Robins, Yes; Leaf Blowers, No-No

26 Mach 2015 – We’re looping around an unknown bit of trail, Phyllis & I. It is not in the plan for this Tuesday Walking Society outing, but it has us laughing & curious from the get-go. And you should always let your feet follow your curiosity, should you not?

Here’s why we are laughing.

Lower Don Recreational Trail

Not exactly a “yard”! The sign — companion to some Native Plant signs — is deep in woodsy ravine parkland beside an off-shoot of the Lower Don Recreational Trail, which plays hopscotch with the Don River in its final tumble down through the city to Lake Ontario.

The Don can rise in sudden & violent flash floods, but at the moment the water is calm & the levels low, suggesting not much spring melt has yet made its way this far down the river. Just a few gurgles & riffles of foam, where water bounces over the rocks.

Don River, north of Pottery Road

We dropped into the ravine just north of Danforth Avenue, & decided to explore the trail a bit more to the north before doubling back south to the environmental centre, Evergreen Brick Works, for a mid-hike latte & treat.

We’ve walked the main trail here before, but when we reach this railway bridge, we’re so struck by its street art & the fields beyond, we decide to take the detour.

After we suitably admire the bridge, that is, so perfectly mirrored in the calm water below.

railway bridge in Lower Don Parkland

Soon we spot this camera graphic, read the message and approve of it, of course — any “environmental plot” is by definition a Good Thing — but we do wonder what it’s all about.

Beechwood Wetland and Education Project

Few more steps, another lookout, and the explanation. This is the Beechwood Wetland and Education Project, designed to enhance an existing pond by removing invasive non-native species (Japanese knotweed, boo-hiss); planting native trees, shrubs & plants; and providing the stewardship to monitor & maintain the site.

So that’s what that bit of water is — not the Don itself (it’s easy to lose track), but a wetland pond.

More signage points out how this project complements the neighbouring Crothers’ Woods, one of Ontario’s most northerly & easterly pockets of Carolinian forest.

Soon, we’re in Crothers’ Woods. It has open areas as well as woods, and one of them seems to be given over to a paddock.

mystery paddock, Crothers' Woods

But no, the fence seems wrong. It’s tidy & trim, but it doesn’t feature the traditional double bars of horse fencing …


it's a bird paddock!

“I guess birds can read,” marvels Phyllis, and she must be right: the huge field positively teems with them. Majority occupants: Robins, Blue jays, and my own great favourite, Red-wing blackbirds, with their distinctive call and their flashing red & yellow epaulettes.

Not just birds in the woods. Also dogs, all properly leashed.

We meet Tricia, a rescue dog who, after three months of love & care, is brave enough to nuzzle a stranger’s hand but still bears the sad eyes of earlier trauma. We also meet Bella, bouncing with joy & practically glued to her owner’s thigh. “I got back last night from holiday,” laughs the woman. “She won’t let me out of her sight!”

Birds. Dogs. What else do you find, deep in Crothers’ Woods?

an invasive, non-native species...

Why, of course. Chairs.

I have no explanation. I can only deepen the mystery by adding the chairs are curiously out-sized, and the location is very far from any picnic, parking or recreation facility.

But the biggest mystery, and the most striking sight of the day, is provided by Mother Nature. For one long stretch, the west embankment of the Don is …

along the Don River, in Crothers' Woods

… an ice cliff. We try to puzzle it out. Was there constant flow along this edge throughout the winter? No, no sign of contributing rivulets. Perhaps rushing waters would splash high on this side, in this stretch? No, it’s not the kind of curve that would catch water that way.

Sometimes it is very restful to be total amateurs. You can just enjoy something, even though you have no idea why it is what it is, or located where it is.

(Now scroll back up to the photo of the railway bridge. Look — there’s a glimpse of the ice cliff beyond the bridge. You missed that, the first time around, didn’t you? So did we.)

The ice cliff has brought us back around the big Crothers’ Woods loop. We rejoin the main trail, head south this time, and eventually leave it to go seek treats in  Café Belong, in Evergreen Brick Works.

The treats are “fully priced,” as the euphemism goes, very fully priced indeed, but they are also delicious. And the surroundings, like everything in EBW, are environmentally responsible and visually wonderful.

Even the great big light fixture.

Nestled, by Jana Osterman, EBW

Nestled, it is called, the work of Jana Osterman. We are nestled down ourselves, happy with latte (me), Americano (Phyllis) and blueberry scones (both).

And then home, this last stretch on city streets. I try to dial out car horns, replay some Red-wing blackbird shrieks instead. Equally raucous, but a lot more enjoyable.


Zero Me, 3 of You, & a Post for Everyone

23 March 2015 – No walk this past Saturday, but you don’t have to care, because I have some wonderful images & links for you anyway. All thanks to three of the people who read this blog, and so generously share their ideas and discoveries with me. My thanks to all of you, all the time.

Today, special thanks to Chris, Ginette, and singbetterenglish. (Sorry! a very intereting someone, or a number of someones, tucked away behind that WordPress title.)

The contributions take us from Australia to Ireland to Toronto & back to Australia.


First up, a splash of Adelaide, more specifically one glimpse of Adelaide street art, thanks to Chris & Susan, and Chris’ camera. They’re just back from a trip to see family and — I am convinced — to get away from Toronto’s winter.

“I thought of you,” says Chris. I say, “I’m glad you did.”

Adelaide Ar Go wall

We’ll return to Australia, I promise.


