17 December 2014 – One way and another — signs, shop windows, graffiti, random juxtapositions of elements, comments of passers-by — urban streets never shut up.
The Tuesday Walking Society is heading north on Roncesvalles Avenue, and we get an earful. (Yes! the Society is back in business! Welcome home, Phyllis.)
First conversation: down a service alley immediately north of Queen St., one we’ve entered before, but not deeply and not recently. This time we go past the mural on an immediate wall on the right, push into the fat cul-de-sac beyond, blink, and swivel.
Visual chatter on all sides. Down this stairwell, for example …
I see that Birdo is one of the two signatures, I can’t make out the other name; I see a lot more Birdo work all around, and then I see … a Birdo van.
Birdo has a van! Like any self-respecting entrepreneur!
A young woman walks past, her scarlet brush cut a happy contrast to the pervading grey drizzle of the day. We agree we all love Birdo’s work. I moan, just a little, about the bourgeois van. “Oh, he’s always had a van,” says Ms Brush Cut. “Before the paint job, it had the word ‘e-coli’ written all over it.”
This totally cheers me up, though I’m not sure why. (And anyway, how else can a street artist move all the necessary gear on-site?)
Back out to Roncesvalles — “Roncy” to its friends — where we let some shop windows do the talking. First up, the broad plate glass window of a place that, in an earlier incarnation (as Film Buff), used to house really interesting rental movies. Turns out it still does, but with coffee and other attractions as well, and a new umbrella name: Local Hero.
What constitutes a local hero? Glad you asked; they give examples. First visually …
… and then the punch-line.
Phyllis & I are still giggling at that one — Torontonians have an intense relationship with raccoons — when we stop at another window, just a bit farther north. Totally different.
We like that a lot. I’m leaving the store name in the photo, because it deserves the publicity.
And on we go, on up Roncy. Still some of the old Polish shops surviving from an earlier era, but, more and more, shops & services for the trending people of a trending street & neighbourhood.
We have no argument with that. In fact, we spend a happy half-hour in one of the cafés, putting in some catch-up time over lattes & scones.
At Bloor we turn east, planning to walk until we don’t feel like walking any more. It’s common now, after all the walking we’ve done, to come across familiar locations — though often from another angle, in another context, or another season. All of which allows us to see them with new eyes.
But, sometimes, there is something new in the location itself.
We go through the Keele St. underpass on Bloor, remembering we will soon come to an access point for the West Toronto Railpath, the walking/cycling trail that borders commuter & freight train lines in this part of town.
We do. And lo, they have added a bright new GO (commuter) train sign at the stairs.
But it’s not the official sign that has us in fits of laughter. It is the unofficial message the sign cannot hope to obliterate.
Immediately the other side of the staircase, another official sign, and another unofficial message.
Somewhere ’round Ossington, Phyllis peels off — she has an early afternoon appointment. I keep walking, and eventually find myself following an alley south from Bloor, immediately west of Bathurst. It rolls on, block after block, lined with garages both sides.
Not a lot of outstanding garage art, I have to say — but, definitely, this alley talks.
Smack on the corner of one of the cross-streets, for example.
Two young guys, about to hop into their van & drive off, turn to see what I’m photographing. “Hey,” says one, pulling out his smart phone, “that’s really nice. I’m gonna take a picture too.” His buddy looks bored, but Smart Phone Guy and I smile at each other.
A few steps south of that cross-street, I see this, and wonder about it.
First, it’s unusual: as I said, there aren’t many murals in the alley. Second, there’s something blurry about it, that seems more than creative choice. Later, online, I look up the signature: “A.C.S. Murals.” Turns out that stands for Annex [the neighbourhood] Creative Services Murals, which is “a government subsidized community-oriented mural initiative … to provide home and business owners with an affordable and aesthetic solution to graffiti vandalism.”
This mural is included in the online portfolio, and I’m now guessing the blurry style is, at least in part, a camouflage technique.
On down the endless alley, and hello, more Birdo. Bird-dog, perhaps.
The pooch & pals decorate the back-alley walls of the Annex Animal Clinic on Bathurst Street.
Finally, practically at Queen Street, I’m about to run out of alley. It offers me one last message.
From the artist; to the garage (converted horse stable, with hayloft door still visible above); to the alley; to me.