Up, Down, & Straight Ahead

19 September 2014 — Once the whole city is your art installation, then any direction you look adds more to the exhibit.

Under that Queen St. West scaffolding, I first look up, & catch the joke of construction worker boots striding across Heel Boy! (last post). Then I look straight ahead, and take in this Elicser mural on the community centre wall.

Elicser mural, Queen West near Gore Vale

I’ve seen it before, & noted the haunted quality of the faces, typical of Elicser’s work. Now, framed by scaffolding, they take on a caged look as well. It makes me somehow, just a little, uneasy. (A friend and I later discuss how much influence context can have on the way we interpret an image.)

The uneasiness disappears as soon as I look across the street and up. ‘Way up, to that level where jagged rooftops allow artists to play peek-a-boo with their street-level audience.

She looks delightfully free & happy, don’t you think?

Queen West nr Euclid

The next up-image is almost at Bathurst St., where my eyes rise above both streetcar & Tim Hortons signage (how iconic can we be), and snag upon … Law Bird.

Queen W at Bathurst

Well, that’s my nickname for this recognizable bird. (Alas, I don’t yet know the artist — somebody please tell me.) The bird is pretty well the same each time, but his message varies. First time I saw him, he said: “I fought the law, and won!” Hence the nickname. Here, with “a criminal mind,” I suppose you could say he is still on a legal theme.

Next, straight ahead, on my side of Queen St., a bird of a different feather.

In fact, not a bird at all. It’s a cat.

Um, a dog?

cat-dpg "animal project, Queen West

What do you think? Your choice may or may not say something profound about your personality, but the creators of this doorway don’t care — they just want you to consider the question. They also announce this is part of some “animal project” that they don’t further define. Not that I can see, anyway. Looking for more information causes me to look down, read their sidewalk billboard — and notice a bowl of water. Passing dogs will surely notice it as well.

I cross Bathurst, keep heading east on Queen, look up and see this trio of rooftops. It’s always worth looking above the Plastic Line — i.e. the base level of modern store-fronts, the urban equivalent of a ship’s waterline — to see what heritage architecture may still linger, and whisper a story from the past.

I find this story … poignant.

Queen West at Portland St.

How lovely these buildings once were! The lines so graceful, the slatework so nicely defined, the ornamental ironwork a delicate final touch. Now, remnants only.

But it’s all right. I honour the glimpse, take a moment to hope that someone buys the trio in time to restore them, but recognize they may fall and other things arise. Some of which I’ll like, some not, and it’s all part of the necessary energy of change.

And that is only is a moment’s reflection, because then I look straight ahead, literally straight ahead of me on the sidewalk, and see this young couple striding along. The first thing I notice is the tracery of her tattoo, how it curves perfectly up her neck.

on Queen West nr Augusta

Only after do I take in the whole picture, and find it all so pleasing. I like the simplicity, the fresh energy, and the harmony. These young people are — literally! — in step with each other, and their day.

Soon I’m at Queen West & John Street, and look down — both metaphorically (down = south) & literally (below eye level).

I don’t know, until I read the poster, that I’ve come upon the John St. Pedestrian Initiative. I just think I’ve stumbled on three really swell Muskoka chairs, all slicked up for some happy cause.

John St. Pedestrian Initiative, at Queen W

Aren’t they fun? Wouldn’t you like to drop your bottom into one of them, and snuggle in for a while?

This is exactly the point of the Initiative, I discover — claiming some of the road to provide space for pedestrians to relax and enjoy their surroundings. Which, when I look straight ahead along the line, is exactly what people are doing.

John St. between Queen & Richmond

I cock my head at all that, and think, “Well, that’s it for today.” I know a suitable Final Image when I see it …

… and, for many blocks after, my camera sits in my pocket. My fingers don’t even itch.

Then, up on Dundas St. by now, near Sherbourne, I look straight ahead, and dig into my pocket one more time.

Dundas St. East, nr Sherbourne

Daddy is bringing his little boy home from school. It would be an endearing sight anyway, but what really touches me is that shiny new backpack. New school year, new supplies, new hopes & plans.

I hope this child has a wonderful school year, full of discoveries & delight.

Wheels & Heels

16 September 2014 — It was a terrific walk, the one that started with the MOCCA show at Queen St. West near Ossington (see previous post) and eventually had me tromp-tromping all the way home. I think it amused me so much because I was still caught in the after-effects of the MOCCA proposals, still viewing the entire city as one great big urban art installation.

So here we are, me and patient you, picking up where we left off, back on Queen just a bit to the west of Trinity-Bellwoods Park. This particular art-installation “room” is all around the park, and it seems to have a theme.


Bicycle art Queen W. nr Shaw

See what one more wheel can do? Four wheels = 2 bicycles chained to a post. Add a 5th wheel, and it’s art. (Number 5, by the way, is individually & very firmly locked in place. This is no throw-away.)

Barely a block farther east, more wheels. Lots of them, on bikes & a cab, but this time they’re backdrop to a better joke.

it's the roof-top sign...

See the ad on top? Mr. Toronto Cabbie is advertising Dr. [Bollywood] Cabbie.  I almost lean in the window to ask the driver if he has seen the movie, if it’s given him any ideas, but he’s busy on his smart phone and I chicken out.

I discover a cross-lane called Logie Place, and it’s full of wheel-wonders. First up, a Birdo mural.

graffiti artist Birdo, in Logie Place

I love his colours, and I love his creatures. I love the way their component parts seem to come from a whole bunch of boxes of unrelated bits that don’t fit together. Except, when you throw them together, they do.

From wheels to wheelie-bins, lined up by an old shipping container that now serves other purposes & sports its very own green roof, along with a mural and other comments.

repurposed shipping container, Logie Pl.

From this E/W lane into a N/S one, heading north.

No garage art, so I look up and I am rewarded. Up there, riding high on someone’s rooftop deck … a circus pony.

alley view of house deck near Lobb Av.

True, I cannot stretch this image into the Wheel theme I’ve had going, but so what. Every art installation throws a surprise or two …

Circus Pony House is on the corner with another little cross street, so I turn east with it.

