn, venue 10-26 June for Toronto’s 10th annual Luminato Festival. Until this year, the huge range of events had been staged wherever possible, all over the city. This year, it is all concentrated in The Hearn.

It’s hard to convey the surreal immensity of this ragged, enormous space. Festival factoids tell me it is three times the size of the Tate Modern, and larger than the Lincoln Centre, NYC.

They need not eat their hearts out. They are considerably more polished inside.

inside the Hearn, up through Turbine Hall

You see? The eight power generating units have been ripped out; we look up, up through the immensity of the five bays that once contained them.

up through Turbine Hall, photo by Chris Corbin

And see traces, here and there, of what used to be. Electric circuit boxes along a wall, for example …

power boxes, disused

A puzzled guard very politely asks me: Why am I taking this picture? What beauty do I see in these rusted old boxes? I say it is history speaking, telling us what majesty and power and purpose this place once had. His whole face glows with pleasure. He looks at the boxes, looks back at me, smiles again. “Yes! Thank you!”

For me, it is part of the magic — the glimpses of that first purpose, co-existing with the wildly imaginative, wildly successful, wildly joyful 2016 purpose of this Festival.

In the Festival catalogue, Luminato’s artistic director, Jorn Weisbrodt, calls it:

a new model for a cultural institution, one where everything is open, inclusive and porous. A place where visitors and audiences move freely … wandering from various exhibitions to a meal … then see a play, participate in a gigantic choir sing-along, hear a classical concert, a baroque concert, or a rock concert, and end up with an LGBTQ hip-hop club event — all in one massive space.

And indeed, one evening, I attended that choir sing-along (me and 1,500 others and Rufus Wainwright), and returned last Friday evening with friends Chris and Susan to watch Toronto’s Monkey Vault team put on a parkour demo around the building — and coach the braver members of their audience through some moves of their own.

Chris took this shot of the main floor space, as spectators began gathering for the various evening events.

in Tubine Hall, waiting for Monkey Vault; photo by Chris Corbin

Parkour, as a sport, has evolved from obstacle course training to, well, every inventive, athletic, fun way possible to play with urban spaces. And what fun these Monkey Vault guys had, paying an official, sanctioned visit to a whopping big space that they may just have — ahem — already visited a time or two on the QT! (Shush.)

Part of their fun included swarming up The Hearn’s “Grand Staircase” — decorated with neon tubing for Festival purposes.

Grand Staircase, The Hearn

This is my shot, taken on my return visit Saturday, with the neon tubing shimmering into my overwhelmed little camera, making the scene even more surreal than it really was — though only marginally so, because it is hard to out-do the total mad effect, as seen by the naked eye.

Climb that Grand Staircase, as I did, and you are on the Jackman Gallery — home to a pop-up resto called Le Pavillion (a very hot ticket indeed), a bar, and Trove. Trove is one of the art exhibits, “a view of Toronto in 50 of its art treasures,” photographed in various public & private collections and displayed all along one wall.

It includes, from the TIFF Film Reference Library, Tom Frost’s Mujahedeen arabic machine Oliver, one of many typewriters used in David Cronenberg’s 1991 film adaption of  Naked Lunch.

arabic typiewriter, in Trove

See? Arabic characters on the keys.

Far end of the Gallery, a close-up view of another exhibition: One Thousand Speculations, the 7.9-m. diameter mirror ball created by Michel de Broin for Luminato in 2013, hung again this year.

One Thousand Speculations mirror ball, shot by Chris Corbin

Chris took this photo on Friday; I look more closely at the ball (the world’s largest, they tell me) on Saturday. One thousand mirrors, spiralling their reflections endlessly throughout the vast space, weaving it together somehow, and enchanting us with the lazy, silent magic of dancing light.

Signage urges us to look about, tells us to look for a remaining coal bunker up high, some coal chutes, steam vents and oil lines still snaking their way around the steel grid. I can’t find all these things, but later learn that tour guides point them out.

Back downstairs I prowl the main space again, impressed by how well they use the space, how unafraid they are of its dimensions, how they make each pop-up section work. Another bar, for example, over by the enclosed theatre …

a bar in Turbine Hall, next to the theatre

And finally, enough, I leave. Back out into the heat & sunshine. One last look back …

entrance/exit to The Hearn


Oops. Sorry.

So I look forward instead.

Past the rows of (temporary) bike racks to the rubble & grasses & wildlowers in the wild spsce beyond. Where there is another work of art — one in the permanent collections of the AGO, no less.

It is interactive, in the best contemporary traditions, and comes with its own sound effects.

detail, Untilled

Bees. Buzzing bees.

Untilled, in field next to The Hearn

This is Untilled, by Pierre Huyghe, a concrete reclining female nude – yes, you got that part — her head encased in a bee hive, with bees adding to the honey each day. And pollinating the surrounding flora, the signage tells us, “extending the work beyond an anthropomorphic definition of art.”

Oh, I wish they hadn’t added that last precious bit of artspeak!

But I like the sculpture anyway, and I cycle back home contented.




Earth, Air, Fire, Water

31 March 2016 – If you’re paying any attention at all, all four elements dance with you, every walk you take. But, sometimes, they connect with more power than usual. Tuesday’s walk along Toronto’s west-end waterfront is one of those occasions.