Next, a link from my friend(s) at a very fine WordPress blog called singbetterenglish. Seeing the shamrock in my previous post, they’ve sent the link to another fine WordPress blog called vox hiberionacum (which, if your Latin is a bit wonky, they describe as focusing on Early Irish Christianity and Early Medieval Ireland).

The 21 March post considers all the St. Patrick’s Day carry-ons, and leads with the image that singbetterenglish wants us to see: “St. Patrick having words with the snakes.”

Go see for yourself by clicking here.


A Toronto follower, Ginette, sent me the link to an article in a local newspaper, the Toronto Star, tracing how the city’s one-time “war on graffiti” has turned into a collaboration — and a lot of art, with more to come.

Click on the article, and along with the story itself, discover yet more links to — for e.g. — the city’s directory of street artists, the city’s Graffiti Management Plan, and the facilitating organization StART (StreetARToronto, when you spell it all out).

And back to Australia

Now on to Melbourne, a city I regret not being able to squeeze into my own travels in that terrific country. Never mind, Chris has brought me — and now all of you — some of that city’s street art.

Melbourne street art

and …

Melbourne street art

and …

Melbourne street art

and …

Melbourne street art

and …

Melbourne street art

and finally …

Melbourne street art


I’m walking again tomorrow — but perhaps you don’t care. Look what I can bring you, even when I haven’t stirred a bone.

Thanks again, to these three “guest columnists” and to everyone who takes the time to send me thoughts and links. We’re all richer when we share.


The Shamrock & the Yawn

19 March 2015 – That yawn sounds disrespectful but it’s not. Who would dare disrespect the Irish during a walk on March 17?

St. Patrick’s Day or not, the first symbol we encounter is not the shamrock, it’s a heart.

Lovebot statue, Eglinton Av. West

More Lovebot, this time in 3-D. The Tuesday Walking Society is heading west on Eglinton, the plan being to continue to Bathurst, then south to Bloor, then east again … and then who knows.

Lovebot is our first pause, ’round about Avenue Road, and I pretty well fill the sidewalk as I crouch to take the photo. An approaching Lady With Dog, instead of hissing at me for the inconvenience, stops to share her approval & some information.

“That,” she says, nodding at Lovebot, “is for her,” now nodding at the hair salon behind the little statue. This reminds me that the statues are always placed with local approval, to honour the kind acts of some local person. “She stayed in a homeless shelter when she first arrived in Canada as a refugee. Now she’s doing well, and supports the shelter.” LWD turns to go, throws back over her shoulder: “And she’s a great hair cutter!”

These are touching, wonderfully warm sentiments for a brisk west-wind day, so consistently windy that we don’t wait for Bathurst to turn south, we nip down Spadina instead for some temporary relief. West again on St. Clair, more wind smack in the face, but then a hit of colour as a reward.

painted traffic signal box, 375 St. Clair West

Nobody stops to tell me a story about this traffic signal box, I don’t even see the artist’s name, but I appreciate its energetic good cheer all the same. Phyllis & I very briefly consider taking the ravine trail behind the box, but decide her knee deserves another week or two on firm surfaces.

Even if they’re sloping! Because now we’re walking south on Bathurst, dropping down the escarpment from St. Clair that marks the ancient shoreline of glacial Lake Iroquois, which covered this whole area some 12,000 years ago.

Now there are retaining walls, with a different covering.

Bathurst slope between St Clair & Davenport

The images are fun, very pop-cartoony. Fingers making a shadow bunny, for example …

on Bathurst, south of St. Clair West

… which becomes a full-colour bunny, to the bemusement of the helmeted onlooker.

Down-down we walk, still on Bathurst, through the railway underpass just above Dupont. Where there is more art, all by Elicser, both sides of the road. I cross to the east, for a long view of the south-west approach.

underpass art, Bathurst n. of Dupont

I really like the long views, think the underpass itself adds urban punch to the scene. Motorists can enjoy it as a whole, as they drive through — but we pedestrians can cock our heads & take in details.

underpass detail, Bathurst n. of Dupont

Phyllis & I are still heading south on Bathurst. Still! Where, finally, somewhere south of Dupont, we see our first shamrock on this St. Patrick’s Day.

Rapido cafe, Bathurst s. of Dupont

I’m busy on this side of the chalked signboard, Phyllis is reading the other side & collapsing with laughter. Here’s why.

Rapido cafe!

Then — no pun intended — the penny drops. The signboard belongs to a café, of course it does.

Yawns are contagious, are they not? Pretty soon, we see a real yawn to echo the sign.

It has nothing to do with coffee. It’s all about stretching & rolling & blinking in a shaft of sunlight.

window of Weird Things, 988 Bathurst

I’d hoped to take Phyllis into Weird Things, my discovery of a month or so ago, but no, there’s his signboard neatly tucked away inside the closed shop. Right next to the subject of the sign taped to his front door: “Don’t let the cat out.” As you can see, at the moment, cat doesn’t want to go anywhere.

But we do. So on down to Bloor, and then east. It’s bustling as always, more than usual since this is March Break and there are kids everywhere. We do the glide-pivot thing that all urban walkers learn, and manage not to crash into anybody. (Not even into excited kids, who are definitely not practising Safe Walking.)

I’m struck by a new tower, going up at Yonge & Bloor. I haven’t approached it from the west before, or seen it with so much of the glass installed.

tower S/E Yonge & Bloor

Sunlight catches the glass, makes it glow like a river between the curving banks of balcony edges either side.

Then there’s a whole other architectural moment, almost immediately south on Yonge. First I notice the cheerful artwork half-way up on the left …

Yonge just south of Bloor

… an then I take in the old brick structure as a whole.

