6 January — Even before I find somewhere to park, I can see this walk in the city’s west end will be great fun. It also turns out to be puzzling on occasion, but in fun ways.
I’ve barely turned north off Queen St. West onto twisty little Noble St., when — boom — I meet Law Bird.
Well, Anti-Law Bird, I suppose, given his quote. Later I see the same bird, with a different quote that makes me snort with laughter. This time he’s saying: “Dump Ford” — a reference to our not-universally-beloved mayor, Rob Ford.
I’m back-and-forthing a little stretch of Queen West roughly between Lansdowne and Ossington, most of it in the Parkdale neighbourhood — once quite grand, then tatty, now rebounding. So it has every kind of mix: language, age, income, culture, shops, architecture. It’s a visually rich stretch of town.
“Italian style… made in Canada” says the Boreal Gelato slogan, so why not name yourself for the Canadian boreal forest and sport an Arctic inukshuk as your logo? Almost next door, Gelato Pizza, specializing in those two foods, and promising “artisan gelato.” (And after that a tattoo parlour that also advertises effective tattoo removal. Hey, get ‘em coming and going!)
Another block west or so, and I stop to admire this window display. I’m not paying much attention to what’s inside, I vaguely assume they sell sewing machines, I just like the wooden mannequins and the look as a whole.
Then I notice the door, and the great big request sign on the door, and start to laugh. Clearly, somebody can’t read! (Or doesn’t care.)
Ah. Somebody can’t read, doesn’t care… but is OK anyway. There is small print under the request: “except Gordon and Maisie.”
By now I’ve attracted the owner’s attention, a very nice woman who comes out long enough to explain apologetically that they’re closed today for inventory. That’s when I discover they don’t sell sewing machines; they offer Toronto’s “first sew & craft by the hour space,” and provide the necessary equipment for their clients.
Upon asking, I also discover which privileged dog is watching us through the glass. Meet Maisie! Thump-thump goes her tail. She knows we’re talking about her.
I carry on, pass more of the Parkdale mix — a serene naturopath next to a garish dollar store, for example – and stop for another face in a window. Less approachable than Maisie’s.
At least the books make sense, this is the River Trading Company used book store. So, I guess, does Queen V; there seems to be some emphasis on Victoriana. (Later confirmed online, where they talk about once again offering their traditional reading of Dicken’s A Christmas Carol on Christmas Eve.) There’s no explanation about those birthday wishes… but it’s a friendly thought, isn’t it?
This is such a great area for juxtapositions, horizontally along the streetscape one shop to the next, but also vertically and at the roofscape level. Micro, macro, moving through the planes, you read Parkdale’s architectural as well as socio-economic history and the impact of the latter on the former.
Here’s just one stretch. First, the unrestored roofscape, with its spires, rounded bay windows and slate-work (and high-level graffiti); then the streetscape, reinvented to suit current or emerging tastes.
See? The Rice & Noodle restaurant (Cantonese & Szechuan), followed by the Tibetan Emporium, the Overcomers Missionary Church, a butcher shop, a Vietnamese corner store and, just across the intersection, the horizontal red sign for the very sleek Ground Level café.
But this is Parkdale, and sleek can be deceptive. The café is an initiative of Ground Level Youth Ventures, which hires and trains youth who need better skills, education and some experience to help them tackle the job market.
Later I pass a community outreach centre, advertising it can help its clients in 11 languages: English, Chinese, Hindi, Polish, Spanish, Tamil, Tibetan, Vietnamese, Hungarian, Roma and Tagalog.
Parkdale starts north of Queen, and stretches south to Lake Ontario. The waves are nicely caught in this mural along the edge of a parking lot — as are the ganglia of hydro wires that festoon Queen Street. (And drape themselves across every photo you take. As you will have noticed by now.)
A few more minutes and I’ve doubled my way back east as far as the Gladstone Hotel, at the corner of (what else) Gladstone Av. It’s a rescued, restored and art-enhanced hotel, that now features different design in each of its 37 rooms, a glorious cage elevator once again in full working order, and a lot of live music. (We were there on Dec 30, in fact, for some great Celtic music.)
I debate going in for a totally gratuitous elevator ride, but don’t. I should have…
On east I go, admiring the logo of Blacksmith Cycle (“a feakishly cool racing bicycle shop,” says its WordPress blog) and the view beyond it, with another of those Parkdale domed streetcorner facades, this one just east of Dovercourt Rd.
All these roofscapes, with their faded, now-fragile glory, make me think of walks I’ve taken in Habana Vieja — which, thanks to its UNESCO World Heritage Site designation (and domestic policy), is undergoing major restoration of its own.
I walk as far east as Ossington, eyeing the CAMH (Centre for Addiction and Mental Health) complex on the south side of Queen, thinking about the old locked institution these out-patient facilities replace, and the shift in treatment strategies they represent.
Turn the corner north onto Ossington, though, and you spot the men’s detox centre run by Toronto Western Hospital. It’s a quiet little building, tucked amidst cheerful art galleries and vintage clothing shops, but the door is well secured and the one small window is barred.
That’s as naked as she gets, my friends, the image stops at the waist. Everything else along this alley wall — and it does go on for a while – is equally vivid, but either geometric or, if human, fully clothed.
Here’s one more bit of that decorated alley wall: the Goods & Services doorway, where Mother Nature has tagged the underlying artwork with her own winter-time signature. Just like any gang member, right? “I own this space.” Well, yes, for a few more months, icicles rule.
And, just when I think I can put away the camera and stuff my tingling fingers into my pockets for the entire final stretch of my walk… I see this.
A reproach? Or praise? Or just acknowledegment that change is inevitable? I can’t find anything to tie it to any cause or institution (even the building whose side wall it adorns). So I decide to view it as a commentary on Parkdale as a whole.
And maybe on all of us, and the mutable world in which we live, and must seek to thrive.