Feet-first, to a Different River

26 July 2015 – It’s Saturday, and it’s hot, and I think I’ll be telling you that — despite the way my feet keep leading me to water in summertime (see last post) — this time there will be no water. My heart has overruled my feet.

Drawn by an invitation from my friend Poonam Sharma, I’m headed for a wall-mural event in St. James Town. SJT is a complex of densely packed apartment towers that is typically home to newcomers to Canada.

It has lots of concrete and, to be fair, some trees & shrubs — but, water? No.

Then I see the fish.

fish detail, SJT wall mural

Who, of course, swim in a river.

one wall, SJT folk-fusion mural

Even if it is a concrete river, newly painted to wrap the three sides of the wall around an external stairwell.

Not only fish, in this river.

Also happy birds …

a wall, SJT mural

and a red & white mandana, a traditional Indian symbol of welcome.

wall of the SJT folk-fusion mural


Three walls, one river, its waves curling around circles of folk art, drawn from different cultures around the world. “This is my FolkLORE project, it is a folk-fusion mural,” says Poonam. She thought up the project, won a funding grant, and involved other St. James Town women in its execution — after first learning, and then teaching them, how to prepare and paint outdoors artwork.

“The women are different ages, they come from different cultures, but we all live in this neighbourhood together. I drew the river outline, with its circles. Then we shared folk-art images and discussed them, made our choices, and each woman painted one circle.” (For more, visit the Facebook page.)

The women are making art, but they are also making connections, building community, having fun.

Oh, that Poonam. I met her a year ago, when she was one of the residents working on the St. James Town banner project. She had been a artist in India; now here with husband and child, she is throwing herself into art and community again. I am not even slightly surprised to learn, from her WordPress blog RangRiva, that this spring she ran an arts workshop for visiting students from Sanikiluaq, in the Canadian High Arctic.

So here we are for the official ribbon-cutting to unveil her latest project, this folk-fusion mural. I jostle in with others, to grab a shot of Poonam (crouching, on the left) with some of the other artists and their children. Another little boy is weaving among the audience, politely offering Canadian flags. I accept.

Poonam (L) with other artists & children

I circle around, enjoying the response to the art as much as the art itself. What I see today mirrors reaction during the painting process, says Poonam. “People would stop and admire our work, ask us questions. The women liked explaining what we were doing. Everybody was so happy with the mural.”

Yogita Sanap is one of the artists. “I had never done anything like this, but now I love it, I love to make art,” she says. She tells me more about the mandana, which she created: “We paint it on walls and floors for festivals, to welcome people.”

Yogita Sanap with her mandana

Her husband looks on, smiling at all the activity. “Who knew?” he says, happily. “Who would have guessed, so much hidden talent in our community?”

wall detail, SJT FolkLORE mural

A happy day, all ’round.




23 July 2015 – Summertime, and my feet just want to head for the water. I am not inclined to argue. Neither is Phyllis, so this week the Tuesday Walking Society followed its four feet down Bay Street to the ferry terminal, and hopped aboard the Ongiara. Destination: Toronto Island (really, a whole complex of islands).


aboard the Ongiara, heading for Hanlan's Point

His is not the only bike helmet on deck. This particular run is to Hanlan’s Point, which is the most western of the three island docks. It is also the most remote from either visitor or residential infrastructure and consequently a big favourite with cyclists who plan to explore all the islands, bays and trails.

I’m delighted to see this statue of Ned Hanlan right at the dock.

statue of Edward Hanlan, at Hanlan's Point ferry dock

The eponymous Hanlan (oh, I do love a chance to use that word…), born in 1855,  took up rowing as a small child when living right here and went on, in 1880, to win the world single sculls championship in England. He held the title until 1884, during his career had a run of 300 successive racing victories, and — this is a complete non-sequitur — went on to become a city alderman.

The statue is quite new, taking over pride of place from the plaque telling us that Babe Ruth hit his first professional home run right here as well. His only minor-league home run, they add: he was promoted to the majors, lickety-split. (The Babe’s plaque is still there, just remounted in a less prominent position.)

