Bonjour, Montreal

18 October — A five-day break in Montreal, happy us. Lucky us, too, because some dear friends loaned us the use of their pied-à-terre in the east end of the city.

But first we have to get there, and we opt to make it a leisurely two-day trip from Toronto, driving east first along Lake Ontario, then along the St. Lawrence River, breaking the trip overnight with those same generous friends in their primary home in the countryside near-ish to Kingston.

So here we are, trundling down Highway 2, enjoying the warmth and sunshine of this Indian Summer day, the Sunday of the Canadian Thanksgiving holiday weekend. We are ready for stop-offs at tempting locations both known & unknown.

This first location — the Rutherford family market near Colborne — is known to us, a small-but-great place for local produce.

The unknown element is Jenny. I am studying jam labels in this tall display case when I happen to look up — and see that I, in turn, am also being studied.

Jenny a-top the jams, Rutherford’s market e. of Colbourne

Later we watch her slide down from her perch with that feline-waterfall motion we would all love to be able to emulate. No chance of that, so I console myself with two wonderful Ontario jams: Wild Blueberry (chosen for content) and Middle-Aged Spread (chosen for name). The latter is fully justified by name alone, but turns out to be tasty as well.

Our lunch target is Picton, a favourite cottaging destination of ours. It’s the major community in Prince Edward County, the almost-island sprawl of land poking into the north-east curve of Lake Ontario where the lake empties into the St. Lawrence River. (Why am I saying all this? Just ask your browser…)

“The County” is a splendid world onto itself, full of good food production, good wineries, good arts & crafts. It was given its initial boost of non-aboriginal population by United Empire Loyalists streaming north after the American Revolution; the latest boost comes from both eager new vintners, and early retirees shaping themselves a next stage of life. Plus, in all addition to all categories of full-time residents, visitors like us.

There’s a strong cat connection for the café where we eat lunch, Miss Lily’s Café.  Unlike Jenny-cat, however, the eponymous Miss Lily is now present only in an oil portrait, still prominently displayed in her honour.

So I can’t show you another cat, but, instead, how about a cat’s traditional favourite toy?

yarn shop decor main street Picton

Yes, wool. I agree it’s not much use to cats when wound ’round notice poles & parking meters on the Picton main drag. It would seem attractive but pointless to passing humans as well, except for the fact that these poles are right outside the doors of a well-stocked yarn shop.

We  could leave “The County” (its fans feel no need to specify which county) by one of several bridges, but choose instead to cross via the ferry service from Glenora.

It’s a free trip, an integral part of Highway 33 (aka The Loyalist Trail), and the latest version of a service that has been offered at this spot since 1815. There is a cluster of old stone buildings on the County side, once mills & early industry, now converted into a Fisheries Research Station and some handsome apartments.

It’s no longer High Season, but because of the holiday there is High Season traffic demand, and boats are operating simultaneously from each side.

on boad M.V. Quinte Loyalist

Next stop is our overnight stay with our friends, farther east & somewhat north. I am delighted to see that the aged, very rusty old truck is still guarding one corner of the rambling gardens. Our friends found it here when they bought the land all those years ago, and have cultivated the vines that almost (only ever “almost”) cover it. No blooms at the moment, too late into fall, but I still gurgle with joy at the sight.

rusty truck vine support...

And then, because it is not yet dark, and the weather is so extraordinarily mild for the season, we bundle on one extra layer of clothing and sit out in these chairs, sipping a drink, catching up, letting go of the day. (And yes, I did take this photo the next day — it shines with morning light, doesn’t it, not the soft haze of evening.)

chairs, conversation, friends

Monday, we continue east, on down the St. Lawrence River toward the sea, but stopping short at Montreal.

Stopping short in the east end, where these distinctive outdoor staircases still curve from 2nd-floor levels (even 3rd) down to the sidewalk. No staircases like this are being built now, but these old ones are significant vernacular architecture of their time and place.

distinctive east-end Montreal staircases

Our flat is up a similar flight of stairs, though not one of these.

