Walk & Gawk

28 July 2017 – Tuesday we do indeed go walkies on the Arbutus Greenway, as promised in my previous post. Another bright sunny day, so I’m armed with hat/sunblock/water.

I’m first to arrive at the 6th and Fir Park, the north (False Creek) end of this 11 km pathway stretching south along a disused rail corridor to the Fraser River. (In fact, we’re still on temporary pathways, with the final work yet to be done, but the details are beyond me and … frankly … at the moment I don’t care. I’m happy as is.)

Being first to arrive, I kill time reading messages on the Park noticeboard. Here is my favourite:

Have you ever seen tattooing so winsomely advertised? I am thoroughly charmed — though not enough to respond to the ad.

Lots of notices, lots to read, and this lady ignores her pooches long enough to scrutinize them all. Maybe she’s local, checking for updates?

Busy park, 9-ish in the morning: a volunteer (I assume) watering & pruning, a visitor checking her messages, parents & toddlers (out of frame) in the mini-playground. And a discarded water bottle. This is real life, after all, not Fantasy Land.

The Park’s online write-up includes, in its list of amenities, a water fountain. It should, but doesn’t, point out there is a canine fountain as well,

Frances arrives, we slap on another layer of sunblock, swig some water, and set off.

And stop pretty darn soon, because who could resist this gate?

Not us. The gate is unlocked, even better, so we head in. I linger to admire all the fun someone has had, creating the objets d’art — all from objets trouvés — on the gate.

Turns out we are visiting the Vancouver Compost Demonstration Garden, which since 1990 has been a joint project with the non-profit City Farmer Society. The Society manages the Garden; the City taps multiple departmental resources (Solid Waste, Water Design, Parks, Health, Green Streets…); all this to show Vancouverites a whole range of ways to “go green” at home.

Raised produce beds and other features show us water conservation techniques, pest control, and composting options. Including — but of course! — a very classy composting toilet.

Back to the Greenway.

We’re still in the northern section, with community gardens and wild greenery all around. Including blackberry bushes, their fruit just beginning to ripen.

See those few fully ripe berries? They are no longer on the bush. They disappeared, lickety-split, down our throats.

Not a lot of art on display, and it would be ungrateful to demand that the Greenway also be an art installation. All the more reason to enjoy the artist’s palette on a signal box (or something) ’round about where we cross West 16th.

Farther south, we’re on a long staightaway of naked paved pathway. Not pretty. It’s a relief to arrive at a stretch that is, we suddenly realize, lined with painted rocks. Well … at least it’s something.

I warm to it when I see a Vancouver Biennale sign, explaining that this is a BIG IDEAS Education Program carried out by grade 2 students at York House School. After seeking community input, they decided to beautify their stretch of the Greenway with these long lines of rocks —  more than 800 in all, moving from one colour block to another.

But! Wait-there’s-more! Turn over a rock or two. Go ahead, says a sign; do it.

So, in a red-rock stretch, we do.

Love it.

Even farther south, we’re back in cascading greenery, here up and down a retaining wall with trees soaring overhead. Vancouver keeps stunning me, the way green stuff just tumbles over other green stuff…

And suddenly we’re crossing West 41st, where, I am very reliably informed, there are excellent cafés.

We admire yet another harlequin painted signal box (it seems to be the Greenway theme), plus the wooden bench behind it with old railway axles (or something?) for end pieces …

and head for a near-by bistro.

Which is as good as promised.

I pass up my usual almond croissant & try something new: a flaky sacristain —  twisted puff pastry with ground almonds and cinnamon.

All I can say is: go find yourself a French bistro, and try it for yourself! (Or follow this recipe.)

 

POP! Go the Chairs

22 January 2017 – It is a totally pissy day (dull, damp, raw, intermittent rain-spittle), & I march out into it anyway.

And I am rewarded.

If waterfront summertime chairs can be this cheerful, if they can go POP! despite the weather, who am I not to join in?

chairs in Harbour Square Park, lakefront & Bay St

I’m in Harbour Square Park, by Lake Ontario just opposite the ferry terminal, starting to walk west along the lake and thinking how my attitude has changed to out-of-season accessories. Such as these Muskoka chairs, for example.

I used to sneer — yes, peaceful broadminded me — when confronted by public facilities designed, so I thought, for one season only. And for summer at that. When we inhabit, in fact, a primarily not-summer environment.

