Also T.O.

30 March 2017 – Oh yes, street art is so Toronto … but the beaches & parks along Lake Ontario are also Toronto. Phyllis & I take the Tuesday Walking Society (all two of us) out to the Beaches boardwalk, and start stomping around.

After a five-week absence, I am freshly appreciative. A dull day, grey water exchanging pixels with a grey sky, your eye could fall over the horizon.

Well, no it couldn’t.

Because it bumps up against those happily garish Muskoka chairs, and that happily prancing dog, who knows his owner is about to throw the stick. Again! (And she does, and the dog shoots off in full chase, throwing up little spurts of sand with each footfall.)

This year’s Winter Stations has just ended, Phyllis tells me, who visited the art installation, now in its third year, soon after it opened in late February. More than 350 design entries this year, worldwide, with eight winners.

The pieces are already being dismantled. Which somehow makes them even more intriguing. No signboards to tell you what is supposed to be what, just you & your reactions.

I like the reflections. I like the way the luminous silver panels fold into the luminous grey day, reflecting sky and water and each other. (Later I look it up online: This is Aurora, the work of Hunber College students, and, I discover, meant to dissolve visually into its surroundings.)

We’re walking west, close to the water. It brings us to the Leuty Lifeguard Station, one of two vintage ones (the other on Cherry Beach) still in use, and the symbol of the Beach neighbourhood. This is real life, not a winning design for Winter Stations — but it is just as powerful: the tender mother, the entranced child playing with sand, the lapping waves, the grey waters flowing out to meet the grey sky at the horizon.

Phyllis pulls me over to the next Winter Stations design. Collective Memory, says the battered signboard, now propped askew in the sand: the work of Spaniard Mario Garcia and Italian Andrea Govi, it offers two walls shimmering with 6,000 clear bottles, each one inviting visitors to insert a card with the story of how they came to live in Canada.

“The day I was here,” says Phyllis,”people were writing out their comments, and then telling each other their stories as they inserted the slips into the bottles.”

Eventually, we turn back east, farther from the water now, up on the wooden boardwalk.

More wood over there in the mid-distance: the 8-metre Beacon (by Portuguese team of Joao Araujo Sousa & Joanna Correia Silva). Later online reading confirms what my eye assumes at the time — yes, it is inspired by the silhouette of a lighthouse. It was also, when active, a drop-off point for charitable donations of food and clothing.

But my eye is drawn as much by the lake as by the art, by that horizontal line ‘way out there, slicing water from sky — or, perhaps, seaming them together.

And I think again, as I do every time I am here on the Beaches boardwalk, I think about Rita Letendre’s acrylic on canvas, Aforim.

When I stare at it in the Art Gallery of Ontario, I think about this stretch of beach. When I am on the beach, I think about the painting.

You see?

Good news for all admirers of this great Quebec artist: the AGO will mount a retrospective of her work, Rita Letendre: Fire & Light, from 19 June to 17 September.

Down the Bluffs with Doris McCarthy

3 November 2016 – Finally on the Doris McCarthy Trail! We found it in spring — and also found it closed for restoration. Grrr. It has now reopened, and we are back. (Thanks to Phyllis’ perseverance, I must add.)

I knew of the artist Doris McCarthy; even, decades back, attended a showing of her works at which she was present (though I was too shy to approach her). I also knew vaguely that she had long lived out on the Scarborough Bluffs.

Now the artist and the place come together beneath our feet, as we start down the gravelled trail. Signs warn cyclists to dismount, to respect the steep slope.

partway down the Trail, with Lake Ontario already visible

Not that steep, we agree, as we march on down, Lake Ontario already in view.

The day is sunny-cloudy, but not raining, so we are content. And anyway, how could you not be content, with views like this?

view west, from foot of Doris McCarthyTrail

Down there in the distance to the west, Leslie Spit. Up close, rusty fall colours in the shrubbery. Linking the two, great striated bands of glacial material, layer on layer, North America’s most complete record of Pleistocene geology.

Smack at the foot of the Doris McCarthy Trail, a sculpture.

Passage, by Marlene Hilton Moore

Passage, it is called, and it is perfect. The work of Marlene Hilton Moore, a tribute to both Doris McCarthy and the Bluffs she loved so much. We peer down the ribs …

Passage

see two columns of dates along the spine, & rush back to the plaque for help.

One column tracks major events in the life of Doris McCarthy, from birth (1910) to years training in & then teaching art, to her 12-acre purchase of land on the Bluffs (1939) and subsequent establishment of first a cottage & then a permanent home on the site (Fool’s Paradise, 1946), her travels & honours as an artist, her induction into the Order of Canada (1987), her donation of Fool’s Paradise to the Ontario Heritage Trust (1998), & her death, age 100, in 2010. Fittingly, the Trust now runs her beloved home as the Doris McCarthy Artist-in-Residence Centre.

The other column tracks major events in the life of the Scarborough Bluffs. It starts a little earlier: 23,000 B.C., when Lake Iroquois is first formed.

We amble westward on the lakeside trail, enjoying the warmth, the breeze, nature’s extravagant textures.

heading west along Lake Ontario, from foot of Doris McCarthy Trail

And, oh, in a while, the path successively narrows and finally ends.

Scarborough Bluffs, looking west

We turn back, explore our way to the east; explore, too, what else is on offer, along with those sweeping vistas.

Rocks, for example, along the beach …

beach rock

and beautifully crafted little bird nests …

at path's edge

and, of course!, an inukshuk, out on a point.

inukshuk, beyond the tree

Finally we loop back once again to Passage …

marking the foot of the Doris McCarthy Trail

and head back up the Doris McCarthy Trail to the city streets of Scarborough.