I don’t know the east end well, as a child I lived in various city neighbourhoods slightly to the west (and also in the Laurentian mountains, a whole other story). This will be my opportunity to connect with some parts of the city I never knew in my own years here.

But, first, it is my chance to reconnect with the great continuing theme of my young childhood: our family summers in a rented cottage on Dorval Island. Lots of life-long Montrealers don’t even know the island exists, though they know the mainland community of Dorval. Childhood memories don’t give you stats; I am endebted to online sources for my ability to tell you that D.I. is Canada’s smallest municipality, both in size (1 km X 0.5 km) and population (zero year-round, being summer only, with some 59 dwellings in total), & that the ferry ride over takes just 4 minutes.

It is many decades since I have been there; 60 years since I spent my summers there; I am full of anticipation, and not a little dread.

I remember a quiet place, very unassuming: no shops, no cars, lots of woodland, relatively few cottages & all of them simple, and a few narrow gravel roads. I know they’ve added electricity since my day and a swimming pool (we swam in the river, more precisely Lac St-Louis, a bulge within the river). I fear that the woods & the simple cottages will be gone, replaced with glossy, luxurious summer homes, close-packed cheek by jowl.

This sight at the mainland dock gives me my first reassurance, & first prickle of nostalgic tears. It is the black & white signal board.

signal board mainland dock

The ferry has a schedule, but waits on the island side. If no-one wants to cross from either side, it has no reason to make that particular trip. The ferry man knows if there is a passenger on the island side — but how to tell about the mainland? Easy: the first would-be passenger hauls up the white square from its hiding place behind the black, and secures it in place. It can be read from the island side.

I am the first arrival on the mainland side; I haul up the white square; I can’t believe I am doing this once again, after all these years.

Then I sit on the bench, protected over-top but largely open sides & front, to wait for the ferry. (It could be our same old waiting shed, perhaps it is.) I look out the open end toward the island, and slip-slide through time.

view from waiting shed to Dorval Island

The ferry arrives on schedule; islanders disembark; I present myself to the ferry man. To my delight, he quizzes me — very politely, but at length and with care. It is a process I know well. In my day, nobody was allowed to cross unless they were cottagers, thus already known to the ferry man, or could name the specific family they were visiting.

I can’t name a current family, but I can give lots of names of that era, describe the location of our cottage, tell stories, point out my familiarity with the signalling system…

And so, finally, I am aboard, and I pay my non-resident fee for the ride.

Four minutes later, we dock.

Dorval Island dock, island side

And my pilgrimage begins. The time is today, it is now, but it is also then.

I see the same (or largely same, or near-replica) dock; the same gravel roads beyond; even the same cut-off path through the same woods to the road for our cottage. I start walking and I am beginning to think — for the very first time — that there is some possibility our old cottage will still be here.

The cut-off path joins the road; I am facing a large expanse of woodland on the other side, just as I remember it. If things really haven’t changed, ours will be the first cottage after the woods.

And it is.

our cottage

I can see a partial upstairs addition at the back but, otherwise, it is the old cottage. (1930s, I believe, but that’s guess-work from family history, not fact from a documented source.)

I can also see that nobody is home. Had they been, I would have knocked at the door. Since they are not, for mingled reasons of respect and awe, I do not even walk inside the gate. I stare a long moment, take more photos for my family, and walk around the rest of the island.

Still no shops. Still, overwhelmingly, the same cottages — all well cared-for but, at least on the outside, still the same old modest structures.

I find myself chanting some old names as I go; I walk down a lane at the far end, leading to what was once our tiny beach, where each summer the raft would be put out for the season. I even look with fond nostalgia at the gravel road — the road where I spent two summers, & a gazillion tumbles, learning to ride a bicycle. (Oh, my patient father.)

And then I go back to the dock, thank the ferry man for my pilgrimage, and return to the mainland.

And to 2014.