Now I delight in them — the chairs, the huge umbrellas at HTO Park and Sugar Beach, the lot. Why? Because so many others delight in them, and enjoy them year-round. So I am now an old dog with a new attitude. (Woof woof.)

More of those chairs keep popping at me through the drizzle as I walk along.

For example, when I meet Leeward Fleet in Canada Square. Background, but still definitely a presence.

2 of 3 components, Leeward Fleet, Canada Square

I read the signboard, and learn these pivoting structures (by RAW Design) were inspired by iceboat & sailboat technology. “Ancient fleet, blowing in the wind,” says the slogan.

The signboard also excuses me for not having noticed this installation before: it is one of five along Queen’s Quay West that together make up Ice Breakers, an exhibition that only opened yesterday and runs until 26 February.

A little farther west through Harbourfront Park, and my eyes follow my ears, to discover the source of the shrill squeal that fills the air …

marina along Harbourfront Park

Oh, I know, not a Muskoka chair in sight. But we can’t let ourselves be hamstrung by a theme, can we? And the sight does support my “out-of-season” sub-theme. All these little boats in the basin, tucked away for winter, and one man out there anyway — in a T-shirt! — power-drilling his way through an off-season project.

North side of Queen’s Quay, down by the Peter Street Basin, I spot giant hands. And jaywalk to check them out.

Tailored Twins, Queen's Quay W at the Peter Street Basin

Wouldn’t you?

It’s Tailored Twins (Ferris + Associates), another of the Ice Breakers installations, 3-metre-high faceted wooden hands, their golden palms glinting, even on a dark day. “Put your hands where my eyes can see,” says the slogan, and my eyes say thank you.

the west-end of the two hands

Well, that’s fun, and I head back east full of bounce.

Another of the installations, this one Incognito (Curio Art Consultancy and Jaspal Riyait), with — yes — a POP! factor.

Incognito, Queen's Quay W at Rees Street

This time the chairs, highly visible as they are, counter-balance a theme of invisibility. “An invisible city inside a park, can you see it?” The design, the signboard tells me, copies the same camouflaging technique used by World War I warships.

And on east I go, and on, and short winter days mean that by 6 p.m. it is already dark.

I turn north up Jarvis, and at King West see one final chair. This time it is just part of a tableau, and it is the tableau as a whole that goes POP!

through the Second Cup window, Jarvis & King West

I like everything about this scene: a warm, dry refuge glowing into the rainy night; a man ensconced in that refuge, head bent over his acoustic guitar, coffee near to hand.

I pick up the pace, walking on to home. The sooner I am there, the sooner I, too, will have coffee near to hand!

More Icons of the City

8 June 2016 – Well, more of what I consider icons, of my particular version of the city — but I explained all that in the previous post.

Which ended halfway through Saturday’s walk, with me still laughing at the thought of a dog ordering his owner to fill in that hole! (Don’t know what I’m talking about? Check the previous post…)

Out of Coronation Park, on around a few streets, zoop down toward the Billy Bishop island airport, come round a corner — and bag myself a hat-trick of icons!

black Ierland Park  boundary, grey Malting silo, & the CN Tower

Yessir, neatly piled on each other, as you round the corner heading east: the soaring grey hulk of the Canada Malting silos, the jagged black edges of Ireland Park, and, down there in the distance, the needle of the CN Tower.

I’m headed around the edge of the marinas at this end of the harbour, my mind and my eyes pretty well set on the Toronto Music Garden, which is already in view. But I’m snagged by the water-edge railing just east of the Malting silo. It’s small-scale, as snags go, but vivid.

railing east of the Malting silo

An icon? Do I care to defend the label?

Sure. Street art is iconic. Well, railing art, if you want to get all sub-category about it. Anyway, I like it, and it’s my blog. (That bit of arrogance a deliberate bow to William Zinsser, author of On Writing Well, who, when asked by what right he got to define good writing, replied: “It’s my book.”)

I head into the Toronto Music Garden, a sculpted tribute to Bach’s Suite No. 1 in G Major for Unaccompanied Cello BWV 1007 — co-designed by cellist Yo Yo Ma and landscape designer Julie Masservy, in collaboration with city Parks and Recreation landscape architects.

Each movement is interpreted in its own section of the park. I always seek out # 3, the Courante.

Music Garden sign

As the sign promises, it features a spiral pathway, up to a glorious maypole, designed by Anne Roberts. I climb the path, every visit.

