31 July 2018 – I’m on Helmcken, almost at Granville, minding my own business. I see Very Feminine eyes on the wall. She is staring, wide-eyed.

Next to her, Very Masculine eyes. Also staring, and also wide-eyed (in a Very Masculine sort of way).

Chef Guy, however, is looking down.


But then, he is part of what the other two are staring at: the entrance to the alley smack opposite their wall, immediately west of Granville.

The least I can do is go take a look for myself. With my real, live human eyes. Wide open.

The first thing that catches my attention is the scruffy wall. The scurfy wall. All rust streaks and bubbling, peeling paint. Rust speaks of many ugly things — but it is a beautiful colour, is it not?

I don’t pay a lot of attention to Chef Guy. I’m more taken with the protruding edge of that fire escape to his right, yet another example of one of my favourite (imaginary) mathematical concepts: Geometry at Work.

On down the alley. Admire that fire escape.

I’d rather admire it, than have to use it.

And on down past that, to the mural.

I stand back far enough to see it as an urban art installation, framed by hydro poles and a delivery truck. Signed AA Crew (street artists Virus, Tar and Dedos), an important presence, I discover, at the city’s 2017 Muralfest. It’s a timely discovery, with Muralfest 2018 coming up August 6-11.

And then I’m out the other end of the block, back to Granville, on south to Drake.

My eye is still in for street art, planned or found, and I decide the repaint job for Wildlife Thrift Shop qualifies.

And I catch my bus for home.



Rising, and Risen

27 March 2016 – This little fox (I think he is) has nothing to do with my theme. But then, when I set out on this walk, I have no theme in mind. He just amuses me, with his two tails, stencilled onto an alley wall just off Berkeley & Queen St. East.

stencilled fox, Berkeley/Queen E. alley

I’m still innocent of any theme as I head south on Berkeley Street, even though I’m planning to get myself to St. James Cathedral by 4 p.m. for an organ recital. And even though this is, after all, Easter Sunday, when Christians celebrate the day Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead.

No, it is this streetscape, just north of Adelaide, that sets my theme. I begin to muse about urban renewal, about the new buildings now rising up among, and almost always towering over, the old.

row housing Berkeley n. of Adelaide E.

This Victorian row housing has a whole new skyscape rising to the south.

I take another look from the corner of Berkeley and King St. East. Smack on the S/W corner, protected by Heritage designation, still sits the lovely brick building that, in 1891, housed the Reid Lumber Company.

view of S/W Berkeley & King E.

And there, just to the west & appropriating the whole skyline, rises the imposing new Globe and Mail Centre, a LEED Gold structure by Diamond Schmitt Architects, due to open this year.

East-downtown Toronto, once so scruffy, is changing fast!

In between those two shots, when just south of Adelaide, I lower my eyes long enough to admire yet again the Bell Box mural painted in 2013 by Natasha Kudashkina.

It is smack in front of the Alumnae Theatre, and suitably theatrical in motif. You’ll have to take my word for most of the front side, alas, since a car blocks almost all of it. Here is the one end panel on view …

Bell Box mural detail, 70 Berkeley St.

I squeeze behind the box, & find myself caught firmly against some shrubs and the theatre wall, No room to back up, so here is a necessarily partial view of the Comedia del Arte couple on this reverse side.

detail, reverse side

All happy with art & architecture, I now head west on King Street and, over by Sherbourne, find another example of — let’s call it — Architecture Rising. Here is one of a pair of pillars, guarding the arched doorway of an old building, now subject to restoration & expansion.

1 of matching doorway pillars, King E. nr Sherbourne

As is often now the case, the façade of the old building is being preserved, with its charming & human-scale presence on the street. But inside, it is being gutted for new purposes, and the new structure will rise far above the old building’s original height — though with a set-back that preserves street scale.

I lean toward the companion pillar, to capture a bit of what is happening behind the archway.

companion pillar, with view to construction behind

After that, a very happy stop for a latte & scone in the Rooster coffee house on King (sibling of the original, on Broadview Ave.), and then on to St. James Cathedral.

steeple, Cathedral Church of St. James

I plan to leave after the organ recital, but end up staying for the Sung Evensong that immediately follows. I am glad that I did.


