River, Lake & Lots of Streets

31 July 2014 — Phyllis’ route guaranteed great diversity for the Tuesday Walking Society this week. Bloor-line subway to Old Mill Station; trail south along the Humber River to Lake Ontario; lakeside paths eastward back into the city; and then streets & streets until our legs wear out or we reach home.

“It’ll be longish,” mused Phyllis, with the usual Maritime flair for understatement.

Humber River trail south, from  Old Mill subway station at Bloor

So here we are, ready for “longish,” dismissing subway & ritzy condos overhead as we set boots to trail on Route 15 South  along the Humber River.

It’s the final stage of a watershed — largest in the Toronto region, first inhabited 12,000 years ago — that rises in the Niagara Escarpment and Oak Ridges Moraine and covers 903 sq. km. as it  tumbles south to the lake. No wonder it has been designated a Canadian Heritage River.

Squirrels, birds, one private boat club, lots of walkers/cyclists/dogs, wildflowers as we go. And a mesmerized child, watching her own private sail-past of  Canada Geese.

Canada geese on the Humber River

It’s not the usual majestic glide, these guys are paddling like crazy against the current. The river is higher and stronger than usual, aftermath of a rainstorm — not flash flood level, but powerful enough that one prudent dog owner decided to keep his pooch well away.

For a while (and unlike, say, Taylor Creek), there are no reminders of the city all around. Not until we approach the major E/W arteries near the lake, first the Queensway and then the Gardiner Expressway.

The trail passes under them both, and of course the bridgework is graffiti’d. Given that (I think) there’s a squatter population around here, one inscription under the Queensway seems more poignant than jaunty — even now, in the warmth of summer.

under the Queensway bridge across the Humber River

We continue under the Gardiner Expressway, look back upriver through its arches. City grit right here; river-nature-bullrushes just there.

view up the Humber R., from under the Gardiner Expressway

We think that particular stand of bullrushes is the riverside edge of the Lower Humber Wetland Complex Restoration project now underway. Signs around its fenced-off perimeter explain that, among other things, the project will see the installation of a fishway and a water level control structure. Purpose: to create a healthy ecosystem that allows free passage to native fish, while restricting invasive species like the common carp.

South of the Gardiner, one of my favourite bridges comes into sight — the Humber River pedestrian bridge right at lake edge.

Humber R. pedestrian bridge at lake Ontario

We poke around for a while to the west of that bridge, but finally take it, heading east toward the city.

We pause long enough to watch three canoes go by, ones we couldn’t quite figure out while they were still at a distance. They feature all the whooping and noise of dragon boat teams, but very little of the skill.


Day camp kiddies, whooping and being whooped at by their instructors, digging in paddles with more energy than precision.

day-camp canoers at mouth of Humber River

We shout encouragement at this canoe-load. “We’re last!” one voice wails back. “Who cares!” we cry. Then we giggle at the love-locks — Phyllis notes that canny bridge-side merchants in Paris actually sell locks for the purpose — and walk on along Lake Ontario.

It’s quite a broad pathway. Also quite a broad swatch of parkland between path and Lakeshore Blvd. West but, even so, traffic is constant, heavy and noisy. Quite extraordinary how you can tune it out. Look right, not left; focus on greenery and lake and sand. There.

lakeside park & path, east of Humber River

We pass assorted signs as we go, including one near the Boulevard Club marking the spot where Marilyn Bell came ashore on September 9, 1954. I had remembered that the 16-year-old was the first person to swim across Lake Ontario, I’d forgotten the backstory.

The Canadian National Exhibition, as a publicity stunt, offered $10,000 to American long-distance swimmer Florence Chadwick to cross the lake; Bell felt the offer snubbed Canadian swimmers and, with encouragement from the Toronto Star newspaper, took up the challenge herself, even though the prize was only on offer to the American.

Chadwick and one other independent swimmer both dropped out partway. Bell made it — and the CNE gave her the money. (What else could they do?)

Soon another sign, to mark another crossing from the American side to our own. Not with the same friendly intent, and rather earlier in time.

plaque near Boulevard Club, on Lake Ontario

Oh those dastardly Americans, landing here on April 27, 1813, occupying York for 3-4 days and burning down our parliament building before they leave town. (British troops burning down the White House? Retaliation.) Ancient history now; the sign looks out on recreational boats at anchor, and cyclists taking a mid-day break.

Then another vignette of maritime history — a tall ship. Well, a replica tall ship, but a stirring sight for all that.

tall ship on Lake Ontario

One more ship, this one in Coronation Park, my favourite ship of all.

An “exploded” hull, in fact: homage to Canadian participation in World War II (1 in 12 of our total population was on active service), and especially to the Royal Canadian Navy. One section of the hull is a map of the North Atlantic, pinpointing where each RCN vessel was lost in those dreadful years.

memorial to the RCN in Coronation Park

We finally abandon the lake near Bathurst St., head north across train tracks and zig east briefly on Front St. so we can again enjoy the one-block Victoriana of Draper St. between Front and Wellington. Profusions of summer blooms in the tiny front yards, potted plants up and down front-door steps.

And a cat.

summer on Draper St.!