And discover Lobb Avenue. Which has attitude. The give-away is not the stack of canoes in Circus Pony’s side yard …

side yard canoes, Lobb Av.

… it is the series of neat little metal plaques attached to Circus Pony’s side fence.

fence plaque, Lobb Av.

I am charmed. And — you see? — we are back on-theme. Back to wheels.

“Lobb Ave Extreme Parking Association,” indeed. I read the next plaque, and wonder whether it is a promise to pedestrians, or a further admonition.

on Lobb Av. fence

Are cars parked more carefully on Wednesdays, giving pedestrians no reason not to be calm and invective-free? Or are pedestrians required to be not only calm but especially polite on Wednesdays, no matter what the provocation?

I read the 3rd plaque eagerly, thinking it might shed light.


plaque on Lobb Av. fence

Poor Yvonne, perhaps her nerves couldn’t take it any longer.

The best art installations, of course, carefully marry signage to visuals, using the right words — in the right quantity & right location — to expand upon the visual, add another element, get those neurons firing like crazy in the visitor’s brain.

Which is exactly what happens when I duck under the sidewalk scaffolding around a Queen Street community centre just west of Bathurst, and look up.

I laugh and laugh.

What I see is as good as the cabbie/Dr. Cabbie joke, but it’s an even bigger treat because it is not self-contained. It is the by-chance result of 3 independent factors, and it comes & goes in an instant.

Sign, construction worker’s boots, & a viewer.

Queen between Gore Vale & Bahurst

From wheels to heels. I’m still having the best time — and I haven’t even reached Bathurst St. yet!

But I will …

The Great Urban Art Installation

13 September 2014 – I’m on Queen St. West near Ossington, gazing all around me in total astonishment. I think, “Hunh! That show affected me more than I realized.”

Because suddenly I’m not just registering all the elements of a busy downtown street, I’m seeing them as component parts of one huge art installation.

Not art in the city, displayed this way or that, but the whole city as art. One great, big, enveloping, planned-random-moving-static-classy-tatty-animal-vegetable-mineral-aural-visual-olfactory-tactile  … Great Urban Art Installation.

Well! Thank you, MOCCA.

It’s not a café, as the acronym might suggest (& why don’t they add one), it’s the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art. The current show is TBD — as in, “To Be Determined,” as in, “the definition of a contemporary art gallery is not fixed.” MOCCA invited ideas from designers & architects worldwide; their one-page proposals for 21st-c. gallery strategies are neatly pinned to one wall. Nothing much to look at, but — as my Big Moment there on Queen West proves — the ideas pack a wallop.

I blink in amazement at a streetcar cruising by, then at the colour, structure & content of a window display. I am in an altered state — legal, but definitely altered —  and I round a street-corner north from Queen, to see what I can see while Under The Influence.

Where I blink again. Look at this perfect stage set, tucked at the end of a short service alley.

alley n of Queen W nr Ossington

It is real, created & used by real people, but that doesn’t prevent its also being a perfect stage set for passers-by to appreciate. Yet another component of the Great Urban Art Installation.

courtyard, alley n. of Queen West

It’s all there, isn’t it, and when I turn to walk back out — look, there’s more.

One more backdrop, its subject matter nicely consistent with the “No Dumping” reminder on the facing wall.

wall mural, alley n. of Queen West


Highly satisfied, I duck back to Queen West.

My altered state is receding to normal, but I’m still on for art & decide to revisit a nearby lane.

It so wowed me on first visit in December 2013 that I called the resulting posts The Humbert/Queen Art Collection,. That’s what it is — a laneway of art just west of Ossington between Queen West & Humbert, that adds up to a collection. The lane is lined with garages and almost every garage door features a mural. It has no official name, let’s call it Garage Alley.

I start at the Queen St. end. The first mural is as remembered.

mural Queen West just w. of Ossington

In fact, it’s better than remembered — many more ceramic critters have been added at curb-height since my last visit.

detail of ceramic critters, curb in Queen W. alley west of Ossington

Next I’m laughing at something that has no artistic merit at all. It’s just a black signature — one I will see several more times — with someone else’s editorial comment added in red. Neatly printed and all, any Grade 1 teacher would approve, but that’s not the joke.

grafito detail, Garage Alley

Remember my previous post, with the bakery sign proclaiming that “mini-donuts are the new kale”? Here’s a socio-cultural kale cross-reference, more proof that the whole city is one big art installation, with everything informing everything else.

The experience is entirely different today, tilting my face to warm September sunshine instead of blinking my way through fat December snowflakes. Different too, I am sorry to add, because a lot of the murals that shone so brightly in December are now defaced. (I’m told there are some proudly “illegal” painters who deliberately deface “legal” work.)

But there’s still amusement to be had, still good moments — all a reminder that this great urban art installation is a work in progress. Enjoy the moment, or deplore the moment, but accept that it is a moment. Next moments will keep rolling in.

So I try to put aside what I feel has been lost, and instead notice what’s here right now. For example, some juxtapositions.

On this side of the alley, a fiercely energetic face on a hoarding. (Neatly lettered beneath that circonflex eyebrow: SAD GIRLS.)

hoarding, Garage Alley

On that side of the alley, the back of a very sleek downtown-infill home. Accessorized with two gleaming black cars, but also with a bicycle. So urban.

back of home, Garage Alley

And near-by, the back of another house, also with bicycles. There the similarity ends — we’re in Fire Escape territory here, not Fine Architecture.

back of a home, Garage Alley

But I like it, and the mandalas catch my eye, so I stop.

Then, suddenly, this modest stage set is transformed. Somebody cues the music! First I hear lingering chords on a piano, modulating from louder to softer & back again; then a contralto voice comes in, crooning to the chords. It’s definitely live, it comes from within that house, and I am happy indeed that I stopped long enough to have this treat.

I walk on, thinking again that season of the year is yet another component of the Great Urban Art Installation; thinking soon the cycle will turn again, & the stage set will revolve one more time to winter snow & storms.

Then, poof, my thought bubble is paired with the perfect visual.

gaffito in Garage Alley

One last image, as I near the north end of Garage Alley.