The Courante movement, with its maypole

Handsome from a distance; even better when you’re right next to it, craning your neck backward for the full vertical hit.

the maypole

Back down the spiral, following parkland at water’s edge again, into the Harbourfront complex, where I see one of the tall ships at anchor — and, for the first time, also  see people busy at work in the rigging. It all looks very 18th century.

Except for the clothing. And the tourist cameras. And the flags, come to that …

tall ship at anchor, Harbourfront Park

And on, and on I go, and now I’m at HTO Beach. (HTO, think H2O / water, remember TO = Toronto … oh, you get it. Forgive me for thinking it needs to be explained.)

on HTO Beach

Choose your icons: beach umbrellas, bicycles, sailboats, and the Toronto Islands just across the harbour.

I bang hopefully on the Power Plant gallery doors as I go by, but the facility is closed for maintenance. Or something. Oh well, another day. I pass one of my favourite Harbourfront coffee bars — and keep walking! I’m still fully caff’ed, thanks to that earlier Merchants of Green Coffee hit at the Fair Trade Show.

And then, whoa.

Major icon moment.

chairs in front of Queens Quay Terminal

Big red Muskoka chairs are all over the waterfront now — an invitation from the City to its residents and visitors: slow down, sit down, take a moment, enjoy being where you are, right now. This pair, right in front of Queens Quay Terminal (condos + retail).

I smile at them, but I don’t sit. I keep on hoofing.

Which brings me to the foot of Yonge Street, having just stepped my way along a kilometre marker paying tribute to the world’s longest street (if you allow Yonge + its continuation, Highway 11, to count as a single street): 1,896 km from Rainy River on the Ontario-Minnesota border, to right here.

Yonge St. & Lake Ontario

I always do a little hippety-hop on the 0 km marker.

But not yet 0 km for me! I walk on east, and a wee bit north, to home.

Can’t rival 1,896 klicks, but I do rack up something like 14.6 all told, so I am pleased with my day.

 

Into the City

6 May 2016 – So here we are, Mary & I, complementing our woodland walk with a city walk.

Kingston, to be precise, the nearest big city to her home, located halfway between Montreal & Toronto at the confluence of assorted waterways: where the St. Lawrence River flows out of Lake Ontario, and also at the mouth of the much smaller Cataraqui River, which doubles as the south end of the Rideau Canal.

All of which made the location attractive first to indigenous peoples, later to European settlers, with a surge of Loyalists in the 1780s following the America Revolution — and attractive later yet again, to Americans just across Lake Ontario, during the War of 1812. They didn’t win the war, but posed a continuing threat thereafter, which caused Kingston to be stripped of its role as capital of the Province of Canada in 1844.

(Toronto & Montreal alternated as capital for a while, but were also uncomfortably close to those pesky Americans, which led Queen Victoria to look for somewhere safe & remote and, in 1849, to declare that Ottawa will be capital, period full stop thank you very much.)

Never mind. Kingston was home to John A. Macdonald, ultimately Sir John A., and, in 1867, the first Prime Minister of the new Dominion of Canada. “The Father of Confederation.” So there.

We know we’re in a city because we find ourselves in a ribbon park, with not a wildflower in sight — but lots of colour nonetheless.

a mural in the park facing Cataraqui R.

I quite like it, I decide, and begin to explore the retaining wall, each segment covered with its very own mural.

section of the mural-coered retaining wall, same park

One mural of the city itself, with a recognizable City Hall dome mid-left in the background, lots of strange robot-sort-of creatures strewn around, and over there, right foreground … yessir, Sir John A. himself.

mural, same park

My eye is caught by a folk art-ish rendition of an alley between Barrie & Clergy streets (right) …

murals, same park

and only later pays any attention to the kiddies on the left, spinning snow angels into the snow with their vibrating arms & legs.

“In Greenland,” I tell Mary, a snowmobile trip there suddenly surging into memory, “I remarked on some children making Snow Angels and was promptly corrected. ‘Here,’ I was told, ‘they are Snow Eagles.’ ”

Mary laughs, then pulls me to the river’s edge.

We are on the Cataraqui River, she has already told me, just where it dumps into Lake Ontario — and just before the lake itself flows into the St. Lawrence River, as best I can make out, all that water on its way to the Atlantic Ocean.