“A.D. 87″ says the date ‘way at the top. How proud they must have been, adding that final touch; what a handsome addition this building must have made to a street pushing its way north, pulsing with the energy of a growing city.

And what a lot of changes the building has seen since then. The graffito being the least of them and, to my eye anyway, the friendliest of them all.

One more building to brighten the tail end of my walk — the rambling glass conservatories of Allan Gardens.

Not the usual view from the east, centred around the imposing 1910 Palm Court. This is from the north-west, showing the Children’s Conservatory (with the Palm Court dome in the background). It, too, is a heritage building, but it is a much more recent addition to the grounds.

Children’s Conservatory, Allan Gardens

I like that it’s for children. I like even more that it’s a “rescue building” — a vintage conservatory that the University of Toronto wanted to shed, and the parks system saved from demolition.

And I like all the nature & colour inside.

And I can’t wait for Nature to start splashing some colour around for us, outside as well.






Walking with the M-Words

15 March 2015 – Five of them, as it turns out: melt, moisture, mist, murals, music.

Plus-zero temperatures create melt, creating moisture, creating mist. Towers fade from view as I head west toward the centre of town.

towers looking west from Jarvis

I’m barely past that, when M-for-mural makes its first appearance.

It would have been hard to miss. I am Spud-bombed!

SpudBomb parking lot mural, Richmond East & Jarvis

Oh that Spud. More than 12 years a professional artist, very much out there on the streets, first as the individual SPUD1 and now working with others in the SpudBomb collective. They’ve tucked a bit of shameless (but justified) self-promotion into this parking lot mural — check that building top under the rainbow, toward the right.

detail, SpudBomb mural

I’m amused to see that the city-under-the-rainbow is reproduced in miniature within the city-under-the-rainbow — down at the bottom — but I don’t dare go closer, in case I fall right into it & am never seen again.

I get just close enough to notice the tiny slogan in the tiny bit of street art, on a wall by the book just above the bottom rainbow.

detail, SpudBomb mural

“Rules are so fragile,” it says, in case you also choose not to approach too closely.

Just down Richmond East and another mural, one honouring someone whose “M” I forgot to list: Nelson Mandela.

The image covers the roll-down door to the patio for Harlem (“food music art cocktails”) restaurant.

patio door, Harlem “food music art cocktails”

Upper left, Mr. Mandela’s reminder to us that “Love comes naturally to the human heart.” Bottom right, the artist’s tag, which unfortunately I cannot decipher. Both sides of the mural, tributes from other artists and admirers.

By now the mist has lifted slightly, more buildings are fully in view, but it still provides a matte-grey backdrop for their silhouettes. For example, for this edgy (literally!) Richmond East building …

front 60 Richmond E; rear  1 Queen St. E.

… as it plays Call & Response with the mirrored tower over at Queen & Yonge.

Now I’m west of Yonge, the city’s E/W dividing line, and slightly south, down on King. I’ve stuffed my vest into my little backpack, zipped my jacket half-open. I am enjoying the very odd feeling of being just a wee bit too warm.

Temperature still rising. I know this because — as Torontonians have done since 1951 — I check the weather beacon atop the Canada Life building.

Canada Life beacon from Osgoode Hall gate

The structure is wildly outdated by now, even if it has switched to energy-efficient LED lights. Who, in this age of smart-phone apps, needs a weather beacon? Nobody, is the answer — but we love it. Not least for its elegant simplicity: the bars in the tower mimic the temperature outlook, rising (as here, trust me), falling or steady. The cube on top is red, green or white, flashing or steady, to cover sun, rain, fog & snow. (Here, steady red for fog, but bleached near-white by the mist.)

Bonus: I pay my respects to that bit of 1950s heritage while tucked into an equally loved bit of 1860s heritage — the Osgoode Hall cow gates.

The building sits at University & King, on land first acquired by the Law Society of Upper Canada in 1829 and now co-owned by the Province as well. The building went up in stages over the 19th century; the elaborate iron fence was added in 1868, complete with puzzle gates, the “cow gates” that would prevent any passing bovine from wandering inside.

Fond urban legend has it that the gates really kept real cows off the grounds. Functional or not, citizens fell in love with the gates, and protected the whole fence from a war-time scrap-metal drive.

So here it still is, fence plus gates, as much a part of our city as …

bagpipe busker, N/E University & King

… Bagpipe Busker Man. He is a fixture smack at that N/E corner, right up against the Osgoode Hall fence. There’s my M-for-music, and if you happen to think bagpipe & music are a contradiction in terms, well, I’m sorry. (No, I’m not.)

I don’t know that the busker is out there in dead of winter, but he’s there now, much to the joy of all those camera-laden tourists. Also, I remember, to the joy of a young couple Phyllis & I met last summer, farther south on University. She, Scottish, he, English, and both of them asking directions. As we comply, she cocks an ear, widens her eyes & cries: “Bagpipes???” The busker’s location is immediately top priority on her list. We watch her drag her boyfriend north for a look-see, his English eyes rolling in resignation.

Goodness, that’s another “M.” For memory.

Back to M-for-mural. I turn down a broad, paved lane somewhere N/E of King & Spadina, just because some other people do, and I come out here.

Champs Food Supplies; neighbours = TIFF & Hyatt Regency

I love it. Champs Food Supplies, still in business on tiny Widmer St., but being slowly engulfed by the entertainment district all around — the TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) building to one side, and a seriously major hotel chain across the street. Enjoy Champs while you can.