It is, we agree, much steeper to climb than to descend!

 

 

 

We’re Bluffing

3 August 2016 – Bluff. One short word, at least three meanings.

  1. noun or verb: a pretence of strength or confidence, to gain an advantage
  2. adjective: good-natured, blunt, frank, hearty
  3. noun: a cliff, having a vertical or steep broad front

I teased you with # 1 in the post title, but in fact the Tuesday Walking Society is out there enjoying # 3.

Phyllis & I are down by Lake Ontario in Bluffers Park, with its stunning 14 km of … yes … bluffs.

Scarborough Bluffs, from Bluffers Park

We first head west from the parking lot, suitably grateful to the Wisconsin glacier for all this beauty — and, layer by layer, this geological record of the last stages of the Great Ice Age.

The glacier first swept in some 70,000 years ago, creating a large river delta and depositing the sediments, now laden with fossil plants & animals, that compose the first 46 m. of the bluffs. The final 61 m. are alternating layers of boulder clay & sand, laid down in subsequent glacial advances & retreats until the final retreat, some 12,000 years ago.

It truly is awe-inspiring. It also, apparently, tempts idiots to do idiotic things.

warninf! don't be an idiot

Ah well.

Lake-side we look across an inlet to a grassy, treed point of land. See the synchronicity of picnic tables? Up top,  finicky humans, who expect the table to include legs & benches. In the water, a humble swan, who thinks the table-top is quite enough, thank you.

two picnic tables...

We find, then walk a path that takes us from our lake-side beach to that point of land. It leads us along a very pretty pond, with water-lilies & a rather large drowsing turtle, and the shimmering reflection of that westward range of bluffs.

view over settling pond westward to the bluffs

But it’s not just a pretty pond! It’s hard at work, 24/7. Walkways & screenings tell us what’s happening here; we’ve seen them in Humber Bay Park, at the western end of the city’s chain of lake-front parks.

view of apparatus in settling pond

These ponds catch storm water surging toward the lake from city sewers, and settle out the sediments. Thank you Karl Dunker, the Swede who invented Dunker’s Flow, the system that allows some heavy-duty water management to be carried out so unobtrusively.

Now Phyllis & I turn eastward, doubling back past the parking lot, then on a blissfully shady path alongside various marinas, and finally to the public beach and, beyond that, the eastern range of bluffs.

view along the eastern range of bluffs

Message to idiots: don’t climb the bluffs, right, you’ve got that message. Also, should you happen to be in parkland atop the bluffs, don’t prance yourself out to the very, very edge.

This is why.

overhang along the eastern range

Quite the overhang, yes?

We stand mesmerized for a bit, watching some idiot prance himself darn near the very, very edge. We fantasize watching him do a Homer-Simpson cartwheel down the cliff, squealing as he goes.

It doesn’t happen. He retreats, safe & sound. We walk on, soon diverted by a narrow rivulet that widens as it twists & turns its way down to the lake.

a rivulet joining the lake, on the western edge of the public swimming area

We follow it, then walk on, at water’s edge, our boots pressing into the firm wet sand. It is all very peaceful & very beautiful.

And also very hot & very sunny. Perhaps this is enough? we ask each other, not wishing to join the ranks of idiots, albeit for a different reason.

We decide to walk almost to that striated bluff down there …

a bluff near the eastern end of the range

its layers a striking example of all those glacial advances & retreats … and then, prudently, we turn back west.

This time we follow a broad path away from the lake edge, caught between trees on one side and grasses & other greenery at the foot of the bluffs. Wooden fence posts mark the way, the musky high-summer odours of wildflowers fill the air, cicadas sing, everything is bleached & somnambulant.

path along the eastern range of bluffs

We, too, feel bleached & somnambulant.

Don’t worry. A little later we’re tucked up in a favourite café, and we’re all perky again.

Speaking of coffee …

Some of you were as amazed as I, to discover coffee cupping. (See “In My Cups,” 23 July.) Here’s your chance to take part in a cupping — or perhaps join a workshop in roasting or brewing coffee, instead. If you live in Toronto, that is. Visit the education page of Merchants of Green Coffee to learn more. And hurry: the next cupping workshop is Wednesday, Aug 10.

 

Wind & Water

7 July 2016 – There is a breeze as the Tuesday Walking Society sets out, but it’s nothing — nothing! — compared to the wind-power I discover after our walk is officially over.

Phyllis & I are focused on water, not wind: it is hot & sticky, and we agree the only thing to do is head for Lake Ontario. Not to swim, but even the sight & sound of water should cool us down. (Shouldn’t it?)

The first big splash comes at the east end of David Crombie Park — not yet lake-front, but a very fine fountain to cheer us on our way.

fountain at east end of David Crombie Park, on The Esplanade

The next splash is much smaller. On the other hand, it is multiple. I catch the Sugar Beach splash pad just as the jets are revving up again.

splash pad revving up, Sugar Beach

Some children stayed in it through the dead period, waiting patiently for the next eruption. Not that little boy on the left! See how he is streaking back in, as soon as he hears the first whoosh?

A moment’s near-excitement in the Harbourfront stretch of the Toronto Harbour. A Zodiac? A diver in the water? We join other passers-by clustered by the boat. Nobody quite thinks it will be sunken treasure (or a corpse …), but we hope for, well, something interesting.

off Harbourfront, in Toronto Harbour

Alas, the agreeable young woman overseeing the dive — her cap shading her eyes & identifying this as an H.M.C.S. York operation — tells us they’re just retrieving a bit of superstructure that had fallen off one of the vessels moored near-by. Oh, darn.

