Street Talk

17 December 2014 – One way and another — signs, shop windows, graffiti, random juxtapositions of elements, comments of passers-by — urban streets never shut up.

The Tuesday Walking Society is heading north on Roncesvalles Avenue, and we get an earful. (Yes! the Society is back in business! Welcome home, Phyllis.)

First conversation: down a service alley immediately north of Queen St., one we’ve entered before, but not deeply and not recently. This time we go past the mural on an immediate wall on the right, push into the fat cul-de-sac beyond, blink, and swivel.

Visual chatter on all sides. Down this stairwell, for example …

alley east from Roncy north of Queen West

I see that Birdo is one of the two signatures, I can’t make out the other name; I see a lot more Birdo work all around, and then I see … a Birdo van.

Birdo has a van! Like any self-respecting entrepreneur!

Birdo’s van, used to say “e-coli” instead

A young woman walks past, her scarlet brush cut a happy contrast to the pervading grey drizzle of the day. We agree we all love Birdo’s work. I moan, just a little, about the bourgeois van. “Oh, he’s always had a van,” says Ms Brush Cut. “Before the paint job, it had the word ‘e-coli’ written all over it.”

This totally cheers me up, though I’m not sure why. (And anyway, how else can a street artist move all the necessary gear on-site?)

Back out to Roncesvalles — “Roncy” to its friends — where we let some shop windows do the talking. First up, the broad plate glass window of a place that, in an earlier incarnation (as Film Buff), used to house really interesting rental movies. Turns out it still does, but with coffee and other attractions as well, and a new umbrella name: Local Hero.

What constitutes a local hero? Glad you asked; they give examples. First visually …

location also includes Film Buff

… and then the punch-line.

local hero vs raccoon

Phyllis & I are still giggling at that one — Torontonians have an intense relationship with raccoons — when we stop at another window, just a bit farther north. Totally different.

193 Roncesvalles Ave.

We like that a lot. I’m leaving the store name in the photo, because it deserves the publicity.

And on we go, on up Roncy. Still some of the old Polish shops surviving from an earlier era, but, more and more, shops & services for the trending people of a trending street & neighbourhood.

We have no argument with that. In fact, we spend a happy half-hour in one of the cafés, putting in some catch-up time over lattes & scones.

At Bloor we turn east, planning to walk until we don’t feel like walking any more. It’s common now, after all the walking we’ve done, to come across familiar locations — though often from another angle, in another context, or another season. All of which allows us to see them with new eyes.

But, sometimes, there is something new in the location itself.

We go through the Keele St. underpass on Bloor, remembering we will soon come to an access point for the West Toronto Railpath, the walking/cycling trail that borders commuter & freight train lines in this part of town.

We do. And lo, they have added a bright new GO (commuter) train sign at the stairs.

But it’s not the official sign that has us in fits of laughter. It is the unofficial message the sign cannot hope to obliterate.

access to West Toronto Railpath & GO Train station

Immediately the other side of the staircase, another official sign, and another unofficial message.

Bloor West RR underpass nr Perth Av

Somewhere ’round Ossington, Phyllis peels off — she has an early afternoon appointment. I keep walking, and eventually find myself following an alley south from Bloor, immediately west of Bathurst. It rolls on, block after block, lined with garages both sides.

Not a lot of outstanding garage art, I have to say — but, definitely, this alley talks.

Smack on the corner of one of the cross-streets, for example.

corner house, Lennox at Bathurst St

Two young guys, about to hop into their van & drive off, turn to see what I’m photographing. “Hey,” says one, pulling out his smart phone, “that’s really nice. I’m gonna take a picture too.” His buddy looks bored, but Smart Phone Guy and I smile at each other.

A few steps south of that cross-street, I see this, and wonder about it.

alley s from Lennox e/ Bathurst & Markham; Annex Creative Services Murals

First, it’s unusual: as I said, there aren’t many murals in the alley. Second, there’s something blurry about it, that seems more than creative choice. Later, online, I look up the signature: “A.C.S. Murals.” Turns out that stands for Annex [the neighbourhood] Creative Services Murals, which is “a government subsidized community-oriented mural initiative … to provide home and business owners with an affordable and aesthetic solution to graffiti vandalism.”

Who knew?

This mural is included in the online portfolio, and I’m now guessing the blurry style is, at least in part, a camouflage technique.

On down the endless alley, and hello, more Birdo. Bird-dog, perhaps.

alley wall, Annex Animal Clinic

The pooch & pals decorate the back-alley walls of the Annex Animal Clinic on Bathurst Street.

Finally, practically at Queen Street, I’m about to run out of alley. It offers me one last message.

alley e/ Bathurst & Markham, at Herrick

From the artist; to the garage (converted horse stable, with hayloft door still visible above); to the alley; to me.

To you.




Black & White, in Colour

15 December 2014 – I’m crossing the Don River on the Dundas St. bridge and my mind is ahead of my feet, hoping the kangaroo will still be there. (It’s not like you can count on kangaroos in Toronto, especially in winter.)

But I do stop a moment, stare south-east across the water. Suddenly a decades-old voice floats in my ear, & I laugh again at the way a friend once described her husband’s home town in hard-rock mining country. “It’s the kind of place,” she said, “where you take a colour photo, and it still turns out black & white.”

Dundas St. bridge over Don River

See why her quip comes to mind?

That’s OK, colour is not my top priority today, even though — as you all know by now — I’m on permanent alert for whatever colour I can find to brighten the grey season.

But, today, I want that kangaroo!

Back story: every Saturday, my partner & I reward ourselves with a mid-morning half-carafe (dark) at Merchants of Green Coffee, a former jam factory on the east bank of the Don, now turned coffee importer/roaster/wholesaler/retailer & events location. This week we were chattering as usual as we approached the door, and then stopped flat.

Which is what you do, for a kangaroo. Whether real, or made of ice.

“There was a party here last night,” said the young woman preparing our half-carafe (Sumatra this time).  “They must have carved him to welcome the guests. Don’t think he’ll last long, everything’s melting today.” She was right, and since I didn’t have a camera with me at the time, I decided to add a Kangaroo Hunt detour to my planned Saturday walk.