She has us here at the shoreline, because she wants to examine the wording on this striking Celtic Cross. A monument to desperate Irish immigrants, fleeing the Great Famine? No, but it is about the travails of the Irish nonetheless.

memorial to Rideau Canal labourers, same park

The Rideau Canal, completed in 1832, was a great technological achievement in its day and a very fine success all around. As long as you don’t worry about the fate of its labourers, that is. This cross does worry about them, paying tribute to:

an estimated one thousand Irish labourers and their co-workers

who died of malaria and by accidents in terrible working conditions

while building the Rideau Canal 1826-1832

On we go, in occasional drizzle, into downtown city streets, with their frequent passageways marking where horses once came & went from the stables in behind the street-front buildings. I stop to read a plaque in one of these arches on Clarence St., between King and Ontario.

I expect historical information, and I receive it. Look! It’s all about Sir John A. Macdonald! Enlarge the photo, and enjoy the joke.

in Clarence St. passageway, between King & Ontario

We giggle, explore some more, & soon read another plaque on King St. itself. A serious plaque this time, on an imposing building east of Clarence.

I photograph one doorway detail, my modest rip-off of a very fine image we’ve just seen in a near-by art gallery.

former Whig-Standard building, King St., east of Clarence

Didn’t note what the building is now; previously it was home to the Kingston Whig-Standard newspaper and, before that building existed, home to St. George’s Church where, in 1792, the first meeting of the Executive Council of Upper Canada was held.

Kingston, in North American terms, is an old city.

But one with 21st-c. amenities. Such as parking lots. Though sometimes — as here on Brock St. — there are surprises on offer, all around the cars.

in a Brock St. parking lot

I don’t know why these attractive poles exist. I’m just glad they do.

Another treat, but an anticipated one. On King St. East we walk the mazes of Berry & Peterson Booksellers, where great wobbly stalagmites of books constantly threaten to crash down on your head. I look for a resident cat, there isn’t one; the only flaw in an otherwise exemplary bookstore.

Berry & Peterson

And then, before heading off to join Mike in the Queen’s University library, Mary & I walk through another waterfront park — this time along Lake Ontario, with Wolfe Island in the background.

There is an undulating ribbon of rubble as breakwater, which surely means … many, many inukshuks. Here is just one, a baby among adjacent giants and all the more charming for that.

inukshuk in Lake Ontario waterfront park

Then, hop-là to the library, and hop-là back to their 100-acre woods and book-filled home, up there north of Gananoque.

 

 

Earth, Air, Fire, Water

31 March 2016 – If you’re paying any attention at all, all four elements dance with you, every walk you take. But, sometimes, they connect with more power than usual. Tuesday’s walk along Toronto’s west-end waterfront is one of those occasions.

For example, Air/Fire/Water right here at Toronto Fire Station 334.

Soaring sky, glinting water, and the Wm. Lyon Mackenzie Fire Boat in the slip.

fire boat, Toronto Fire Station 334

So-very-appropriate to name the fire boat for the City’s first mayor — but here’s the joke: he was also one of the leaders of the 1837 Rebellion, and quite rightly dubbed a “firebrand” in William Kilgour’s biography. A man, in other words, more likely to ignite fires than extinguish them …

A few other hints to our coming walk adventures in that photo, not that the Tuesday Walking Society knows it at the time: the fierce outline of the Canada Malting Company silos against the background sky and, to their left, the more prosaic outline of Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport.

Close to hand, the fourth element: Earth. No. More precisely, Earth & Water.

detail, Spadina Quay Wetland signage

Immediately west of the Fire Station, the Spadina Quay Wetland. Once a parking lot, it is now a spawning ground for the Northern Pike (“a key indicator of the health of Toronto Bay”) and a support for the entire aquatic community.

I take the photo for the pike silhouette, and for the handsome appearance of the rusted metal. I only learn later that this wooden edging is a pilot project in urban park edging for such purposes. Here’s the problem: wetlands look, well, messy. The healthier they are, the messier they look. What will make a suitable boundary between the wetland and the smooth, urbane, urban pathway to one side? The trick was to devise a modular system that wouldn’t look too prissy for the wetland, yet would fit nicely with the park edge, and would also provide seating. Read all about it here.

On we go, through the Wetland, then through Toronto Music Garden park immediately to the west, and then we veer onto the planking for Marina Quay West. Lots of boats out here, still neatly swaddled for winter.

boats in Marina Quay West

We are slightly wary as we prowl — the marina is designed for people who belong there & have keys & all & all — but nobody challenges us. No external signs of action, but music wafts out from some of the boats, suggesting owners are beavering away inside.

