Lake. Klezmer. Ghost Lake. And a Bunny-Rabbit

24 October 2018 – Not calendar-Tuesday, but honorary-Tuesday. So says the founding Tuesday Walking Society, reunited and out in full twosome force.

We jump on the southbound Spadina LRT and bail at Queen’s Quay,  just where the train does its dog-leg to the left and starts its run eastward along Lake Ontario.

Once, decades ago, Toronto parks encouraged visitor use by pegging little “Please walk on the grass” signs into the turf. Now, in all the lakefront parks and many others, the welcome is even brighter and more functional.

We walk right past those Muskoka chairs, though. We pay only the briefest attention to the Spadina Quay Wetlands — once mini-carpark, now home to a whole ecosystem of frogs, fish, birds and butterflies — and to the Toronto Music Garden, its layout co-created by cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

We skirt a bike path intersection …

and follow the waterfront west & then south to just below the old Canada Malting silos. Our goal is the tiny, deeply moving park tucked between silos and lake.

Ireland Park.

These emaciated figures are the work of Irish sculptor Rowan Gillespie; this park is the new-world companion to the famine memorial in Dublin, for which he also sculpted the figures. Together, they commemorate the Great Famine of 1845-51. I never knew the impact of this famine on Toronto until I read the stats: in the summer of 1847 alone, more than 38,500 desperate migrants landed here. At the time, the city had a population of 20,000.

We stand behind one of the five figures (two less than in Dublin, to represent deaths en-route), and follow her gaze. The scene is not as migrants saw it, obviously, this is just our attempt to imagine their relief at being still alive, and on land.

Now we head east, to walk all these enchained lakefront parks toward the heart of the city. A first goal is to decipher the name on the red tugboat — it doesn’t look like a tourist vessel, yet despite all that bright red, doesn’t seem to be on government service either.

Tug-side, we learn she is the Radium Yellowknife. What a pan-Canadian world she represents! Named for the capital city of the Northwest Territories, registered in Vancouver, tied up right here in Toronto.

And working here, too, we learn, thanks to the guy who steps aboard to unlock a door and retrieve his bicycle. Once, in some vague past, she was in the NWT; now she helps shunt barges & whatnot from hither to yon, as needed in Toronto Harbour.

On past the yellow umbrellas of  HTO Park, enjoying the punning name as always. I wonder who first saw the possibilities in Toronto’s nickname and the symbol for water?

On and more on, enjoying water and waves and strollers and dogs and still-brave plant life and the whole happy mix. Past the first quay-side Wave Deck, then the second, then a pause to salute the third and loopiest of them all: the Simcoe Wave Deck.

For Phyllis & me, all this is a reunion with sights we already knew and wanted to see again — park after park, garden after garden. Then, boom, right in front of Queen’s Quay Terminal, a tiny park we knew nothing about: the Toronto Book Garden.

The zig-zag path is studded with the names of authors, and dates.

Ondaatje, plus Dionne Brand, Anne Michaels, Timothy Findley, Margaret Atwood, Morley Callaghan, Robertson Davies … you get the idea. Each has won the Toronto Book Award in a given year. The author needn’t live here, and the book may be of any genre, but it must contain some clear Toronto content.

Still heading east and now, we agree, we’re into a boring bit, with concrete towers to both sides. As always, construction. As almost-always, a CAUTION sign. Suitably red. And, as-sometimes, one of the jokes people like to play when the City hasn’t specified what to be cautious about.

Ho-ho, we agree, and soon after that, we part ways — Phyllis off to vote in the municipal elections, me to wander a few more parks before joining another friend mid-afternoon.

Next up, the refurbished Berczy Park at Front & Wellington, just behind the city’s flat-iron building. I knew about its two-tier dog fountain — multitudes of life-sized dog sculptures, each squirting water (from the mouth, I hasten to add) back into the ever-receptive fountain. The dogs all look upward, to the bone topping the fountain. There is one cat statue slyly tucked into the mix, but he is looking sideways, eyeing a bird.