Yet another “M”! My walk’s turning point is Mountain Equipment Co-op where, to my surprise & obscure disappointment, I don’t buy anything at all. But I always like to wander through, linger, touch things, get motivated to stay active. Thanks, MEC.

Eastward toward home, just by Queen & University, for my final M of the day. Two murals, in fact, tucked away behind construction site fencing.

Queen & University

First, Lovebot, just dancing his happy little heart out, while a digger stands guard and …

Anser face, Queen & University construction site

… Anser watches coolly from one side.

‘Bye, guys.

I go home.

Tattered Cats & Glorious Weeds

12 March 2015 – With a big splash in between: Cats – SPLASH – weeds. Like that.

Except it begins with a musical fence.

lane s. of RR tracks leading to Craven Rd.

The Tuesday  Walking Society is out in full force once again, that’s two bodies & four (count ‘em) healthy knees. Hurray! Welcome back, Phyllis.

So we are celebrating, both good health & above-zero weather with sun. The vague plan is to walk south on Coxwell all the way from the Danforth subway station to the lake, & see what happens next. We are soon diverted. Just south of the RR tracks, we suddenly remember that if we deke up those tiny steps, & follow that tiny lane at train-track edge, we’ll come to Tiny Town.

The musical fence is on the lane along the train tracks; Tiny Town is around the corner, under its official name of Craven Rd. It consists of tiny homes (under 46 sq metres) on one side and the city’s longest wooden fence on the other. See?

Craven Rd., looking south from immediately south of the RR tracks

Start of the 20th c., people on Ashdale Av. to the west began taking advantage of their extra-deep lots by allowing very small homes to be built at the eastern end. Land squabbles soon followed, are you surprised? In 1910 the City severed the land, built a wooden fence along the now-truncated Ashdale properties and beyond that a narrow road — Craven Rd. — for those back-yard houses that finally had a street of their very own.

We start down the street, eyeing the fence. We are indifferent to its much-quoted status as “the city’s longest wooden fence” (alas, no numbers are ever attached to the claim). Our interest is artistic.

Will it still be the city’s longest wooden fence outdoor art gallery?

We first discovered the art in November 2013 and I blogged about it then — some works signed, some anonymous, and nothing to explain how the tradition arose. Now we are hoping that the tradition continues.

It does!

Craven Rd fence art, north of Queen

More trees follow …

Craven Rd fence art

… and then a painting I admired hugely in 2013: Very Tattered Cat. Tattered even then, but indomitable. Even more tattered now, even more (in my besotted eyes) wonderful.

on the Craven Rd fence

Another cat nearby, one we don’t remember from 2013, not as tattered but equally full of attitude.

on Craven Rd fence

So that’s good, we’ve had our Craven Rd. fix, and from Queen St. East we walk on south to the lake. We hear sirens a few times en route, don’t think much of it — big city, sirens, there you go. Then, in Ashbridge’s Bay, we see they have all congregated right here in the parking lot: fire, police, ambulance, the works.

Meanwhile, nothing but wintery peace along Lake Ontario. Semi-exposed boardwalk, snow fences & snow, ice, open water beyond the ice, and one woman striding by on her cross-country skis, oblivious to the excitement.

XC skiing along Lake Ontario, nr Ashbridge's Bay

Phyllis & I are not oblivious, our eyes are huge & our ears flapping for information. By now the event causing the excitement — the big SPLASH — is over and the hero, the passerby who called 911 & first tried to help, is being interviewed by local news teams.

Somebody had been silly enough to walk his dog out onto the now-rotting ice on the lake. They both fell through. A passing policeman tells us they will be fine, but we care only about the dog. Shame on that stupid man, endangering his dog like that.

I query Phyllis about her knee; she replies it is behaving itself. We walk east along Queen, eventually stop in a pretty shop called Bobette & Belle that promises “artisanal pastries,” and — after suitable taste tests — agree their wares are very good indeed. There’s even a free recipe on the wall.

Bobette & Belle, 1121 Queen St. East

Phyllis eventually puts her knee aboard a passing streetcar. I hoof on, pausing briefly for a cherub on a door whose surroundings do not suggest a likely home for cherubim.

Wicked Club, coming to Queen S. E.

Nor is it. The grand-opening notice advertises a “sophisticated hedonistic” private club. It’s their description & you must take it on faith — not being a member, I can’t access any part of the website that might irrefutably support the claim.

Don’t care. I’m off to see a Golden Girl. A sophisticated, hedonistic golden girl, I dare add.

Like Tattered Cat on Craven Rd., she too has adorned her wall (this one just N/W of Sherbourne & Queen) for quite a while, and I’m as fond of her as I am of the cat.

laneway wall behind 332 Queen E.

Let’s pretend she is pointing to weeds. In another month or two, she undoubtedly will be; at the moment, this calls for an electronic leap of the imagination.

Glorious Weeds

Thanks to my dear friend DJ for the link, whose recommendations are always worth following. She is not just DJ, she’s Dr. DJ, as in Doctor-of-Ethnobotany DJ, so she knows her plants and she knows her weeds.

She also knows art, and when the two collide, she spreads the news.

Chapeau to San Francisco artist Mona Caron!


Beatin’ Back the Uglies

8 March 2015 – Early March in Toronto is a happy time. Spring is coming soon! It can also be a darn ugly time. For the same reason. Exhausted, grubby snow starts to shrink, exposing more grime, old street salt & left-over fall litter in the process. And the warming days can be dull & raw, as well.