Why should the garages have all the fun? Let’s put some of it on wheels & roll it around.

truck & garage, Garage Alley

Soon I’m back down on Queen West, and no, that’s not the end of the walk. I keep having a very good time, and I’m going to show you more of it.

Next post.

Of Cabbages … & Cans

8 September 2014 — Apologies to Lewis Carroll, but not a King in sight at this year’s Cabbagetown Festival. No Walrus or Carpenter, either.

Which did not mean we lacked for wondrous sights. Repurposed tin cans, for example …

resophonic tincan instruments

… though by the time I got to that, I was pretty well ready for anything.

Another weekend, another festival, this time right in my own ‘hood. First the kick-off Cabbagetown Film Festival (video shorts) on Friday evening; then 2 days of yard sales throughout the area, plus tents & activities on closed-off Parliament Street, and more tents in Riverdale Park West, this time showcasing juried art & crafts.

Like many a veteran of this particular yearly event, I pace myself. Films Friday night; yard sales Saturday; Parliament St. & the craft fair on Sunday. No camera on Saturday (please, I have other priorities), but Sunday I’m out early — early enough to catch people setting up on the Carlton St. stub leading into Parliament, and on Parliament itself.

Young woman arranging vintage furniture & accessories beneath vintage British Empire flags, for example …

street fair stands on Carlton St.

… right next to a Buddhist monk checking the Tibetan items at their display, beneath a string of prayer flags.

And just around the corner, a cow!

Not quite Hey Diddle Diddle, this one very much grounded, stiff & motionless except for her ready-for-action teats. With a pail below. It’s all a promotion for Canadian milk, and if you’re game to pull those teats, you too can earn a sticker proclaiming your success in both official languages.

pull those teats! on Parliament St

Despite the early hour, Bossy already has a taker. He’s looking as stiff as the cow by now, because he’s been holding the pose for ages while a series of eager amateur photographers keep shooing onlookers aside so they can get the shot.

On along Parliament, more set-ups going on, including this young musician with an ear to his guitar.

musician & his guitar, on Parliament


I close my eyes to yet more yard sales as I head east on Wellesley St. — no no no! my goal is the craft fair!

Riverdale Park West, entrance to Craft Fair

And in I go.

Tidy lines of tents, collectively displaying the quality & range of items you expect at a well-established, juried art & crafts event. I see lots of what I expect to see — clothing, art work, accessories, jewellery, pottery, foodstuffs. And, within those usual broad categories, I see variations I hadn’t expected to see.

Montreal-based L’Atelier du Presbytère, for example, recycling vintage fabrics into handmade clothing and other textile creations.

in Cabbagetown Arts & Crafts Fair

Those two women are comparing notes in French; both languages are in brisk use at the booth itself.

Practically straight across the aisle, and with the same respect for old techniques & materials …

Horst Herget tintype photography

… tintype photography, by Horst Herget.

And farther down the same aisle, yet more vintage. This time early Canadian maps, which Helen Hawketts reproduces on cushions & tea towels for her Country Cupboard collection. Muskoka, Kawartha Lakes, Toronto & more. I am quite mesmerized, I always am by maps.

Helen Hawketts & her textiles

I finger the tea towels, locate my very own street on the 1873 map used for the Toronto towel, finally put it down and keep walking.

And bounce right out of vintage country into the 21st century — even if it is still all to do with designs on textiles.

Meet JJ.

JJ Dukharan, cre8cure

He lifts an eyebrow in acknowledgment, but keeps on working. Another young man hands me their card: JJ Dukharan, co-founder of cre8cure, whose artists want their designs to lift spirits as well as adorn a piece of material.

Around a corner, into another aisle, this one with a concentration of artisanal foodstuff vendors. Some very new-style offerings, some very traditional for events like this — and at least one that positions its traditional treat with new-style flair.

new style marketing for old style junk food

Better than kale, and organic too. What more could you ask?

But I resist, heavens I am strong, and I am rewarded with something I absolutely, totally did not expect to see. Not least because I had no idea such a thing existed.

Are you ready? Here’s the explanation for my tease at the top of this post.

Iron Uke resophonic instruments

It’s the resophonic TinCan Banjo/Ukulele/Guitar display. Of course it is. (Now you’re going to tell me you knew that all along.)

I’m still giggling about that as I head down a paved park path, planning to leave the fair and start for home. Then I see this beneath my feet and hop to one side, waiting patiently for some others to hop to one side as well, so I can take a photo.

on the path in Riverdale Park West

It’s not linked to any booth, that I can tell, so I can only give you my own best guess. Looks to me like a sardonic take on the aboriginal Four Elements, adjusted to 21st-c. realities. (Or maybe that’s not it at all. But the design is still striking.)

My forward momentum has been checked & I suddenly find myself back-tracking into the heart of the fair. No! not for a mini donut [sic], good grief. For that 1873 Toronto map tea towel.

I swear I will use it, creator Helen Hawketts insists they are durable as all-get-out, but first I just want to admire it for a few days.

Image, to Question, to Story

2 September 2014 — I think this is a post about relationships, about dynamics. About how images can trigger questions, and then stories to explore those questions. Different questions for each viewer, and so different stories.

On Sunday, we went to the magnificent Alex Colville retrospective at the Art Gallery of Ontario here in Toronto (until Jan 4). Colville painted hyper-realistic scenes that are absolutely specific to their time & place, yet they arouse in viewers questions that swirl throughout time & space. What led to this moment? What is just out of sight? What next?

Colville said he was always addressing the question, “What is life like?” and he pulls viewers into that mystery.

It has inspired me to do a different sort of post. (You understand I do not compare myself with Colville.)

Usually I weave words & images to tell you the story of my day. I’m delighted when you run with it in your own minds & imaginations, making it yours through your response to it — but still, I have started with my images, for which I supply my story.

Today, i am not telling a story. I riffled my bank of images with a different eye. I wanted images that stand alone, that provoke questions, invite stories. Here are a few …

basketball court, David Crombie Park Toronto

Down on The Esplanade this summer in David Crombie Park, my eye was first drawn by the glorious mural on the backboards, but then by the young woman.