Phyllis & I watch a small flotilla of ducks paddle by: mamma in the lead, babies churning industriously along in her wake. We look past the ducks, & start to laugh. The human equivalent:

sailboat class in Toronto Harbour

Wouldn’t you be impressed if I identified the class of sailboat for you? I’d be even more impressed … but, alas, it’s not going to happen.

Now look at that speck in the sky, upper right. Yes, a descending airplane, which I also cannot identify, but at least I know where it’s going: it’s on final approach to Billy Bishop Airport, on the west end of Toronto Island.

Just past Simcoe Street, Phyllis & I find a lake-front café for our traditional mid-walk pause. Most un-traditionally, I do not order a latte. I am seduced by a strawberry-banana smoothie (plain, natural yogurt plus frozen fruit, period). Oh, yum. I may switch allegiance for the rest of the summer.

Right from the café window, more water. This time lapping its way under the Simcoe Wave Deck.

Simcoe Wave Deck, Queens Quay W. nr Simcoe

It’s one of three wave decks along this stretch of waterfront, each on the land edge of a public dock, and each a tribute to the waves and contours of the Great Lakes. This one has the most dramatic curves: some up to 2.8 metres above the lake.

We head inland, make our way east along King St., Phyllis peels off at Yonge to catch a subway north, I continue east on King, and at Church St. offer myself one last sight, sound & smell of water: the cascading water-wall in the Toronto Sculpture Gardens.

Toronto Sculpture Gardens, King E. & Church

No sculpture at the moment, but on hot summer days, we are all perfectly happy with the tiny park’s greenery, peacefulness & water.

I cross the street. The Anglican Cathedral of St. James is immediately opposite, and — I suddenly remember — they have regular Tuesday organ recitals. The sign is out, the church doors are open; I go in.

The recital has just begun. I sit in the calm, cool church nave, and let music — instead of water — wash over me.

a few of the 5,101 pipes of the organ of St.  James Cathedral

Wind-power, yes?

Later, I read about this organ online: a Montreal-built, 1888 English Romantic organ, subsequently maintained & expanded by the legendary Casavant Frères of St-Hyacinthe, Québec for most of the 20th c., with a solid-state console installed in 1979.

If that means wind-power is no longer involved, please do not tell me. I like to think of wind, surging through those 5,101 pipes, setting our eardrums a-flutter, and being converted to the most glorious sound, deep inside our brains.

 

Danger at the Cliff Edge

11 May 2016 – Never mind “Into the Woods” and “Into the City,” my friends — that’s for sissies. If you want a little excitement in your life, just go dance with the cliff edges.

warning near Sylvan Park, Scarborough Bluffs

Never mind the cliff edge. By now, the Tuesday Walking Society itself is tempted to collapse, from sheer frustration.

First, we take ourselves all the way east into Scarborough (for downtown girls, a thrilling adventure in itself); then we struggle to find parking anywhere near the launch point for the Doris McCarthy Trail down through Gate’s Gully, since everything on the closest residential street has been commandeered by a film shoot; then we discover our ultimate parking success is irrelevant since the Trail is temporarily closed, due to a washout; then we drive on, hoping to find another launch point for this assault on the Waterfront Trail and the Scarborough Bluffs, in whatever combination may offer itself …

You get the picture.

But we persevere, and we succeed, and soon we are parked on another tucked-away Scarborough residential street above the Bluffs. Where to our joy we discover a sign pointing to Sylvan Park.

And another sign warning us about those cliff edges.

warning sign, near Sylvan Park

The “I [hemp] TO” is a sticker, some marijuana-lover’s addition to the warning. You may disregard it, though perhaps loving Toronto in that particular way could add a new variable to your cliff-edge experience.

We don’t add that variable to our experience. We are sufficiently taken with the challenges of finding our way via streets & connecting pathways to the park.

Where, indeed, we are at cliff’s edge! Albeit behind a fence.

view east from Sylvan Park

Photos never show you the drama of the vertical drop. Please note the teeny-tiny size of those human beings ‘way below, and be suitably impressed.

Not a large park, but secluded, very pretty, and quite rightly equipped with benches from which you can admire the views eastward & westward along Lake Ontario.

view east from Sylvan Park

Phyllis points across the fencing toward the west side of the park. We note the concrete slab where a bench used to sit — but has prudently been withdrawn, from a collapsing edge.

abandoned bench slab, facing west

Not that teenage boys care about collapsing edges. (Though one does seem to care, if only slightly, about the click of my camera.)

Right, fine, that’s Sylvan Park. Now what?

A pleasant dog-walking man gives us instructions on how to get ourselves over to Guildwood Park and, with some bushwhacking luck, find a switchback path down to those beckoning trails ‘way below at water’s edge.

His directions are good, we navigate farther east, park again & start walking across Guildwood Park on its upper level.

Spring is jumping up all around us. With baby-bronze leaves just starting to unfurl …

new leaves, Guildwood Park

and pretty yellow, if anonymous (to us) wildflowers …

wildflowers, Guildwood Park

and wetland bits, especially welcome this dry spring.

standing water, Guildwood Park

And — of course! — more dire warnings about collapsing cliff edges.

Guildwood Park warning sign

We are becoming connoisseurs of these warning signs. We agree this one wins the award for Most Dramatic Imagery.

We find & scuffle on down the switchback trail, knees bent, leaning slightly back on our heels, and arrive still upright at the lake.

Where we look up at those much-touted cliff edges, now towering over us.

Scarborough Bluffs, from base of Guildwood Park

And agree, that yessir, they obviously can suddenly collapse. Those pretty turf edges are curling out into empty space, aren’t’ they?