Toujours Montreal

23 October 2014 — My nostalgic reunion with Dorval Island is over, it’s now forward march, en avant, into today’s Montreal.

High on the list: the Jean Talon Market, one of the city’s oldest public markets (founded 1933) and one of the continent’s largest. We’ve walked from our borrowed nest in Montreal’s Petite Patrie neighbourhood, chattering as we go with Jeff and Phyllis (yes, Tuesday  Walking Society Phyllis), who are in Montreal all fall while Jeff teaches a course at McGill University.

We’re close to the market, so our minds are on the food treats to come, the sheer delight of exploring those 12 long banks of stalls, each stall piled with its own display of regional fruit, vegetables, cheese, meat, spices, oils, baked goods, flowers … You get the idea.

We are not thinking music. Then, right there at the intersection of Jean-Talon & Drolet, we see Banjo Girl.

Banjo Girl at Jean Talon & Drolet

She’s just standing there, comfy in short sleeves on this mild day, quietly playing her banjo. So quietly that the background city rumble drowns it out. That’s all right, we’re sufficiently charmed that she is there, enjoying herself.

And then we plunge into the market, “a little village” onto itself as more than one online reviewer notes, tucked into Montreal’s Little Italy, full of stall-holders for whom this is a family tradition, one generation to the next. Phyllis is our market guru, she knows this place. It’s partly due to her wisdom that we are here on a relatively quiet mid-week afternoon, when you can actually hope to navigate the aisles.

Pretty busy, even so. Lots of people shopping, some school kids seeking a snack, others with clipboards, on a class project.

edge of a row of Jean Talon Market stalls

We dive into what seems to be a more covered area, wondering what happens in winter. (Some degree of retreat to the core area, I’ve since learned, with temporary walls thrown up to buffer the worst of the cold & snow. I tell you, Montrealers are a hardy lot.)

a more covered section of Jean Talon Market

Phyllis contemplates leeks here, red peppers there, species varieties of tomatoes & carrots & cabbages that ignorant I never knew existed. Everything is beautifully displayed, and every stall-keeper — in the best sense of the word — a performer. Full of knowledge, charm, wit, pride in their own produce (no middlemen here), and all this in either Official Language, take your pick.

I admire this display of cranberries & maple syrup — could it be more Québécois? More Canadian?

detail of a market display

In the end, I buy a jar of maple butter, but at another stall. The Erablière Girard trees, the young man tells me, are in Saint-Joseph-du-Lac, half an hour north of Montreal, just nosing into the Laurentian mountains. I think of my own childhood years in the Laurentians, and our own spring-time “sugaring-off,” and I happily buy a jar that comes from so near our own village.

Food is fine, but then there’s art. And architecture. Next day we’re off to discover both. First, a visit to the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal (Montreal Museum of Fine Arts). Dirzzling today, good day to be mostly inside.

Even so, we pause at Sherbrooke St. West near Peel St. long enough to enjoy the candy-striped moose. Wouldn’t you?

Collection Origin’Art, Quartier Musee

There are others, up and down this stretch of Sherbrooke known as the Quartier Musée, some red-striped and some blue, and all part of a Collection Origin’Art, paying homage to the art galleries (public & private) that line the street.

My own particular interest inside the Musée is its collection of near-contemporary Quebec artists — people like Jean Paul Lemieux, Alfred Pellan, Paul-Emile Borduas, Jean-Paul Riopelle, Clarence Gagnon, Rita Letendre. We also spend time in the pavilion devoted to contemporary international art, some of it in a lower concourse level. Zig-zag ramps lead to upper levels, and we eventually follow them — having first bid farewell to Jim Dine’s heroic (and Venus-inspired) sculptures in the concourse.

Pavilion Desmarais Musee des Beaux Arts

Next visit, to the near-by Canadian Centre for Architecture, a major research centre as well as forum for public exhibitions. It was founded in 1979 by architect-philanthropist Phyllis Lambert, deservedly now a Companion of the Order of Canada (among other awards) for her many contributions to architecture & appreciation of architecture in this country.