Up the Wall & Down the Alley

15 October 2014 – And often both, at the same time.

But not with the first image that smacks my eye, as I go walkies after last Friday’s shift at the AGO (Art Gallery of Ontario).

wall mural opposite Grange Park

It’s right there on a street corner, wall of a residential building, opposite Grange Park just south of the AGO. I try to sneak up on it mentally, catch it revealing itself as some sort of map to some lost continent, but no. I can’t quite catch it. So I settle for its being a strong design — and isn’t that enough?

Soon more than that is on offer — and, I must acknowledge, neither on a wall nor up an alley. But still in the great, elastic world of public art.

Thimble sculpture, Spadina & Richmond West

Yes,  a Very Large thimble, and yes with an Equally Large tape measure curled around it, on one corner of the Spadina / Richmond West intersection. The whole thing is a tribute to the rag trade that once dominated this part of town, and the two elements of that tribute work perfectly together.

All the more delightful because only one of them is official. The thimble itself was authorized; the tape measure was the not-commissioned addition created by sidewalk artist Victor. I once met Victor working on a (commissioned) design on a Danforth Av. sidewalk and, while I never did learn his last name, I did learn to describe him as a sidewalk artist. “Not street,” said Victor, pointing downward. “Sidewalk. I do sidewalks.”

Now I’m about to contradict myself … no, let’s say, update myself.

For years I’ve known thimble + tape measure, two elements, and never noticed there is a third element, right there next to the thimble. Friday, for some happy reason, I suddenly see it.

Buttons! (of course)

the buttons next to the thimble, Spadina & Richmond W

Each with a shrub tucked into one opening — and, alas & too often, a crumpled old coffee cup in the other.

I turn west on Richmond and I’m almost immediately drawn into an alley opening to the north. This is why.

alley w. of Spadina, between Richmond & Queen

Isn’t she something? I find two signatures, UBER 5000 (whom I know for his signature canaries) and Shalak.

The imagery continues along the wall, next up this grandioso cat.

cat in the alley between Richmond & Queen, w. of Spadina

He deserves a closer look. So, now,  Cat, By Installments.

First head …

detail, cat mural

… then body.

detail, cat mural

The alley brings me on north to Queen Street, I head farther west to Bathurst and continue north. I have no plan, I’m just walking’ around.

And then I completely break up, as I pass a rental-car parking lot, opposite the delightfully named Eden Place.

It isn’t the street name that has me laughing, it’s the mural on the parking lot wall.

Think about it. Here we have stalls for not one, but two car-rental companies, plus space for other vehicles. A location devoted to motorized transport, in other words.

And what does the mural promote?

in pkg lot w side Bathurst opp. Eden Place

Yup. Walking.

I turn vaguely homeward, i.e. west-ish, and zig-zag my way into Kensington Market. I find myself in an alley.

alley off St Andrew in Ken Mkt

I just like the whole streetscape mix, from the purloined yellow pedestrian sign at the bottom of the door, to the garage art either side, to the peering face above the painted “No Parking” warning.

And that somehow leads me onto Glen Baillie Place, which I’d never heard of in my life, would have thought just another industrial alley, but there you go, it has a name, and not just Lane designation but upgraded to Place. (I have yet to crack the code for Toronto street/alley/lane names. Or lack thereof.)

Glen Baillie, I’m pretty sure, will take me out to Spadina, the direction I want to go, so that’s all fine and I’m mentally getting ahead of my feet, already thinking about being on Spadina.

When I see this, and snap back to the right-here-and-now.

"Made in China 2014" from Glen Baillie Place

What is this? That’s Spadina beyond, all right … but what is this? I ask the pair of legs you can see in the image, legs attached to a whole human being, who turns out to be a sort of watchman for the installation. He just crinkles up his face in laughter and suggests I look at it from the other side.

So I do. I emerge onto the Spadina sidewalk and peer up. Straight up.

Made in China 2014, Nuit Blanche installation

Then I read the plaque. This is another still-with-us installation from Nuit Blanche 2014, this one by Montreal/Mexico City artist Maria Ezcurra, called Made in China 2014.  It consists of hundreds of items of clothing, all made in China, donated by members of the local community (which is heavily, though not exclusively, of Chinese ethnicity).