We follow the gravel path on toward the east …

path east, below Guildwood Park

and spy one sole inuksuk.

How odd that he is the only one, given all the breakwater rubble lying around.

inuksuk, below Guildwood Park

He isn’t really that wonderful, either, but I find I am very protective of him. He is doing his best.

Phyllis admires a spider web, whose “best” — given its fly-count — is clearly very good indeed.

spider web, below Guildwood Park

The flies undoubtedly admire it rather less.

We begin chattering a bit about when to turn back. Will there be some logical point at which to about-face?

And then it presents itself: the end of the trail.

trail's eastern end, below Guildwood Park

Back we go. And climb back up the cliff. And do not fall over the edge.

And reward ourselves with fine coffee, back in town.

Beach & Boots & a Q&A

14 January 2016 – We’ll start with the Q&A. Well, with the Q.

As follows:

Why did the traffic light turn red?

I’ll get to the A later. Promise!

Meanwhile, join me at the very eastern end of the Beaches neighbourhood, right where Queen Street begins/ends, a boundary marked with Art Deco flourish by the R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant — still functioning in that role, but with historical designation for its architecture.

I’m not gawking at the water treatment plant. I’m down on the beach gawking at ice on rocks, glinting against the grey Lake Ontario waters under a chilly grey sky.

ice on Beaches rocks, Lake Ontario

Even the nasty abutments pushed into the lake to baffle wave action become sculptural, given a sheathing of ice.

Beaches, Lake Ontario

 

As always, quite a few people are larking about with happy, bounding dogs — the pooches busy fetching sticks, lugging fluorescent tennis balls to and fro in their mouths, & pushing indelicate snouts into delicate places on total strangers, in equally total certainty they will be praised & stroked, not scolded.

Lifeguard stations dot the lakefront year-round, all currently bearing their seasonal notice.

on Kew/Balmy Beach

After a while I take myself back up to Queen St. East, planning to walk on west toward home until … well, until I either reach home or hop a streetcar en route.

Not surprising that I almost immediately see another dog. This community loves it dogs.

outside a Queen E grocery store

I contemplate Doggie-Two-Boots a moment. Has the little devil shucked two boots, or — for some arcane reason — does he only have two? (About an hour’s-worth of walking time farther west, I see him again — all four paws neatly encased in boots.)

Somewhere near Coxwell, I catch a surprising sight down a short alley-cum-parking-lot. I start down the alley to investigate. “Yes?” calls a voice behind me. The man attached to the voice is wearing a restaurateur apron & has just rushed out of the adjoining building. “Can I help you?”

Which, we all know, means: explain yourself.

“Just want a photo,” I reply, smiling as endearingly as I know how & waving my camera in his direction. His smile matches mine as he waves me on down the alley.

This is what the fuss was all about.

off Queen nr Coxwell

Well, it’s very odd, isn’t it? I realize I’m thinking of it as a barn, a corrugated metal barn, but of course it isn’t that & I don’t know why it strikes me that way.

A bit later on, another just-off-Queen sighting, this time at Curzon.

N/W Queen E & Curzon

It could have been projected, that tree silhouette; a perfect art installation against the wall. (Come to that, it is projected. By the sun.)

Somewhere in there I peer hopefully up Craven Rd., home to “Tiny Town” and the city’s longest municipally maintained wooden fence. Also the city’s longest wooden-fence public art gallery.

Except… it isn’t, not any more. Finally all that wonderful art work has tattered itself to the point of (or so it seems) being removed. Just a long, very naked fence. I’m glad I have images, first shared on this blog in November 2013 and several times since then.

Between McGee and DeGrassi streets, some public art that is increasingly battered looking, but still in place: the animal vignettes running the length of the railway underpass.

Queen E railway underpass at McGee

This guy is one of my individual favourites in the series. Each side bears a whole wall’s-worth of images, currently enhanced with a few icicles in the framing arches.

RR underpass south wall

I angle toward home through Joel Weeks Park, north of Queen & just east of the Don River. I could have chosen many other routes — but I cannot resist the squirrels.

south end, Joel Weeks Park

I’m as amused as ever. Acorn worship!

detail, squirrels & acorn in Joel Weeks Park

The A to the Q

Did you get all impatient on me & scroll down? Or did you wait?

Before totally wowing you with the A, let me give credit where credit is due: I read this on the sidewalk “street talker” for The Sidekick, a Queen East coffee & comic books emporium.

Remember the question? It asks: “Why did the traffic light turn red?”

Answer.

You would too, if you had to change in the middle of the street.

Was it worth the wait? I hope so.

 

 

Tattered Cats & Glorious Weeds

12 March 2015 – With a big splash in between: Cats – SPLASH – weeds. Like that.

Except it begins with a musical fence.

lane s. of RR tracks leading to Craven Rd.

The Tuesday  Walking Society is out in full force once again, that’s two bodies & four (count ’em) healthy knees. Hurray! Welcome back, Phyllis.

So we are celebrating, both good health & above-zero weather with sun. The vague plan is to walk south on Coxwell all the way from the Danforth subway station to the lake, & see what happens next. We are soon diverted. Just south of the RR tracks, we suddenly remember that if we deke up those tiny steps, & follow that tiny lane at train-track edge, we’ll come to Tiny Town.

The musical fence is on the lane along the train tracks; Tiny Town is around the corner, under its official name of Craven Rd. It consists of tiny homes (under 46 sq metres) on one side and the city’s longest wooden fence on the other. See?