A moment to admire another red & white boat, the view hampered by the fact that since we don’t have keys we have to view it from the one public-access walkway.

tug with chair, Marina Quay West

In my ignorance, I think of it as a tug. Maybe it even is a tug. Phyllis & I particularly like the red Muskoka chair up on top.

Back out of our Marina detour, closer every step to those 1928 Canada Malting Company silos — one of only two sets of silos left on the waterfront.

Canada Malting Company silos, Toronto Bay

I love severe industrial architecture, especially when tinged with modernism, as here, and I love Prairie grain silos. So I really love this structure, and I am glad that — once threatened with demolition, and still empty though protected by historical designation — it is still solidly present at lake edge. Not as large as it once was, battered, empty, its future unknown, but, by golly, emphatically still there.

detail, silos

I am thinking anthropomorphic thoughts about loss, resilience & survival as I round the waterfront corner of the building.

And have the breath knocked out of me.

Because never mind architectural equivalents of those characteristics. Here they all are, in human terms.

Ireland Park

We have come across Ireland Park, opened in 2007 by the President of Ireland, a testimonial to the Irish Famine of 1845-1851, to the millions of famine refugees who emigrated and, specifically, to the 38,560 who arrived by steamer in Toronto Harbour in 1847. At a time when the city itself numbered only 20,000 people.

sculpture, Ireland Park

The bronze sculptures are by Irish artist Rowan Gillespie, who had already created 7 such sculptures on the Dublin waterfront, to honour all those who fled. Ireland Park here contains 5 figures, honouring those who made it to our shores and, by the reduced number, those who died en route.

The man with outstretched arms symbolizes the joy of reaching land; the pregnant woman, the hope of new life and a new life for all; and this gaunt youth …

sculpture, Ireland Park

the newcomer mixture of hope and trepidation.

Walk to the jagged limestone pillars behind. Peer between their faces. Read the names.

names etched, Ireland Park

Of those 38,560 immigrants, some 1,180 died upon arrival or soon after. When this project began, 32 of their names were known. By 2007, dogged research had brought the identified total to 675 — information sent back to Ireland with H.E. Mary McAleese after she opened the park. Reading names on site, I am touched but saddened that “A Widow Hughes” is known only by her surname; knowing what I have since learned, I am touched and impressed that even this much has been discovered and made public.

A hint of Fire, and a lot of Water and Earth, in our walk so far. Now it is time for Air.

We walk the new underwater tunnel to Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport. City-side, they’ve placed life-size statues of (L) William Barker and (R) William (Billy) Bishop — friends, and two of the greatest fighter pilots of the First World War. Bishop with 72 victories, Barker with 50, and between them very long lists of awards and decorations.

Barket, L; Bishop, R

Through the tunnel, back up the escalator on the airport side, into a lobby of Billy Bishop memorabilia — complete with a full-size model of his beloved Nieuport 17 suspended overhead. (Go see the real thing in the Canadian War Museum.)

Nieuport 17 model, Billy Bishop Airport

Only a model, but faithful and almost complete. Add navigational equipment and an engine, says the signage, and this model could really fly.

And now, speaking of navigation …

A Small But Important Geographical Note

I misled you! We were not in Leslieville last post, as I muttered about how Toronto’s east-downtown is finally spiffing up. We were in Corktown, as Larry Webb (faithful reader with sharp eyes) pointed out.

 

 

 

 

The Charm of a Sunny Day

24 January 2016 – Nippy, but brilliantly sunny, that was Saturday. The kind of day to reward an inquisitive eye, and pop even our muted winter palette into high relief.

I’d had a preview the day before, as I prowled some neighbourhood streets & alleys.

in a Cabbagtown front yard

See? All that colour & texture, doing its Happy Dance under our winter sun.

So I set out lake-ward on Saturday, full of optimism. The first amusement is just one block from home.

cat prints in replacement sidewalk pavers

Not exactly a dance of colour, I’ll agree, but certainly a dance of cat paws. Prancing across those sidewalk pavers, complete with their very feline message: “I’ll go where I please. Even if it’s gooey.”

I have no particular reason to head for Lake Ontario, just the belief, confirmed by experience, that there’s almost always lots to see and enjoy.

I cut through Sherbourne Common, the recreational park cum water-treatment facility immediately north of the waterfront.

Kiddie play equipment, so busy with children all summer, sits still and silent in the winter chill. This spinning disc, for example, a blur of motion in July …

in Sherbourne Common

is now transformed into pure, sculptural art.