So, just as in dull, raw, pre-snow November, I go out looking for colour. Plus anything else cheerful that I can discover.

Here’s a start: the brilliant glass columns punctuating Ed Pien’s Forest Walk fence in Wellesley-Magill Park.

Ed Pien's "Forest Walk" in Wellesley-Magill Park

I’ve seen photos online that show the steel fence itself gleaming brightly in the sun. Someday I, too, may have that luck… Meanwhile, this is a start, and I head north on Jarvis toward Bloor St. with renewed hope that the day’s walk may yet be good fun.

Mostly, I’m not a fan of these great waving rods at the corner of Charles St. — but I’ve always seen them from a distance. Today, actively looking for things to enjoy, and crouching right next to them, I get into the spirit of the thing.

art outside buildig N/W Charles St. E & Jarvis

Predictably, a nice, soft-spoken lady stops beside me, peers upward to see on what on earth fascinates me, & offers the opinion that Jarvis has changed a lot in the 20 years that she has lived here. Yes it has, I agree, but change keeps us young. A roaring great platitude, but Old Wrinklies are allowed to say things like that to each other, and she laughs with delight and we part waving happy fingers at each other.

‘Round the corner onto Bloor East, get caught up once again in the Manulife complex with its mix of heritage & contemporary architecture and — especially, this time — with the way the mirrored new buildings catch reflections of their neighbours  & whirl those images back into space.

Manulife Financial complex, viewed from St. Paul Sq

I duck around a few corners & take Park Rd. down into the Rosedale Valley Ravine. A busy roadway runs through it, but it is also sheathed either side in parkland.

This bit is Lawren Harris Park, named for the great painter, a founding member of the Group of Seven and co-commissioner for The Studio, which lies within this park. The Studio, completed in 1914, was designed with great north-facing windows, ideal for the artists — including some other Group of Seven members and Tom Thomson — who in varying combinations lived and/or worked in the facility.

Now there is a backdrop of city towers and subway lines, but imagine how peaceful & natural the setting must have been, in those early days. And look how beautiful the building still is.

The Studio, 25 Severn St.

Last time I walked through here, I got all artsy-pretentious and took a photo of one of those foreground trees reflected in the windows, its branches still blazing with autumn leaves. I do it again today. Only bare branches now.

bare tree branches, in windows of The Studio

They’ll be bare for a while yet. But soon, the snow will be gone, these trees will start to bud, and scylla will rampage across the south-facing slope just the other side of the road. (I watch for it every year.)

Up out of the ravine, along the edge of Budd Sugarman Park at Aylmer & Yonge, and I see a fine hit of year-round colour. It’s one of the Bell equipment box murals, all the brighter against bare branches & today’s dull light.

box at Yonge St. & Aylmer (Budd Sugarman Park)

There’s a fine touch of The Uglies on display as well. The road-side snow is disgusting.

And around and around I go, tromp tromp, and eventually I’m looping eastward again. Waiting for a light at Wellesley and Jarvis, I look down at my feet. Yet more Uglies on display, but look what shows through:

plaque for 1858 Atlas of Toronto, corner Wellesley & Jarvis

I am charmed. An 1858 atlas of the City! I am always a sucker for maps. I am also a sucker for apparently gratuitous grace-notes, dropped into city life (or onto a street corner) just because. Later I look up the Atlas online, discover it was by far the largest (30 sheets) and largest-scale (1″: 100 ft) map to that date and the most detailed, listing both construction materials & use for each dwelling.

That’s not all I find. Two different Blogspot authors have lovingly brought the Atlas into our own century.

  • Would you like to call up any of those sheets? Click here.
  • Or perhaps zoom or scroll your way around it, as if the co-author Boulton brothers had had the advantage of Google-map technology? Click here.

At the time, of course, I have no idea how much fun lies in store for all of us, just because I take a photo of that winter-weary plaque. I’m obscurely pleased with it anyway, as I head on across Wellesley to Sherbourne. Where I wheel around the corner, ignoring all the colour jumping at me from the hoardings.

hoardings around S/W corner of Wellesley & Sherbourne

Yes yes, I do know it’s there. The mural was done by St. James Town kids in some Art City project ages ago, and it and those hoardings have been in place so long that I no longer see it.

Except that, under an influence I will discuss in a moment, I decide to look at it again. I stop, I peer, & I see that — for example — the little figures stencilled atop the skyscrapers are more varied & more fun than I had ever noticed.

Look. A car scales this tower …

SJT Arts mural

… and a rocking horse teeters on this one …

SJT mural

… and one nice person pushes the wheelchair for someone else, so both of them can have a good look at this one …

SJT mural

… and here’s fisher-kid, going home with today’s catch.

SJT mural

Which nicely brings me to the subject of:


The reason I I stopped and again really looked at this mural, I am sure, is that about a month ago I received a tip from a WordPress colleague. She urged me to look up a book by a New Yorker named Alexandra Horowitz, called On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes. I thanked her for the tip, and now regret I didn’t write down her name so I could thank her again by name in this post. Ah, well, I can at least announce to her, along with the rest of you, that I have now read the book and recommend it.

Even if you’re trying to pay attention, you can’t see it all. So why not take essentially the same walk, but numerous times, each time with a companion who for assorted reasons sees & responds differently than you do? Horowitz does just that. I’ll tell you only that the results are as multi-dimensional as her experts are wide-ranging — from a geologist to a toddler to a dog to a sound-track specialist to a blind woman, and more.

Happy reading. (Or viewing — you’ll also find her on You Tube.) And happy walking.