Craven Rd., looking south from immediately south of the RR tracks

Start of the 20th c., people on Ashdale Av. to the west began taking advantage of their extra-deep lots by allowing very small homes to be built at the eastern end. Land squabbles soon followed, are you surprised? In 1910 the City severed the land, built a wooden fence along the now-truncated Ashdale properties and beyond that a narrow road — Craven Rd. — for those back-yard houses that finally had a street of their very own.

We start down the street, eyeing the fence. We are indifferent to its much-quoted status as “the city’s longest wooden fence” (alas, no numbers are ever attached to the claim). Our interest is artistic.

Will it still be the city’s longest wooden fence outdoor art gallery?

We first discovered the art in November 2013 and I blogged about it then — some works signed, some anonymous, and nothing to explain how the tradition arose. Now we are hoping that the tradition continues.

It does!

Craven Rd fence art, north of Queen

More trees follow …

Craven Rd fence art

… and then a painting I admired hugely in 2013: Very Tattered Cat. Tattered even then, but indomitable. Even more tattered now, even more (in my besotted eyes) wonderful.

on the Craven Rd fence

Another cat nearby, one we don’t remember from 2013, not as tattered but equally full of attitude.

on Craven Rd fence

So that’s good, we’ve had our Craven Rd. fix, and from Queen St. East we walk on south to the lake. We hear sirens a few times en route, don’t think much of it — big city, sirens, there you go. Then, in Ashbridge’s Bay, we see they have all congregated right here in the parking lot: fire, police, ambulance, the works.

Meanwhile, nothing but wintery peace along Lake Ontario. Semi-exposed boardwalk, snow fences & snow, ice, open water beyond the ice, and one woman striding by on her cross-country skis, oblivious to the excitement.

XC skiing along Lake Ontario, nr Ashbridge's Bay

Phyllis & I are not oblivious, our eyes are huge & our ears flapping for information. By now the event causing the excitement — the big SPLASH — is over and the hero, the passerby who called 911 & first tried to help, is being interviewed by local news teams.

Somebody had been silly enough to walk his dog out onto the now-rotting ice on the lake. They both fell through. A passing policeman tells us they will be fine, but we care only about the dog. Shame on that stupid man, endangering his dog like that.

I query Phyllis about her knee; she replies it is behaving itself. We walk east along Queen, eventually stop in a pretty shop called Bobette & Belle that promises “artisanal pastries,” and — after suitable taste tests — agree their wares are very good indeed. There’s even a free recipe on the wall.

Bobette & Belle, 1121 Queen St. East

Phyllis eventually puts her knee aboard a passing streetcar. I hoof on, pausing briefly for a cherub on a door whose surroundings do not suggest a likely home for cherubim.

Wicked Club, coming to Queen S. E.

Nor is it. The grand-opening notice advertises a “sophisticated hedonistic” private club. It’s their description & you must take it on faith — not being a member, I can’t access any part of the website that might irrefutably support the claim.

Don’t care. I’m off to see a Golden Girl. A sophisticated, hedonistic golden girl, I dare add.

Like Tattered Cat on Craven Rd., she too has adorned her wall (this one just N/W of Sherbourne & Queen) for quite a while, and I’m as fond of her as I am of the cat.

laneway wall behind 332 Queen E.

Let’s pretend she is pointing to weeds. In another month or two, she undoubtedly will be; at the moment, this calls for an electronic leap of the imagination.

Glorious Weeds

Thanks to my dear friend DJ for the link, whose recommendations are always worth following. She is not just DJ, she’s Dr. DJ, as in Doctor-of-Ethnobotany DJ, so she knows her plants and she knows her weeds.

She also knows art, and when the two collide, she spreads the news.

Chapeau to San Francisco artist Mona Caron!

 

Still Land, Chill Water, & Ice

11 January 2015 – The sign says “Open” & inside all will be toasty-warm & full of glorious discoveries, because this is a wonderland, Arcadia Art & Rare Books on Queen St. East.

But I am strong! It’s about -10 C and windy, but also bright, and I am determined to stay outside this time around.

est. 1931 whenArcadia, est. 1931 when her dad bought the bldg

So I walk on past, though with fond memories of Irma. She’s now in cat-heaven, but you don’t forget Irma. She was skinny & raucous, and she’d land on your startled shoulders & hitch a ride while you browsed, purring loudly. It was like wearing a furry cement-mixer.

Bye-bye Irma, and I’m down on Lower Sherbourne St., heading into Sherbourne Common, a park cum water purification system that stretches south to the lake. The iconic towers jut into the brilliant sky.

detail, "Light Showers," Sherbourne Common

This is just the  top corner of one of them, one of three Light Showers sculptures (artist Jill Anholt). All summer long, they tumble water from great heights back into the hidden reservoir, completing one stage in the larger water treatment process.

They are beautiful as well as functional, and dramatic in part or in whole.

southernmost of the "Light Showers" towers

Mind, winter is when they rest. No water tumbling down the mesh curtains now! The towers are all snugged up having their beauty sleep, the better to work again come spring.

Play equipment is also motionless, gleaming in the winter sun, carving snow / no-snow shapes against the surface beneath.

play equipment in Sherbourne Common

I pass a young couple laughing & embracing & skating on the little rink near the lake. In summer, it is a splash pond, waters rippling. Now water is ice, still & glassy; only the couple is in motion. A few more metres and I’m at  lake edge. I look south-east, the Great Lakes boat a streak of colour against the ice & chill waters, with the Port Lands beyond and, beyond that, Leslie Spit.

a laker waiting out winter in Toronto Harbour

Only three of us are walking west along the lake. The temperature isn’t really that cold, but we are facing a steady wind, with occasional great gusts that make us do a little shuffle-hop to regain balance.