Big contrast with the southern (lakeside) portion of the Common. It is home to the Paul Quarrington Ice Rink & Splash Pad. No prize for guessing which activity is currently in season!

Paul Quarrington Ice Rink & Splash Pad, in southern portion, Sherbourne Common

Right.

I follow the lake edge west to Sugar Beach, named for the Redpath Sugar Refinery on its western boundary. Sugar Beach is one of a string of high-concept, very urban parks developed in the central portion of the city’s lakefront over the last decade or so.

At first I laughed at the mid-winter sight of its oversize Muskoka chairs and bright, rigid beach umbrellas. Fine in summer, I thought, but couldn’t they have come up with a décor that worked in all four seasons?

I take that back.

I have not only seen visitors lolling in those chairs mid-winter, as of this Saturday I have done it myself. In the sun; out of the wind; looking out over Toronto Harbour and Toronto Island; listening to gulls & geese & ducks & the occasional airplane on its final approach to the island airport.

I pass a lean, young cyclist as I enter Sugar Beach. We nod, he strips off his helmet as we agree it is a major-fine day to be out & about, and we each sink into a chair, mine somewhat farther down the beach than his.

cyclist doing his stretching routine on Sugar Beach

You’d be excused for thinking I’d stumbled on a sun-worship cult, but no — while I am content just to sit back and breathe gently, he is soon on his feet again, working through his stretching routine.

When I finally walk on, I’m amused to see more footprints — different species & ephemeral not permanent, but they still make me remember those busy little cat prints I saw earlier.

footprints in Sugar Beach sand & snow

The shifting sun brings out stronger shadows. I cock my head at the foot of Yonge St., admiring the way the railing plays against the sidewalk.

Ground zero - foot of Yonge St. at Lake Ontario

Also admiring, as always, the litany of names of all the major communities along Yonge St. and their distance from the lake. Its purpose: to demonstrate that Yonge is the world’s longest street. (Assuming you allow it to change name as it goes, that is.)

From Toronto at 0 km, to Rainy River at 1896 km. With North York – Richmond Hill – Aurora – Newmarket – Barrie – Orillia – Gravenhurst – Bracebridge – Huntsville – North Bay – Iroquois Falls – Cochrane – Kapuskasing – Hearst – and Thunder Bay in between.

My ambition is more modest. I just walk on west for a bit, past Bay St. and the ferry terminal, into Harbour Square and HarbourFront Park.

Soon I’ll pass the outdoor skating rink, positively heaving with people & the hiss of skate blades. First I pass some ducks, most of them swimming about but a few tucked up on their very own patch of ice. Complete with their own trademark hiss!

ducks in Toronto Harbour

Farther west & farther west, and then finally I head north into the downtown core, beginning my loop eastward toward home.

The sinking sun still flashes fire. It highlights a group of buildings and throws their reflection against this office tower at Simcoe & Wellington.

S/E corner, Simcoe & Wellington

I have a knee-jerk objection to these glass towers, typically thinking only of all the energy they must consume winter & summer, to maintain comfortable temperatures.

But, sometimes, I just enjoy the view.

Year Five!

I’ve just realized: this is my anniversary month for blogging. My first full month was January 2012, when I began training for my Iceland trek and needed a way to engage with my donors. Back from Iceland later that year — and I just kept going.

All 2012, and 2013, and 2014, and now 2015 as well. Walking, and sharing my walks. Encouraged by your response to keep walking, and keep sharing.

Thank you for joining me. May we all continue in good health, doing what we love to do and sharing it with each other.

 

Saturday & Snow & Back to the 70s

8 February 2015 – The snow was anticipated, it was absolutely certain this would be another walk in the snow. Didn’t expect to revisit the 70s, though.

It’s not yet snowing as we walk back home from our Saturday morning visit to Merchants of Green Coffee. Despite the grey day, we four are buzzed and not just from the caffeine bouncing through our systems. We’e been exploring the building’s heritage industrial architecture, and learning more about MGC’s  partnership with a Honduran women’s co-op in Cafe Solar, the world’s first coffee produced by 100% renewable energy.

But my head snaps back from Honduras to Toronto when I see the latest stage in that Regent Park demolition. (My Little Boxes post shows an earlier stage.)

Regent Park demolition

With the east-end wall removed, it’s now like some wild ship’s prow, braving the elements.

Which is what I do later myself, heading home from a visit to friend and artist Betty White‘s current show at the TeodoraART Gallery in mid-town Toronto.