So here I am, and yes I’m in luck. And yes, he is melting fast. All the more reason to love him while we have him.

ice kangaroo, Merchants Green Coffee

The advantage of my Kangaroo Hunt is that my camera & I are now right across the street from Joel Weeks Park, so I can finally pay attention to the latest wildlife additions to the park. They, too, are sculptures, but unlike the ‘roo they’ll be with us for a while.

fox sculpture, Joel Weeks Park

Fox in the foreground; beaver across the park to the left, each on his own handsome rock. When I come closer to the fox, I can see there is imagery carved into the rock as well.

detail, fox sculpture Joel Weeks Park

Same with the beaver …

beaver, Joel Weeks Park

… who rests so sturdily on his hind paws and broad tail.

beaver, Joel Weeks Park

Later, online, I learn these pieces are the work of Aboriginal artists Mary Ann Barkhouse and Michael Belmore, and draw on traditional Ojibway design as they pay tribute to the ecosystem of the Don River — which is where this park, like MGC, is located. (I also learn there is a third sculpture, squirrels holding up a giant acorn, which I somehow totally missed! My apologies, & I promise you the Squirrel Update sometime soon.)

All of that is lovely, but still pretty relentlessly black-&-white-in-colour. Will there be any colour hits this walk at all?

Not on near-by residential streets, as I weave north toward Danforth Avenue. I am, for example, charmed by this tiny front-steps snowman, patted into shape on Friday and fast losing shape today …



… but it’s not a whole feast of colour, is it? Unless you count the snowshovel handle.

So I am reconciled to a black-&-white walk. And I have to acknowledge that, if I’m willing to meet it half-way, the muted tones have their own beauty.

But! Wait! ‘Way along the Danforth, after I’ve done some boring chores … yes, one burst of colour.

mailboxes on the Danforth near Pape

In the grey season, you take your colour where you find it.



Dancing with Spadina

11 December 2014 – A walk can be something like a dance, I’ve decided. Choose a partner — a trail, a park, a street, an event — but feel free to loop & twirl around that partner as well.

I choose a bustling N/S artery, Spadina Avenue, & begin right downtown. (Truth is, I walk to that starting point from home, but feel the walk isn’t “official” until I hit Spadina.)

It was once heart of our rag trade and, here at the southern end, is still clothing & textile-related.

King Textiles (also home to Accurate Pleating)

I am so tempted by some of the sewing accessory shops!  I don’t need anything they offer, but can still spend amazing amounts of time fingering the displays — all those buttons, embroidery silks & trimmings; all those colours, shapes & textures.

But before I can yield to any of those temptations, I fall smack into the arms of another. One I share with you often. First my head turns to peer down some tiny little side street, then my feet follow.

mural on Bulwer St.

Sometimes other, completely unrelated objects can give a mural an extra hit of energy.

When I come close to this one, I’m amused by the big eyes that seem to be peeking over the edge of a parked car.

detail, child mural, Bulwer St.

If this building was ever some kind of child facility, it doesn’t seem to be one now. In fact, there’s something oddly inert about all the old buildings along the block.

But not about the art!

Should you want admittance to the neighbouring house, for example, and follow instructions on its locked street door to “enter by the red door,” you will be led to it through an explosion of colour.

along Bulwer St.

Or you can stay on the street itself, and contemplate a lion …

on Bulwer St.

… or a bright yellow car, butting its nose against the next mural along …

on Bulwer S.

… or, perhaps, settle with relief on this bit of parking lot advice:

on Bulwer St.

Which I do.

And then take myself back to my main partner for this dance, Spadina Avenue.

By now I’m entering the Spadina-area Chinatown (distinct from the one in the city’s east end). Houseware shops, a beautiful bonsai shop, restaurants, greengrocers galore. People are poring over the bright sidewalk displays, and — the merchants hope — taking the polite signage to heart.

greengrocer on Spadina Av.

There are variations on this sign all over town, not just here.

We’ve had a huge up-tick in the number of people once again shopping with their own bags — which can also mean a rise in the number of people using them as they select items, and then honestly or deliberately forgetting to pay for those items as they leave.

More mural art as I continue north, this one I imagine commissioned by the seafood restaurant on the corner, and probably featuring the Great Wall of China at their request. I am not sure how much of the rest was commissioned, or added “unofficially.”

Xam Yu Seafood Restaurant

I decide to dance away from Spadina for a while, take myself north-west into the streets & shops of Kensington Market.

But I don’t even get to dance with that partner immediately! En route, I peer down an alley, an alley lined with garages for the residential streets either side. And I see this:

near Nassau St., Ken Market

Of course I walk it, right to the end. (And then have to back-track. It’s a dead end.)

My head swivels at all the colour & imagery, I’m spoiled for choice, yet for me this … this “shrubscape” … is one of the most compelling scenes of all.

behind Nassau St.

Nobody planned it, but it still seems beautifully composed.

I like this one a lot, too.

It’s not the artwork, it’s the impact of the frame that surrounds it.

alley behind Nassau St.

Who knew tatty old distintegrating insulbrick (or whatever it is) could be so theatrical?

Into Kensington Market at last, and a different artistic ethos.

Augusta Ave.

This is one corner of a burrito outlet. I almost go in, drawn as much by the goofy artwork as anything else, but instead continue one block farther north and stuff myself with enchilada pie.

Back to Spadina, where Chinatown is more or less giving way to academe. We’re getting into University of Toronto country now, old & new buildings & support facilities all over the place. This graduate studies centre, for example, hanging the final “o” (TorontO) out over Harbord Street.

Graduate Studies building, Spadina & Harbord

Then, finally, up at Bloor, I leave my dance partner behind — good-bye Spadina — and start back east.

I’m still in UofT-land, but fast approaching the Royal Conservatory of Music (RCM) and, beyond that, the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM).

We all know where this trio is headed, don’t we?

on Bloor West, outside the RCM

Of course.  To the right, into the RCM.