I remember watching for a while. She was entirely focused on her coach and his instruction, her intensity creating a force-field around the court. Who is she? What is her dream? What is she not doing, in her life, in order to do this?

Mexico City, now, a hot day in one of the city’s main zócalos (plazas).

plaza in Mexico City

At the time, I was fascinated by the great blocks of ice, glistening & sweating in the sun. Only later, I wondered about the young man, also glistening & sweating. I hope he is not spending his life subservient to blocks of ice.

Also Latin America, now Habana Vieja in Cuba. I sat on shady steps opposite the Convent of San Francisco de Asís, watching Cubans respond to the statue commemorating a legendary street-person, El Caballero de París.

This little girl would have no memory of him, why did she run to give him a hug?

statue to Caballero de Paris, Habana Vieja

I returned later, to see flowers tucked into the Caballero’s hand. It must have just happened, the blooms were still fresh despite the heat.

floral tribute, Caballero de Paris, Habana Vieja

Friends had told me that people often left flowers, but … who paid tribute this time?  Why?

Story-moments are everywhere.

I know I have already shown you this woman blissfully reading her book in Riverdale Park East, but that was in the context of my story about my walk up to Taste of the Danforth.

Now let’s think about her.

in Riverdale Park East, Toronto

What do you suppose she is reading? Why here?

Or, let’s think about this classy pooch, in a classy red convertible.

dog at Parliament St beer store

He was in a beer store parking lot. Will his owner be just as classy? Will said owner have purchased the classy product of a micro-brewery?

Enough with dogs. Time for a cat.

in Danforth Av. shop

The little statue is in complete contrast, not just to the sleek 21st-c. cash register, but to the coolly elegant & very modern Danforth shop as a whole.  Whose idea was the cat? Is there an older owner behind the smart young assistant greeting the public? What does the cat mean to each of them?

You know my fascination with decorated bicycles, “bike art” I call it.

I liked the whole look of this bike on Dundas St. East — painted vehicle plus fresh new colour-coordinated flowers plus matching helmet.

bike on Dundas St. E.

Look closely, the word “love” is all over the helmet. This cyclist loves her bike (I am guessing gender); she has or seeks love in the world. I hope she is happy.

Queen St. East now, in the forecourt of Metropolitan United Church (at the corner of Church St., where else).

I wasn’t there for the line-up of chess boards and their followers; I was tracking preparations for this year’s Nuit Blanche, and a spectacular installation was in the process of being erected farther back on the property.

chess at Metropolitan United Church

Nuit Blanche, who cares. These guys were playing chess.

Yet my focus wasn’t on the two players, it was on the kibitzer behind them. Why has he lost interest? Are these guys so evenly matched that nothing is happening? Or so mismatched that the game has no tension? Or has something astounding just happened, one board over?

One last thought: if you find you like working your mind from image to possible story, check out Terry Barca’s posts on araneus1. This Aussie (east side of Melbourne, he tells us) is a master at finding a strong image, then weaving a compelling story around it.



Town & Country

26 August 2014 — Country comes first. On Saturday my partner Nigel & I drive a couple of hours N/E of Toronto to a farm outside the community of Millbrook. More specifically, to the 4th Line Theatre, which since 1992 has developed & presented Canadian historical dramas in open-air productions on that site each summer.

Show starts at 6, we arrive in good time to collect & enjoy our picnic-basket dinners & still have time for a walk on the property.

trail on 4th Line Theatre property

Howling wolf points the way, and we not only get to see & sniff nature’s late-season splendour, we have our first glimpse, albeit it sideways, of the barn-cum-stage.

4th Line Theatre, from field

Friends have given good reports of both the theatre set-up and its productions, we’re eager for both. Tonight’s show, Wounded Soldiers, is the second of the two plays being offered this season —  a vignette set in England in 1915, when increasing numbers of asylums (“lunatic asylums,” in the language of the day) were being converted for military use as war wounded began to overwhelm the country’s other facilities.

main stage, 4th Line Theatre

No photography during the performance, so here’s the audience arriving. Perhaps half — including us — find seats in the covered seating section, the rest take their weather chances along with the cast. (If a performance absolutely must be cancelled, it is at the last minute, and only those present can claim a seat for a future performance. No refunds, and no make-good seats for those who looked at the sky & decided not to show up.)

One big advantage to staging a World War I drama in a rural, open-air setting: your trenches set is seriously authentic! Real turf, real soil, and — in this season of frequent showers — plenty of real mud.

trenches side stage, 4th Line Theatre

Good show, good logistics, comfy chairs (with added cushions), good experience.  Followed by, a pleasant drive home as dusk turns to night.

And now for … Something Completely Different

Say good-bye to the country, say hello to town.

Say hello to Bikini Blonde!

bikini'ed onlooker, Victoria St.

It’s now Sunday, I’m walking over to Yonge St. for Buskerfest, my mind is already on theatrics & performance artists, and for a moment I think BB must be one of them. Except I’m not yet at Yonge — though close — and she’s not, well, she’s not exactly projecting theatrical performance, is she? So I don’t know why she’s here, but here she is.

And it does prepare me for theatrics to come.

One more image to snag my attention before I quite make it to Yonge Street — I look down O’Keefe Lane just east of Yonge, and see this cheerful whack of street art.

O'Keefe Lane, south of Dundas E.

Like Bikini Blonde, it’s a bit confusing. Is it painted on an overpass of some kind? Is that a black cloth draped over the top half? Why?

Then I decide, who knows, so what, it’s all fun. And I finally make it to Yonge St.

Which is chock-a-block with tents and banners and food traffic — that “fooD traffic,” my friends, is a genuine typo. I meant to type “foot traffic” but decide to leave the typo, because it too is accurate. As on Danforth during Taste of Danforth, there is a whole lot of food on offer, in many of those tents, and a lot of the foot (that’s with a “t”) traffic is scarfing back various kinds of exotic food.

All this activity organized by, and in aid of, Epilepsy Toronto — a fundraiser that has grown bigger and better-attended every year since its founding in 1999.

Oh, I forgot to mention buskers, didn’t I. There are buskers.

Buskerfest performer

Wind-Up Lady, for one, whose jerky poses perfectly mimic the wind-up dancers to be found on old-fashioned music boxes.