The plaque goes on to describe the physical & symbolic import of the installation, its dynamics of old/new, society/individual, globalization/tradition … but I confess that’s not what fascinates me. I just like the colours & textures & scale & perhaps above all the perfect siting of this installation on this old rag-trade street, in what is now a largely Chinese ethnic community.

So I cross Spadina, to enjoy it properly in that context.

Made in China 2014

And I walk on home, happy to have had the good luck to catch it on this walk, because it was due to be dismantled just days later.





Art, Lake, Art … Surprise

9 October 2014 – A great Tuesday plan, I told myself: south through Sherbourne Common to Lake Ontario, west along the lake soaking up nature on all sides to Spadina Quay Wetlands, north on Spadina through city grit to Richmond St. West, and to my ultimate target, a new show in the Red Head Gallery.

Big surprise when I get to the Gallery, a real palm-smack-to-forehead moment, but by then I don’t care.

Small & happy surprise within blocks of home. I don’t have to wait for Richmond St. for my art fix. It starts now.

detail, Birdo mural Queen E & Seaton

I guess not such a surprise, I’ve seen it before but had forgotten the location. It’s one of Birdo’s newer wall murals, & a reminder that art can jump out at you almost anywhere.

I’m tracking toward Sherbourne Common, the park-cum-water treatment facility that borders Sherbourne St. from Lakeshore Blvd. down to the water. I’m slightly off my usual routes — and rewarded for my initiative with this vintage fire reel outside Station 338.

Toronto Fire Station 338

You can see the edge of the Open House sign — alas, held last week. If I’d known, perhaps I too could have scored one of the free Sparky hats.

Into Sherbourne Common, where I admire how the sun glints off the three tumbling curtains of water. Well, glints when the sun is out, but this morning that’s an iffy proposition. We’re having strobe-light weather: bursts of brilliant sunshine, intercut with gun-metal grey. Like this.

Sherbourne Common

Not just pretty faces, those fountains. They’re the penultimate step in the water treatment process woven into this park’s design. First, treatment of lake & stormwater in a reservoir hidden beneath the park surface; next, aeration through these jets; finally, delivery of the treated water into Lake Ontario, via an open channel that curves through the park.

I follow the channel south & turn west along the lake, basking in another sunshine moment. It lights up the distant Island ferry, the pathway, and the other pedestrians, mostly scurrying George Brown College students, whose buildings lie just north of the path. Some are rushing to class, others are on assignment. I pass one group setting up some kind of photo shoot by the water. It involves one big red sofa, 3 young people on the sofa, and 9 million others (give or take) directing the shoot.

Lake Ontario trail, with Humber College buildings to the north

On past Sugar Beach, named for the Redpath sugar refinery next door. I sniff warm toasted caramel in the air, a sign the refinery is going about its business.

Soon I’m cutting through the entrance to the Island ferry terminal, now renamed to honour former federal politician and civic activist Jack Layton, an inspiring man whose death from cancer was mourned by many, including many who did not share his left-ish politics. Jack got about a lot by bicycle, so the statue shows him grinning from a bike.

I mean to get a photo of this woman resting by the bike with her little dog frisking in the leaves …

Jack Layton Ferry Terminal

… but instead get a two-bike shot. The woman on the bench obviously knows the one riding in from the right, they greet each other from a distance. (Dog has disappeared on me, but you can trace his blue leash across Jack’s front wheel.)

Leaves are turning, not yet at their peak, but already putting handsome contrasts on view. Since we’re now having quite steady sunshine, everything in sight is high-contrast: blazing maple, dark green conifers, light green willows, blue-green lake, turquoise glass in all those condos.

approaching York Quay & Harbour Front

Past Harbourfront Centre, taking just a few moments to prowl the latest outdoor photo exhibit, “No Flat City.” Then on west again, over a slip by a pedestrian bridge, though I could have walked up to the street & taken the Simcoe Wave Deck instead.