I stick with Bloor, but not for long. Soon I too peel off to the right — in my case through the 1901 Alexandra Gate, and into Philosophers Walk.

1901 Alexandra Gate, Philosophers Walk

It’s a study in architectural contrasts: wonderful Edwardian flourishes, silhouetted against the 21st-c. austerity of the ROM Crystal.

And home I go.




More Grey, More Colour

8 December 2014 — It is again grey, and I do find more colour, but this time the colour is all in the streets even though I’d planned to hit at least one gallery. (Thank you friend & fellow WP blogger Rio the Clown, for the tip.) Doesn’t matter I get there too early for the opening, the address still gives me a focus for my walk: TTC out to Dundas West & Dufferin, and take it from there.

First amusement, the side wall of the Hen House bar. No surprise, the mural theme is hens, roosters, feathers; all vivid & fun.

But, quick: how much of this segment is mural?

Hen House side wall, 1352 Dundas West

Bravo if you squint your eyes & decide that the window is real, not painted, & Missy Bathing Beauty is an equally real statuette inside. It takes me a moment to work it out, and I ‘m standing right there.

The next alleyscape, just a bit west of Dufferin, also plays games with paint & reality. It’s a whopping huge scene, bursting with colour & detail, top to bottom side to side, a gorilla up here and an eagle back there, and I expect the signatures before I see them: Shalak & Smoky (“Clandestinos”).

What I take a moment to disentangle is the BBQ equipment in front of the eagle.

Shalak/Smoky mural, 1608 Dundas W.

Quick look, and you could imagine them painted in, a joke-touch of Toronto reality for this jungle extravaganza. But, no, they are real. Not even found-art props. Just real.

I spend some time prowling the length of the mural, impressed (as always with their work) by the level of detail. You might expect something so large to be broad strokes only, but no, not at all.

Here’s the big, bold gorilla …

segment, Shalak/Smoky mural

… and just look at the intricate shading in his muzzle.

gorilla muzzle

I stop in a few handcraft shops along Dundas. They’re getting into the holiday season, but in the nicest way — free coffee & shortbread cookies at one, with credit to the café & bakery opposite, and a pancake breakfast downstairs at another. (With tarot-card readings, I am told. I demur. She cajoles. I turn just the tiniest bit firm in my demurral. We agree to disagree.)

After some more poking around west of Dufferin, I turn back east. I drop south from Dundas near Gladstone, for reasons I now forget, and find myself on a terrific little one-block street called Collahie.

row houses, Collahie St

Clearly making its way back up-market, “trending,” as the saying goes, but I’m charmed not irritated. These places are being stabilized & restored, the mood of the street is homey not décor-mag, and I’m all in favour.

Even though — despite my search for colour on grey days — I usually prefer old brick buildings to be left their natural brick, not painted. Never mind. I’m swept along in the general exuberance.

And there is lots of colour, both sides of the street.

north side, Collahie St.

Hard to believe, but it’s not the giddy pink that first catches my eye. It’s that very real, full-size bicycle anchored to the wall. (Next I notice the vintage highway sign serving as door number for Bike Man’s immediate neighbour.)

Speaking of bikes… and of art …

Dundas W at Lisgar

Most bike racks here are plain circles, end-on. Very practical, but very plain. This design is more attractive, and seems just as practical.

Into a tangle of alleys next, also just south of Dundas West. I notice the purple face first, how could you not, but realize what I really like is the scene as a whole, not Nektar’s contribution.

alley S/E Dundas & Beaconsfield

I can’t quite work out which bits of which building belong to which of the surrounding streets. I walk to the end, hoping to figure it out. I fail, utterly, but I’m rewarded for my effort with a cheerful alligator.

on greenish house rt rear of alley

Or, perhaps, crocodile. As the case may be.

Back on Dundas West, still heading east, I pass a lounge that is — or is not — still in business. The signage is there, but so is a For Lease sign.

But the twin lamp standards are still in place, the exotic creatures intact & the bulbs glowing.

Remix Lounge? Mojo Lounge? 1305 Dundas West

A little detour down Dovercourt for a few blocks, where I see again a property that I first gawped at during an outing with Phyllis (she of the soon-to-be-relaunched Tuesday Walking Society). The place is very large, very ornate, very down-at-the-heels, and … this part is new … for sale.

Oh, my friends. It would be a major project.

Meanwhile, the front path statue stands guard, a slight — perhaps rueful — smile upon his lips. (And a prudent chain upon his wrist.)

Dovercourt, south of Dundas

I see another Guardian a little later on, this one down an alley where young 20-Somethings are swelling a growing line-up, waiting patiently in the raw, chilly air for …  Well, I don’t know what for. For something not advertised to my age group, but known to theirs & worth the wait.

Eyes flick my way as I walk down the alley myself — not unfriendly, just puzzled. I almost feel the need to explain: I’m here for the art. See? Right over there?

lineup in alley nr Grace St.

And there’s the Guardian I mentioned, looking considerably more supercilious than Mr.-Deity-Statue back on Dovercourt. As if the dog thinks all these Queue Kids are, well, pardon the expression …

Barking mad.



Punching Up the Grey

3 December 2014 – Toronto in winter? Very, very grey.  So I have a plan: walk through Yorkville, visit some of the area’s art galleries, and soak up the colour. Along with whatever colour offers itself en route.

The first offer en route is artistic, I’ll grant you, but not colourful. Definitely still in the winter palette.

Wellesley-Magill Park

I’m in a park I didn’t even know existed but should have, since Wellesley-Magill Park is just off the northern reaches of Sherbourne St. — an area close to home territory. I’ve come to like the city’s high-concept, high-design parks, but even so this one strikes me as visually chilly.

Still, it is handsome. I like the polished chunks of rock. And, upon closer inspection, I really like that steel-cut fence at the south end. The work of Ed Pien, Forest Walk consists of 8 panels, which move through our seasons, inspired by city ravines & local life. Panel #2, for example, is “Winter” — dense winter woods, with geese flying overhead.

‘Forest Walk” 8 steel-cut panels, # 2 Winter

See the geese, top left corner?