Also, chance of pace, pouty mermaids.

Buskerfest performers

My favourite is Ghost Lady, though my delight is not so much for her (despite her skill) as it is for her mesmerized little fan.

Ghost Lady & fan

The child tries to copy her moves, and stops between each hop to check again her idol’s latest pose. What did she just do??? Can I do that??? Finally, her laughing mother scoops her up, and proud daddy takes a picture of mother, daughter and Ghost Lady in a tight trio of mutual admiration.

There’s music, too. I follow my ears down a stub of street just west of Yonge, and spend a moment listening to this ensemble jammin’ away like crazy.

Buskefest musi in a café

I think of settling in at a table for a glass of something myself… but no, I walk on.

And am rewarded with some fine solo-performance blues, just east of Yonge this time.

Buskerfest performer

Soon I’ve  walked the Buskerfest stretch, from Dundas Square north to College Street.

I have no particular plan at this point. Eastward? Westward? Northward ho?

Then my ears pick up … Something Completely Different

Boom-boom! Clash-rattle! It’s a marching band, somewhere, all brass & drums.

Then I see it, and can hardly believe it: the start of what seems to be an enormous long parade, marching down the west side of Queen’s Park Crescent, curving around Queen’s Park legislative buildings (the provincial parliament), and making a whole glorious ka-boom of noise as it goes.

Falun Dafa parade, in  Queen's Park Cres.

I cross into Queen’s Park to watch, and am handed a Falun Dafa (Falun Gong) pamphlet as I settle myself curb-side. A lot of people are watching, accepting pamphlets and often the small flowers that are also on offer.

Falun Dafa parade, in Queen's Park Cres

The marching band segments are intercut with groups of women, flowing rather than marching, but equally focused on the event’s political, social & spiritual messages.

This is indeed one enormous parade. I can see that the tail end is still opposite me, on the far side of Queen’s Park, waiting to come around the curve, while the front end has already turned west on College St.

south from Queen's Park to S/W College & University

Multiple layers of imagery, as I look south from Queen’s Park to the west side of the intersection of University Av. & College. First, the peaceful man on his bench in the shade; then the parade on College St.; then the great mirrored façade of Ontario Power, reflecting  the Queen’s Park legislative building on one face (on the right) and the MaRS Discovery District (public/private sector innovation hub) in the curved face to the left.

Later, at home, I tell Nigel about the contrasting events, busker theatrics followed by spiritual/political messaging. In return, he tells me that he and our visiting flautist friend Grėgoire spent the afternoon in Little India — where yet another street fair was underway.

Toronto in the summer. So swell.


On & Off Yonge St. (To Reykjavík.)

21 August 2014 — Cinematographically speaking. A recommended movie, set in Iceland, caused me to walk the Dundas-Eglinton stretch of Yonge St. that took me to the theatre.

Yonge St logo n. of Dundas

I cover 8 kilometres or so, not bad, though the merest nothing compared to the 1,896 km. of this road’s total length from Lake Ontario to Rainy River — and an even tinier nothing compared to the 4,205 km. between Toronto & Reykjavík. (And that’s just flying distance. Wait ’til I tell you the walking distance!)

Yonge is an an important N/S artery & the city’s accepted centre-line, but still a curious mix of low- and high-rise. The latter shoots up around major E/W intersections, while the former stretches out in between, housing endless little shops in older, largely 2-storey buildings.

Yonge St. nr Charles St.

I’m north of Dundas, south of Bloor at this point, and frankly, it’s pretty tatty around here. Full of life and commerce and activity, but tatty. Lady Red Dress is the classiest element by far, and she’s just passing through.  At speed! (How can she walk that fast, in heels that high?)

Cross Bloor and I’m on the edge of Yorkville, heading toward Rosedale, moving up-the-market I am. Past the handsome Toronto Reference Library, into Frank Stollery Parkette, a tiny but effective wedge of greenery & benches on the west side of Yonge at Davenport. I revisit the Bell boxes for their murals, and read again the inscription beginning, “Ancient wisdom of the land …”

Frank Stollery Park, Yonge & Davenport

And look, kitty corner across Yonge, one of the painted traffic signal boxes that are now popping up — copying the Bell initiative, I think, and what a good idea. I cross to check it out, discover it’s by visual artist Elicser, and am slightly embarrassed I hadn’t guessed that for myself. Still … a shirt-&-tie-guy by Elicser?

Yonge & Davenport traffic signal box, artist Elicser

Soon Ramsden Park on my left, Rosedale subway station on my right, all known territory, and then I stop short, because I’ve never noticed this entrance before. It could be in Europe, a quiet, cool iron gate with understated shrubbery behind and near-anonymous, discreet signage. Somehow, the rust on the gate simply adds to the aura of faded, stylish mystery.

1920s building, n. of Ramsden Park

The mood is broken by two delivery men wrestling large plastic mats through the gate. Whatever offices this building now contains, the inhabitants choose to protect their floors from twirling computer chairs.

By now the older, low-rise sections on Yonge are beautifully restored — not still deteriorating, as they tend to be, farther south — and they house suitably elegant boutiques and spas. I leave Yonge for a bit, walk north up a parallel lane just behind the shops. Not so elegant here! Still, I love the remaining hay lofts.

haylofts in Paul Hahn Ln, n of Ramsden Pk & w. of Yonge

Drab looking, but sweet smelling. Someone near-by is cutting grass, and the scent of new-mown grass fills the air.

I laugh when I rejoin Yonge at Roxborough. A block farther south, I’d admired the vivid blossom a passing woman has tucked into her black fanny-pack, and wondered idly where she’d found it. “Bet she pinched it,” I’d thought, perfectly happy for her to have done so.

Hah! Here’s the source: a café patio, its screening a mass of blooms.

resto patio, Yonge & Roxborough W

They’ll never miss the one that disappeared onto a fanny-pack.

Soon I’m nearing St. Clair, with another cluster of towers rearing into the sky. I duck into a lane between two smaller, older structures as I approach, for a moment at the gate to St. Michael’s Roman Catholic Cemetery. It is surrounded now by buildings, but still imposing its own peace, its own sense of enternity, within its grounds.