Phyllis and I part ways at Queen and Spadina. She’s going to grab TTC for home (she lives considerably farther north than I do); I decide to keep walking. For a while. No promises about all the way home.

So on I go, and as usual the streetscape is diverting and the walking itself is hypnotic. Such visual & aural jumble on Spadina! At first I’m affronted, still tuned to the peace of river- and lakeside; then  I yield to it, dive into it. A great boiling stretch of white water, I tell myself, clinging to maritime imagery.

anime house, Spadina nr Elm St.

Fierce eyes advertise a Japanese anime house near Elm St., where I again turn east, more magnetic than the all-sorts shop next door.

A short pause for a mixed-berry/yogurt smoothie on McCaul St. (very good), and I’m restored enough to walk just a little farther.

More eyes, but not anime-fierce this time. Instead, pensive for Marilyn Monroe, crinkled with warmth for Mother Teresa.

Ryerson Image Centre

These giant heads are part of the portrait façade that graces the Ryerson [University] Image Centre on Gould St., dedicated to photography and the related arts. Frankly though, I don’t stop for them, graphic as they are. I am bemused by the people on chairs and on the boulder, expanding so luxuriously into the summer sun.

In winter, this pond is a skating rink.

And then, to my own amazement, I do indeed walk all the way home. Phyllis later emails to report she did the string-on-map trick (we are without pedometers at the moment), and determined we’d walked 15 km. from the Old Mill Station to Queen & Spadina. I add in the rest of my walk home, and decide to claim boasting rights for 20 km.

As a Maritimer would say … “Longish.”

Slantwise through Taylor Creek Park

27 July 2014 — Slantwise by necessity, since the park itself runs at a slant through a good chunk of east-central Toronto, a sheath around Taylor Creek as it flows westward to the Don River, which then carries its waters on south to Lake Ontario.

Dense city on both sides, but here in the park… nature.

bullrush in Taylor Creek Park

My first shot of the day, though, isn’t in the park. It’s in an alley. (You are not surprised.) I’m not looking for alley art, just taking a shortcut north from Danforth & Dawes Road up to the park entrance. Not much going on in the alley, either, just some boring tags, plus one mediocre mural.

Someone — perhaps another artist — thinks “mediocre” is far too kind a description. He is moved to comment. I photograph his comment.

on an alley mural n. of Main St. subway stn, Danforth Av.

Um, well, I’m still not convinced this is the world’s worst graff[ito] … but I’m pretty sure this critic is one os the world’s worste [sic] spellers.

Giggle giggle, and 5 minutes later I’ve dropped down into the park. For all its modest scale, this creek is a major tributary of the Don River, and the surrounding 182-acre park is one of central Toronto’s largest natural areas, an important part of the wildlife migration corridor through the city.

Taylor Creek, near park entrance off Dawes Rd.

I’m still on a dirt trail by the creek but look across the paved main path on my left, which carries the stroller/rollerblade/bicycle traffic. I can see tall grasses, wildflowers and what looks like another faint dirt trail disappearing into the undergrowth.

Taylor Creek Park

So I cross, and yes there is a bit of path, and on I go.

path in Taylor Creek Park

It winds close to a big spread of bullrushes …

pondside bullrushes, Taylor Creek Park

… which in turn pulls me to a hidden pond.

pond within Taylor Creek Park

Reverse gears, I double back to the paved path and across it to creek-side once more. Because this narrow park slices its way through such dense urbanization, there are many access routes on both sides of the creek back up to city streets. There are also quite a few pedestrian bridges across the creek itself.

a pedestrian bridge across Taylor Creek

“Pedestrian” being loosely interpreted to include dogs, strollers, & bicycles as well as human feet. Two of these bridges are currently being replaced, the old ones having been damaged beyond repair in the 2012 floods.

I keep striding along, enjoying the exuberance, the sheer energy, of the vegetation. It was a tough winter for some plant life, but this is a great summer for everything that thrives on frequent gentle rain and moderate heat.

I see some oddities, too.

The world’s scaliest tree bark, for example. Where are the identifying plaques when you really need one?

tree, Taylor Creek Park

Later I peer down into a tangle of raspberry canes, and look! First berries.

wild raspberries, Taylor Creek Park

Dawes Road is the only place where the park itself is at street level. Otherwise, we glide through untouched, with soaring bridges — like this one at O’Connor Dr. — to carry cross-route traffic overhead. Down here, traffic is on two wheels, following Route 22 in the Taylor Creek Regional Trail. And obeying the posted speed limit: 20 km/hr.

the O'Connor Dr. bridge over Taylor Creek Park

The geometry of the bridge struts is softened by mid-summer wildflowers and grasses.

O'Connor Dr.bridge over Taylor Creek Park

Soon afterwards, I find myself at a landmark, a sculptural landmark both within the park system and for motorists whizzing past on the Don Valley Parkway.

I’ve reached The Molars!

Elevated Wetland Sculptures (aka The Molars)

Of course that’s not the real name, the real name is: Elevated Wetland Sculptures.