The next time I stop is for something equally wintery, but totally endearing. Squirrel Highway!

“Squirrel Highway”, Michael Kupka

Michael Kupka painted this Bell box mural, over at Yonge & Gloucester. I’d forgotten about it, I’m delighted to bump into it again.

Even if it is pretty darn grey.

Soon after I find myself in Wabenose Lane — named for an early 19th-c. Anishinaabeg chief — and, as you’ll see, “grey” is not the operative word.

back wall of home, from Wabenose Lane

Just the back wall of somebody’s home. Love it.

And then — hop-step-jump — I’m in Yorkville. “Yorkville Village” as it styles itself (and why am I being snotty about it?). In Yorkville Village Park, to be exact — which replaced a parking lot, which in turn had replaced a row of old Victorian homes, razed in the 1950s to facilitate subway construction.

It is one of our earliest high-concept parks, a series of distinct segments, each presenting a different landscape category — and each taking up exactly the footprint of one of those vanished Victorian residential lots, a detail I like a lot.

So: coniferous forest, deciduous, wetland, prairie grasses, a granite outcropping (brought from Muskoka in chunks and fitted back together), a water curtain (ice shards in winter).

Yorkville Village Park

Back to a severe winter palette, but with redeeming touches — vivid green conifers, mustard-bright grasses, intense brown tree branches arching against the sky.

Close up, you don’t see those branches, or anyway, I don’t, because I look down, not up. I am fascinated by the nuances of their trunks.

tree trunks, Yorkville Village Park

Maybe I should stop moaning about winter grey. It has its moments.

But, hah, I am now in art-gallery territory, ready to soak up colour.

Which is immediately on offer, right outside Kinsman Robinson Galleries, thanks to their current show, a retrospective of the powerful works of Norval Morrisseau (who signed his work with the syllabics for his Ojibway name, “Copper Thunderbird”). He had a difficult life, but he also had the triumph of national & international recognition while still alive, including participation in Magiciens de la terre, an 1989 contemporary art exhibition at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris.

McElchleran sculpture, Morrisseau painting

The chubby bronze businessman apparently reacting to the Morrisseau work in the window? One of the iconic “non-hero” statues by William McElchleran, a Toronto artist also represented by this Gallery and also, like Morrisseau, now deceased.

I spend a long time in there, and come out steeped in colour. Morrisseau is much more than a master of colour, but he is that as well. I am very, very happy as I head on down Cumberland Street.

My next stop isn’t even a stop, it’s a walk-by. I’m really only on that side of Hazelton Av. because I want to take another look at the “Carpenter’s Gothic” board-&-batten exterior of the Heliconian Club, which opened in 1876 as a church but in 1909 became home to an association for female artists (who were barred everywhere else).

So I’m moving pretty briskly, until snagged by a somehow familiar face. Then I see it’s complete with horse, monkey, dog …

“Emily Carr and Friends” by Joe Fafard

Right. Emily Carr and Friends, by Joe Fafard. Thinking of female artists, as I am! How perfect the location.

Except she’s not in front of the Heliconian Hall — or, for that matter, the Bra Bar, whose black-corset window display I later notice is so perfectly framed by the horse’s head & neck. She is mounted in front of the auction house, Heffel Gallery Inc.

And then I cross the street, because I want to visit Loch Gallery.

And I do, but not before giggling at their offering of public statuary.

folk-art goalie sculpture, by Patrick Amiot

I pretend great horror when a gallery rep inside tells me the artist is the Québécois folk art sculptor Patrick Amiot. What? and he glorifies the Toronto Maple Leafs instead of the Montreal Canadiens? 

I hear how the Gallery cannily exhibited a Habs (= Canadien) goalie for a while, when a Montreal collector came to town — who promptly bought the piece. We laugh. Then I slope around the gallery for a while.

Here, as in some of the others I visit, they are between shows. It makes for quite a different kind of energy — juxtapositions of works you might not otherwise see, even works leaning (carefully) against a wall.

After a while, that’s that and I’m heading south again on Church Street. Art done & dusted for the day, right?

Wrong. Right there next to the beer store, I find myself being beckoned down an alley by this figure on the end wall.

detail, 91 ft mural of Toronto TBLG people 1949-2014 for World Pride 2014

Then I look along the wall, and good grief, there is this enormous mural, rolling on & on & on. And on.

Endless tableaux of night-life and night-life characters. Like this.

another detail, Ultra Church mural

None of whom I recognize; all of whom, I am sure, are recognized by those for whom this Ultra Church mural is intended. I’m right in that: later online I learn this 91-ft mural was created for World Pride 2014, to celebrate the party people of gay Toronto over the last 65 years. Read more on artist Lily Butter Land’s website.

Some Follow-Up

1) Message deciphered

Barkside Bistro side wallLast post (Slice by Slice to Little India), I showed you this faded bit of old advertising, lamenting the fact that while I love its soft, blurry colours, I also wish I could read it.

Credit to friend & blog follower Chris (who in turn credits his PhotoShop) for restoring those words to focus: “Penny, the Sign just says “Sold Every Where, 5 cents”, possibly with respect to the Coca Cola. Advertising Agency for the painted Ad appears to be Elk Boxes.”

2) Message updated

2014, boards over fire-gutted windowsIn my post, After the Fire, I showed you several shots of an area home totally gutted by fire shortly before Hallowe’en. The owners, an artistic & musical couple, had always put an elaborate, beautiful scene on their lawn for Hallowe’en. This year, they incorporated the charred instruments, & also painted flames on the boards that now covered their windows.

I wrote that I admired them, described their response as “a way to confront tragedy … transforming losses into resources for their celebration of life & community.”

The windows & door are still boarded up. The boards have been transformed yet again.

boarded windows turned into Christmas presents

I thought you might want to know.

Slice by Slice to Little India

27 November 2014 — Eastward this time, metaphorically as well as factually, since my planned turning point is the city’s Little India, along Gerrard St. East.  I plonk myself just east of the Don River, and set off.

Toronto being Toronto, I’ll pass through several other ethnic/demographic slices along the way.