Simcoe Wave Deck, looking east

It’s one of three along the waterfront, part of the sidewalk, but much more fun.

If you’re walking or biking, all these parks buffer you from the horrendous construction turmoil immediately to the north, as the city upgrades some major traffic routes. If you’re a motorist, nothing buffers you from anything — but, fortunately, I’m walking.

HTO Park next, with its punning name (the TO for Toronto conflated with H2O for water), and its red Muskoka chairs, even brighter than autumn leaves.

HTO Beach, with island airport beyond

Beyond the chairs, the beach’s big yellow umbrellas (siblings to the red ones on Sugar Beach) and, beyond them, the Harbour & the island airport.

The west edge of HTO Park borders another slip, this one used by Toronto Fire & Marine Station 334, with its signature fire boat, the William Lyon Mackenzie. I have a soft spot for working boats, especially bright red ones, especially bright red ones that look like tugboats — and look, there’s one, right across the slip.

tugboat M.R. Kane, ex-Montreal

She turns out to be the M.R. Kane out of Montreal, nothing to identify her purpose. She looks like a government tugboat to me (all that red & white), though I may be wrong …

… but I know I’m right about this: she is backed by the Spadina Quay Wetlands, once a tiny parking lot, now reborn as a tiny wetlands. How quickly this mini-park has taken root. Literally. Great tangles of shrubbery and bog, all as planned.

I see what I expect to see, until I walk a bit into the bush on the west side.

bike chains, up a Spadina Quay Wetlands tree

Bike chains. Three sets at least, not just thrown aside, but each carefully wound into the trees. Plus two nested paper coffee cups. Torréfaction Foncée, say the cups.

I mean to head north right here, leave the park & start marching up Spadina — but I can’t. Construction, remember? So it’s a forced march on west through the Toronto Music Garden before I can finally escape.

Oh woe, poor me, forced to walk through yet another park …

Courante maypole, Toronto Musi Garden

The maypole sculpture in the park’s Courante section marks my exit. Out to city streets — fittingly at Yo-Yo Ma Lane, since this celebrated musician played an active role in the Music Garden’s design — and, with a bit of doubling back, finally north on Spadina.

Good-bye parks, I think, hello construction & traffic, and yes it throbs in my ears and smacks my eyes. That said, I also find a brand new park, new to me anyway: the Southern Linear Park, as linear as can be, an E/W ribbon of greenery just north of Lakeshore Blvd.

And another park, at Clarence Square. I step into the square a bit, planning to take a picture of the off-leash dog park. Mutts & their antics are always good for a laugh, right? Then I see what’s behind the mutts, and really laugh.

Big Top Grand Stand 2014 by SuttonBeresCuller, Seattle

I read the plaque. Big Top Grand Stand 2014, it says, a tribute to fairground concession stands erected for last week’s Nuit Blanche, up until October 13, the work of the Seattle team SuttonBeresCullen.

Perfect lead-in to my planned visit to the Red Head Gallery, now just a few blocks away, one of a number tucked into a reinvented rambling ex-industrial building at 401 Richmond. “Rambling” is the word for its hallways …

inside 401 Richmond hallways

… but I navigate successfully to the Red Head location. And read the sign. Noon to 5, just as I remembered. Wednesday to Saturday. Ah. Wednesday. And this is Tuesday, isn’t it?

So I smack my forehead and then don’t care, because I’ve had a great time and I can come here again.

One more art treat on the way home. I pass the raw stump of a recently felled tree on Queen St. East, sad victim of city pollution perhaps. Turned into art with one meticulous detail, perfectly placed.

newly felled tree w decoration, Queen & Simcoe

Still Life with Bark Chip. Thank you, anonymous city artist …



The Great Culture Count-Down

29 September 2014 — Five minutes on the clock, from the moment you start to play or sing. Choose a work of appropriate length because, if you are still performing when the clock reads 0:00 …  you will be gonged. Literally. One is right there on the stage, as part of the supplied battery of percussive instruments.

