Slantwise Across the Square. And More.

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

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

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

In other words, my first reaction is entirely trivial.

statue by Marlene Hilton Moore

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

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

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

statue by Maryon Kantaroff, Toronto Courthouse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

pond turning to skating rink, in Nathan Phillips Square

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

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

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

Pan Am 2015 clock, in Nathan Phillips Square

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

“And More.”

As promised.

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

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

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

Street Bear, Alley Cat, & the Group of Seven

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

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

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

phone box, St. Clair West

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

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

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

Oakwood street car stop

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

So is Street Bear.

outside Cocoalatte

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

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

Reservoir Park, St. Clair W & Spadina Rd

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

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

trail in Reservoir Park, condos to north

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

tent in Nordheimer Ravine

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

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

edge, Glen Edyth Wetlands

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

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

in Nordheimer Ravine

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

Synethesia, by Paul Aloisi

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

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

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

alley cat!

I croon, he wails, we part.

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

Group of Seven studios, Severn St.

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

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

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

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

hockey net on Collier St.

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




The Ragged Season

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

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

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

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

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

The. Larch. (Sort of.)

Tamarack tree, in Todmorden Mills woods

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

It’s very pretty, isn’t it?

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

pond, Todmorden Mills

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

grasses, Todmorden Mills

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

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

Street art is a valued part of the mix.

Faith 47 RR trestle mural, EBW

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

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

inside The Kilns, EBW

… heritage graffiti of its own.

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

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

Watershed Erratics, Scott Barker, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

“Embrace scruffy!” I sternly tell myself.

trail leading to Milkmen's Lane


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

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

oak leaves on trail next to EBW

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

trail leading to Milkmen's Lane

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

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





The Art of the Underpass

4 November 2014 — I’m fascinated.

I build my latest walk around a return visit to the brand-new murals in the King St. East underpass. Now that the artists have gone away, maybe I’ll actually see the art!

detail, King Eat underpass murals

I approach through one of my favourite tangles of little dead-end streets & lanes, squeezed as they are in that tight triangle where Queen & King streets & assorted ramps all fold into each other. Little old cottage-y homes, up against wooded berms …

on St. Paul Street

And then I twist through the lane south of that final home, and turn into another lane, then onto a through artery, and …

4 painted in total; these 2 on s. side King

… pretty soon I’m on King, staring south at the two painted trestles on that side of the street.

They’re a form of sculpture, aren’t they? Pure function, given artistic dimension. They’re not exactly up there with Stonehenge, but, still, there is something monumental about the scene. (The eye close-up at the top of this post, by the way, is courtesy of the woman’s face on the left.)

I cross the street, circle behind the trestle that’s on the right in the photo above. Look again at that photo: see the compass to the left of her face, in the T-arm? Each trestle is painted both sides, sometimes with quite different images but always some kind of segue, one to the other. That compass is the segue to …

south face, a south-side trestle looking north

… the big theme on the obverse side, early navigation & exploration. Now I want to check the obverse face of the trestle across King from this one. (I know, I could have been better organized. Instead, I just keep criss-crossing the street as curiosity strikes.)  From here on the south side, I see a radiant woman’s face …

child theme, obverse face of a north-side trestle

… but on its obverse side, it’s a different theme. Well, a related theme, we might argue — the importance of children, the importance of education for children.  There is a clear subtext as well: the importance of love & care & respect for our little ones. The child’s book literally says “love,” and one of the messages in that beautiful calligraphy includes “… the leaders of future generations…”

These works glow. Apart from messages & monumentality, as works of art they simply glow. Look at these pencils!

pencils on a T-arm of the child-theme trestle

The murals are a mix of world themes (transportation, children’s rights…) and very local references.

The obverse face of this north-side trestle may in general be about labour & the working man, but it is very specifically a reference to a grand Victorian industrial complex just blocks from here, the Gooderham and Worts Distillery. (Now repurposed as the residential/retail/commercial Distillery District.)

north-side trestle, with Gooderham & Worts reference

And the obverse face of a south-side trestle is all about Right Here, right where I’m standing. Up the central trunk of the trestle, it’s a composite of modern towers, Victorian row housing, & great curving expressway ramps.

south face, a south-side trestle

Flaring along one arm, the latest streetcar design to hit our streets.

one T-arm of a south-side trestle

And along the other arm, an amazing demonstration of what street artists have to deal with as they paint. No smooth canvases for them — they have to adapt to every bump & angle. Or, as here, to every pipe & bucket.

other arm, same trestle

I think a moment about the technical skill this must require, and then, finally-finally, move on.