These guys are very dramatic, very large, and also very functional. The series of molar-shaped planters is designed to showcase the importance of wetlands in the ecosystem. A solar-powered pump lifts water from the Don River into the planters, where the native trees & shrubs remove pollutants as the water cascades from one container to the next, finally dropping into a natural wetland and ultimately back into the Don.

The Molars also mark the western end of Taylor Creek Park, the place where it — and the creek itself — merge into the Lower Don Parklands. Phyllis and I have made various Tuesday Walking Society outings in those parklands, but today I head north instead. Still in green space, headed through Charles Sauriol Conservation Area toward E.T Seaton Park, and beyond that Sunnybrook Park, and then Edwards Gardens, and then Toronto Botanical Garden …

But I’m not going that far, I’m going to climb up to street level at Eglinton Avenue and catch a bus for home. If I chant all those park names at you, it is only to celebrate this glorious concentration of creeks and river and green space in the heart of the city.

I pass some trail signs warning that the speed limit in this stretch has been lowered to 15 km/hr, and then another sign — on an adjacent trail — warning that that path is for horses & riders only. I blink, and then remember the big stables up in Sunnybrook Park.

Then I pass an unofficial sign on a bit of railing, the only graffito I see in the entire parkland walk.

someone's urgent message, E.T. Seaton Park

I take care to skirt the Disc Golf course as I walk through E.T. Seaton Park. Though my camera is still in my hand, my mind is already up on Eglinton looking for a bus.

Then off to one side in the distance, half-hidden by trees & shrubs, I see some bright repetitive shapes that I cannot decipher.

Bee hives in a mini-apiary? Seems unlikely. Posts for some construction project? Seems more likely. Still … how odd. So I swerve to the right, duck behind this grove of trees and around that line of tall grasses, and realize the shapes are very securely enclosed by a high wire-mesh fence.

public archery range, E.T. Seaton Park

Which is a prudent thing to do, when you lay out a public archery range in a city park. Another safety precaution: no crossbows allowed.

I knew about all the other stuff — horses & disc golf & bikes/kids/dogs — but the archery is a whole new discovery.

What a nice way to end the walk.

I cling to that happy discovery, once I’m up on Eglinton Av. East. I am determined to remain mature & cheerful as I stomp around in noise & traffic, trying to find where they’ve hidden the temporary bus stop amid all the construction chaos. Two buses go by while I search. (They have no choice, since deep roadwork chasms yawn between us.)

I will be mature. I will be cheerful.



Wall Art / Walmart … & Maqueque

25 July 2014 — Two quick moments from my week, very different from each other — and both very, very Toronto.

First up, another I-am-curious walk down an alley, this time just west of Bathurst St. from College down to Dundas West.

Take a consonant, add a consonant, & what have you got?

Wall Art / Walmart

Just an alley, at first, with some strong alley-scape images.

lane w. of Bathurst

Then, east side of the alley, a window with a point of view.

a bafk doorway in proposed Walmart site

It’s in the back of a long building that fronts onto Bathurst St., numbers 410-446 I later learn, until recently home to Kromer Radio.

back of proposed Walmart site on Bathurst St

More street art along the building …

back of proposed Walmart site on Bathurst

… and soon after, on the west side of the alley, a garage that brings us back on topic.

garage in alley west of proposed Walmart site

Dancing condoms?

Well … Imagery perhaps ambiguous, but no ambiguity at all about the message. That old Kromer Radio site is now the proposed site of a new Walmart. Real estate developer RioCan has one point of view; Friends of Kensington Market have another.

You already know how the alley artists line up.

side of same garage in alley behind proposed Walmart site

And that’s my hit of activist art for the week.

Yesterday evening, totally different. Nature, music, shared delight.


I’m back in the Toronto Botanical Garden with my Habanera-now-Canadian friend Mabel. We’re there for the latest in the TBG Gardens of Song free Thursday evening concerts.

Far cry from that west-end alley!

Trees, shrubs, luxuriant mid-summer growth, soft late-afternoon light, and people beginning to fill the chairs laid out on the flagstone patio in adjacent Edwards Gardens.

Edwards Gardens, site of Maqueque performance for TBG

We’re jazz enthusiasts, or Jane Bunnett enthusiasts, or Cuban music enthusiasts — or all three.  Jane Bunnett is a multiple Juno award winner & Grammy nominee, known for her skill with the soprano sax & flute and also for her decades-long championship of Cuban musicians & musical ties between our two countries.

So the fact she’s introducing another Cuban ensemble to Canada has people packing into the chairs, and unfolding their own portable chairs at the perimeter.

crowd shot, Gardens of Song Maqueque performance

Most of us have never heard of Maqueque. Doesn’t matter. We’re up for the experience.

Maqueque, we learn, is a word from old Afro-Cuban dialect, that very roughly translates as “spirit of a young girl’s energy.” Totally appropriate, since all the musicians are young women.

Maqueque performing, TBG Gardens of Song

(Jane, you will guess, is the blonde….)

It’s such a great evening. The setting, the pleasant warmth, the lingering light, the enveloping music, all that young energy.

I look around, and remember something an Afro-Canadian matriarch of jazz once said of a Calgary audience that, despite remaining politely in its seats, still showed great enthusasism for the music. She grinned and observed,  “They feet be still —  but they butts be groovin’.”