Canadian Centre for Architecture, 1920 rue Baile

The building itself dates from 1989, the work of architect Peter Rose, with Lambert herself as consulting architect. We go inside, and discover that today, there is no entry fee. Not for the happiest of reasons: they are between shows & there is little on public display. Even so, we wander about, listen for a while as a tour guide preps a university class for their visit to the archives, and then pay our own visit to the book store.

I do not buy a book, though the selection is deep & wide and surely a joy to anyone seriously pursuing knowledge in this area. My own attention is more taken by the paper-sculpture animals floating overhead. For example …

in the CCA bookstore!

I know. How trivial can I be?

Back outside we admire the quiet garden stretching between the Centre and Rue Baile, setting off old greystone buildings on the far side of the street.

view to rue Baile from the CCA

It’s attractive in its own right, and serves a larger purpose, says the CCA website. The design, by Montreal artist-architect Melvin Charney, “restores the urban fabric of an area deeply scarred by mid-20th-century highway engineering.” They are surely referring to Boul. René-Levesque, which marches its multi-lanes past the building on the far side.

We’re safe from all that, we walk instead back along quiet Rue Baile to Rue Saint-Mathieu. My partner nudges me: “Look,” he says. “Look at the ivy.”

Rue Baile & Saint-Mathieu

So pretty in its fall colours; so pretty draped against that Saint-Mathieu building, with its metal balconies & spiral staircase  set off by the white balconies beyond.

We’re heading for the Metro (aka subway, aka underground) system, so soon we’ve left that peaceful quartier for the bustle of a major east-west artery, Ste-Catherine. And look! More art, right there at Pierce.

Ste-Catherine & Pierce

And look! More art in the subway.

The Montreal Metro website calls this system “the world’s longest art gallery” and that might even be true. We see a lot to admire. For example …

i Berri-UQAM Metro station

Hommage aux fondateurs de la ville de Montreal, a stained glass mural in the Berri/UQAM station by Pierre Gaboriau & Pierre Osterrath.

And that, my friends, is just a little bit of Montreal. My own little hommage à la ville.



Alleys & Animal Life

2 July 2014 — Enough parks & nature for a while; time to revisit some alleys. So I do.

This cat is not the first animal I meet — he’s just the first to stand still for a photo.

cat by Tokyo, alley off Parliament s. of Carlton

The first cats are alive-alive-oh, in an alley near my home. I’m trucking along when a man steps out a doorway & whistles. I’m immediately 8 years old again, because this is the exact note-pattern my dad whistled to call our family dog. Except this time, 2 cats come scurrying into view, their legs going ’round like pin-wheels. “Never saw a cat come to a whistle before!” I say. He grins, & holds up a huge bag of cat chow. “Food time!”

It’s a fun scene, and at least momentarily consoles me for the fact that a couple of lanes where I remember art are now very boring indeed. Great patches of white paint where murals used to be — already defaced in places with scrawled tags. Hardly an improvement.

So gumble grumble until I turn east from Catbird Lane onto Dr. O Lane, and look into a dog-leg leading to a parallel (& unidentified) alley to the north.

n. off Dr. O Lane

This is new — or, at least, new for me. I perk right up, & step into the space for a closer look. A young woman lugging groceries follows. She sees my camera and offers, “Good mural.” I agree. “Too bad about the garbage.” I also agree.

detail of mural off Dr. O Lane

So let’s all ignore the garbage and enjoy the cityscape.

It looks like no further artistic activity on Dr. O Lane, so I stay with the dog-leg. Another mural I haven’t noticed before, on the north side just before the parallel alley makes its run out to Parliament St.

detail of mural off Dr. O Lane

And then, starting along that alley … I meet Alley Cat!

Alley Cat, by Tokyo

Love it.