First up, Chinatown East — where (Toronto still being Toronto) the first building to catch my attention is a pizza e pasta Italian restaurant. More precisely, what’s on top of the restaurant.

atop Mr Ciao, Gerrard E. nr Broadview

“This is wonderful!” I cry to the fellow taking a quick break beside the resto. He agrees. “Who’s the artist?” Predated these owners, they don’t know. There was a name, they think, but it disappeared when they repainted the wall below.

atop Mr. Ciao Pizza e Pasta

I recognize the artist’s style, but don’t know the name. (If you know, please tell me.)

Pizza to the contrary, this is indeed one of Toronto’s Chinatowns. Even the parking lots know it.

greengrocer parking lot, Gerrard E. nr Broadview

I read the panel linking birth-years to zodiac animals but, alas, I am too old! The sign doesn’t go back that far. So I just photograph the animals I like. This guy, for example.

one of the 12 Chinese Zodiac symbols in the greengrocer parking lot

A different sort of cultural moment soon after, in a pop-plastic kind of way. Neatly lined up on someone’s window ledge …

along Gerrard St. E.

Cranky Black Cat & Disney-smile Pooh Bear both have bobble heads — their little ears are bouncing in the breeze. I stare at them in a mindless way for a moment, find my own head rocking gently on my neck in sympathy, then move on.

Matty Ecklar Park, whose community notice board is currently dripping with messages. No bobble heads here, but all the messages have those tear-off strips at the bottom with contact numbers, and the strips are fluttering jerkily, as gusts of wind pass by.

Matty Eckler Playground

I go snoop the messages, but every one — except for a single “basement apt. to let” notice — is in Chinese characters. What did I expect?

Somewhere around Jones Av. I see a long N/S alley lined with garages & give myself the detour. Maybe some fine garage art to be had?

Only this.

alley W of Jones, S from Gerrard

I take the picture, then argue with myself. Why am I doing this? I decide I just like colour & lines — the yellow door, the russet & black utility pole to the right, the angle of the garage door & echoing angle of the gate door to the left.

Or maybe all that is pretentious babble, and I just like the fact it’s a clapped-out garage, minding its own business & making no statement at all.

(Or maybe it doesn’t matter, one way or the other.)

Down the alley, out to Jones, back north on Jones to Gerrard, and eastward-ho again, Little India still the plan.

I’m into a stretch of Nothing Much, just a line of old homes (“old” in our terms, late-19th/early-20th c.) rubbing shoulders with each other in various approximations of vertical. But, already, the occasional sign of gentrification, a smart destination shop, often in a refurbished corner store.

Barkside Bistro logo

Awhhhhh, so cute! Well, you can’t help it, can you. That pooch is designed to pull you in, and open your wallet.

I like the side of the building even better. This was indeed a corner store, back in the day, and remnants of old ads still warm the brick.

Barkside Bistro side wall

Coca-Cola for sure to the left, but I can’t decipher what’s in front. Something about “every where” and “5”… Cents? Dollars?

March on, cross Greenwood Av., and I’m definitely out of Nothing Much territory.

I’m in Little India, that’s where I am, except that once again — as in Chinatown East — my first stop has nothing to do with India. (Even if early stupid, or simply careless, white explorers applied the name here anyway.)

Tea-n-Bannock, 1294 Gerrard E.

Goodness I love Tea-n-Bannock restaurant. “A taste of aboriginal Canada” is the slogan, and it is all so good. Bison, elk, fish, Three Sisters soup, and more and more, and of course what the name promises: tea and bannock.

Happy memories of an earlier visit in mind, I go in and order just that. No bannock today!

I wail. They explain. A big catering order, just now literally being trolleyed out the door, has cleaned them out. How about fry bread with my Tyendinaga Mohawk herbal tea instead?

Take note: if you are ever offered fry bread because no bannock is available, say YES. Especially if they add wild blueberry jam to the order.

Out again onto the street, warm & happy inside & out, ready for the transition from Native Canadian (not Indian) to truly Indian Subcontinent (in Canada).

a tikka house side wall

I pass right by Celtic Computers, wonder briefly about the name but don’t stop to find out. I do stop in front of this kitchenware store — I’m always fascinated by their pots & pans, always swearing that one day I’ll go in and poke around.

cookware shop Gerrard & Hiawatha

And once again I linger, but don’t enter. Some day.

Even the painted traffic signal box near Coxwell is on-theme.

Gerrard E. near Coxwell traffic signal box

I think of stopping in Lazy Daisy’s Café for lunch, but realize I am still too full of tea-n-fry bread.

So I turn back westward, nod at yet another wall mural …

side wall, Bombay Chowpatty

… and head home.




Art & Architecture (and Lenore & Loulou)

24 November 2014 — I’m swivel-headed on the street corner, thinking how much sheer stuff piles into downtown public space. Architecture, for example — well, obviously, wave on wave of buildings. And art — if you’re lucky, or happen to be (as I am) at Shuter & Church streets.

N/E corner Church & Shuter, on NOW Magazine

Last time I paid attention, this side wall of the indie free weekly Now was covered with a mural for the upcoming NXNE event; now it’s … well, I don’t know what, but there it is.

And kitty-corner, a fine mural that’s been in place for ages. I’m pretty sure that’s Elicser’s work, at least in part, but I can’t find any credits.

S/W corner Church & Shuter, ELICSER not only artist??

Please note the built context all around (if I may be so bossy). It’s not spectacular, but it is indeed “wave on wave.”  Victorian & early 20th-c. brick in the foreground, with 21st-c. Toronto rising restlessly behind.

Noise also fills urban public space. At first all I hear is construction, mainly a thudding great cement-mixer, but with lots of secondary construction sounds, plus, off & on, Cars Expressing Themselves.

Then … nahh, it can’t be. The underbeat of a carillon? Yes yes. It’s sightly after 1 o’clock, and somebody’s carillon is weaving its notes into the aural mix. From St. Michael’s Cathedral, perhaps, right next door? Or Metropolitan United, to the south? Or St. James Cathedral, farther south again? (Church Street comes by its name honestly. Though it is also home to many pawn shops.)