You, too, can beat back the Uglies.


Time-Travel on a Streetcar Ticket

5 March 2015 – Nothing to my latest physical walk, just down to the nearest streetcar stop & back — but it takes me to the 9th century and the waters of the Indian Ocean, just off Indonesia’s Belitung Island.

All because I first let that streetcar ride take me here.

Ismaili Centre and prayer hall, Toronto

More precisely, to the adjacent building, a white granite presence quietly undulating in a winter-white landscape — perhaps an even quieter visual presence, because of the snow, than Japanese architect Fumihiko Maki had intended.

He designed the museum I am about to enter for the first time: Toronto’s new (September 2014) Aga Khan Museum, which describes itself as “the first museum in North America dedicated to the intellectual, cultural and artistic heritage of Muslim civilizations.”

The photo above is of the Ismaili Centre, by Indian architect Charles Correa, with that dramatic dome rising above its enclosed prayer hall. These two buildings are part of the same $30o-million complex, complete with gardens and reflecting pools, all on a 7-Ha site site selected back in 2002. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper opened the complex last September in the presence of the Aga Khan, who personally and through the Aga Khan Foundation drove the project.

I pull on the museum door and think, I truly have no idea what to expect. I don’t know anything about any of this. I am eager for the experience, but ignorant, and on top of that still mildly jangled from the hour-long, winter-roads trip to get here.

Inside the door, I am immediately at peace, soothed, calm, and welcome. Quiet architecture, a sense of space, and light. I am drawn to the inner courtyard, as I am surely meant to be.

inner courtyard in the museum, open to sky; museum architect Fumihiko Maki

It is enclosed on all four sides, its glass walls etched with mashrabiya patterns, but open to the sky. Even on this flat, grey day, light floods down into the space and radiates across the ticket booth, coatcheck, classrooms and café that surround it. I step into it for a moment, tilt my head to the sky.

Then I enter the main-level permanent collections.

I wait for a tour guide to finish her opening remarks in the entrance hallway. She is speaking Canadian English to the fashionably dressed matrons in her group; they obviously understand, but murmur among themselves in European French. (I am guessing Paris, simply because of their soigné clothes & manners.)

They move on. I pause, to allow the changing imagery on the wall to walk me away from my own 21st-c. reality into other times, other realities.

entrance to permanent collection, Aga Khan Museum

Perhaps it is my weekly presence in the AGO (Art Gallery of Ontario) that makes me so alert to how museums now present themselves to the public. Does the building itself help or hinder my interaction with the art? Does it make me want to linger, or move on? And does the arrangement of the displays help me engage and linger?

This space works very well for me.

permanent collections, Aga Khan Museum

Open, peaceful, easy to navigate, inviting my attention. Deliberately spare, an aesthetic choice rather than financial constraint. Just a glimpse from here of the second level at the far end, which houses temporary exhibitions and where (unlike here) photography is not permitted.

I hear more French as I move about, Chinese, also Spanish, and of course English.

Skylights bring in yet more light at that far, clerestory end.

skylights into the Aga Khan Museum

And so, quiet and happy, I stop to admire the artefacts.

This page of leaves, for example — a leaf of leaves — from the 13th-c. Khawass al-Ashjar (The Characteristics of Trees), possibly from Iraq.

leaf from the Khawass al-Ashjar

And this graceful, 10th-c. glass mausoleum or mosque lamp from Iran, each ribbon of ornamental glass ending in an eye to hold a supporting chain.

mosque or mausoleum glass lamp

And this candlestick base, about which I’d tell you more if I’d remembered to take notes! You will have to enjoy it, without scholarship, for its inherent beauty. [Later verified: 12th c., eastern Iran]

candlestick base, Aga Khan Museum

I am particularly taken with the frieze of tiny animals, top and bottom. Lions?

candlestick detail

Delicate tracery on the translucent gallery walls to one side, providing a perfect backdrop for this 17th-c. Safavid standard, or ‘Alam, from Iran.

Safavid standard, Aga Khan Museum

Upstairs next, to visit the temporary exhibitions, where my time-travel takes me to the 9th-c. Maritime Silk Route through the Indian Ocean.

The show, The Lost Dhow, displays the cargo of an Arab vessel that foundered in the 9th century and was rediscovered late in the 20th. This cargo, wonderfully unplundered, is the earliest evidence to date of a maritime trading route that thrived long before the arrival of the Portuguese traders — silver ingots, bronze mirrors, jars once filled with spices, intricate objects of gold & silver, and thousands of bowls & ewers.

Next door, Visions of Mughal India, paintings lovingly collected by British artist Howard Hodgkin, plus some of his own work, clearly influenced by long exposure to the art, culture & geography of the subcontinent he so loves.

Finally downstairs again, for a latte and walnut-filled treat in the café next to those shimmering courtyard walls, a browse through the gift shop, and out.

Into the falling snow! As predicted. Just flurries, but they blur the sky, and play their way along the dome of the prayer hall next door.

snow flurries on the dome of the Ismaili prayer hall, in the Centre next to the Aga Khan Museum

I’m coming back next week for a lecture on exhibition design.

After that, I think, I’ll time my next visit for spring …

… when the fir trees will shed their winter burlap, and the gardens and reflecting pools (work of Lebanese landscape architect Vladimir Djurovic) will begin to dance with the returning warmth.

As will we all.







Bad Tuesday, Good Wednesday

25 February 2015 – And that’s how it went.

Oh, all right, I’ll say a little more.