And if you were to guess that I might stop for a latte on the way home … why, you’d be right.



After the Fire

2 November 2014 – After Hallowe’en as well, but I want to pay tribute.

A year ago, late October, I showed you this picture of a particularly stylish Hallowe’en display in front of one of the Victorian Cabbagetown homes on Spruce St.

Hallowe'en display, 2013

The ghost with a sleek raven a-top his head was just part of the total effect. The other part: this elegant lady, in suitably 19th-c. attire.

2013 Hallowe'en display

This year, the raven is not so sleek.

In fact, he is very much the worse for wear — more than can be explained by the dark, drizzling weather on October 31.

2014, raven & ghost

And that’s because, about a month ago, this home suffered a devastating fire.

The blaze was contained to that one home, thank goodness, but it caused havoc there, and the house is still boarded up. Nobody expected the owners — creative people, involved with musical as well as visual arts — to mount any kind of Hallowe’en display.

But they did.

2014, boards over fire-gutted windows

They painted the fire scene onto the boards over the windows, added jumping figures & a horrified black cat.

They dragged their ruined musical instruments onto the lawn, and made them part of the tableau.

2014, post-fire piano & bass

The once-elegant 19th-c. lady now presides over the ruined instruments.

2014 Hallowe'en tableau

Come close, you see what sufficient heat does to a piano keyboard.

keyboard of the fire-ruined piano

Passers-by stop as I’m taking these photos, obviously neighbours.

Like me, they admire the grace & courage of this couple; several also suggest the display is cathartic as well —  a way to confront the tragedy, and move from merely suffering its losses, to transforming those losses into additional resources for their celebration of life and community.

I think that’s probably true.

But I also saw this little side-tableau, tucked at the far end of the ruined keyboard.

the 'curl up & die' moment

For me, it reads — amid all the courage, style and resilience — as a scene of pure pain. An acknowledgment that, just for a moment, they wanted to “curl up & die.”

And then they got up, and they coped.


The People Behind the Paint

30 October 2014 – Here I still am, walking along Queen St. East heading for the city centre & home. As I said in my last post, I don’t expect a whole lot from the tail end of this walk — always some fun signage to be had as I go through Riverside, but probably not much else.

And really, that holds true until I’m almost at Broadview & the Don River. Then, right at Munro Street, I glance north, and see a new mural. Well, new for me, but it looks pretty new, period. It’s hard to get the whole thing in one shot; it’s spread wide across the side of the building, interrupted by doors & windows, and made devilish (for my camera anyway) by strongly contrasting light & shade.

Better viewed in chunks. Like this.

Riverside Sports Heritage Mural

I see a painted explanation on the wall, & start scribbling notes. It’s the Riverside Sports Heritage Mural, I read, commissioned by the Toronto 2015 Pan Pam & Para Pan Am Games. Then a pleasant woman comes over, & introduces herself. “I’m the artist. I’m Monica.” I look blank, so she points helpfully to her tag on the wall.

I start jumping & squealing. “You’re Monica on the Moon!” Flashback to my discovery of her work in Main Square at Danforth, and also all along an alley south of The Danforth between Patricia & Amroth. I showed some of it to you in my post of 15 November 2013; here’s a reminder …

garage mural by Monica on the Moon

… & another.

alley mural work by Monica on the Moon

I tell her my name, my blog name too, and it’s her turn to squeal. “You motivated me finally to get a website!” It’s true, I’d wailed with frustration when I showed her work, unable to give you a website because she didn’t seem to have one. Apparently a friend pointed this out to her, and it helped spur her to action.

So of course I have to take a photo of her as well:

artist Monica with Riverside Sports Heritage Mural

Then — as if meeting one artist weren’t enough — she tells me to go meet three more.

Shalak Attack, Bruno Smoky & Fiya Bruxa are painting on King St. East, in the underpass near where it joins Queen Street just west of the Don River.

Well! These artists are legendary — often working together in varying combinations, members and co-founders of overlapping international art collectives (e.g. Essencia, the Bruxas, the Clandestinos). I’ve already shown you some of their work, including this gob-smacking house on Bathurst just north of College Street. I looked for it thanks to a tip-off from a guy I chatted with in a near-by alley. “You can’t miss it,” he said.

Bathurst, just north of College

That one is tagged Clandestinos. This cat-garage, discovered on a Garrison Creek walk, is pure Shalak:

a Shalak garage, in a line of painted garages

So I detour south to King, you betcha, instead of heading northward toward home.