Metropolitan United, I decide, as I walk past. By the time I reach Colbourne St., the air shimmers as St. James strikes the half-hour.

More architecture, more “wave on wave.” Something on Church has been blasted out of existence, giving us a fine but surely temporary view of the century-plus survivors on Colbourne itself.

surviving heritage architecture, Colbourne St.

I suspect they’ll endure, but oh how isolated they now are. I hope, with no certainty, that whatever goes in opposite will respect their style & scale.

Then a big reward: my newly uncluttered view across the Colbourne St. parking lot shows me a striking end wall.

opposite 43 Colbourne St.

I first think it’s the ragged remains — the delightfully, randomly attractive remains — of old posters. I think about Toronto artist Teri Donovan, who creates wonderful art that plays with the concept of Found Art such as this.

Then I go close (past the quotation from Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones), and see that it’s not Found Art at all, it is Art-Art. It’s a mural, a City Art Project — which in turn was a collaboration between Gallery Arcturus & The Foundation for the Study of Objective Art. But again, no artist credit. Boo!

close-up, mural on Colbourne St.

I have a downtown objective. I want to check some possibilities at Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC), which gives me lots of scope for wiggling my way south & west. Pretty soon I’m on Wellington, approaching Bay St., the epicentre of our financial district.

golden = Royal Bank Plaza; black behind = TD South Tower, Mies van der Rohe

I’ve always loved this contrast, two separate towers of two separate financial behemoths, but how wonderfully they complement each other! The golden: Royal Bank Plaza, WZMH Architects. The black: South Tower, TD Centre, designed by Mies van der Rohe.

Still on Wellington, still tracking for MEC, but with a pause at more towers, condos this time. The entrance is framed by an art installation that, any season, is visual good fun. Today, there’s an extra joke.

The installation is Michel Goulet‘s Fair Grounds (2001), 4 pairs of stainless steel chairs & 16 tall poles complete with brightly painted aluminum flags. Here’s a view of the installation as such, not my photo, but lifted from draft guidelines for the Percent for Public Art Program, a paper I invite you to riffle, just to see how many good works of art this civic policy has added to Toronto’s streetscape.

Fair Grounds, Michael Goulet

Keep those chairs in mind. They’re seldom used — by passers-by, I mean — but they are always perfectly in place, because they are firmly attached to the pavement below.

Which makes one of them so handy, when it’s window-washing time ‘way up above!

art as window-washing anchor

Those guys are safe. Their scaffold is well & truly tethered.

I loop back east from MEC — didn’t find what I’d hoped I might, but it doesn’t matter. All a walk needs is a direction, which MEC supplied. After that, the walk looks after itself.

Another favourite bit of contemporary architecture back at King & University, I do love these angles.

Sun Life Centre, 1984

Another WZMH project, I learn later, this time for Sun Life.

I’m adaptable, I’ll stop for very small horses as well as very tall towers.

on wall ePlan (planning Alliance, regional Architecture)

Or maybe not a horse. Whatever, I’ve seen him a few times, and I like him. This one is also on King St., but a lot farther east, and — quite fittingly I think — on a wall of the offices for rePlan. Which is in turn affiliated with rA (regionalArchitects) & pA (planningAlliance), so all in all, they strike me as people who’d be quite relaxed about a stray graffiti horse on the side wall.

More favourite architecture, this time its own work of art, though with an extra helping of second-storey graffiti.

George St. Diner

I suddenly remember being urged to check out the latest additions on the back of the Queen East building that houses Wilson’s Fly Fishing Centre. It’s a stylish shop, albeit in the quiet way you would want & expect from those devoted to the art of fly fishing.

The back of the building, viewed from Britain St, is also stylish. In a different way.

fake door, “Harry Jenings Contractor”; back of Wilson’s fly fishing store

Last time I looked, the owner was carefully painting in the first arc of light beneath one of the (real, functioning) light fixtures. Now he has painted in both arcs, and added a door. That is, a “door.” The artistic concept of door.

Which bring us, finally, to Lenore & Loulou. I should say, “Lenore” & Loulou. Artistic concept is also a feature of the shop next door to Wilson’s.

It is a complete contrast to its neighbour, but equally niche-market: He and She Clothing Gallery. There are always costumed mannequins on the sidewalk, usually three of them, lolling with attitude,  setting the stage for the focus within — clothing & accessories for “performers of all ilks.”

Today I see just two mannequins.

He and She mannequins

Neither one is “Lenore” or Loulou. Just be patient.

I’m contemplating the tableau, wondering why the chair by the tree is unoccupied, when I have to hop aside because out comes mannequin # 3.

Once she has been settled in place, I introduce myself to the woman who carried her, say how much I always enjoy the displays. The woman is the shop owner; I ask her name. She gives me both. “She’s Lenore,” she says, as she adjusts Lenore’s red wings. “I’m Loulou.”

Lenore (L) & gallery owner Loulou

Later, online, I learn a bit of Loulou’s background: dad was an interior designer, mom was “an instinctive Dominatrix” & Loulou was and still is an exotic performance artist.

Urban public space is a wonderful thing.

Slantwise Across the Square. And More.

19 November 2014 — Walking Woman has been more of a Gallery Girl these past few days. My dear friend Mary came to town, & we gorged on indoor pleasures — the AGO, the ROM, the Textile Museum, even a terrific evening of contemporary dance at the Betty Oliphant Theatre (within the National Ballet School complex), under the auspices of the enchantingly named Toes for Dance.

So no Tuesday walk of any length, but after sending Mary off to her train following our visit to the AGO, I lengthen the walk home with a detour. I cut diagonally south-east from University Avenue  around the Toronto Courthouse south of Dundas and then into & across Nathan Phillips Square in front of City Hall.

I stop at this statue immediately behind the Courthouse,  thinking yet again how very cold statues of people always look in winter-time.