For example, Air/Fire/Water right here at Toronto Fire Station 334.

Soaring sky, glinting water, and the Wm. Lyon Mackenzie Fire Boat in the slip.

fire boat, Toronto Fire Station 334

So-very-appropriate to name the fire boat for the City’s first mayor — but here’s the joke: he was also one of the leaders of the 1837 Rebellion, and quite rightly dubbed a “firebrand” in William Kilgour’s biography. A man, in other words, more likely to ignite fires than extinguish them …

A few other hints to our coming walk adventures in that photo, not that the Tuesday Walking Society knows it at the time: the fierce outline of the Canada Malting Company silos against the background sky and, to their left, the more prosaic outline of Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport.

Close to hand, the fourth element: Earth. No. More precisely, Earth & Water.

detail, Spadina Quay Wetland signage

Immediately west of the Fire Station, the Spadina Quay Wetland. Once a parking lot, it is now a spawning ground for the Northern Pike (“a key indicator of the health of Toronto Bay”) and a support for the entire aquatic community.

I take the photo for the pike silhouette, and for the handsome appearance of the rusted metal. I only learn later that this wooden edging is a pilot project in urban park edging for such purposes. Here’s the problem: wetlands look, well, messy. The healthier they are, the messier they look. What will make a suitable boundary between the wetland and the smooth, urbane, urban pathway to one side? The trick was to devise a modular system that wouldn’t look too prissy for the wetland, yet would fit nicely with the park edge, and would also provide seating. Read all about it here.

On we go, through the Wetland, then through Toronto Music Garden park immediately to the west, and then we veer onto the planking for Marina Quay West. Lots of boats out here, still neatly swaddled for winter.

boats in Marina Quay West

We are slightly wary as we prowl — the marina is designed for people who belong there & have keys & all & all — but nobody challenges us. No external signs of action, but music wafts out from some of the boats, suggesting owners are beavering away inside.

A moment to admire another red & white boat, the view hampered by the fact that since we don’t have keys we have to view it from the one public-access walkway.

tug with chair, Marina Quay West

In my ignorance, I think of it as a tug. Maybe it even is a tug. Phyllis & I particularly like the red Muskoka chair up on top.

Back out of our Marina detour, closer every step to those 1928 Canada Malting Company silos — one of only two sets of silos left on the waterfront.

Canada Malting Company silos, Toronto Bay

I love severe industrial architecture, especially when tinged with modernism, as here, and I love Prairie grain silos. So I really love this structure, and I am glad that — once threatened with demolition, and still empty though protected by historical designation — it is still solidly present at lake edge. Not as large as it once was, battered, empty, its future unknown, but, by golly, emphatically still there.

detail, silos

I am thinking anthropomorphic thoughts about loss, resilience & survival as I round the waterfront corner of the building.

And have the breath knocked out of me.

Because never mind architectural equivalents of those characteristics. Here they all are, in human terms.

Ireland Park

We have come across Ireland Park, opened in 2007 by the President of Ireland, a testimonial to the Irish Famine of 1845-1851, to the millions of famine refugees who emigrated and, specifically, to the 38,560 who arrived by steamer in Toronto Harbour in 1847. At a time when the city itself numbered only 20,000 people.

sculpture, Ireland Park

The bronze sculptures are by Irish artist Rowan Gillespie, who had already created 7 such sculptures on the Dublin waterfront, to honour all those who fled. Ireland Park here contains 5 figures, honouring those who made it to our shores and, by the reduced number, those who died en route.

The man with outstretched arms symbolizes the joy of reaching land; the pregnant woman, the hope of new life and a new life for all; and this gaunt youth …

sculpture, Ireland Park

the newcomer mixture of hope and trepidation.

Walk to the jagged limestone pillars behind. Peer between their faces. Read the names.

names etched, Ireland Park

Of those 38,560 immigrants, some 1,180 died upon arrival or soon after. When this project began, 32 of their names were known. By 2007, dogged research had brought the identified total to 675 — information sent back to Ireland with H.E. Mary McAleese after she opened the park. Reading names on site, I am touched but saddened that “A Widow Hughes” is known only by her surname; knowing what I have since learned, I am touched and impressed that even this much has been discovered and made public.

A hint of Fire, and a lot of Water and Earth, in our walk so far. Now it is time for Air.

We walk the new underwater tunnel to Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport. City-side, they’ve placed life-size statues of (L) William Barker and (R) William (Billy) Bishop — friends, and two of the greatest fighter pilots of the First World War. Bishop with 72 victories, Barker with 50, and between them very long lists of awards and decorations.

Barket, L; Bishop, R

Through the tunnel, back up the escalator on the airport side, into a lobby of Billy Bishop memorabilia — complete with a full-size model of his beloved Nieuport 17 suspended overhead. (Go see the real thing in the Canadian War Museum.)

Nieuport 17 model, Billy Bishop Airport

Only a model, but faithful and almost complete. Add navigational equipment and an engine, says the signage, and this model could really fly.

And now, speaking of navigation …

A Small But Important Geographical Note

I misled you! We were not in Leslieville last post, as I muttered about how Toronto’s east-downtown is finally spiffing up. We were in Corktown, as Larry Webb (faithful reader with sharp eyes) pointed out.






    "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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