I’m shifting & swaying just like everyone else. Sometimes to the beat, and sometimes to adjust for the tall woman in front of me.

Jane Bunnet, L; vocalist Dayme Arceno, R

Afterwards, like half the audience, I line up to buy the CD.

Rain drops, Paint drops … with Salsa

20 July 2014 — Saturday threatens rain & delivers on the threat. Who cares, I set out water-proofed where it matters. I’m headed for indoor drops of paint at an art show, little guessing just how many outdoor drops of paint I will see in the course of my subsequent walk.

First stop, Markham St. near Bloor St. West, and the arts market organized by Turtle House Art/Play Centre. I’d never heard of this NGO. I’m intrigued & impressed to learn that it provides free programs specifically designed to support children and parents who have come to Toronto from areas of great conflict. It’s important work, becoming more important with every news headline.

I’m here at the invitation of Poonam Sharma, the architect/artist I first met at the St. James Town Banner Project. I’m delighted to see her again — even more delighted to see, just 1 hour into the show, bright red SOLD dots on two of her paintings.

artist Poonam Sharma

So I bounce back outside in a happy frame of mind, made even happier by the Cuban music animating the other side of the street.

Salsa time! More specifically, rueda de casino salsa, a Cuban variant in which participants dance in groups, not in pairs.

Rueda Project salsa dancers

I talk — between twirls — with a young guy wearing a Rueda Project T-shirt. They’re here from Montreal for the weekend Salsa Festival, just one of 7 festivals throughout the city (from salsa to Chinatown to an Indie racing event), all of them firmly ignoring the weather.

A latte-break with my friend DJ (not Ottawa-DJ, but AGO-DJ), who joined me at the arts market, and then I start wandering my way back south & east toward home. It really is raining now! My boots, my jacket, my camera dry-sack all prove they deserve their waterproof labels; my trekking pants prove they are, as carefully claimed, water-resistant. Damp knees, in other words …

It’s a big old zig-zag that basically takes me south in combinations of streets & alleys lying east of Bathurst Street, a main N/S artery. My route is all by-chance-and-by-whim, and it yields — as I said at the start — surprising amounts of street art.

Also streetscape. Mixes of contemporary infill, renovated old Victorian, unrenovated old Victorian.

A quietly sleek new home that respects the scale of its Victorian neighbours, with suitably artistic chain-link detailing between house & garage …

new home, chain-link for the garage

… and, at the other end of that same tiny street, a vintage garage. “Vintage” being the diplomatic description.

old garage on Croft St.

I like finding scenes like this. They hurtle us back in time.

That’s on a slight jog to the east, soon I’m heading south again, trucking my way down an alley. Where I find an old friend: a POSER bunny!

a POSER bunny, in an alley near Bathurst St.

Not signed (or not that I see), but even I know a POSER bunny when I see one. There’s something about those ears… This particular image makes me think of the Playboy bunny, leaning drunkenly against the wall for support, but pretending he is still so urbane, so in control of the situation.

This same lane, or maybe another one …  Anyway, still dropping southward, and in an alley, with a hit of garage art. This one …

garage art near Harbord & Bathurst

… and this one …

near previous one, Harbord/Bathurst area

… and this one, which I know is by visual artist Emily Kouri, because she signed her name.

Emily Kouri's work, same alley

And another alley, yes those alleys just keep comin’. Not many murals here, but what there is sure catches the eye.

cherry blossoms, perhaps?

It makes me think of Japanese cherry blossom festivals.

Farther down the alley,  a hit of streetscape as opposed to street art. A very battered garage indeed, scrawled over with tags. Ignore that, look instead at the scrollwork near the peak of the roof, and the detail on the peak itself. How elegant this garage must once have been. For horses, perhaps?

once elegant, look at the details

I’m cutting back out to the nearest main street when I see a guy in a hoodie in an open doorway. We talk street art for a moment, and the way city bylaws force building owners to either take responsibility for the graffitis, paint them over, or pay a fine. Then he gives me a tip: Double back to Bathurst St., west side, just north of College. “Three sides of the building. Somebody must have commissioned it. It’s amazing!”

I do not ask for a street number. Pretty sure I’ll be able to pick out the right building.

Gee, do you think this might be it?

Shalak/Smoky work, Bathurst n. of College

I admire it from the south.

south face of the building

Admire it from the north.

north face of the building

Admire details (this one from the north face, around the fish tail near the lower left corner).

detail from north face

Signatures here, so I can give due credit. Big signature on the front door: Clandestinos. Neatly signed high on the north face: Smoky. Shalak. They are respectively Brazilian husband and Chilean wife, now settled here, part of the Clandestinos Crew.

I cross to the east side of Bathurst again, the better to admire the whole thing, and then see a tiny little artistic detail on this side of the street. It is at the south end of some concrete & wood fencing along the sidewalk, right next to Decent Auto Repairs (one taxi turning in, another up on the hoist).

So small, who’d notice, except by luck, I do.

tiny concrete mural by sidewalk across Bathurst

Humility. Respect-love, courage-love.

I think I know a good exit line when I see one.