In other words, my first reaction is entirely trivial.

statue by Marlene Hilton Moore

Then I read the plaque. It tells me the sculpture is the work of Marlene Hilton Moore (2012) & a gift of the Toronto Lawyers Association. It also includes this quotation (which ends on the plaque as shown below):

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees, as a fundamental freedom, that everyone has freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression …

I decide to look more closely at the next sculpture in this grouping around the Courthouse.

statue by Maryon Kantaroff, Toronto Courthouse

This, I read, is the Frederick G. Gans Q.C. Memorial: “A sculpture by Maryon Kantaroff dedicated to an advocate of Human Rights, funded by relatives, colleagues and friends [1990].”

There is a third sculpture, which shows a lion & a lamb, equally balanced.

"Equal Before the Law," by Eldon Garnet, Toronto Courthouse

Can you make out the inscription? On that side, it is in French. I circle around, take a close-up on the English side.

inscription, English side, on "Equal Before the Law"

The plaque tells me this sculpture was funded by The Advocates Society, and created in 2012 by Eldon Garnet, an artist who has made a major contribution to public art in this city. It is called Equal Before the Law, and states: “Equality rights are guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

Do our courts, do we as a society, always live up to these principles? Of course not. But I am extremely happy to see them proclaimed so vividly, so unequivocally, right here at the Courthouse.

There is a renowned sculpture in Nathan Phillips Square itself, of course — The Archer by Henry Moore. I salute it as I pass, but don’t photograph it. Doesn’t seem the moment.

In fact, I don’t really plan to take any more pictures as all, but change my mind as I approach the south-east corner of the Square.

pond turning to skating rink, in Nathan Phillips Square

In summer a shallow pond, now sparkling with ice — not yet deliberate ice, groomed for public skating; merely a casual (if early) gift from Nature. But look at that word SKATES on the building at the far end. The season starts soon.

And then … and then… it will in turn give way again to summer.

Which is why this ticking clock has been installed right next to the pond/rink.

Pan Am 2015 clock, in Nathan Phillips Square

Toronto 2015 indeed: Pan Am and Parapan Am Games, 10-26 July and 7-15 August respectively. The clocks are doing their count-downs, rotating through three official languages. (Our usual two, plus Spanish.)

“And More.”

As promised.

First, I must clear Street Bear (see previous post) of my accusation of poor spelling. That was my ignorance on display, not the bear’s! Thank you Rick, for taking time to research this point, and then post a comment to share your thoughts:

“With regard to Macarons/ Macaroons – depending on what you thinks a macaroon is, they may be different things. Macarons are filled meringue biscuits/cakes (See whereas, to me (& Wikipedia – although it does hedge its bets a little), macaroons are coconut based small cakes (see”

Second, here’s a link for anyone interested in Toronto Victorian architecture — line drawings, plus clear descriptions of each style & remaining best examples. This time, my thanks to  my very smart, very enjoyable neighbours right across the street.

Street Bear, Alley Cat, & the Group of Seven

13 November 2014 – All this, because I decide to take a streetcar north & west to Dufferin & St. Clair Av. West, and then walk home!

But the adventure doesn’t start with the bear, the cat or the renowned Group of Seven.

I’m stopped flat on a street corner by this much-abused phone box.

phone box, St. Clair West

Thanks to that saving streak of sunlight, it becomes — if temporarily — a laser-art installation. A phone graphic, within a phone box shadow-box.

It is indeed sunny today, and mild. Predicted high of 14C. Tomorrow? Windy & a high of 4C. You bet I’m glad to be out here today!

Unfortunately, I’m somehow just not enjoying St. Clair West as much as I’m enjoying the weather. Can’t account for it, surely my fault not the fault of the street, but there it is. Anyway, I do like the artwork that decorates each streetcar stop.

Oakwood street car stop

I remember a huge uproar while these dedicated tracks were being installed along St. Clair West — cost, length of time, disruption — but now the streetcars do whiz right along. And each stop, like Oakwood above, is fun to look at.

So is Street Bear.

outside Cocoalatte

He’s great at catching our attention, maybe less terrific at spelling, but who cares, those macaroons still seem tempting. Gluten-free to boot. I read more menu options in the window. The sopa del día (the only Spanish on the sign) is advertised as gluten-free, transfat-free, vegan & organic. I can’t decide whether to be impressed, or roll my eyes. Both, I think.

Just east of Spadina Rd., I temporarily escape the city by entering Sir Winston Churchill Park (aka Reservoir Park, because that’s what’s beneath this flat surface). I’m amazed I’ve never explored it before, never followed its trails down the ravine edge east of Casa Loma, even though I once lived just blocks from here.

Reservoir Park, St. Clair W & Spadina Rd

This is the level top-land, with the CN Tower & other downtown landmarks beckoning from the south. Joggers, serious runners, cyclists, dog-walkers, off-leash dog park, mummies & toddlers, all the usual activity.

I finally pick a trail & start down the slope.  I look back north & I’m delighted, as always, at the way our ravines offer us this constant interaction of city & nature.

trail in Reservoir Park, condos to north

Those are almost surely condo towers. But look — a few more bends in my trail, & I find a residence right here in Nordheimer Ravine.

tent in Nordheimer Ravine

I can see it’s  a shiny new, upmarket tent, not the worn last resort of some homeless person seeking shelter as best he may. So I am curious, but I don’t investigate. Still, I wonder.

And then I forget the tent, because I’m struck by this display of split-rail fencing, with its punch of golden fall leaves.

edge, Glen Edyth Wetlands

A plaque tells me this is one corner of Glen Edyth Wetland, created in 1998 as “part of an ongoing effort to restore critical wetland functions to the Don River Watershed.” It segues into the Roycroft Wetland, also 1998, both of them bearing witness to the now-buried Castle Frank Brook, which once ran freely through the ravine. (Another of our lost rivers.)

I marvel at tree roots, somehow keeping these trees upright. How much longer?

in Nordheimer Ravine

And I finally emerge onto Boulton Drive, then onto Davenport Rd. as it ducks beneath train tracks to join Dupont. Artwork both sides of the underpass, here’s the more arresting of the two, viewed from the south.

Synethesia, by Paul Aloisi

This is Synethesia Interactive Public Artwork 2014, by Paul Aloisi, who (on the signboard) explains that the design is “the result of translating audio recordings of trains passing over the Davenport Rd. underpass into an abstract visual composition.”