Tuesday was an ugly day from the get-go: not terribly cold, but dull & raw & damp, the kind of chill that nibbles your bones. Still, I walk on Tuesdays, don’t I? And I won’t let pissy weather deter me, will I?

So out I go, and there’s a near-immediate pay-off of sorts, just a few corners away from home. These days, old mattresses are put out with a note carefully attached, warning that the mattress is (or may be) full of bed bugs.

Not this one.

on Gerrard near Parliament

Yes, the pun is a bit lame, but the effort is endearing.

So I am cheered, it seems a good omen, and I make ambitious walking plans as the streetcar trundles me to my chosen east-end starting point.

And I start. And the horrible weather now includes a bitter wind that smacks me face-on, first as I walk south and then, with equal force, after I turn west. (How can that be?)

So there I am, hat brim pulled down to eye level and parka collar pulled up to nose level, just a horizontal sliver between the two for me to watch where I am going — and all I can see is the snow-lumpy sidewalk immediately in front of each footstep.

Just 20 minutes in, and I am as sullen as the weather. “What am I doing?” I ask myself. To which the only sensible answer is, “Catching the next streetcar home, is what.”

So I do.

But not before eyeing these construction workers for a moment, honouring them, recognizing that they do not have the luxury of stomping off home in a snit, just because the weather is pissy.


construction, Kingston Rd.

Wednesday is a whole other atmosphere. (Mattress-Man isn’t the only one addicted to weak puns.) Marginally colder, if anything, but also low humidity, relatively little wind, and brilliantly sunny. After my usual Wednesday morning volunteer stint at the Central Y, I decide not to head home. I’ll go walk-abouts instead.

So I do.

The loop takes me initially south on Yonge Street. As I approach Gould (just north of Dundas) I see they have apparently completed the newest Ryerson University building. The hoardings are down, in any event. There it is, floating above the street-level grit.

Yonge & Gould streets

Love it. Love all those Yonge St. juxtapositions of age, architecture and purpose. Pride of place to the brand new Student Learning Centre: “the library of the 21st century,” says Ryerson’s rather breathless blog. Almost immediately to the north, the Zanzibar: “dozens of nude dancers,” says its equally breathless marquee. (The “R” is burned out, if not the dancers; hence, “Zanziba.”)

I don’t go inside the Student Learning Centre, but I practically do a backflip on the sidewalk, arching vigorously to admire the SLC’s soaring angles.

SLC, 341 Yonge St.

The work of Snøhetta & Zeidler Partnership Architects, says that same Ryerson blog, and it really does look terrific.

SLC, 341 Yonge St.

More architectural/cultural juxtapositions when I zigzag west to Bay and south a bit, then dive between tall towers to enter Trinity Square.

It is home to Church of the Holy Trinity, built in 1847, now almost entirely engulfed by surrounding commerce. That sounds a lot more negative than I feel: there is something magic about the enclosed nature of this tiny space — a small, peaceful clearing in the urban forest, with a pathway through the forest leading to the church and its contemplative maze to one side.

Church of the Holy Trinity, 10 Trinity Sq.

It was built with funds donated anonymously (the donor since identified), on condition that — unlike High Church practice of the day — all pews be free and unreserved. This requirement set a socially progressive tone that has endured ever since. In the 1930s, the church became known as “the home of the social gospel” and its 2015 website says the church “strives to work with others in the community to uproot the systematic injustice which entraps the weakest members of our society.”

Social justice is very much the theme of my next stop, almost immediately across the street.

Truth is, that’s not why I cross the street. I am not thinking about social justice at all. I’m drawn by the evergreen and its sharp shadow against the bright red wall behind it.

Larry Sefton Park, 500 Bay Street

But social justice is the theme, all right.

I’m in tiny Larry Sefton Park, immediately north of Toronto City Hall. It was donated to the City by the United Steelworkers of America, to honour the memory of Larry Sefton who, for 20 years, served as director of the union’s District 6. It was his goal, says the plaque, “that people have the opportunity they require to enrich the human spirit.”

I’ve always liked this park, liked the power & simplicity of its sculpture, created by Jerome Markson & installed in 1977. It is made of steel, of course: 16 I-beams, arrayed in tight formation.

I-beam sculpture, Larry Sefton Park


And then I walk an amazing amount more, three hours’ worth all told, but — perhaps even more amazing — take no more photos. I am just enjoying the day.

Good-bye, Bad Tuesday; thank you, Good Wednesday.


Basquiat on Bathurst (In a pawn shop)

23 February 2015 – Basquait is not top-of-mind on Saturday morning, though in general he is very much in my mind, since the Art Gallery of Ontario has just opened a spectacular retrospective of his work.

Top-of-mind is the weather: it is mild, and very grey, and snowing. It looks like this.

College TTC streetcar, at St. George

You see? I need colour. That’s why I’m trundling west in a College Street streetcar, heading for a couple of small art galleries up Bathurst Street, near Dupont. I pity the streetcar drivers, and private car drivers as well …

shovelling, Bathurst nr Dupond

… digging themselves clear. But I’m just fine, I’m in my tall Sorel boots, veterans of the Canadian Arctic, I can mush through anything.

If you ignore all the inconveniences that come with a snowfall, it is also very pretty. It highlights line & shape, turns everything into a sculpture. Quite Mondrian, this grid-composition of stairway framed by gate & narrow laneway walls.

lane east side of Bathurst, south of Dupont

That could even be quite a Mondrian-inspired punch of yellow, bottom left. (Sorry, it’s a snow shovel.)