Skyward. Mostly

17 July 2014 — My gaze isn’t skyward at the start — more over-the-shoulder, double-take, when did that arrive?

mural, Queen E & Seaton St.

Because I could swear  these murals were not here 7 minutes ago.

Well, I exaggerate, but you know what I mean. I last passed this bit of Seaton St. at Queen St. East less than a week ago, and far as I remember, this was just another grubby wall at the time.

A cheerful old geezer comes up while I’m trying to find an unobstructed angle for the next shot. “Real bright, eh?” I agree, and ask when the murals were done. “Saturday. I think…”

I cannot find an unobstructed angle for the next mural along, a thumping great parked car blocks my every attempt. I take a few shots anyway because — as perhaps you noticed, at the far right of the image above — the companion mural is by Birdo. Two new hits of Birdo (see previous post), one walk right after the other!

Birdo mural, Queen E & Seaton St

The weather is iffy, it caused the official Tuesday Walking Society outing to be Called On Account of Probable Rain, but I decided to go out anyway. My only goal is a latte at Balzac’s café down in the Distillery District so, after this unexpected burst of street art, I’m headed south-east with nothing more on my mind than coffee and Victorian industrial architecture.

This site was, for 153 years, home to the Gooderham & Worts Distillery — from 1837, when the first still set up, through Victorian-era growth that made it the world’s largest distillery, to its closure in 1990. It then lived a brief but wildly successful second life as a movie location  (+1700 films used the site, making it the 2nd largest location in North America outside Hollywood) before the complex of buildings was restored & reopened to a third life, this time as an entertainment/retail destination.

I’m walking south on Trinity St., still north of Mill St., the site’s northern boundary, but close enough to see a first silhouette in the sky.

from Trinity St., just north of Mill St.

It’s not the most photographed cupola on-site, in fact I’ve never really paid it any attention before, but I like the way it stands out against the sullen sky.

In through the Mill St. gates, on down Trinity St., another cupola, the one in the heart of the complex that everybody notices.

on Trinity St. inside Distillery District

I duck into Balzac’s, housed in the 1895 Pump House, many of the old features retained, and to great effect. You have to know what to do with these huge old industrial spaces, or their sheer scale can overwhelm you. These guys know. Anything they’ve added is equally bravura, totally up to the challenge.

Like the enormous chandelier, whose first life was in a vaudeville house somewhere.

chandelier in Balzac's coffee shop, Distillery District

But then, you’d expect artistic flair from a coffee micro-roaster named for author Honoré de Balzac (“Coffee is a great power in my life…”), whose first location was in the theatrical city of Stratford, Ontario, and whose other 7 locations include the equally theatrical city of Niagara on the Lake, as well as Toronto’s Distillery District, Reference Library, and Ryerson Image Arts.

Well-caffeinated, I wander on. Back north just a bit, still very east-end-downtown, and take Gilead Place as a shortcut on up to King St. I admire again, and photograph again, the big red “A” halfway up the block.

in Gilead Place s. of King East

And notice there is another letter, equally large but grey, facing it. So grey I’ve never seen it before. So grey I cannot now remember which letter it is.

Almost at King St., the tempting aromas from the Morning Glory café on King already tickling my nose, and I stop again. More red. This time, the proven charms of red geraniums, dancing away in their window boxes, bright against the black balconies — which in turn are oddly bright against the dull sky.

Gilead Place just south of King St. East

I’m on a roll. Looking skyward is paying off quite nicely.

It does so yet again at King East & Sackville, where huge eyes peek out over the top of a small (but bright, very bright) autobody shop.

peek-a-boo at King E & Sackville

And then… and then I forget the exact sequence. A few more streets, then eastward down an alley just south of Queen St. It doesn’t yield much until I’m almost at Sumach St.

Where I stop, and laugh, and pick my way around a mucky patch (blessing my waterproof walking boots) so I can catch these ELICSER faces in the sky.

The Magic Building, from the alley, artist ELICSER

I know where I am. This is the north-west corner of The Magic Building, 60 Sumach St. Yes, that really is the name, and it’s well-deserved — for all the artwork on the building, along with the assorted arts-related activities that go on inside.

Out of the alley, onto Sumach. The sun suddenly escapes the cloud cover, and gives my street-side shot a backdrop of blue.

The Magic Building, from Sumach St.

It’s enough to make you believe in magic.




It’s quite a story:

founded in 1832,

the first still set up in 1837,

growth & 153 years of continuous production during which Gooderham & Worts became the world’s largest distiller,

closed in 1990,

interim new life as a movie location (2nd largest in North America outside Hollywood)

current life

“P” is for Paint

15 July 2014 — Last post, Pavement & Parks, I noted that a third “P” snuck into the outing. As in, P-for-Paint.

Here’s how it happened. We’ve left Lee Valley  Tools, we’re back on King St. West, and we turn north on Portland St. to make our way back home, route undecided. Then I glance down an alley and … boom … we follow this guy.

in alley east from Portland St. n of King West

Beyond him we can see a cross-alley, this one N/S parallel to Portland, and that looks promising, so on we go. With an admiring side-glance for the bamboo grove somebody has created on the side of his garage.

garage in alley east from Portland ST

Now heading north again, in an alley jumping with paint and life. There’s Green Goggle Guy…

alley parallel to Portland

… and a portrait by Jarus (sorry, his is the only name I’m sure of) …

Jarus portrait, in alley parallel to Portland

,,, and a cheerful hit of what I think (but don’t quote me) is called ‘wildstyle’ where all I can really decipher is “Toronto” and “Yo Crews” …

in alley parallel to Portland St

… and then a brand new category of garage art.