So, not being idiots, we are walking backwards — a bit drunkenly, but it protects our faces. I stop to look again at the sweep of ice & water; so do the couple with whom I’ve been more or less in step. The woman peers over the edge. So do I.

water's edge in Harbour Square Park

By now we’re in Harbour Square Park, walking between fancy condos & Lake Ontario. I know what’s coming next — an area where there is some water outflow, meaning open water, meaning a place where ducks tend to congregate.

Oh, indeed they do.

Mallard ducks in Harbour Square Park

A whole great world of Mallards, squatting and swimming and bottoms-ups’ing as if it were mid-summer. I’ve never looked up their physiology, but they must have nature’s equivalent of anti-freeze in their blood.

those Mallards!

I round the point, pass in front of the spherical structure you see beyond the ducks in the longer-view above — it houses water management equipment, near as I can figure — and I admire the bleached rushes, sculptural now mid-winter, tall & stiff against the metal structure and the residential towers beyond.

looking west

Nothing tall & stiff when I pass the rink in Harbourfront Centre! Full of laughing or squealing skaters, depending on age, twirling around. This, too, is a pond in summer. (I find it pure magic, this cycle of water-to-ice-to-water-to-ice-&-repeat-forever.)

Harbourfront Centre ice rink, Toronto Island in background

The fringe of land beyond is Toronto Island, and that airplane, streaking low, is about to land at Billy Bishop Airport on the Island.

I round another corner, walk up the side of a slip, and the wind wallops me. My cheeks & nose sting, then start to burn. Next they’d turn numb. Time to find shelter & warm up.

Fortunately, the very next quay houses the Craft & Design Studio associated with Harbourfront Centre. It houses a string of studios, open at one side to a gangway, from where the public can watch the artisans at work.

Including a glassblower! I remember standing there once, and how, even at that safe distance, I was shielding my eyes from the glare of his furnace and pulling back from its fierce heat. That will warm me up.

glassbower's studio, Craft & Design Studio, Harbourfront Centre

Oh. He’s not here today. But check the temperatures written on the furnace: 1150 C or 2050 F. Even reading the numbers is somehow warming.

Back outside I admire the Simcoe Wave Deck from the east rather than west end, a whole new perspective on its dramatic curves.

Simcoe Wave Deck, Queens Quay W & Lower Simcoe

Why does it exist? For fun. There are three wave decks along this stretch of waterfront, all of them functioning city sidewalks — but sidewalks that play with us, invite us to play with them, and together we ride the waves.

In summer I watch pedestrians slide this deck like human Slinky-toys. Not today!

I head north into town, turn east toward home.

One more park along the way: Cloud Gardens, on Temperance Street.

Cloud Gardens, Temperance St.

Each square on the wall symbolizes one of the city’s construction trades; together, they form a mosaic of tribute to the people who, literally, build our city.

The park’s name refers to something else, though. See the glass structure jutting out toward the mid-left? It is a conservatory, full of tropical plants. A cloud garden, indeed. I can’t wait to go inside, inhale some moist tropical air, expand tight muscles into the warmth …

Locked doors. Closed for maintenance!

So home I go.

 

 

Art, Lake, Art … Surprise

9 October 2014 – A great Tuesday plan, I told myself: south through Sherbourne Common to Lake Ontario, west along the lake soaking up nature on all sides to Spadina Quay Wetlands, north on Spadina through city grit to Richmond St. West, and to my ultimate target, a new show in the Red Head Gallery.

Big surprise when I get to the Gallery, a real palm-smack-to-forehead moment, but by then I don’t care.

Small & happy surprise within blocks of home. I don’t have to wait for Richmond St. for my art fix. It starts now.

detail, Birdo mural Queen E & Seaton

I guess not such a surprise, I’ve seen it before but had forgotten the location. It’s one of Birdo’s newer wall murals, & a reminder that art can jump out at you almost anywhere.

I’m tracking toward Sherbourne Common, the park-cum-water treatment facility that borders Sherbourne St. from Lakeshore Blvd. down to the water. I’m slightly off my usual routes — and rewarded for my initiative with this vintage fire reel outside Station 338.

Toronto Fire Station 338

You can see the edge of the Open House sign — alas, held last week. If I’d known, perhaps I too could have scored one of the free Sparky hats.

Into Sherbourne Common, where I admire how the sun glints off the three tumbling curtains of water. Well, glints when the sun is out, but this morning that’s an iffy proposition. We’re having strobe-light weather: bursts of brilliant sunshine, intercut with gun-metal grey. Like this.

Sherbourne Common

Not just pretty faces, those fountains. They’re the penultimate step in the water treatment process woven into this park’s design. First, treatment of lake & stormwater in a reservoir hidden beneath the park surface; next, aeration through these jets; finally, delivery of the treated water into Lake Ontario, via an open channel that curves through the park.

I follow the channel south & turn west along the lake, basking in another sunshine moment. It lights up the distant Island ferry, the pathway, and the other pedestrians, mostly scurrying George Brown College students, whose buildings lie just north of the path. Some are rushing to class, others are on assignment. I pass one group setting up some kind of photo shoot by the water. It involves one big red sofa, 3 young people on the sofa, and 9 million others (give or take) directing the shoot.

Lake Ontario trail, with Humber College buildings to the north

On past Sugar Beach, named for the Redpath sugar refinery next door. I sniff warm toasted caramel in the air, a sign the refinery is going about its business.

Soon I’m cutting through the entrance to the Island ferry terminal, now renamed to honour former federal politician and civic activist Jack Layton, an inspiring man whose death from cancer was mourned by many, including many who did not share his left-ish politics. Jack got about a lot by bicycle, so the statue shows him grinning from a bike.

