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.


Pavement & Parks

12 July 2014 — A Double-P outing for the Tuesday Walking Society this week, and we had an objective for each “P.” Phyllis wanted a downtown pavement loop that would take us past Lee  Valley Tools, since she knew they carried nifty crank radios; I proposed a sub-agenda of noticing slivers of park enroute — all those mini-parkettes that slide among our downtown towers, creating huge pleasure in tiny spaces.

What we didn’t know was that a third “P” would be added. For paint. As in, street artists. As in… Birdo, and this technicolour beastie of his discovered on our return route along Queen St. West.

detail, Birdo street art, Queen St. West

But more of that in my next post. This one is all about the first half of our walk — the Double-P.

We immediately head south to King St. East, & start walking west. It will take us right past the downtown Toronto outlet for Lee Valley Tools (near Bathurst St.), and it’s a good walk in its own right — a main artery with lots of pavement, but also mini-parks & greenery all along the way.

First hit: a sidewalk herb garden near Jarvis in front of — and for — the  Japanese restaurant Hiro. Talk about fresh, local produce!

Hiro restaurant herb garden, King East

More sidewalk offerings, this time wonders of a nearby antiques/décor shop. I’m struck by the old Lake Muskoka sign in the pail, rustic & vintage as all-get-out — but also priced for modern urban deep pockets. We admire, and keep walking.

collectibles basket, King East nr Jarvis

No. Let me be precise. We do not immediately walk on, because I spy our first mini-parkette right across the street. In a way, you have to know it’s there to know it’s there: it is very narrow & the streetcar stop screens the entrance.

parkette, n. side of King East nr Jarvis

But I do know it’s there, so we defy traffic, weave-dodge our way to the north side of King, and peer in. It’s a charmer.

interior, parkette King East nr Jarvis

I’m always amazed, and heartened, to see how much good can be achieved in so little space.

Phyllis points to a plaque halfway up the old building immediately west of the parkette. “Toronto Patriot” it says. I have to look this up later, to discover that it was an early newspaper here in Upper Canada, relocated from Kingston to York (as Toronto then was) in 1832 by entrepreneur Thomas Dalton & his wife Sophia. The paper was “staunchly pro-British and strongly conservative,” says one account, and Dalton expressed his views with fiery zeal.

Not surprising, perhaps, that he died of apoplexy in 1840. More surprising, perhaps, that widow Sophia promptly began running the paper herself. While also raising their eight children.

More mini-parkland between Jarvis & Church streets: Market Lane Park, running N/S between King & Front. Here, too, the entrance is almost obscured — though not by a modern transit shelter. This time by a old horse-trough fountain, now in a minimalist, very contemporary surround.

Market Lane Park, King St. E.

I like the mix of elements. Victorian fountain, modern context, rack of Toronto Bike Share bicycles, guy-with-cell-phone.

Walk in a bit, and it’s all leafy and lovely.

Market Lane Park, King St. E.

Mind you, it’s typically rowdier on summer Sunday mornings. Then it becomes spill-over for the weekly antiques market next door.

And yet another tiny park, on the same stretch of King East.

This is the Toronto Sculpture Garden, with its cascading wall of water against a neighbouring building, and its 20-foot stack of “1st generation” (cf. the plaque) Honda Civics, created by Canadian artist Jed Lind.

Toronto Sculpture Garden, 115 King E.

Quite appropriate, all those car bodies. Before it became the Toronto Sculpture Garden, this 80′ x 100′ space was a parking lot.

We cross Yonge St.; King East turns into  King West; & soon we’re stopping for another delight, just east of Bay St.

Artistically, I find it worthy of inclusion in  a sculpture garden somewhere, except it’s a whole huge bank building, so you have to admire it in its own setting. Once headquarters for the Bank of Commerce, now Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, this art-deco structure was completed in 1931 and is glorious under any name.

I particularly like the pillars. There are the usual floral insignia, goddess faces & animals. My favourite is this guy.

1931 Bank of Commerce HQ, 25 King St. West

I thought he was a modest little squirrel. Now, looking at that tail, I’m inclined to think beaver. A pseudo-heraldic beaver? (Street art in limestone? Which raises some sort of philosophic question. Do sufficiently elegant materials transform street art into Art?)

More art, we want more art, and we know where to find it. Practically next door, because we are now in the heart of the city’s traditional finance district, where the big banks fight it out for architectural prestige (along with market share).

Where architectural prestige is concerned, Toronto-Dominion gets some serious bragging rights. The TD Centre complex (just west of Bay) was designed by Mies van der Rohe.

We don’t spend any time peering up at those sleek black towers (though they are very fine indeed). We’re here for cows! And we know we’ll find them, tucked among the towers.

The Pasture, 7 bronze cows, Joe Fafard

“The Pasture” — complete with 7 bronze cows, by Canadian artist Joe Fafard. I’ve photographed them before, finding them especially amusing (& striking) when winter snow & ice highlight their curves. But yes, they are also a lot of fun lazing around in the summer sun. Today, a lot of humans are lazing around as well.

We wait for a green light at King West & University and, as always, I admire yet again the mirrored tower on the N/W corner. Its angles throw wonderful reflections any time of day, in pretty well any weather.

N/W corner, King West & University Av.

More reflections just a bit farther west at Simcoe Street, this time in a pond not a mirror. We’re peering down at the Roy Thomson Hall patio, all arranged for its summer-long series of free Thursday late-afternoon concerts.

Roy Thomson Hall, King West & Simcoe

An Australian band called Wagon launches a new album at its concert on July 10; next up, July 17, Sun K and Grey Lands. The Roy Thomson website describes Sun K as grassroots folk-rock-blues, while Grey Lands are more into pop-rock & psych-folk.

I think I’ve just used up a year’s quota of hyphens.

Walk on, walk on, and there’s Mountain Equipment Co-op on the north side of King near Spadina. I’m always a sucker for MEC, so I super-casually ask Phyllis: “Um, want to dive into MEC for a bit? Check out the clearance racks?” And yes, she’s all for it. “Good idea,  I’m looking for a small backpack…”


She not only buys a backpack, we suddenly realize that of course MEC will also carry crank radios, so why not comparison shop? And we do, and there one is, and she likes it, and she buys it.

So we don’t need Lee Valley Tools after all, but it’s so special we go in anyway. We buy nothing, but we stroke  beautifully designed, beautifully crafted woodworking and gardening tools on our way through — many of them Lee Valley’s own product lines. Founder Leonard Lee (1978, one Ottawa store) received the Order of Canada for what this family-owned business has since achieved, and he deserves it. Son Robin, now president, carries on in the same spirit.

Then on a whim we decide to head north on Portland St., and see what might become an interesting route back east.

That’s when the third “P” kicks in. P-for-paint.

Street art, alley art, graffiti, old & new.

I’ll show it to you next post. (P-for-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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