3D, thank you very much, built in layers, and continuing across the inside of the sleek roll-up garage door. Tucked into all this art work, an equally sleek Bimmer.

3D garage art, alley parallel to Portland St

Next,  a birthday greeting. Birthday greetings are fairly common — but so are in memoriams. Each makes me pause for a moment, though with very different emotions. This time it’s a happy moment.

birthday greetings, street-art style

The alley leads us across Richmond St. West where, just for about half a block, it reverts to P-for-Parks.

Taken a bit loosely, I grant you, since really we’re entering the Alex Wilson Community Garden. It is dedicated to someone who packed a lot into just 40 years of life (1953-93): writer, teacher, landscape designer & ecologist. Also beloved of many, or this organic community garden, with its 40 small allotments, would not have been named in his honour. The plaque quotes Wilson, the quotation begins…

We must build landscapes that heal, connect and empower, that make intelligible our relations with each other and the natural world…

The plaque also bears a short Ojibway quote, so I am not surprised to see a raven watching over the Garden.

Alex Wilson Community Garden, 522 Richmond St West

And now look, look toward the rear left of this next image of the garden. Look between Phyllis (magenta shirt) and the white garden chair, and just beyond them. See? See the patch of pink & turquoise framed by shrubs?

looking north, in Alex Wilson Community Garden

After we walk slowly, gently, through the Garden, we emerge into more P-for-Paint.

Oh, yes indeed!

into Graffiti Alley

And we laugh, because — though we hadn’t anticipated it — we know immediately where we are. Graffiti Alley!

Yes yes, Toronto’s renowned Graffiti Alley that runs between Portland & Spadina just south of Queen West; the alley I often call Rant Alley since CBC-TV’s Rick Mercer films his weekly rants in here; the alley I last visited in winter snow & ice. Here we are.

We follow the alley east toward Spadina, crossing Augusta St. where even rental cars get in on the act.

rental car, Graffiti Alley & Augusta

Last visit, slithering around on melt-slick ice hummocks; this time strolling along, admiring the gentle touch of blossom-heavy vines on every ledge …

summer in Graffiti Alley

Most of what’s here is familiar to me. I squeak with delight at some particular old faves, including this detail from a larger mural of nostalgic (or ironic) tributes.

detail, Graffiti Alley mural

And then we’re at Spadina, back on serious city pavement. Corner of Queen West, the elegant Victorian turret I admire anew every time I see it …

S/E corner, Spadina & Queen West

… curiously echoed by a contemporary turret we notice soon afterward, not on Queen West but visible from it.

towers seen from Queen W near Spadina

And one final delight on Queen St. West, a last hit of Paint.

I chortle at the sight. I fell in love with this guy’s style some 9 months ago, the minute I saw his Rainbow Horse in a line-up of garage art squeezed between Trinity Bellwoods Park & Dundas St. West. He was anonymous to me then, but now I know his street name.

a new Birdo, on Queen West nr Spadina

Ladies & gentlemen, meet Birdo. He of the exuberant paint-pot. I gave you a teaser of this creation in my previous post; here it is in full.

And on that high note, I prance on home.


Pavement & Parks

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

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

detail, Birdo street art, Queen St. West

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

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

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

Hiro restaurant herb garden, King East

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

collectibles basket, King East nr Jarvis

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

parkette, n. side of King East nr Jarvis

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

interior, parkette King East nr Jarvis

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

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

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

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

Market Lane Park, King St. E.

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

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

Market Lane Park, King St. E.

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

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

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

Toronto Sculpture Garden, 115 King E.

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

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

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

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

1931 Bank of Commerce HQ, 25 King St. West

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

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

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

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

The Pasture, 7 bronze cows, Joe Fafard

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

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

N/W corner, King West & University Av.

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

Roy Thomson Hall, King West & Simcoe

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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





Alleys & Animal Life

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

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

cat by Tokyo, alley off Parliament s. of Carlton

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

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

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

n. off Dr. O Lane

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

detail of mural off Dr. O Lane

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

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

detail of mural off Dr. O Lane

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

Alley Cat, by Tokyo

Love it.

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

wall n. of Face Furniture, off Parliament St

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

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

mural by JAH, off Parliament n. of Carlton

The golds are luminescent in the afternoon sun.

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

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

Jet Fuel, 519 Parliament St.

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

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

Support Riverdale Farm mural behind Nettleship’s Hardware

All those pigeons. Ick.

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

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

garages in Broadcast Lane, e. of Parliament

Farther south, something new. Doughnut Moustache Man.

in Broadcast Lane

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

in Broadcast Lane

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

in a Cabbagetown alley

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

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

That’s nice. I like that.