I’m still headed east & south, cutting through some alleys just south of the train tracks.

Where I meet Alley Cat, taking the noon-day sun.

alley cat!

I croon, he wails, we part.

A restorative latte on Yonge Street, then down into the Rosedale Valley Ravine, with a quick detour on tiny little Severn St. to pay my respects to this building. It now butts against towers & open-cut subway tracks, but was once entirely surrounded by nature.

Group of Seven studios, Severn St.

It is the first purpose-built artists’ workshops & residence in Canada, financed in 1913 by painter Lauren Harrris & art patron Dr. James MacCallum.

Of course it was built for artists! Look at all those north-facing windows. It has been home to many artists over the decades, initially & most notably Tom Thomson and members of the Group of Seven. I am happy to see it in good shape, and unaltered. Fittingly, its immediate setting is now called the Lauren Harris Park.

A bit farther east I finally abandon the ravine, climb some steep steps & emerge from woodland onto the dead-end end of a very short street, still residential despite commercial buildings all around.

I see this — smack against the fence of one of those commercial giants — and I laugh.

hockey net on Collier St.

A hockey net, you bet. There are still geraniums blooming in the tub next door, but we are not fooled. We know where the weather is headed.




The Ragged Season

8 November 2014 — Around here, November really is the ragged season.

The vivid abundance of fall has fallen apart (you’ll pardon the pun), & the monochromatic, lean beauty of winter has yet to arrive. Colours are faded, the remaining leaves are tattered, summer plants are wilting or turning to mush.

But what if I were to look with different eyes? What if I chose to see November as … November? Not as beauty-gone, or beauty-yet-to-come, but … just as itself?

With this novel concept in mind — & lined jeans on my body (like I said, it’s November) — I do a loop through some trails around the Don River.  I’m overlapping with one of the City’s Discovery Walks, the one through the Central Ravines. It takes me first into the woods on the grounds around the Todmorden Mills Heritage Museum and Art Centre on Pottery Road.

It also gives me a Monty Python moment. Anybody remember the schoolbook image of a tree, with an arrow pointing to it as a sepulchral voice-over intones, “The larch”?

The. Larch. (Sort of.)

Tamarack tree, in Todmorden Mills woods

More specifically, Larix laricina, Tamarack to its friends. “Laricina” I later learn, is Latin for “larch-like,” and “Tamarack” is from the Algonquin word “akemontak” i.e. “wood used for snowshoes.” It is a small tree, I further learn, found on poorly drained soils. I already know it has “delicate deciduous needles” that turn yellow before being shed each fall.

It’s very pretty, isn’t it?

Alas, I can’t quite convince myself that the near-by pond is pretty, but let us all properly acknowledge its right to be exactly what it is, at this time of year.

pond, Todmorden Mills

I cheer up again for these seed pods, attached to some grass or other. Well, I think that’s what they are, I have no idea really, but … they’re pretty. Yes they are. If ghostly.

grasses, Todmorden Mills

Out of Todmorden Mills, down to Bayview Avenue, wait for the lights, cross the expressway, cling to the pavement edge as I walk on south and with some relief soon take the turn into Evergreen Brick Works (EBW).

Once home to the Don Valley Brick Works, which dug the quarry & made the bricks that allowed Victorian Toronto to rise literally from its own soil, the site is now a centre dedicated to helping urban nature and urban people live well with each other.

Street art is a valued part of the mix.

Faith 47 RR trestle mural, EBW

I’ve seen this railway trestle mural before. It is the work of South African street artist Faith 47, perhaps (I’m not sure) created in 2013, when she was in Toronto for the DOS Group Show. I’m happy to see it again, in any month — but it’s a special pleasure in November.

Behind the trestle, you can see the long building that once housed the kilns where all those bricks were baked and dried. It’s still known as The Kilns, and now houses EBW special exhibitions and events, along with …

inside The Kilns, EBW

… heritage graffiti of its own.

These images remind us that this building did not go straight from brick works to Brick Works; there were empty years in between. Officially empty, that is, but in fact full of people who found community & temporary shelter here, and left their mark. EBW has chosen to honour this part of the site’s history, not erase it, and to incorporate its visuals into their strategy for using art throughout the grounds to help tell today’s story.

This means they display a lot of art. I bump into a current exhibition, curated by Design for Nature, when I leave The Kilns for the open-air Young Welcome Centre.

Watershed Erratics, Scott Barker, 2014

There’s an eye-blast, on a dull November day!

Bravo if you’re thinking, “Buoys? Navigation buoys on dry land?”  This installation, Watershed Erratics, was created by Scott Barker to remind us that the Don Valley is a flood plain, that devastating floods still take place (including at the Brick Works), & that we need to get serious about environmentally sound, sustainable water management.

I mooch about the EBW grounds for a while, it’s almost impossible not to, there’s always something to snag your eye and stir your mind.

But I do eventually go on my way — picking up the trail through wooded slopes that will eventually allow me to climb up out of the ravine & back onto city streets.

It gives me some final opportunities to appreciate Nature-in-November-as-November.

“Embrace scruffy!” I sternly tell myself.

trail leading to Milkmen's Lane


And here it is, with Staghorn Sumac to the fore, its fruit cluster “stags” on display now that the leaves have fallen. Behind that, well, variegated scruffiness, wouldn’t you say? Bare branches with the remnants of red, orange & yellow leaves scattered about.

Oh, but, oak trees still look coherent. They are entitled to do so — their leaves may be faded but by golly, they hang in all winter long.

oak leaves on trail next to EBW

I even smile upon the carpet of faded leaves, all around.

trail leading to Milkmen's Lane

And then I draw breath, climb up (very UP) Milkmen’s Lane, out of the ravine and onto the streets of deepest, darkest Rosedale. (It’s a classy neighbourhood, with classy twining streets that always confuse me.)

Eventually I navigate my way out of there, and go home.






    "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)

    "Walkers are 'practitioners of the city,' for the city is made to be walked. 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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