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.

Spring Fever

2 April 2015 – Put on your happy face …


Leuty Lifeguard Station, The Beach, Toronto


It’s beginning to feel like spring.

Leuty Station in the Snow

14 January 2015 – I walk through the woods toward the lake, with the sounds of winter in my ears — boots squeaking on the powder-dry snow, skate blades hissing and pucks rebounding in the near-by rink.

woods at west end, Beaches Park, looking south

It’s sunny & cold again, not so windy, and again I head for the lake — farther east this time, down to the parks & boardwalk of Toronto’s Beaches neighbourhood. (I wince as I write this. “Beaches” is the older term, “Beach” is the trending term, and there are those who take this linguistic tussle very seriously indeed.)

I don’t anticipate my visit revolving so heavily around the Leuty Lifeguard Station, but, and perhaps inevitably, it does.

Beaches Boardwalk, Leuty lifeguard station to right

There it is —  to the right of that woman walking the snowy boardwalk, which is almost empty now but noisy/happy in summer with human & canine feet, pram & trike wheels. The station was built in 1920, relocated 4 times, almost demolished, saved by a lot of community protest, still serves all summer as an active lifeguard station and by now has some 6,000 rescues to its credit.

I come closer, smiling in anticipation.

Leuty Lifeguard Station, built 1920

If I love it, when I don’t even live here, imagine how local residents feel. It is of course their neighbourhood symbol, the logo found on all the usual paraphernalia — T-shirts, sweatshirts, coffee cups, aprons, carry bags, key chains & flags.

house flag on Leuty Aenue

Aha, you say. Can’t fool me. Not a mid-winter photo. Nope! Taken one summer, right on Leuty Avenue, and what could be more appropriate, since the station is at the foot of that street?

Meanwhile, here we are in mid-winter. I circle around to lake edge for a different angle, as does another visitor, our boots crunching over shards of ice as we navigate piled-up rocks & storm debris.

Leuty Lifeguard Station, looking north

I pick my way back, continue eastward along the beach. It’s almost empty at the moment, just one man and dog anywhere near me. The dog is frisking happily, luring her owner into a vigorous game of toss-that-stick.

looking eastward along Lake Ontario, east of Leuty Ave.

We cross paths, unwrap mouths & ears long enough for a few quick words. The dog is a Husky, I can see now, and we exchange Husky stories, me thinking back to my own, decades ago, out west. “She loves winter,” says the young man, “colder the better.” “Makes us love it too,” I reply, and we say good-bye with a grin.

You’ve caught my theme: in winter, the beach is a beautiful, near-silent, near-motionless wraith; in contrast to the teeming energy and diversity of summer.

But then I see something I’ve never seen here in summer.

snowy beach, 1 chair...

A chair. Not a plastic beach chair, either, which would have some tiny vestige of logic. No sir. A proper upholstered dining room chair.

that chair!

Though perhaps not in the best of condition.

I wish I’d seen the person who brought it here. I imagine someone of equally tattered elegance, enthroned at water’s edge, watching the waves roll in … No, that’s not true. I try to, but I cannot imagine it.

Because this is the reality!

looking east to Balmy Beach

You run here with your Husky, or you walk here with your thoughts or your camera (or both), but you don’t simply pull up a chair and contemplate life.

Still, I’m glad it’s here.

By now my finger-tips are whining at me, so I’m ready for Part 2 of the walk — up to the shops & diversions of Queen St. East. Of course I stop along the way in an indie café for a latte & a treat (this time, a gingersnap cookie). I sip the latte while flicking through a couple of old New Yorker magazines that are lying around. It’s a classy café, I must come again.

My nice warm fingers & I head back outside, walk on west, and stop for a final photograph. Street art! A mural, commissioned by the grocery store whose side wall it adorns.

It’s all about the Beaches/Beach neighbourhood — and look what’s featured toward the far right end.

at 2040 Queen St. East

Of course.

One last note — and that’s a pun, though I hadn’t intended it. In 2012 singer/songwriter Heather Hill released a CD entitled Leuty Station. And blogged about it, and her love for the eponymous station, right here on WordPress.


    "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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