Monty Don & the TBG

30 June 2014 — English garden writer & broadcaster Monty Don has probably never heard of the Toronto Botanical Garden (TBG) — but there is a link nonetheless.

My partner & I are hooked on the engaging, informative Monty Don TV gardening series, so whenever one is available here, we watch. Friday night we watched the last in his French Gardens series, being shown on TV Ontario; Saturday I took myself off to the TBG, determined to channel my inner Monty Don & soak up the delights.

detail of "This Garden Grows Love" in TBG

And yes, I loved it.

This one word from “This garden grows love” — spelled out across some hedges — sums up my own feelings quite nicely. The TBG isn’t large (at 4 acres, it is apparently the smallest botanical garden in North America), but it has impact. It has been extensively enhanced & upgraded within the last decade, and has become a very 21st-c. place to seek gardening information & education.

Or just to have a happy wander. And, since it sits within a City park (Edwards Gardens) that flows into two other City parks (Wilket Creek & Sunnybrook), you can wander forever. I choose to wander … but I have my eye out for some information as well.

I park near the Demonstration Courtyard, with its straw bale storage shed, topped by a green roof that is rapidly greening & growing in the summer heat. (How quickly we rocket from winter to summer!)

straw ale shed, TBG

In along the Entry Garden Walk, created by Dutch designer Piet Oudolf in New Wave style, with its waves of grasses, shrubs & trees to create a “sophisticated meadow.” More sophistication: the stainless steel sculpture by Canadian artist Ron Baird.

Entry Walk to TBG, sculpture by Ron Baird

And behind all that, a glimpse of the angular George and Kathy Dembroski Centre for Horticulture (a LEED Silver-certified building), with its own Green Roof. At 223 sq metres, rather larger  than the one on the storage shed!

I’m headed into the building, but first I tuck into the Floral Hall Couryard for just a moment. In this heat, the sight & sound of water cascading down that steel mesh curtain is a joy. I read the labels for the Colorado Spruce this side of the water curtain & the Hyde Hall clematis on the far side — it would be ungrateful not to, with so many labels fulfilling the educational mandate everywhere you look, so much of it the work of volunteers.

I see chairs & tables being set out for a wedding reception later today. Saturday in late June, every pretty site in town must be chock-a-block with weddings!

What snags my eye the longest, though, is — I learn, as I stoop to the label — the Anemone blanda “White Splendour.”

Windflower clump in TBG

Windflower is its common name, & though I’m sharing the image with you, it’s really for me. I’m embarking on some back yard garden work of my own, so I’m looking for ideas.

Into the Centre, past the tempting gift shop (I am so strong), past a sign for the upcoming wedding and another for a workshop on “Horticulture as Therapy,” and right into the Weston Family Library for a handful of pamphlets and a closer look at some lovely horticulture-related artwork on the walls.

Then I look out the window & do a small double-take.

TBG beehive seen from library

It’s a real bee hive. The signs on the sliding doors politely tell you NOT to slide them open. “Bees at work.”

Back outside, into the Beryl Ivey Knot Garden, where I look up and see the much-reworked, restored, reborn Spiral Mound.

Spiral Mound, from TBG Knot Garden

It looks rather like fluffy green twirls of soft ice cream, and has proved just as tempting. Which is fine, they always did want people to climb it — but not criss-cross it every which way, and trample it to death! Problem now solved, it seems. The narrow path is bricked, delicate little chains block potential short-cuts, and frequent notices ask us to stay on the path.

I climb — staying on the path — and look back down at the Knot Garden, and one face of the Terrace Garden beyond.

TBG Knot Garden, from Spiral Mound

Looking the other way, I see the whole Garden Hall Courtyard, used for outdoor gatherings in season. It’s so appealing with its waterfall and water channel that I go straight to it once I’ve spiralled my way back down the Mound.

First the waterfall , with its related plantings …

waterfall in TBG Garden Hall Courtyard

… and then the channel, planted with (labels & a pamphlet tell me) acid-loving perennials, trees & shrubs. It is very refreshing here, in the heat.

water channel through TBG Garden Hall Courtyard

I linger; I see another couple finally shake themselves into action again with an agreed “¡Vamenos!”; I watch a Japanese couple pause, murmuring softly to each other as the wife drops to her knees for some close-up photography.

Next a swing through the Kitchen Garden — all produce donated to a food bank, says a sign — with its raised demonstration beds of good companion plantings for Toronto conditions.

3 beds in the TBG Kitchen Garden

Here’s a trio, with the Catchiest Title Award going to the one in front, no contest. “Fig-Pig Patio,” it says, followed by “Beat the Grocery Bill” and “Fall & Winter Vegetables.”

These 4 acres pack an extraordinary range of themes, conditions, looks. Out of the Kitchen Garden enclave, and into Nature’s Garden, which uses its trails to replicate two distinct Ontario native-plant habitats: Toronto ravine-system conditions in the western portion, which lies in the Wilket Creek ravine; and in the eastern part, a recreation of Canadian Shield conditions, found north of the city.

in Nature's Garden, TBG

A rock, some daisies, & the nodding red bells of Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis). Such contrast to, for example, the Knot Garden!