There is now another sculpture in the park, a pair of giant arms & hands thrusting skyward from the earth.

There are no “do not climb” signs, so I relax & enjoy the kids’ enjoyment.

Up to King & Church now, into the Toronto Sculpture Garden just opposite St. James Cathedral. The current installation is a cheerful steel structure called Pigro, the work of Tony Romono, its loops further be-looped with lights.

“It’s even better at night when the lights are on,” says a voice behind me, a man at peace on a bench. Signage tells me it’s meant to evoke Italian festival lights, which are strung along streets and illuminate church façades as they go. How perfect here, against the Cathedral spire.

I’m now making tracks for my friend on Church Street, deep in territory where I first worked decades ago. All is familiar.

Except for this, on Church just south of Front.

Shoreline Commemorative, by Paul Roff, reminds us that Front Street — now well inland — once deserved its name. Infill, not natural processes, have moved the shoreline farther south, and it’s good to remember where lake once touched land.

I salute the ghost lake, and go meet my friend.

And now for that bunny-rabbit

Time-jump. It’s now calendar Tuesday, the Tuesday Walking Society is again on the prowl, and I have decided to put away my camera. Let nothing stand between me and this walk through Moore Park Ravine! Let me be fully present; eyes, ears, boots, nature and dear friend are more than enough.

But out comes that camera,  just once.

Hello, Poser-bunny.

And on we go into Evergreen Brickworks, for lunch and latte and elbows-on-table conversation.


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.


All Bike, No Hike

29 September 2015 – The plan was bike AND hike: bike to Leslie Spit, hoof around, bike home. But then I just plain got seduced by our expanded, enhanced city bike path system — and kept going.

Many downtown bike lanes are now physically better protected from cars, and more visible — especially at intersections.

intersection coding for bike lanes

Not going to miss that, are you!

I have extra opportunity to appreciate the improvements, since I decide to visit Mountain Equipment Co-op before my circuit east, which adds a whole westward loop to the outing. No purchases at MEC (but what fun looking), and then I head south on Spadina — walking the bike this stretch, no bike lane here & traffic is crazy.

I’m practically engulfed by Blue Jays baseball fans (the team is hot), all in their fan T-shirts & caps and spouting sports stats as they go.  Including, I swear, two 8-year-olds swapping RBI numbers…

I reach the lake and join the Waterfront Trail at Spadina Quay Wetland.

gate into Spadina Quay Wetland, from Lake Shore Blvd West

Once a tiny parking lot, now a tiny wetland, it grows shaggier & better every year — for human visitors on the boardwalk above, as well as lake life (including impressive Northern Pike) in the waters and vegetation below.

I dismount & walk through it for a moment, of course I do, noting how many boats still crowd the marina — dramatically set off by the disused but heritage-protected 1928 Canada Malting Co. silos just beyond them to the west.

marina in front of Spadina Quay, looking west

The wraps only came off this stretch of redesigned waterfront this summer. We’re all still getting used to widened sidewalks, more amenities, and a silky-smooth, resurfaced bike trail. Lots of people are here, enjoying the day. Serious cyclists (sleek bikes & sleeker outfits) are outnumbered by happy plodders like me — and being darn patient with us, I might add.

Walking gives me more human interaction; cycling, even at my pace, gives me the bemused feeling of watching a video unroll just there, to my right, lake-side.

Look! Big red Muskoka chairs, two guys, two dogs, right here at the Simcoe Wave Deck.

at the Simcoe Wave Deck

After that brief stop, I roll on for a while. Past HTO Beach, past Harbourfront, past the ferry docks, past Yonge St. and Sugar Beach and new condos…  I pedal, and the waterfront “video” continues to roll past me on my right.

I almost feel guilty: this seems so fast & easy, compared to walking! But note the “almost.” There’s a stiff east wind blowing, and I’m pedalling into it face-on.

South on Cherry St., into the Port Lands, still following the Waterfront Trail, and then a stop at Cherry Beach.