Culture Days clock, Koerner Hall


Sounds like a reprieve of a long-ago American TV show, The Gong Show, in which hapless contestants could be gonged off-stage for being bloody awful, rather than lengthy.

But it isn’t. This event is something much more warm-hearted — and with much better artistry — than that.

It is early Saturday afternoon & I am seated in Koerner Hall. This concert venue has been the performance jewel of the Royal Conservatory of Music (RCM) since 2009,  when an inspired restoration/expansion project united heritage & new architecture in one teaching/rehearsal/performance complex.

Not only that, I am sitting here free of charge — me & everyone else in the audience — compliments of the RCM’s involvement in this weekend’s Culture Days.

How neat is this? All sorts of events around town, and I zeroed in on this one. Noon to 3 p.m., says the promo, a stream of 5-minute acoustic performances of all types will take place, so come on in, plunk yourself down, & listen up.

The RCM, for all its Victorian heritage, had invited musicians via the latest social media — first come / first registered was the deal, no auditions, and yes they could also just turn up and hope to substitute for someone whose cold feet left a hole in the line-up.

I love Koerner Hall. I love the architecture, I love the sound, I love the experience, I cannot think of a better focus for my Saturday walk, and if it means more blissful sitting & listening than blissful walking — so what? Do you, Gentle Reader, care? Will you slap my wrist? Confiscate my boot laces? I think not.

I walk north & west, through Queen’s Park (park), then across Queen’s Park (road) onto Hoskin, then north on Philosopher’s Walk. Yes — headed for the Alexandra Gates at Bloor, where I watched that man practise inukshuk-building during my Bye-Bye Summer walk. West on Bloor, and there it is, the front-entrance façade of the RCM: solid old Victorian pile plus its 21st-c. addition at the far (west) end.

Royal Conservatory of Music, 273 Bloor St. West

Some of the city’s old/new architecture combinations work really well, and this is one of them. Toronto-based KPMB Architects didn’t try to ape Victoriana, they created a wholly contemporary, & complementary, L-shaped addition along the west and south sides of the heritage building.

You see the south side from Philosopher’s Walk — most notably the glass walls of the Koerner Hall lobby & its glass balcony stretching out to the Walk below.

Koerner Hall balcony from Philosopher's Walk, RCM

From Philosopher’s Walk you can also see how the new structure joins the old, in a 3-storey wrap that transforms the old external wall into one side of a new enclosed space.

RCM side entrance, from Philosopher's Walk

At the lowest level, it becomes a skylit pedestrian courtyard, complete with a “sidewalk” café.

interior courtyard, RCM

Look up for the equally skylit walkways between old building & new. They always put me in mind of the bridges over Venetian canals, maybe it’s the shimmer of the glass, of light upon the glass.

the RCM walkways, old building to new

I make a silent “Later” promise to the café, and instead follow the ramp upward, past cases of heritage instruments, to Koerner Hall itself.

ramp to Koerner Hall lobby, in RCM

My camera, as you will shortly discover, cannot do justice to the Hall’s interior. Since it is a space that deserves justice, I grabbed these twinned shots from the KPMB site, photo credit Tom Arban.

Koerner Hall, photo credit Tom Arban

Yes. Here I am, all tucked up in such beauty, open to whatever music may come my way.

The MC — a Conservatory staffer, by the sounds of it — is good: friendly without being gooey, informed without being stuffy, able to welcome each participant with encouraging words while also making sure those 5-minute performances keep right on rolling along.

What a mix, from music students to various levels & types of performers, amateur and professional; jazz & folk & classical & baroque & even nursery rhyme; solo & group; a cappella & accompanied; clarinet & piano & cello & violin & voice & guitar.

One performer is, but so gently, gonged.

Culture Days, in Koerner Hall

No, not this one. This shot just shows you how the process works. (And now you know my camera’s inadequacy, in such circumstances. Note, too, that cameras are permitted today only, as part of Culture Days.)