St. Michael’s R.C. Cemetery

I enjoy the break from busy sidewalks, but the man next to me is using the relative quiet to hold an intense cell-phone conversation about his overseas real-estate investments.

Back to Yonge, and Book City. I always stop at a Book City, there are always bargain bins on the sidewalk to tempt your eyes, fingers & wallets.

Book City s. of St. Clair

No purchase this time, but I often tuck something into my pack after one of these stops.

And now I’m north of St. Clair, into a stretch with no shops at all, just open-cut subway tracks on my left and, across Yonge, the western edge of sprawling Mount Pleasant Cemetery. I think of entering it and walking its curving paths for a while, but decide to stick to Yonge as planned. (Very loosely planned.)

Just south of Davisville, I walk beneath the overpass for Kay Gardiner Belt Line Park. Phyllis & I often walk over it, linking our way from the Belt Line Park into the cemetery and on south.

beneath the overpass for Kay Gardiner Belt Line Park, Yonge St.

And then it’s just a few more blocks to Eglinton, to the movie theatre complex … to Reykjavík.

The movie is called Land Ho! It’s rightly described as a “small” and “gently amusing” film about two 60-something former brothers in law, American and Australian, who head for Iceland in search of their lost youth but in the course of events come to terms with their age instead.

I am gently amused, and I lap up the travelogue background, of course I do, it’s what drew me to the film in the first place. Memories flash back of my own time in that country.

memorial in Reykjavik

Not a shot from the movie — one of my own photos, the lovely little sculpture on (I think) Túngata dedicated by the people of Latvia to the people of Iceland, in thanks for their recognition of Latvian independence. “We are a small nation,” reads the inscription (in English as well as Icelandic); “We shall be as great as is our will.”

I do not walk back home. By now it’s quite late in the day, I hop the subway south and jump out again at Dundas, to walk from there.

And there he is, Living Sculpture guy, a street corner regular who was mysteriously absent earlier in the day. Now he’s in full stop-&-go action, revolving from pose to pose on his stand.

Living Sculpture performer, Yonge & Dundas

I line up with others to take his picture, and then head home.

Walking Distance, Toronto to Reykjavík

As promised.

When I googled the distance online, I found myself on a site offering a lot of travel-related factoids between the two cities. They were presented in a drop-down menu that included — to my fascination — the heading “walking distance” as well as “flying distance.”

Who could resist? So I clicked. And it said:

“Really Far.”

Well, I asked for that one, didn’t I?


Canoeing Down Garrison Creek

16 August 2014 — I am being fanciful. You cannot canoe down Garrison Creek. It has long since been “sewered” — channelled into a subterranean sewer system for its entire length, from just north of St. Clair Av. West all the way south to Lake Ontario.

“Sewered.” Such an ugly, bureaucratic word for something they extolled, back in the 1880s, as a victory for public health & sanitation. (Also a tidy victory for the people who acquired real estate on the resulting dry land, in transactions rife with conflicts of interest.)

Never mind, Garrison Creek — “Toronto’s most legendary lost river” — lives on: underground in physical fact, and above ground in memory, plaques, historical accounts, and walking tours.

Garrison Creek sidewalk medallion

And canoes.

Phyllis & I start the Garrison Creek Discovery Walk at Christie Pits Park (Bloor St. West), as suggested in the somewhat sketchy route map. We plan to swerve our way south with the lost creek, tracing it from one park to the next — all of them lying within the ravines created by the creek.

As you know (previous post), we walk through our first park, Bickford, mesmerized by garage art instead of the park itself (or the creek, for that matter).

Then we cross Harbord St. into Art Eggleton Park (called Harbord Park on the maps, but given the former mayor’s name in signage). We see this canoe, next to the slowly refilling kiddy splash pad and just south of some cheerful playground equipment.

Homegrown National Park canoe in Harbord Park

A little sign above the canoe proclaims it part of the Homegrown National Park Project of the David Suzuki Foundation. Later online research explains it “aims to establish a green corridor through the heart of the City of Toronto, along the former route of Garrison Creek.”

Of course! My mind flips back to earlier walks; I remember seeing a “Homegrown National Park” shield chalked onto a paved path through Stanley Park near King St West, and also two wildflower-filled canoes farther south on the Creek’s meandering route, one at Fort York and the other in Little Norway Park, right at Lake Ontario.

Oh, good. So nice to connect the dots.

On we walk, Phyllis & I, connecting park-dots as we go — Bickford to Harbord to Fred Hamilton, then a little residential street hop-skip and into Trinity Bellwoods Park at Dundas West & Crawford.

Where, right on the corner, I see a different type of dot connection.

bike & elbow art, at Trinity Bellwoods Park

It’s not particularly impressive tattoo work, is it? But it fascinates me, & I sneak a photo while Mr. Elbow Art describes his map-findings to his patient girl-friend.

Soon I’m fascinated by something a tad more important — or at least, more relevant to my topic of the day, namely Garrison Creek.

Phyllis & I stop to read a plaque, as we always do, and discover we are more on less standing on the Crawford St. Bridge. I say “more or less” because we can’t be sure, because we can’t see the bridge. Like Garrison Creek, it is buried underground.

Stomp-stomp, we go, dancing our boots up & down. Imagine, a whole bridge, under the grass.

from Crawford St. Bridge plaque

First the authorities shoved the creek itself underground; then they filled in this part of the ravine that had been carved by the creek — and, with it, the bridge.

On down through Trinity Bellwoods, full of activity on a breezy but glorious summer’s day. Kiddy day camp, dog walkers, skateboarders, bike riders (tattoo’d or otherwise), tennis players, strollers … And a howling wolf, to keep us all company.

in Trinity Bellwoods Park

We skirt another splash pad. Like its neighbour in Art Eggleton (aka Harbord) Park to the north, the pad is near playground equipment, its base decorated with cheerful aquatic designs. The more northerly pad is probably now as full as this one — staffers tell us, when we ask, that they empty the pads each evening, and refill them in the morning.

splash pad, Trinity Bellwoods Park

We admire the gardens, the shrub, the trees, and wish we could identify this particular birch, with its quite spectacular bark. We cock our heads & mutter inconclusively about what kind of birch it is. White (Paper) birch? Nah, I say, that bark comes off in big sheets.

white birch? yellow birch?