By now I’m walking myself out of the TBG site, moving seamlessly into Edwards Gardens, which borders Wilket Creek here just south of Lawrence Ave. East. Just before I hit the wooded slopes, some Dancing Fool Trees, caught unawares.

installation in Edwards Gardens

No, you’re right, it’s an installation. I wish I had found artist credit somewhere, but no luck…

I start down a trail through woods, dropping into the ravine toward the creek, and pause for a moment in the deep shade. Every nook has its wedding party taking photos!

a bridal party in Edwards Gardens

They leave, I scramble on down, then walk back along the creek through the rhododendron gardens, past mounds of hostas large enough to hide an elephant, and eye yet another wedding party, this one perching on a narrow little pathway in the terraced rock gardens on one creek slope. I sit & glug some water from my Royal Australian Navy water bottle, which comes into its own again every summer. (Thank you Alan, the gift that keeps on giving!)

Across a little footbridge over Wilket Creek, climb up through the rock gardens, enjoy seeing how many people are enjoying the parks and the TBG … and then I swerve so as not to disturb another very common site visitor.

This one as ubiquitous as the wedding parties, and to be found — like the wedding parties — in clusters all over the grounds.

Canada Goose

The Canada Goose is a noble bird. I mourn its descent, in popular opinion, to that of pest. It truly is a victim of loss of habitat. What can it do?

I’m cheered to see that someone has taken a quill, and tucked it upright among some impatiens.

goose quill among the impatiens, TBG

A tribute, I hope.

I pass a policeman, taking a short break in the shade & listening to baseball game play-by-play, thoughtfully dialled so low as to be almost inaudible. “Who’s winning?” I ask. “Blue Jays are now,” he says happily, “just hit a home run.” I quip, “It’s because of you! You have to keep listening!”

We both laugh, and I’m still smiling a bit as I cross the parking lot to collect the car & head home.



Acrobat Cat & the Flagstones

26 June 2014 — There is no reference to flagstones in the caption for this drawing — one of the many iconic cat images created by English cartoonist Ronald Searle back in the 1960s.

Searle "Acrobatic cat"

Instead, the caption reads: “Acrobatic cat discovering quite unexpectedly that it is too old for the game.”

The cartoon is a wry illustration of one of those defining moments in life, a moment when an unavoidable fact — which until then you have managed to avoid — up & smacks you between the eyes.

Or in the small of the back.

Which is where it smacked me, a little while ago, when I lifted a rather heavy flagstone during a gardening spree in my back yard. “Walking woman discovering  quite unexpectedly that she is too old for the game …”

The back became worse not better over the next while, and I’ll spare you the details because what could be more boring? When I grew sufficiently tired of creeping around like an aged snail, I went to see my physio & massage therapists. Both helped me hugely & were kind enough not to scold, limiting themselves to the gentle comment that walking is not enough.

Time to get back to the Y.

I found my workouts really exciting when I was preparing for the Iceland trek — I’m on a mission! But, post-Iceland, they lost their allure. The flagstone incident taught me there are things in life with even less allure. Creeping around like an aged snail, for example.

So… as of last week, I’m back at the Y.

And, honestly, what am I moaning about? Quite apart from the eventual physical payoff, there are many immediate rewards. Some take place at the Y; others, enroute.

To get there I cut through Allen Gardens. First I admire yet again All My Relations, the Anishnabe mural art covering some construction hoardings in the park …

Women's Memorial Wall, "All My Relations,: Allen Gardens

… and then I enjoy the way the 1910 cast iron & glass conservatory plays peek-a-boo with the trees …

Allen Gardens glass conservatory

… and then I stand behind Green Dog, guardian spirit of the park’s off-leash compound, to watch the woofs at play. (Green Dog is more than a pretty face. His ear, as you can see, doubles as a leash hook.)

Allen Gardens off-leash dog park

Soon I’m up at Church & Alexander, where I get to dance across the pedestrian walkway, all spiffed up for WorldPride 2014.

Church & Alexander painted for WorldPride

So I’m already amused & up-energy when I hit Central Y‘s main doors on Grosvenor St., just west of Yonge.

Central YMCA, Grosvenor St.

I check in, climb the stairs 3 levels …

main staircase, Central T

… and look to see if I’m in luck. I am! There is an empty squash court, my preferred spot for tai chi.

squash court logo, Central Y

After tai chi, I climb the remaining flights of stairs, right up to the Green Roof. Central Y is surrounded by high-rise condos & office buildings …

towers surrounding Central Y

… but the Green Roof itself is an oasis.

Central Y Green Roof

The running oval (a glimpse on the right) is the only carry-over from the original all-concrete roof. We’ve added an open-air studio (its lattice “walls” are on the left) and lots & lots of plants & shrubs. I tuck into a shady corner with a mat, and do my program. (Just rehab phase, at the moment.)  From mat level, I can see flowers & grasses & tumbling ground cover, and I can hear — louder than the backgound big-city hum — the splash of water jets on stones.

detail of water feature & solar panels, Central Y Green Roof

Early & late, there are some classes up here, but at this time of day, there are only a few of us. Walking, stretching, running, sun-bathing, reading.

I don’t know what Acrobatic Cat did after his big discovery, but for me… there is definitely life after flagstones.







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