I mean to get a photo of this woman resting by the bike with her little dog frisking in the leaves …

Jack Layton Ferry Terminal

… but instead get a two-bike shot. The woman on the bench obviously knows the one riding in from the right, they greet each other from a distance. (Dog has disappeared on me, but you can trace his blue leash across Jack’s front wheel.)

Leaves are turning, not yet at their peak, but already putting handsome contrasts on view. Since we’re now having quite steady sunshine, everything in sight is high-contrast: blazing maple, dark green conifers, light green willows, blue-green lake, turquoise glass in all those condos.

approaching York Quay & Harbour Front

Past Harbourfront Centre, taking just a few moments to prowl the latest outdoor photo exhibit, “No Flat City.” Then on west again, over a slip by a pedestrian bridge, though I could have walked up to the street & taken the Simcoe Wave Deck instead.

Simcoe Wave Deck, looking east

It’s one of three along the waterfront, part of the sidewalk, but much more fun.

If you’re walking or biking, all these parks buffer you from the horrendous construction turmoil immediately to the north, as the city upgrades some major traffic routes. If you’re a motorist, nothing buffers you from anything — but, fortunately, I’m walking.

HTO Park next, with its punning name (the TO for Toronto conflated with H2O for water), and its red Muskoka chairs, even brighter than autumn leaves.

HTO Beach, with island airport beyond

Beyond the chairs, the beach’s big yellow umbrellas (siblings to the red ones on Sugar Beach) and, beyond them, the Harbour & the island airport.

The west edge of HTO Park borders another slip, this one used by Toronto Fire & Marine Station 334, with its signature fire boat, the William Lyon Mackenzie. I have a soft spot for working boats, especially bright red ones, especially bright red ones that look like tugboats — and look, there’s one, right across the slip.

tugboat M.R. Kane, ex-Montreal

She turns out to be the M.R. Kane out of Montreal, nothing to identify her purpose. She looks like a government tugboat to me (all that red & white), though I may be wrong …

… but I know I’m right about this: she is backed by the Spadina Quay Wetlands, once a tiny parking lot, now reborn as a tiny wetlands. How quickly this mini-park has taken root. Literally. Great tangles of shrubbery and bog, all as planned.

I see what I expect to see, until I walk a bit into the bush on the west side.

bike chains, up a Spadina Quay Wetlands tree

Bike chains. Three sets at least, not just thrown aside, but each carefully wound into the trees. Plus two nested paper coffee cups. Torréfaction Foncée, say the cups.

I mean to head north right here, leave the park & start marching up Spadina — but I can’t. Construction, remember? So it’s a forced march on west through the Toronto Music Garden before I can finally escape.

Oh woe, poor me, forced to walk through yet another park …

Courante maypole, Toronto Musi Garden

The maypole sculpture in the park’s Courante section marks my exit. Out to city streets — fittingly at Yo-Yo Ma Lane, since this celebrated musician played an active role in the Music Garden’s design — and, with a bit of doubling back, finally north on Spadina.

Good-bye parks, I think, hello construction & traffic, and yes it throbs in my ears and smacks my eyes. That said, I also find a brand new park, new to me anyway: the Southern Linear Park, as linear as can be, an E/W ribbon of greenery just north of Lakeshore Blvd.

And another park, at Clarence Square. I step into the square a bit, planning to take a picture of the off-leash dog park. Mutts & their antics are always good for a laugh, right? Then I see what’s behind the mutts, and really laugh.

Big Top Grand Stand 2014 by SuttonBeresCuller, Seattle

I read the plaque. Big Top Grand Stand 2014, it says, a tribute to fairground concession stands erected for last week’s Nuit Blanche, up until October 13, the work of the Seattle team SuttonBeresCullen.

Perfect lead-in to my planned visit to the Red Head Gallery, now just a few blocks away, one of a number tucked into a reinvented rambling ex-industrial building at 401 Richmond. “Rambling” is the word for its hallways …

inside 401 Richmond hallways

… but I navigate successfully to the Red Head location. And read the sign. Noon to 5, just as I remembered. Wednesday to Saturday. Ah. Wednesday. And this is Tuesday, isn’t it?

So I smack my forehead and then don’t care, because I’ve had a great time and I can come here again.

One more art treat on the way home. I pass the raw stump of a recently felled tree on Queen St. East, sad victim of city pollution perhaps. Turned into art with one meticulous detail, perfectly placed.

newly felled tree w decoration, Queen & Simcoe

Still Life with Bark Chip. Thank you, anonymous city artist …

 

 

River, Lake & Lots of Streets

31 July 2014 — Phyllis’ route guaranteed great diversity for the Tuesday Walking Society this week. Bloor-line subway to Old Mill Station; trail south along the Humber River to Lake Ontario; lakeside paths eastward back into the city; and then streets & streets until our legs wear out or we reach home.

“It’ll be longish,” mused Phyllis, with the usual Maritime flair for understatement.

Humber River trail south, from  Old Mill subway station at Bloor

So here we are, ready for “longish,” dismissing subway & ritzy condos overhead as we set boots to trail on Route 15 South  along the Humber River.

It’s the final stage of a watershed — largest in the Toronto region, first inhabited 12,000 years ago — that rises in the Niagara Escarpment and Oak Ridges Moraine and covers 903 sq. km. as it  tumbles south to the lake. No wonder it has been designated a Canadian Heritage River.

Squirrels, birds, one private boat club, lots of walkers/cyclists/dogs, wildflowers as we go. And a mesmerized child, watching her own private sail-past of  Canada Geese.