Out to Parliament, and a backward glance along the wall, with the edge of the cityscape mural just visible beyond it.

wall n. of Face Furniture, off Parliament St

I note the slogan — “XYZ – Build & Destroy” — and read, try to read, the tags in a neat box of artist credits.  JAH, for one — no surprise; one of his distinctive face murals is immediately east of this mural, on the side of optical shop Face Furniture. I can also make out SOTEEOH (get it?) & Tokyo, but not the others. I don’t recognize a credit for DANILO but do recognize his green “spaceship.” (Or whatever it is.)

JAH has done another face mural near-by, this one in an alley butting onto Parliament just north of Carlton.

mural by JAH, off Parliament n. of Carlton

The golds are luminescent in the afternoon sun.

So. JAH, SOOTEEOH, DANILO. They paint together, and they’re about to have a month-long exhibition together. It’s called GRIND, and what else would you call a show being hung in a coffee shop?

Opening party Saturday July 5, 6-12 p.m.; come one come all to the Jet Fuel Coffee Shop, 519 Parliament St.

Jet Fuel, 519 Parliament St.

I get a double hit of animal life up Darling Lane. There’s a cheerful mural on the fencing behind Nettleship’s Hardware Store, co-credited to Nettleship’s & Tokyo, showing farmyard scenes under the slogan, “Support Riverdale Farm.”

I’m all for that, but what makes me laugh is the pissed-off look on the rooster’s face. I totally sympathize.

Support Riverdale Farm mural behind Nettleship’s Hardware

All those pigeons. Ick.

More wandering, and eventually I start looping south again, checking out Broadcast Lane (just east of Parliament) as I go. A mix of old artwork & new.

Definitely old. Trigger-Finger Guy is memorable! (For the first time, I notice the reference to Jet Fuel in the words by his ankles.)

garages in Broadcast Lane, e. of Parliament

Farther south, something new. Doughnut Moustache Man.

in Broadcast Lane

And finally, something old. And very peaceful too, amid all the surrounding noise, both aural & visual.

in Broadcast Lane

“You are here,” yes I am,  but not for long. A few more turns, a few more alleys, and I’m almost home.

in a Cabbagetown alley

Not street art, but streetscape, and I really like it. I can’t come up with any good art or architecture arguments for this, I think it’s something to do with the spill of roof decks, tier by tier, stepping down from the top floor to ground level.

I see the man who whistled for his cats when I was starting this walk. Now he’s busy talking with his next door neighbour, but we smile & flick fingers at each other as I pass.

That’s nice. I like that.


Bread & Bunnies & a Red-Jawed Alien

8 January 2014 — There’s always more, but let’s start with the bread. Which itself has a whole lot more to it than I thought.

I thought it was just a very colourful, very unexpected, quite loony wall with graffiti leaping about and a demure bread company logo in the middle of it all. Quite sufficiently interesting and odd, all by itself.

Ontario Bread Company back wall

Then I searched online and discovered the back-story. The company was founded in 1933 by Polish immigrants, was the largest Polish bakery in all Canada, ran very happily from its little lane off Ossington (south of Dundas) and then… went out of business. Except it was purchased by Jaswoj Bakery, also of Polish origins, which has now incorporated the Ontario Bread name into its own. There are some wonderful other online tributes to its history, including a video, and I give the links in CLICK!! below.

So here I am again, just north of the garage-art alley I wrote about as the Humbert-Queen Art Collection, discovering that had I kept exploring that other snowy day, I could have fallen into yet another tangle of alleys and images.

Just around the corner from that first photo, along another side of the same building, more and more art.

Ontario Bread Co wall, No Dumping!

Don’t you love it? I don’t just mean the artwork, I also mean the “No Dumping” sign — which, please note, is being scrupulously respected. Not one scrap of litter. Good thing there’s no “No Graffiti” sign!

I realize I’m beginning to look at the streetscapes as much as I do at the art. That same mural, for example, ends on the right in a highly stylized candle and butterfly. I enjoy them — but mostly I enjoy their juxtaposition with the cross-alley and garage beyond. It’s a kind of visual call-&-response.

detail, Ontario Bread Co wall mural

Opposite that wall,  more graffiti, this time signed “Manitoba’s Finest.” Well, that’s the part of the signature, the tag, that I can read. Most of it I don’t know how to decipher. Anyway, hello to Manitoba.