And there’s the trio, deep in a very large-scale project indeed, both sides of the T-shaped supports for this underpass, both sides of the street.

underpass opposite 507 King E.

You can see all three of them at work on the left-hand T-support, tiny little figures in the distance. (#SHALAKATTACK, #BRUNOSMOKY, #FIYABRUXA)

Left to right: Fiya Bruxa (silhouetted against the bright stripes on the left arm of that T), Shalak (under the left eye of the face on the centre panel) & Bruno Smoky (visible in his red jacket against the blue of the right arm of the T).

I cross King, pick up one side of one of the supports on the south side of the street as well.

King E. underpass

Then back to the north side, and a few quick words with Bruno. He’s from Brazil, but is now based here with Shalak, his Chilean-Canadian wife & most frequent artistic collaborator. “I like Toronto. It’s a good city.”

artist Bruno Smoky

They work internationally, though; just read those websites. Pick up, also, a common thread I’m beginning to notice among any artists about whom I learn a few details: they do a lot of work with grassroots organizations, with street kids and other “youth at risk” (to use the jargon).

They’re also often extremely well-educated, and well-trained as artists. JAH, for example, with his Masters in Architecture from University of Toronto, and — today’s example — Shalak, with her Bachelor of Fine Arts, with honours, from Concordia University in Montreal.

Shalak (Shalak Attack)

This is my first chance to watch artists attack a large-scale project, and I’m struck by how much sheer physical strength & agility they need — along with everything else — in order to pull it off.

Passers-by crane their necks up and call out compliments. “It’s beautiful!” “Thank you!” “I’m so glad you’re doing this!” Street Art Toronto (StART) will be happy: they’re supporting the project.

I’m happy, too. One last look back, as I continue westward.

looking eastward along the underpass


And …

One last shot for you. Courtesy of Shalak, a detail of a mural I photographed weeks ago in an alley running north from Richmond West just west of Spadina.

by Shalak, in alley leading to 530 Rear Richmond West

Happy Hallowe’en!

Brush Wars, & Brushes, & plain old Brush

27 October 2014 — Today’s post, boys & girls, ladies & gentlemen, is brought to you by the letter “B.”

Though I must admit, there’s not a brush in sight when I pull out my camera for the first shot on Saturday’s walk. Just this tiny little tree sculpture, among real trees in an Upper Beaches side yard. (Let’s pretend the blue watering can isn’t there.)

tree 'sculpture' in Upper Beaches yard

Still, there is a link to my theme, honest. This tree is art about nature, located in nature, and today’s walk will encompass both. I’m in the city’s East End, walking north from Queen St. East to Kingston Rd. on steep, winding streets that border the ravine land of Glen Stewart Park. (Oooof-oooof, pant-pant.)

My goal is the Cobalt Gallery, and this event: Brush Wars.

Brush Wars sign outside Cobalt Gallery

“What do you love about Toronto’s East End?” asks the poster. Come show it in paint, win a prize. Members of two of the sponsoring organizations, Angie (Toronto Arts Foundation) and Tanya (East End Arts, an initiative of the TAF) explain it’s a free, family-friendly event to engage the community, raise the profile of community art in the East End.

It’s already engaging some passers-by. I take this photo for the striking bicycle shadow, but I also capture the feet & ankles of a man who is mesmerized by the action he can see taking place inside the gallery.

bike & shadow outside Cobalt Gallery

He walks on, I walk in.

“Family friendly” is right. Meet mother-daughter Team Mermaid Foxes of Toronto, painting, I think, a mermaid face …

Mermaid Foxes of Toronto!

… and father-son (of the same family) Team East Enders, painting, again I think, a map. See how the art hanging on the gallery’s walls is swathed in clear plastic, protected from the enthusiasms of Brush Wars artists?

Team East Enders

Son, I should point out, is not a slacker. He’s back at work, almost immediately.

Closer to the front window, the two teams that Sidewalk Man was watching so avidly. Solo on the near side, Team Rodriguez (go ahead, guess his name); the pair on the far side call themselves Team MITOTL. Different teams, but a shared guy-taste in hats.

Teams Rodriguez (near) & MITOTL

Lots more brushwork back out on Kingston Rd. — right across the street, for example, on the alley-side wall of Yellow House gallery + framing.

side wall, Yellow House

Two artist signatures: JARO is the one I can read for sure, and REITR is my best stab at the artistic but slightly illegible tag of the other. (I bet I’ve nailed it, though — these guys are “writers,” are they not?)