Some moments stick in mind. This introduction, for example: after welcoming two pianists about to play a four-handed selection on one piano, and asking the young woman which piece (part of Lizst’s Hungarian Rhapsody), the MC turns to the young man and asks, “And what are you going to play?” Poor young man! Took him a beat to recognize the joke.

Then there’s the audience participation after a jazz musician announces she will play something by Oscar Peterson (an RCM grad, by the way). Her choice provokes the MC to ask us: “In what neighbourhood, of what city, did Oscar Peterson grow up?” Do you know? Were you here beside me, could you shout, “St. Henri, Montreal!” ? If so, you might win the concert tickets. Well, you’re not here, but it turns out that quite a few people who are, also know the answer.  The prize goes to the loudest set of lungs among them.

Two more moments, each involving a last-minute substitute for a no-show. First, an extraordinarily self-possessed little girl, her party dress ruffles bouncing gently as she walks on stage, clutching her child-sized cello. “I will play two variations on Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” she announces, and she does. We melt.

The other last-minute substitute is a young man who says he will sing a work by the bel canto composer, Vincenzo Bellini. His pianist begins, the young man begins — and we all snap upright in our chairs. He is a powerhouse, his voice soars to fill the 1,135-seat venue in a way that not even the day’s choirs have been able to achieve.

Not only that, he is singing … what is he singing? What is that range?

A standing ovation follows, the only one of the day. The MC calls him over for a few post-performance words — not part of the routine, but called for. We learn that he sings Male Soprano (“Close to Counter-Tenor, but there is a distinction”); we also learn about his specialized training. “Where did you study? Are you a Conservatory grad?” asks the MC. “Actually,” replies the young man, “I graduated in Commerce from U of T.”

His music has already brought down the house. This answer does it all over again.

Finally, finally, I pull myself out of that chair and start downstairs toward the café & the Philosopher’s Walk exit.

pedestrian courtyard, looking toward Philosopher's Walk exit

Late-lunch time, I decide, and stop long enough for a bowl of black bean chipotle soup.

And then out.

side patio, RCM, on Philosopher's Walk

Past a performer’s music case, propped up here while she buys her espresso; past the father corralling his helmeted daughter onto the back of their tandem bike. Back down Philosopher’s Walk, and home.

Not much walking — but a great afternoon.


160 cm & 1:30 p.m.

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

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

Main & Gerrard wall mural

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Measurement Park, Eastern  Av.

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

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

boardwalk in Woodbine Park

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

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

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

Woodbine Park jet d'eau

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

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

benches by the Woodbine Park pond

Which I do.

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

trees along Lakeshore Blvd East

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

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

Millennium Garden sun clock

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

So you line up your toes on the appropriate month …

toes to September, sun clock Millennium Garden

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

it's 1:30!

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

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

doorway roosters, Jaws Antiques

My nest goal is Maple Leaf Forever Park.

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

I read the plaque:

plaque at Maple Cottage

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

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

Dangerous Dan’s posters

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

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

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

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

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

St Bartholomew’s Anglican Church

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

I walk on home.


Bye-Bye Summer

23 September 2014 — Saturday’s walk takes place on the last weekend of summer. It’s the very last full day, in fact, with autumn officially arriving on Sunday.

How agreeable that we should say good-bye to the season with summer-worthy weather. (After days in the low teens, I might add.) Sunshine, light breeze, thermometer hitting 22 or so — perfect for this weekend’s festivals. I decide to start my walk with the Bloor-Ossington Folk Festival in Christie Pits Park, then continue eastward on Bloor & see what happens next.

Also what happens before! I’m still a few blocks from the park when I spot this enigmatic message neatly written on a church wall at Bloor West & Ossington.

church wall, Bloor W at Ossington

I’m intrigued that the “no” is in the same hand as the rest of the sentence. Was it an after-thought? Or was its position a design decision, nothing to do with meaning at all? (Come to that, what is the meaning?)

Almost immediately, I see another, more comprehensible message. Artists who fail to make the cut for Nuit Blanche (the all-night, city-wide art extravaganza being held October 4) are invited to strut their stuff in Les Rues des Refusés. What a concept! I must visit the website & check it out.