I am so happy when this little bird pops into view, even though he’s on a battered piece of board. I call him my Picasso Bird, for his simple flowing lines.

"Picasso Bird"

I first saw this design on a rusty-orange metal wall near the Gladstone Hotel on Queen St. West. I loved it. The white lines of the bird stood out so beautifully on the metal, I thought somebody should excise the rectangle and hang it in a gallery. Somebody else clearly disagreed with my opinion — when next I looked, the bird had been very roughly scratched off. Boo! (As I write this, I smile at my photo of that original Queen St. image.)

So thank you, Picasso Bird. I’m glad you’re back.

Up onto Dundas West, start heading eastward a bit… and another favourite image reappears.

ANSER faces on Dundas W, between Ossington & Bathurst

The unmistakable ANSER face, this time twined into two faces. Unlike Picasso Bird, this image is frequently on view. But I always like to see it again. (Here, I quite like the grey and green wheelies, as counterpoint.)

I wander into another tangle of alleys, just S/E of Bathurst and College, and have myself three surprises in a row.

First, nobody expects a pink elephant — I mean, not literally. Not when you’ve only had coffee. But there he is.

alley off College & Bathurst

Any more than you’d expect great jagged graffiti script with a lace curtain for backstop. But there it is.

alley off Bathurst & College

I dodge around the corner into the cross-alley, and totally do not expect, could not possibly have expected, this face. But there she is.

alley off College & Bathurst

Quite, quite marvellous. Haunting. What a focal point for that whole alley streetscape!

Next up, the promised bunnies. I’m back on College, just a wee bit east of Bathurst, north side. I see bunnies! Hard to miss, you will think quietly to yourself, as you glance downward at the photo.

Ah, but here’s the you-might-miss-it challenge: spot the door and count the mailboxes.

Croft St. at College, work by POSER

These bunnies get around, let me tell you, and whenever I see them, I remember my first sighting. I was practising for the Iceland trek, and decided to practice scree-climbing by manoeuvring my way up the steep incline of loose rocks around a railway bridge trestle.

My reward (apart from not slipping and breaking my neck) was one of these loopy bunnies, which I saw painted on the metalwork when I finally got up to the trestle itself. I have therefore always called these guys “Scree Bunny,” but I now know they are the work of an artist whose street name is POSER.

After I count the mailboxes, I suddenly think that this is a familiar little lane. In fact, street. Croft Street. I spin around, and yes, I’m right. Smack opposite, the mural work I first saw over a year ago — long before these bunnies hopped into view.

The street gained this name in tribute to John Croft, the fireman who was the sole casualty in the great Toronto fire of April 1904. He was attempting to defuse a carelessly set explosive, when it blew up and killed him.

Croft St. mural tribute to fire of 1904

This fire is still the greatest that Toronto has ever experienced. Only one life lost (which is already one too many), but 104 buildings were destroyed. The blaze led to much tighter fire-code regulations for construction in the city.

Some final amusement as I head down Augusta Avenue toward Dundas. I see an anti-Walmart poster, tacked to a telephone pole at Baldwin St. Nothing too unusual about that, you might say (yawn, you might say) — but this is Kensington Market, and we’re not talking about some tatty little piece of paper, no sir.

Wal-Mart protest, in metal, August & Baldwin

Metal! The protest is carefully hand-scratched into a sheet of metal!

I’m still enjoying that when I reach Wales St. and stop to admire some Aliens and Gods. Their creator is Moses Kofi, who is good enough to put his website address on the lawn along with the sculptures, which is how I can later discover what they’re called.

bio-hybrid example of Aliens and Gods, by Moses Kofi

Each is catalogued on the website, and described. Lord Red-Jaws here belongs to the tribe of “true bio hybrids, engineered with wheels, they are designed for hunter-killer missions in urban centres … efficient deadly and non-discriminatory.”

Well. That’s all right, then! As long as they’re non-discriminatory.



    "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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