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.


Icons of the City

4 June 2016 – More specifically and more modestly: my idea of icons, of a section of my Toronto, that  I happened to walk today. Each person has an individual version of any given city, after all, & sees it through individual filters of interest & appreciation.

I’m headed for Exhibition Place — the Canadian National Exhibition (the CNE, the “Ex”) that was — to check out the third annual Fair Trade Show, and then follow my feet back eastward in a lakefront walk, grand-chaining my way from park to park.

At the moment I’m stuck at Bay & Queen St. West, waiting for a bus that seems determined not to come. I take time to appreciate what I immediately think of as a city icon, right there on the sidewalk beside me …

Quee W & Bay streets, beside City Hall square

… and head briskly south on my own two feet.

Oh I know, the core concept was NYC’s icon long before the whole world appropriated it, but I’m willing to love this version anyway. Even those helpful footprints. Even though they assume we are such dolts we don’t know where to stand, to take a photo.

Warm-not-hot sunshine, light breeze, low humidity — everything to love about the day as I walk down Bay Street. The walk takes me right past another icon, the city’s original Stock Exchange, now a Heritage Site & repurposed as the city’s Design Exchange.

The world’s most up-to-date trading floor inside, when it opened in 1937, and all art deco / streamlined moderne lines & friezes outside. Including the doorway medallions, celebrating industries whose stocks traded on that world-beater floor inside.

doorway detail, Design Exchange on Bay Street, formerly the TSE

I like this one particularly: great bolts of hydro power from great cascades of water. Every society, it seems, celebrates electricity when it first arrives. (I suddenly remember a display of power-line symbols in a village fair I once visited in Hyderabad, India.)

More medallions as I enter a sleek new hall in Exhibition Place — not part of this building, but on a flanking wall, a reminder that the neighbouring structure, completed in 1921, was home to the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair for many decades.

one in a line on the former home of the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, now the Ricoh Coliseum

(There’s a whole line of imposing animal heads to choose from, but I choose the pig. For you, DJ!)

And into the Fair Trade Show. And — having noticed handsome Kenyan earrings that I end up buying later on — I make a beeline for the Merchants of Green Coffee espresso bar. Where Meagan Thibeault (the MGC director of Communications) and I hug & gossip & — of course! — I end up with a latte in my hand.

Penny left, Meagan right, another barista behind

That’s Faithful Scribe (aka Iceland Penny) on the left, latte firmly in hand; Meagan on the right; and MGC’s delicious Cafe Solar brand of coffee advertised on the sacking banner behind us.  Also behind us, another two MGC baristas whose names, I apologize, I forget to write down.

An hour or so later, with a spiced salmon burrito down there in my tum with the latte, and those Kenyan earrings in my ears, I finally leave the show and start the rest of my walk.

My route takes me past another CNE heritage building — more art deco, on a facility that opened in ill-fated 1929 as the automotive building. The generic title has been replaced by corporate branding, but the elegance remains.

once the automotive building, and wartime home to Toronto's naval reserve

I see a plaque & read it, expecting artistic/architectural information. But no: it is dedicated to the men & women of HMCS York who fought the Battle of the North Atlantic, 1939-1945. During World War II, it turns out, this building was the site of Toronto’s naval reserve.

Well, I didn’t know that, but I am pleased to learn it, because it resonates with one of my favourite public sculptures — the massive exploded ship’s hull in Coronation Park, right by the water just south of the CNE’s Princes’ Gates & about 5 minutes from where I stand.

tribute to WWII naval & general engagement, in Coronation Park

Isn’t that a beauty? This park commemorates the war effort in general; this hull bears various stats & maps on its sections, including a map of the location of every Canadian ship lost during the the long Battle of the North Atlantic, and a list of numbers to spell out the country’s war engagement over those years.

We had a total population of 11 million, grannies & babies included, I read. More than 1 million served overseas; another million-plus did “essential war serices” at home; and yet another million-plus had “essential civilian employment.”  That’s 3 of of every 11 Canadians, a quarter of the total popularion. I’m knocked out, every time I see the numbers.

I stand there, properly awed, then crinkle my brow because I suddenly notice a white graffito next to the data. I am cross, very cross, until I read what it says.

on a panel of the exploded ship's hull, Coronation Park


And on & on I go, through the rest of Coronation Park. I curve inland around the big, fenced leash-off dog park, amused at how easily the largest dogs soar over the fence.

Fence? Steeplechase!

I’m even more amused by the stern warning on the fence about possible Bad Behaviour, and What To Do should it occur.

on the Coronation Park dog park fence

Can’t you just see it? Some great woof, his claws still clogged with dirt from enthusiastic digging, barking [sic] orders at his human: “Right! I’ve finished digging. Now fill it in.”

Is this a great country, or what? Even our dogs are civic-minded …

I’ll leave you to contemplate that thought, just halfway through my walk. More icons TK, in my next post.


    "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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