Next up, Blue Lady:

Theatre of Human Health

She — well, this doorway — leads to The Theatre of Human Health. I don’t try the door, but later wish I had.

Finally, I’m at Christie Pits Park. Not a lot of action this early in the day — some cheerful white tents with music-related art, crafts & accessories; one performance tent, with what is probably the day’s first performance taking place; one rehearsal tent where I linger a bit, watching the guys try things out.

Bloor Ossington Folk Festival, Christie Pits Park

Then I amble on eastward along Bloor. I suppose I should be striding, or even power-walking, but today’s weather invites an amble, so that’s what I do. There’ll be time enough for scurrying when winter hits.

I’m just nicely into Korea Town (over by Euclid), when I notice this corner convenience store. And yes, the first thing I see is the name.

Six Penny mural by #kizmet32 #aphok #tiles

Next I see the artwork. Very nice. I particularly like the cats.

Walk on, walk on, and I’m at Markham St., just west of Bathurst. The block south from Bloor is lined with restaurants & arts-related shops, and today everybody is out on the street as well. It’s a big Sidewalk Sale, with free entertainment thrown in. This steel pan musician, for example.

steelpan on Markham St

I buy a slice of warm cornbread at the stall set up by Southern Comfort Restaurant, and cruise the block as I nibble.

The whole city is outdoors, it seems; we all want to take as much advantage as possible of the warm weather while it lasts. Restaurants & cafés still have their doors & windows thrown open to the street; the winter-time barrier between Inside and Outside has yet to be imposed.

Bloor West & Brunswick

Just opposite, right across Brunswick Avenue, more street-sale activity. Just one man this time, with long rows of books, his back to a neighbourhood tavern landmark, the Brunswick House (The Brunny).

sidewalk books outside The Brunswick House

No, I do not follow the sign to Poutineville. I have had poutine. Once.

Soon I’m getting into University of Toronto territory, passing its sports centre, Varsity Arena. The big signboard highlights the football team, but on the field today, all the action is soccer. And lots of it, too, male & female.

soccer practice at Varsity Arena

I overhear a (male) coach pep-talking a group of female players. “If you play tomorrow like you’re playing now…” he begins. I am dying to know the rest, but a huge truck grinds past and it is lost. Damn!

Just past the Royal Conservatory of Music, just before the Royal Ontario Museum, there stand the Alexandra Gates — guardians of the north end of Philosophers Walk. It runs between Bloor and Hoskin Av. to the south, tracing its way along the ravine that still marks where Taddle Creek ran until they buried it below ground. The Walk is much less substantial than it used to be, for buildings (Uof T, ROM, & RCM) have encroached on either side. Yet despite everything, it is still magic, still a retreat from the noise all around.

At the moment, the Bloor St. end of the Walk is marked by more than those 1901 gates. A human being has tucked up against them, engaged in an activity that predates them by … oh … a millennium or two.

making an inukshuk in the sun at Alexandra Gates (1901), ROM & Bloor St W

He is making an inukshuk. Another man has squatted to engage in discussion; I think of joining them, but decide not to. I quite like the mystery, the gratuitous delight of the scene. It is street theatre.

More street theatre the other side of Avenue Road, but in a very different mood. I see another of the city’s ghost bicycles — the white-painted bicycles that mark fatal cyclist accidents. This young man died less than a month ago: 31 August.

ghost bicycle, Bloor W near Queen's Park

And yet more street theatre just east of Yonge, with yet another change of mood. Music! Brass-combo jollity! And all for a very good cause.

outside The Bay, on Bloor E at Yonge

Of course I drop something in the trombone case. As do many others.

One last photo a few blocks farther down Bloor — and how fitting, near the end of my walk.

window display, Rogers Cable, Bloor E

I don’t know why a cable company showcases walking stick-figures, but it does, and has for years. Any time I pass, I stand and watch for a bit. I catch myself falling into the scene, scuttle-scuttle, back-and-forth.

And then I scuttle-scuttle home.

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.


    "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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