I stop for this. Para-sailing. Dancing 21st-c. arcs of high-tech materials, framing the 1930s lifeguard station below.

on Cherry Beach

I watch them for a while, turn to get back on my bike, back on the eastward trail — and then see Dennis.

I only learn his name is Dennis when, intrigued, I wheel myself over to his spot under the trees, where he is preparing his craft, and himself, for an afternoon of wind-surfing.

Dennis the wind-surfer

“I’m still learning,” he says. “Every time I go out, I learn more.” Big smile. “Great weather today — good strong breeze.” Yes, I reply, with feeling. “Usually when it’s from the east, the weather is bad, but look, pure sunshine.” He reaches for his wetsuit, and I carry on down the trail.

Just to the north, the Port Lands — once very gritty and toxic-industrial, now rapidly changing but still pretty industrial. There, the other side of the trees, trucks rumble. Here, it’s Trail and trees and lake.

I pass the Outer Harbour inlet, just west of Leslie Spit.

west of the Outer Harbour

Around the next curve on Unwin Ave, with trees and woodland thick on the south side toward the water, but the old power station and some industry now visible to the north.

Also visible, the monument I first noticed in 2012 and have stopped to honour ever since.

monument o Leanne Freeman, on Unwin Ave.


It stopped my breath, the first time I saw it. Simpler then, just the stone marker and a few ornaments, to honour a young sex trade worker, murdered in 2011. Canadians were becoming uneasily aware, just then, of how many young women were disappearing, dying, as if they were disposable, of no account. We began — so belatedly — to recognize them, and protest their deaths.

Now, three years later, her memorial bears more tributes than ever. It speaks for all the Leanne Freemans, and people respond. A young cyclist is standing there when I stop. She asks me the story; I tell her; her face is sad and still. Then we both nod gently, and ride on.

Another few minutes, and I am at the Spit.

Which I am not going to show you now! It deserves its own post. And will have it. (Now you know what’s coming next.)

showing Port Lands and Leslie Spit

Meanwhile, this is a handy map. Not just of the Spit — so ridiculously like a webbed goose foot, at the end of a lanky goose leg — but also of my route on the Trail either side.

See? Follow the left-hand yellow line east on Lake Shore Blvd. to Cherry St; south to the lake and Cherry Beach, with its para-sailers & Dennis; then through the woods on east to that circled bit, with first the Outer Harbour inlet and then Leanne’s memorial … and here we are at the Spit.

Now turn your back on the Spit and follow the right-hand yellow line north on Leslie Street up to Lake Shore Blvd — but instead of following the Trail on east along Lake Shore Blvd., turn west with me on the purple line as I head back downtown & home.

Alas. That narrow purple line, so clear on the map, is one devil to find in reality! Leslie St. around Lake Shore Blvd is still a forest of construction, blockages & detours, with hand-lettered signs tacked up to guide us through the maze.

Cyclists and pedestrians travel in confused little convoys; it’s thanks to the leaders of my particular convoy that I suddenly find myself where I want to be — on the north-west corner of Lake Shore & Leslie, wheels set for the trail that will take me west again.

It’s very prettily set up — once you find it — with large mosaic tiles underfoot to mark the intersection.

Lieslie & Lake Short Blvd East

We’re on a ribbon of green space now, with car traffic to the south and railway tracks to the north.

heading west beside Lake Shore Blvd East, near Leslie

But in between, very peaceful. Some benches along the way; some archival photos displayed on pillars, for pedestrians and curious cyclists.

I turn north on a bike route along the west shore of the Don River, stop for a moment to decide whether I’ll carry on beside the river or instead veer through West Donlands Park.

I opt for the river route.

bike route north along the Don River, near West Donlands Park

I don’t know it yet, but that cyclist is about to do me a huge favour.

Moments later — having worked hard to push his bike up the bike channel in the long flight of access steps to Queen Street — he generously bounds back down, offering to take mine as well. I am quick to accept. The incline looks, and is, scary-steep.

At the top he says, panting slightly, “I don’t know who designed this. But it’s awful!”

He’s right. So many improvements in our bike paths. And a few still needed.






    "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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