Now that I look again, I’m inclined to think White Birch.

Onto streets for a while, including Strachan Av. with its mostly un-gentrified Victorian homes. I am not opposed to gentrification as such: that would be reverse snobbery (as obnoxious as snobbery tout court) and anyway, there are much worse fates for decaying old neighbourhoods than gentrification.

Still, there is something fresh & delightful about this streetscape, and I particularly like the green house. (I know it’s not an authentic heritage colour! Stop fussing!)

house on Strachan Av., s. of Queen West

Phyllis & I imagine sitting on that porch, tucked away behind those geranium baskets, watching the world go by …

On & on again, into Stanley Park where we watch dogs cavort while owners chew the breeze, then out again to wheel east on Wellington, where we decide: Enough Garrison Creek.

So we head north on Bathurst, with our minds on — and tummies ready for — lunch in the Market 707 food stalls at Bathurst & Dundas West.

With a hit of street art north of King, to cheer us on our way…

Bathurst St. mural by SPUD

Not what I recognize as typical work by graffiti artist Spud, but I later realize the limitation is in my knowledge, not in his artistic range.

And that could be that but, having (almost) started with a canoe, let’s end with one.

This photo is only a semi-cheat — and surely no cheat at all, since I am admitting to it. I did not take the photo on this walk, but I did take it on one of my walks — just over a year ago, in September 2013, in Little Norway Park.

Homegrown National Park canoe, Little Norway Park

So there we are. A Garrison Creek canoe, all the way south along the creek to the very shores of Lake Ontario.

Thank you, David Suzuki Foundation, and every other organization & person determined to keep this creek a tangible part of our city today.




J’Adore the Doors

13 August 2014 — Tuesday’s walk is not supposed to be about doors.

It is supposed to be about following the Garrison Creek Discovery Walk — truly a discovery every time, since the creek has been channelled underground since the late 19th c., and trail signage & route maps are both a bit catch-as-catch-can. But as Tuesday Walking Society partner Phyllis observes, “We’re out for a walk. Who cares if we get lost?”

The route, theoretically, leads us south from Bloor St. just west of Bathurst, practically to the lakefront. It weaves through a succession of parks, starting with Bickford Park on the south side of Bloor, and we are cheered to find a route marker almost immediately.

Garrison Creek Discovery Walk sign in Bickford Park

Then things get very, very unexpected.

We look to the right, where the park is bordered by the garages behind Montrose Av. homes — and good grief, virtually every door is covered in street art. I don’t mean stupid scrawls and tagging, I mean ART.

South far as the eye can see, the garages prettily set off by tree that adds nature’s own chiaroscuro.

line of garages behind Montrose Av., facing Bickford Park

We walk down the line. As usual, I only recognize a few artists, but see one of those almost immediately. Once you’ve seen an ELICSER (Jabari Elliott) face, you always know them.


Then a very dapper Mr. Yellow Face (with equally dapper facial adornments) …

garage facing Bickford Park

… and another face, very different mood and style.

The elements to the right of the face put me very slightly in mind of Haida (West Coast) visual vocabulary, but I’m certainly not suggesting it was the artist’s intent. It’s just what jumps up in my own mind.

garage facing Bickford Park

The only untreated wooden door in the line-up, but boasting as fully-developed a work of art as any of the others …

garage facing Bickford Park

… and then the only door obscured by a car.

I heave a great sigh of annoyance but, come to think of it, it, it’s kind of a neat effect — sea monster about to swallow car.

garage facing Bickford Park

From fish to cat, and what a cat, the work of Chilean-Canadian visual artist Shalak.

garage door facing Bickford Park, by Shalak


Back to sea-monster fish, and a pretty scary human-monster face to go with it.

garage door facing Bickford Park

And then, and I am so delighted it is still here, the original example of garage art in the whole group.

It is dated 2009, but I first noticed and photographed it in early 2012, when I was training for the Iceland trek. It was easy to notice, since it was the only garage decorated with anything but tags.

the original painted door, dated  2009

I wonder if it was the inspiration for the rest? It sure looks as if the Montrose Av. home-owners issued a collective invitation for artists to create works on their garage doors — but who knows whether they did so out of real love for the art form, or in pragmatic recognition that murals were their best defence against ugly scrawls.

(One home-owner apparently didn’t buy in. His garage is heavily tagged, and also bears, in large black block letters, the word BONEHEAD.)

Now we find ourselves at the end of the garage gallery, and also at Harbord St., the south end of Bickford Park. For a while Phyllis and I are on a quiet residential street, not expecting any visual jolts at all.

Wrong-o. We blink, then roar with laughter.

Speaking of street art … !

2 separate stickers!

This takes some serious decoding. We thought we’d heard every accusation possible against Toronto’s mayor, but … eating animals? That’s a new one.

Then we realize we are in fact looking at two — no, make that three — admonitions.

  1.  STOP (says the Traffic Act)
  2.  STOP Rob Ford! (says visual artist YYZILLA, his signature running neatly up the exclamation mark)
  3. STOP Eating Animals (says Planet Vegan, with a sticker that I suspect was in place before YYZILLA came along to play his own little joke)

After all this, the walk settles down, and we get on with nature and parks and canoes full of flowers and a lost-but-remembered underground creek. Not to mention a a bridge across that creek, now deep underground as well. And yes, there is a final flourish of street art, by a Name Brand artist, followed by a Trinidad/Toronto kind of lunch.

You’ll see. In my next post.













Walk. Look. Taste. (Repeat)

10 August 2014 — There’s always a reason to point a walk in a particular direction, even if other distractions pile on as you go & sometimes take over.

Saturday’s plan is to explore Taste of the Danforth — a yearly weekend fiesta that has a western chunk of the artery closed to traffic and filled instead with food & other kiosks, many bands,  and lots & lots of people to sample everything going. Plus wander the shops, almost all of which are running special sales.