Haunting faces lower left in the mural, but a gloriously nerdy, buck-toothed happy guy flying through the middle right:

detail, Yellow House mural

I then dodge Kingston Rd. traffic all over again, because I’m struck by this gate between the Cobalt Gallery and its neighbour. As I hop my way, one lane at a time, dancing closer to cars than is really advisable, I’m muttering to myself, “It better look as good close up as it does from across the street.”

And it does.

metal & stone art gate at Cobalt Gallery

At first I can’t account for it. Who would create such a lovely gate for a narrow gap between two buildings? Later, reading that Cobalt Gallery handles metal & stone art, as well as textile, ceramic, stained glass & the rest, the gate makes perfect sense. What a beauty! (Somehow, its gratuitous nature makes it all the more beautiful — an entirely unnecessary moment of grace at the edge of a prosaic alley.)

So that’s two of my “B’s” — Brush Wars, and Brushes. Now for plain old Brush.

As in, woods.

I don’t take tip-tilted streets back south to Queen Street; I plunge into Glen Stewart Park. More specifically, at this northern tip of the 11 Ha reserve, into the Glen Stewart Ravine, part of the larger park. It knifes its way toward the lake, and we humans (and our faithful doggies) keep pace as best we can — an endeavour that involves a lot of staircases.

Kingston Rd. staircase into Glen Stewart Ravine

At least this time I’m going down; I have memories, from my Iceland-training days, of plenty of trips up. Ooof-ooof, indeed.

The ravine suffers from erosion — no wonder, with the steep slopes and sandy soil. Plus the number of feet (& paws) that come pattering through. Hence the afforestation work, and the strategic use of boardwalks, fences & retaining walls.

mid-Glen Stewart Ravine

Eventually I’m back at Queen St., having chained my way from Glen Stewart Ravine into the rest of Glen Stewart Park, and now into Ivan Forrest Gardens. There are still some hardy blooms to be seen …

Ivan Forrest Gardens

… but the pond has been drained for winter.

I had planned to pick up a streetcar ’round about here and ride home, but no, I’m on a roll, my feet are happy, so I keep walking.

Lots more brushwork on view, covering the hoardings at Queen & Woodbine, courtesy of kids from St. James Town Arts and grade 2 of the local Kew Beach Public School. I am particularly taken by this Blue Jay, by Hunter. (His signature has the wobbles you’d expect of a child in grade 2, but it’s legible. Some street artists could take a lesson.)

Hunter's Blue Jay

I keep on walking, all the way home in fact, heroic me, and I truly expect that the amusement now will be streetscape — signage & such — not artwork.

I am so wrong. So spectacularly wrong, so meet-the-graffiti-artist-of-your-dreams wrong. (In fact, meet four of them.)

As I’ll show you, in my next post.







Toujours Montreal

23 October 2014 — My nostalgic reunion with Dorval Island is over, it’s now forward march, en avant, into today’s Montreal.

High on the list: the Jean Talon Market, one of the city’s oldest public markets (founded 1933) and one of the continent’s largest. We’ve walked from our borrowed nest in Montreal’s Petite Patrie neighbourhood, chattering as we go with Jeff and Phyllis (yes, Tuesday  Walking Society Phyllis), who are in Montreal all fall while Jeff teaches a course at McGill University.

We’re close to the market, so our minds are on the food treats to come, the sheer delight of exploring those 12 long banks of stalls, each stall piled with its own display of regional fruit, vegetables, cheese, meat, spices, oils, baked goods, flowers … You get the idea.

We are not thinking music. Then, right there at the intersection of Jean-Talon & Drolet, we see Banjo Girl.

Banjo Girl at Jean Talon & Drolet

She’s just standing there, comfy in short sleeves on this mild day, quietly playing her banjo. So quietly that the background city rumble drowns it out. That’s all right, we’re sufficiently charmed that she is there, enjoying herself.

And then we plunge into the market, “a little village” onto itself as more than one online reviewer notes, tucked into Montreal’s Little Italy, full of stall-holders for whom this is a family tradition, one generation to the next. Phyllis is our market guru, she knows this place. It’s partly due to her wisdom that we are here on a relatively quiet mid-week afternoon, when you can actually hope to navigate the aisles.