By now the snow is about to start. I cut through the Village of Yorkville Park, one I’ve shown you before and like a lot, partly for its respect for history.

Speaking of demolitions — as we were — this park is tucked on the exact footprint of the six Victorian rowhouse homes demolished to make way for a subway line. Each segment of the park illustrates one type of Canadian landscape, and occupies the exact footprint of one of those homes.

I walk past the great granite outcrop, brought in sections from the Canadian Shield to the north, currently topped by a romping toddler and her dad. Next to it, the water curtain that, at the moment, is an ice sculpture instead.

ice in Village of Yorkville Park

It’s such a tiny park, slivered between glossy, upmarket retail on Bloor St. to the south and boutiques on Cumberland to the north. I step through the Prairie Grassland, heading for the Pine Grove …

Village of Yorkville Park

… very aware, for a moment, of all that retail intruding on this little enclave of Nature.

Yet, somehow, magically, that awareness always fades. In summer visitors read their books and eat their lunch among the trees; now, in winter, we trace our footpaths among those trees instead. Like this …

among Yorkville Park trees

And this …

paths among the trees, to the N/E

But eventually I am back out on Bloor Street, then farther east and a bit south and tucking myself down Maitland Lane, mostly because I’ve never been there before.

And that’s where my 2015 self gets twirled back to the 1970s. All because of the faded TWP logo, still readable (to a knowing eye), on the back of this Alexander St. theatre.

back of Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, with TWP logo

Now it is Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, a home for queer theatre in the city. I remember it as — and the BBT website generously also remembers its years as — Toronto Workshop Productions. George Luscombe’s baby, a pioneering “alternative” theatre, home to Chicago ’70 (trial of the Chicago 7) and Ten Lost Years (the adaptation of Barry Broadfoot’s oral history of the Depression in Canada) and more, a whole lot more.

Oh my. I stand there, remembering my younger self & those years & voices & faces & events, and snowflakes keep tumbling down, getting thicker.

So I rejoin 2015, and head for home.

Eventually, it takes me through Allen Gardens. I stand by the off-leash dog play area in the fading light, and look at how lamps glow both outside the 1909 glass conservatory and inside as well. It’s magic, I think.

DSCN6455

I have to confess it wasn’t quite this magic. Most of those explosions are flash + snowflake, not softly glowing lamp.

No. You know what? I take that back. It didn’t look quite that dramatic, but it felt that good.

 

160 cm & 1:30 p.m.

25 September 2014 — Goodness, the things your body can tell you when you explore Toronto’s east-end parks! All these metrics (both senses of the word, now that I think about it) and a trip down Memory Lane to boot. A literal, physical, located-in-geographic-space Memory Lane.

But all that comes later. The day’s amusement starts with Blue Dog.

Main & Gerrard wall mural

The picture is not upside-down, the dog is upside-down and perfectly happy, as you can see. So am I, because it is Saturday, the weather is sunny & a balmy 24C, and I am working my way south from Main & Danforth toward Lake Ontario.

I don’t expect Blue Dog, but there he is at Main & Gerrard, part of a wall mural sponsored by two adjoining businesses. One makes perfect sense: it’s a very trendy dog spa. The other … well, how surprising. And delightful. A decidedly old-style electric motor shop has its name on the wall as well.

I turn from Main St. onto Kingston Road , start following its curve south-west, love the way all the shops have their doors & windows open to the beautiful day and, on impulse, wander into one of them — a very stylish garden accessory shop. I buy nothing, but I am rewarded anyway.

Are you ready? Quote of the Day. Maybe of the Year.

“Don’t judge a book by its movie.” This is neatly printed on a rather chunky block of wood, presumably the perfect blunt object with which to wallop loutish movie producers.

And on. Down some leafy residential streets, last blooms still glorious but trees & shrubs starting to change colour.

Onto Woodbine now, and a straight drop toward the lake — but I stop short at Queen East & walk through Measurement Park. It is the goofiest theme for a park I can imagine, and I find it irresistible.

Measurement Park, Eastern  Av.

You got it. A lot — a whole lot — of bright blue poles, each calibrated to 270 cm. I discover I am 160 cm. I read once, somewhere, why someone decided to drive the creation of a park of measuring sticks; I now forget why, but I am so glad it exists.