As it turns out, I do more walking & looking than tasting. Unless we want to call it, tasting with my eyes. (And why not?)

detail, JAH's "We see right thru you"

An eye to launch me, therefore — a detail from JAH’s huge mural on the alley-side wall of Face Furniture Optical on Parliament Street.

A great day, too, warm verging on hot, but not oppressive. Nature is in full stride everywhere I look, park or garden.

Goat's Beard (I think!) in Cabbagetown

I pay attention, I love it, I notice it, because soon the cycle will turn, we will shift gears from fat summer opulence into the fall transition to winter’s minimalism.

But not yet. I walk through Cabbagetown into Riverdale Park West, looking down the ravine slope and across expressways and the Don River to Riverdale Park East — and the towering Bridgepoint Health facility — on the far side. See? Toboggans fill these slopes in winter, but for now, flower boxes & baseball rule.

looking east from Riverdale Park West

Over the connecting pedestrian bridge, up the ravine slope on the east side, more memories of snow and toboggans — today’s reality of books & sun-block (and the promise of soccer, below).

slope of Riverdale Park East

This brings me to Broadview Avenue, the western edge of Taste of the Danforth. I draw breath … and plunge in. One kiosk after another with pennants to mark their place,  tourism information & yogurt & a public-sector union & a particular branch of Christianity & more kinds of food than I thought even Danforth — a famed restaurant location — could dream up. Vegan? Halal? Organic? Beer-wine? Greasy-fatty-salty? Take your pick, and line up.

Taste of the Danforth, nr Broadview Av.

I don’t line up, I hate lining up (even though my nose twitches with temptation), instead I think about all those pennants, and idly wonder what that grey tower-looking-thing is, farther down the line, just this side of a (I think) church tower.

It is a grey tower.

climbing tower, Taste of the Danforth

I’d like to say this climbing wall is being run by some sports-minded non-profit organization like Mountain Equipment Co-op, or Outward Bound Canada … but it’s not. It’s a promo for some upcoming action movie.

Ah well, the moppets are getting some exercise. All good.

And my nose still twitches with temptation but I am still line-up averse, so instead I duck into Carrot Common. One more line-up to avoid, this  time for shiatsu massage …

shiatsu massage in Carrot Common, Danforth Av

… and I head into the defining store of the complex, The Big Carrot Natural Food Market. I buy a can of chilled coconut water, and suck it down as I rejoin the street party.

Kids & clowns & music & dogs & skateboards & food/drink line-ups & sales in the street-side shops. (Though when the 60% off price for a T-shirt is still $59, I back out the door again, right quick.)  By now I’ve had about enough of crowds and the shuffle-step needed to navigate them. I stop looking around quite as avidly, start thinking about escape.

Then I see a combination of possibilities to stop me flat. Roman Catholic church? Sure. Henna tattoos? Sure. Henna tattoo tent on the steps of Holy Name Roman Catholic Church? Oh come on, you’re joking.

kiosk on church steps, Taste of the Danforth

No, you’re not joking. Goodness, I think to myself. Glad I didn’t bail before I got to see that!

But now my mind is made up. At the next intersection, just past the mini-amusement park, I’ll escape to the south.

Danforth nr Jones Av, Taste of the Danforth

Inching toward freedom, but still enough in the spirit of things to enjoy the fact that modest amusement rides — by today’s mega-standards — can still delight an urban audience. Bouncy castle, small ferris wheel, and adults as happy as the kids.

Then I discover that this is the end of the closed-street stretch anyway! Giggling, I head south, starting my S/W zig-zag back toward home. It takes me first through some quiet residential Riverdale streets.

I see a notice pinned to a utility pole up ahead. I don’t need to be close enough to read it to know what it will say, because I know the look. Some variation of “Missing cat” is what it will say. These signs always make me so sad, you think about the frantic owners, the frantic (if not dead) cat …

But no, look!

happy ending in Riverdale

Isn’t that the best? I’m delighted to know the end of the story, and I admire the owners, who took time to say thank you to those who helped, and reassure the rest of us. As I walk on, I see more notices about Max — they’d papered the neighbourhood — each with its thank-you stapled on top.

Another sign, this one very summer-in-the city.

Dusk Dances poster, Riverdale

I’d never heard of a week of Dusk Dances in near-by Withrow Park, and I think it’s terrific. As I walk through the Park, I try to guess where the dancing will take place, but the park is too large and varied, so I give up on the challenge and instead just enjoy everything that’s happening right now — kiddy play area, landscaped garden areas, facilities building, trails, space for the weekly farmers’ market and all.

Still dropping south and hoofing on west, soon back to Broadview Avenue bordering Riverdale Park and the Don River. Down the eastern slope, onto the pedestrian bridge, and yes, the baseball diamonds are still busy. (Though with different teams, or so I conclude from the different colours of jerseys.)

baseball in Riverdale Park West, from pedestrian bridge

This time I don’t take the stairs on the western slope, I instead walk the trail up through the woods into Riverdale Farm. It takes me past the ponds, and a notice about the restoration project underway.

pond in Riverdale Farm

Now I’m cutting back though Cabbagetown and closely eyeing the gardens, always something to learn. And look, twined among the shrubbery, between sidewalk iron railing and the home behind …

prayer flags in Cabbagetown

Prayer flags. I’ve never seen them in Cabbagetown before.  I’m mildly surprised. They seem more likely in Parkdale, say, or Riverdale — but not out of place, even so.

One final vignette, this one not surprising at all. It’s very typically Cabbagetown.

a Cabbagetown moment

Iron rail fence, bicycle, attractive wooden box to camouflage the plastic wheelie bins, with a tiny, perfect green roof on top.


And now for a bit of

Shameless Self-Promotion

The catalyst is a comment on my previous post from the author of woman’s eye view (I’m a follower, check it out). Do I publish my walks? she asks.

Yes, as a matter of fact! Not as a straight compilation of my posts, but focused in themes. Two books, so far.

First came, Walking the Waterfront.

"Walking the Waterfront" by Penny Williams, Blurb

And then, Walking the Streets & Lanes.

"Walking the Streets & lanes," by Penny Williams, Blurb

Please click, and riffle the pages. See what you think.


    "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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