In & out of a couple of art galleries, good art, well displayed, why am I not more grateful? I don’t really perk up until I see this pawn shop window. Specifically, what stands between the bird house & the Mike’s Hard Lemonade advertisement.

Annex Pawn front window, 1044 Bathurst

I am now fully perked-up. I go in. I must here confess that I’m not yet registering the mannequin’s Basquiat references. I’m drawn by the torso’s vibrant energy and — once I’m inside — gob-smacked by the abundance & eclecticism of Annex Pawn. It’s definitely “more than a junk shop” as its slogan promises, and I’m not surprised when staff later tell me it’s also more of a consignment store than pawn shop.

I do wander around — Lalique & Tiffany here, war memorabilia there, neon signs & a knight in shining armour & vinyl records & guitars (including a Fender Stratocaster) & vintage clothes & art & stuff & stuff — and then I make my way back to that front window mannequin. When I ask permission to photograph it, the young saleswoman points out it is a tribute to Basquiat.

back, Basquiat-style mannequin

A piece of found art, she says: brought in by someone at multiple degrees of separation from whoever so lovingly painted it. And, presumably, who also composed the tribute poem on the bright green thigh. (“I searched online, but couldn’t find the poem,” she adds.)

tribute poem to Basquiat on mannequin thigh

By now, of course, I can see the Basquiat style & imagery.

The face on the other thigh, for example …

image on Basquiat-style mannequin

… jumps at me again the very next day, when my partner & I spend hours in the AGO exhibition. There it is — identified as Untitled, 1981 —  large & powerful, bursting from the gallery wall.

This is a tough act to follow!

Good thing I next discover Weird Things, still on Bathurst & just a bit farther south. “It is a place with all the weird things you need,” promises its Facebook page. The first thing I notice isn’t all that weird, but it sure is colourful.

piano in Weird Things, 998 Bathurst

I ask owner Jonathan Peterson, a cheerful face through a little hatch at the back of the space, if this is one of the Pan Am Games “Play Me” pianos. No. It’s one that he himself painted, commissioned by TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) for an event. “When they finished with it, they gave it back. I store it here — it’s too big for anywhere else.”

We talk a whole range of things, from piano art, to 19th-c pottery urns (Farrar a name we both quote), to keeping frisky kittens out of Bathurst Street traffic, to Soviet-era cartoon characters.

Really! Not a topic I would have thought to raise, except I am fingering my way through a tin box full of bright enamelled pins. I comment they seem like Disney characters, only .. well … to borrow the adjective … weird. By now Jonathan has emerged from the hatch & we’re exploring the pins together.

“A local guy brought them in, didn’t know anything about them. Later a Russian guy identified them — Soviet TV cartoon characters got their start when a Russian artist saw some American cartoons around the end of World War Two, and went from there.” Beavers with chain saws, rabbits with scary black eyes, very stylish bears & roosters, some sweet folklore characters, and — Jonathan singles him out — the wolf who started it all. (Think of Disney’s Pluto, gone bad.) Check out Nu Pogodi.

So I am having a very good time, I am highly entertained, and I decide that my Arctic boots & I will keep on mushing for a while yet.

Past bikes turned Bike Art.

Bathurst St. bike in the snow

Eventually down an alley near Bloor, between Bathurst & Albany. From Bloor, it looks promising …

alley n. of Bloor between Bathurst & Albany

… but no, it disappoints me. To my eye it looks like the original murals have been (my judgmental word) vandalized with tags by other hands over the lower half. Vandalism or not, the later additions certainly destroy the coherence of the original work. I am somewhat cranky by the time I reach the Albany end.

And then I laugh, & cheer up.

Albany end of lane between Bathurst & Albany n. of Bloor

Oh, thank you Matthew Del Degan and your “lovebot” campaign! This particular random act of kindness has just worked its magic.

The artist had planned to add a lot more lovebots to our streets this February, and what better month to choose. He seems to have achieved his goal. By now I’m around the corner, on Bloor West near Spadina, and look.

Over there, across the street, snugged up next to Lee’s Palace of alternative & rock music.

lovebot south side of Bloor West nr Spadina

By now I am so pleased with the world, I don’t even snarl at the signs on the fence around this very private club, firmly telling non-members to keep out.

I just admire the snow on the fence.

fence around Bloor West private club

I suspect they’d like the beauty of their snow also to be available only to members, but HAH … it’s right there for all of us to enjoy.

“Wheeee!!!” cries Lovebot

19 February 2015 – No capital-W Walk this week. At least, not with my feet. As I observe on my About page, I walk with my feet “and in my mind as well.” Some pretty exciting mind-walking this week, and I promise to say more about it, but not quite yet.

Meanwhile, my feet did take me through the Dundas St. East railway underpass near Logan. And look, a new mural has joined the gallery …

Matthew Del Degan  lovebots at RR underpass, Dundas E w. of Logan

Don’t you love it when Mummy Bot goes out and plays in the snow with the kiddies?

I’ve finally attached a name & purpose to this lovebot phenomenon, being found in increasing forms & quantity all around town. Toronto-based Matthew Del Degan thought up the image a few years ago, initially creating little hand-cast concrete sculptures that he dotted here & there, each dedicated to someone he felt had committed a local act of kindness.

The idea: “Disrupt the robotic routines of humans and remind them that there is love in their cities and kindness around every corner.”

Del Degan & volunteers to the cause have been creating more sculptures (& now murals & other items) ever since. They are also urging you out there — yes, you! right there in your own city! — to join in.


    "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)

    "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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