Canada geese on the Humber River

It’s not the usual majestic glide, these guys are paddling like crazy against the current. The river is higher and stronger than usual, aftermath of a rainstorm — not flash flood level, but powerful enough that one prudent dog owner decided to keep his pooch well away.

For a while (and unlike, say, Taylor Creek), there are no reminders of the city all around. Not until we approach the major E/W arteries near the lake, first the Queensway and then the Gardiner Expressway.

The trail passes under them both, and of course the bridgework is graffiti’d. Given that (I think) there’s a squatter population around here, one inscription under the Queensway seems more poignant than jaunty — even now, in the warmth of summer.

under the Queensway bridge across the Humber River

We continue under the Gardiner Expressway, look back upriver through its arches. City grit right here; river-nature-bullrushes just there.

view up the Humber R., from under the Gardiner Expressway

We think that particular stand of bullrushes is the riverside edge of the Lower Humber Wetland Complex Restoration project now underway. Signs around its fenced-off perimeter explain that, among other things, the project will see the installation of a fishway and a water level control structure. Purpose: to create a healthy ecosystem that allows free passage to native fish, while restricting invasive species like the common carp.

South of the Gardiner, one of my favourite bridges comes into sight — the Humber River pedestrian bridge right at lake edge.

Humber R. pedestrian bridge at lake Ontario

We poke around for a while to the west of that bridge, but finally take it, heading east toward the city.

We pause long enough to watch three canoes go by, ones we couldn’t quite figure out while they were still at a distance. They feature all the whooping and noise of dragon boat teams, but very little of the skill.

Aha.

Day camp kiddies, whooping and being whooped at by their instructors, digging in paddles with more energy than precision.

day-camp canoers at mouth of Humber River

We shout encouragement at this canoe-load. “We’re last!” one voice wails back. “Who cares!” we cry. Then we giggle at the love-locks — Phyllis notes that canny bridge-side merchants in Paris actually sell locks for the purpose — and walk on along Lake Ontario.

It’s quite a broad pathway. Also quite a broad swatch of parkland between path and Lakeshore Blvd. West but, even so, traffic is constant, heavy and noisy. Quite extraordinary how you can tune it out. Look right, not left; focus on greenery and lake and sand. There.

lakeside park & path, east of Humber River

We pass assorted signs as we go, including one near the Boulevard Club marking the spot where Marilyn Bell came ashore on September 9, 1954. I had remembered that the 16-year-old was the first person to swim across Lake Ontario, I’d forgotten the backstory.

The Canadian National Exhibition, as a publicity stunt, offered $10,000 to American long-distance swimmer Florence Chadwick to cross the lake; Bell felt the offer snubbed Canadian swimmers and, with encouragement from the Toronto Star newspaper, took up the challenge herself, even though the prize was only on offer to the American.

Chadwick and one other independent swimmer both dropped out partway. Bell made it — and the CNE gave her the money. (What else could they do?)

Soon another sign, to mark another crossing from the American side to our own. Not with the same friendly intent, and rather earlier in time.

plaque near Boulevard Club, on Lake Ontario

Oh those dastardly Americans, landing here on April 27, 1813, occupying York for 3-4 days and burning down our parliament building before they leave town. (British troops burning down the White House? Retaliation.) Ancient history now; the sign looks out on recreational boats at anchor, and cyclists taking a mid-day break.

Then another vignette of maritime history — a tall ship. Well, a replica tall ship, but a stirring sight for all that.

tall ship on Lake Ontario

One more ship, this one in Coronation Park, my favourite ship of all.

An “exploded” hull, in fact: homage to Canadian participation in World War II (1 in 12 of our total population was on active service), and especially to the Royal Canadian Navy. One section of the hull is a map of the North Atlantic, pinpointing where each RCN vessel was lost in those dreadful years.

memorial to the RCN in Coronation Park

We finally abandon the lake near Bathurst St., head north across train tracks and zig east briefly on Front St. so we can again enjoy the one-block Victoriana of Draper St. between Front and Wellington. Profusions of summer blooms in the tiny front yards, potted plants up and down front-door steps.

And a cat.

summer on Draper St.!

Phyllis and I part ways at Queen and Spadina. She’s going to grab TTC for home (she lives considerably farther north than I do); I decide to keep walking. For a while. No promises about all the way home.

So on I go, and as usual the streetscape is diverting and the walking itself is hypnotic. Such visual & aural jumble on Spadina! At first I’m affronted, still tuned to the peace of river- and lakeside; then  I yield to it, dive into it. A great boiling stretch of white water, I tell myself, clinging to maritime imagery.

anime house, Spadina nr Elm St.

Fierce eyes advertise a Japanese anime house near Elm St., where I again turn east, more magnetic than the all-sorts shop next door.

A short pause for a mixed-berry/yogurt smoothie on McCaul St. (very good), and I’m restored enough to walk just a little farther.

More eyes, but not anime-fierce this time. Instead, pensive for Marilyn Monroe, crinkled with warmth for Mother Teresa.

Ryerson Image Centre

These giant heads are part of the portrait façade that graces the Ryerson [University] Image Centre on Gould St., dedicated to photography and the related arts. Frankly though, I don’t stop for them, graphic as they are. I am bemused by the people on chairs and on the boulder, expanding so luxuriously into the summer sun.

In winter, this pond is a skating rink.

And then, to my own amazement, I do indeed walk all the way home. Phyllis later emails to report she did the string-on-map trick (we are without pedometers at the moment), and determined we’d walked 15 km. from the Old Mill Station to Queen & Spadina. I add in the rest of my walk home, and decide to claim boasting rights for 20 km.

As a Maritimer would say … “Longish.”

  • WALKING… & SEEING

    "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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