For all it’s called Measurement Park, it is a kind of sub-park, tucked into the N/E corner of Woodbine Park — which stretches south from here to Lakeshore Blvd. East and butts up against Coxwell Av. on its western flank. I follow it south, enjoying the open grassy stretches but looking forward to the shrubs & pathways to come.

boardwalk in Woodbine Park

Heart of the city, traffic on all sides, and look. Trails in the woods. This part is boardwalk, there is wetland underneath, and that is because …

… around the next curve, there is a great big pond. It is big enough for a rowboat or canoe, with reeds & grasses to the south side and waterways through them for boaters to explore. All that is still hidden from view, but the pond’s central feature is already drawing me in.

I can hear it, I can see the tip of it, a plume of water that soars into the air, and dances its way back down again. I come round the curve, and there it is.

Woodbine Park jet d'eau

There’s something visceral about the sight & sound of dancing water. Tattoo Man feels it, I feel it, anyone of any age or origin responds.

And the pond’s generous curve of benches invite you to sit, and enjoy your response for a while.

benches by the Woodbine Park pond

Which I do.

Then, bright-eyed again, I walk on along Lakeshore Blvd., noticing how the trees are morphing from one season to the next. Soon these leaves will be fully orange, then they’ll bleach & drop to the ground … but, for the moment, they sway in the breeze, richly dappled in the dappled light.

trees along Lakeshore Blvd East

I spend a moment in Skateboard Park, just the other side of Coxwell, watch young teenage boys leap & spin & hone their skills. Slap-SLAP go the wheels on impact.

But I stay only for a moment, because now I want to go tell the time. With my very own 160 centimetres.

Millennium Garden sun clock

See? It’s the sun clock in Millennium Garden, at the N/W corner of Woodbine Park. The central column is incised with the months of the year — not in calendar order, but in sun time-telling order. The great arcs above are incised from 1 to 12. Two arcs, of course: one each, Standard Time & Daylight Saving.

So you line up your toes on the appropriate month …

toes to September, sun clock Millennium Garden

… and, hey presto, your head tells you the time.

it's 1:30!

My wristwatch & my head-clock agree: it is now 1:30 p.m.

Time to get moving! On westward, on along Queen St. East. Brief stop for a latte; slightly longer stop in Jaws Antiques, whose extremely crowded front window also advertises the owner’s Retirement Sale. Jaws? I bet there is a shark or two inside. I swear I saw everything else, starting with, right inside the front door …

doorway roosters, Jaws Antiques

My nest goal is Maple Leaf Forever Park.

I didn’t even know it existed, until today — and only now, thanks to my wonderful crumple-cloth map of the city. (A $1 bargain in the Cabbagetown yard sales a few weeks ago.) It turns out to be the garden park immediately behind the one-time home of Alexander Muir, the schoolteacher-patriot who wrote The Maple Leaf Forever. His home, now called Maple Cottage, is still preserved, as is the trunk of the silver maple tree that inspired the song. Both are situated at the intersection of Laing St. & Memory Lane, which you follow to reach the park.

I read the plaque:

plaque at Maple Cottage

How fitting that, as I take the photo, a wasp hovers over my hand. How pleased the Grand Orange Lodge of British America would be, to know that a WASP (aka White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) guards the property!

Whole other mood when I hit Queen & Broadview. The N/E corner is home to Dangerous Dan’s Diner, a neighbourhood icon & as Gastronomically Incorrect as it is possible to be. These are the people who once advertised Cholesterol Burgers. They are also the people who will sell you posters guaranteed to scare your health-conscious friends into a heart attack.

Dangerous Dan’s posters

Just $1.50, or 5 for $5.00, what a deal.

Speaking of health conscious, how about a bike trail? With art work thrown in.

Dundas E. bridge over the Don River, bike trail below

I peer through the lattice-work railings of the Dundas St. bridge over the Don River, and there it is.

One last impulse stop, one last bit of art work, and again a big change in mood. I follow several others through the open doors of St. Batholomew’s Anglican Church, just opposite the new Regent Park park near Parliament. St. Bart’s is very high church (oh, you have to be Anglican to follow this), self-described as Anglo-Catholic, but also proud of its open doors, and open arms, for all members of this highly diverse community.

St Bartholomew’s Anglican Church

This window glows in the darkened entrance-well. The others who entered with me sign a prayer request, then gather up pamphlets. “A contemplative space in Regent Park,” says one. “The ancient faith for the contemporary world,” says another.

I walk on home.

 

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…”

Hurray.

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…)

 

 

 

 

  • WALKING… & SEEING

    "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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