Pretty busy, even so. Lots of people shopping, some school kids seeking a snack, others with clipboards, on a class project.

edge of a row of Jean Talon Market stalls

We dive into what seems to be a more covered area, wondering what happens in winter. (Some degree of retreat to the core area, I’ve since learned, with temporary walls thrown up to buffer the worst of the cold & snow. I tell you, Montrealers are a hardy lot.)

a more covered section of Jean Talon Market

Phyllis contemplates leeks here, red peppers there, species varieties of tomatoes & carrots & cabbages that ignorant I never knew existed. Everything is beautifully displayed, and every stall-keeper — in the best sense of the word — a performer. Full of knowledge, charm, wit, pride in their own produce (no middlemen here), and all this in either Official Language, take your pick.

I admire this display of cranberries & maple syrup — could it be more Québécois? More Canadian?

detail of a market display

In the end, I buy a jar of maple butter, but at another stall. The Erablière Girard trees, the young man tells me, are in Saint-Joseph-du-Lac, half an hour north of Montreal, just nosing into the Laurentian mountains. I think of my own childhood years in the Laurentians, and our own spring-time “sugaring-off,” and I happily buy a jar that comes from so near our own village.

Food is fine, but then there’s art. And architecture. Next day we’re off to discover both. First, a visit to the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal (Montreal Museum of Fine Arts). Dirzzling today, good day to be mostly inside.

Even so, we pause at Sherbrooke St. West near Peel St. long enough to enjoy the candy-striped moose. Wouldn’t you?

Collection Origin’Art, Quartier Musee

There are others, up and down this stretch of Sherbrooke known as the Quartier Musée, some red-striped and some blue, and all part of a Collection Origin’Art, paying homage to the art galleries (public & private) that line the street.

My own particular interest inside the Musée is its collection of near-contemporary Quebec artists — people like Jean Paul Lemieux, Alfred Pellan, Paul-Emile Borduas, Jean-Paul Riopelle, Clarence Gagnon, Rita Letendre. We also spend time in the pavilion devoted to contemporary international art, some of it in a lower concourse level. Zig-zag ramps lead to upper levels, and we eventually follow them — having first bid farewell to Jim Dine’s heroic (and Venus-inspired) sculptures in the concourse.

Pavilion Desmarais Musee des Beaux Arts

Next visit, to the near-by Canadian Centre for Architecture, a major research centre as well as forum for public exhibitions. It was founded in 1979 by architect-philanthropist Phyllis Lambert, deservedly now a Companion of the Order of Canada (among other awards) for her many contributions to architecture & appreciation of architecture in this country.

Canadian Centre for Architecture, 1920 rue Baile

The building itself dates from 1989, the work of architect Peter Rose, with Lambert herself as consulting architect. We go inside, and discover that today, there is no entry fee. Not for the happiest of reasons: they are between shows & there is little on public display. Even so, we wander about, listen for a while as a tour guide preps a university class for their visit to the archives, and then pay our own visit to the book store.

I do not buy a book, though the selection is deep & wide and surely a joy to anyone seriously pursuing knowledge in this area. My own attention is more taken by the paper-sculpture animals floating overhead. For example …

in the CCA bookstore!

I know. How trivial can I be?

Back outside we admire the quiet garden stretching between the Centre and Rue Baile, setting off old greystone buildings on the far side of the street.

view to rue Baile from the CCA

It’s attractive in its own right, and serves a larger purpose, says the CCA website. The design, by Montreal artist-architect Melvin Charney, “restores the urban fabric of an area deeply scarred by mid-20th-century highway engineering.” They are surely referring to Boul. René-Levesque, which marches its multi-lanes past the building on the far side.

We’re safe from all that, we walk instead back along quiet Rue Baile to Rue Saint-Mathieu. My partner nudges me: “Look,” he says. “Look at the ivy.”

Rue Baile & Saint-Mathieu

So pretty in its fall colours; so pretty draped against that Saint-Mathieu building, with its metal balconies & spiral staircase  set off by the white balconies beyond.

We’re heading for the Metro (aka subway, aka underground) system, so soon we’ve left that peaceful quartier for the bustle of a major east-west artery, Ste-Catherine. And look! More art, right there at Pierce.

Ste-Catherine & Pierce

And look! More art in the subway.

The Montreal Metro website calls this system “the world’s longest art gallery” and that might even be true. We see a lot to admire. For example …

i Berri-UQAM Metro station

Hommage aux fondateurs de la ville de Montreal, a stained glass mural in the Berri/UQAM station by Pierre Gaboriau & Pierre Osterrath.

And that, my friends, is just a little bit of Montreal. My own little hommage à la ville.



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.






    "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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