The boat has now disgorged its passengers: a couple of maintenance vehicles (only official vehicles allowed on the island), numerous cyclists, one young fisherman busy assembling his rod as cyclists start streaming on ahead, and us.

We putter along the edge of Block House Bay, leaving the hopeful fisherman behind.

Block House Bay, near Hanlan's Point

By nipping over to the lake side, we see the west end of the city itself across the water. We pick out the Humber River pedestrian bridge — an arc of white at water’s edge, about midway along — and use it to orient ourselves on the waterfront, connecting the view from here with what we see when we’re walking on that shoreline instead.

looking to Humber Bay, city-side, from Hanlan's Point

We follow the curve of land, pass by the fingerboard to the Clothing Optional beach, but follow the one to Gibraltar Point Lighthouse. It sits among trees and shrubs, nowhere near the water. Why would anybody put a lighthouse here? you ask.

Gibraltar Point Lighthouse

Because when it was built, in 1808-09, it was only eight metres from the lake’s edge. The shoreline has shifted a lot since then, but the lighthouse endures —  the oldest still standing on the Great Lakes, and the second-oldest in all Canada.

It may no longer be on the water, but there’s plenty of water to be had, and beaches to go with it. Mantiou Beach, for example, nearing Centre Island …

Manitou Beach, Centre Island

Centre Island is the focus for visitor entertainment, everything from spacious gardens & fountains, to bike & quadracycle rentals, to fast food, to a petting zoo … to the absolutely delightful Franklin’s Children’s Garden. It is named for the Canadian classic Franklin the Turtle books & TV series, it has seven different activity areas for kids — all wildly busy today with day-campers — and little sculptures reminiscent of characters from the books.

Such as this beaver, by the Turtle Pond.

beaver sculpture, Franklin Children's Garden

We admire the butterfly chair, and climb the Snail Trail behind it to weave our way up a wonderfully shaggy mound, all its vegetation chosen for its appeal to butterflies.

Franklin Children's Garden

This visit, we don’t wander all over Algonquin Island, my long-ago home — I’d done that when I came out for the concert in the church earlier in spring — we head for the other residential island, Ward’s Island. Another city view across the harbour, this time to the east.

the city, from Ward's Island

We pick out Sugar Beach, and the tree-lined walk to Sherbourne Common, and then head into Ward’s narrow little streets.

Of course there is a tree house …

tree house on Ward's Island

and a wheelie-bin container with a green roof …

green roof for a wheelie-bin container, Ward's Island

and a home with a green roof. A deliberate green roof, too, not one inadvertently born of too much moss on shingles!

Ward's Island home with green roof

Finally, it is time to head back to our own homes.

We make our way to the Ward’s Island dock, and take the next ferry back to the city.

ferry approaching Ward's Island dock

Then we walk up through the city-core bustle, and feel a distinct little jolt of culture shock. It really is a different world, over there …

The Moccasin Trail to Magic

16 July 2015 – Sudden decision: back to Moccasin Trail Park, first visit in almost two years. So here I am, car wheels neatly positioned in the P-for-parking lot and my own sneakered feet at the magenta you-are-here star.

East Don Trail map in Moccasin Trail Park

The park and its trails are part of the East Don Trail, following the river on down toward Lake Ontario. I’m happy to walk by water, this warm day, but happiest at the thought of all the art I will meet en route in these tunnels and pedestrian underpasses.

See the line-up, there on the map? Through the Don Valley Parkway underpass on that red ribbon of trail, on through the CN Rail underpass; then south at the T-junction to reach the CP Rail underpass, and, after re-crossing the Don, a second trip beneath the CN Rail tracks.

I am not put off by the DVP underpass. This is the ugly bit.

DVP underpass

it’s all magic after that.

Starting with the first CN Rail underpass, visible from the DVP and known for some four decades to passing motorists as the Rainbow Tunnel.

Rainbow Tunnel (CN rail underpass)

The flange was first surreptitiously painted by a teenager to honour an older friend, who died in a DVP crash. It had a long history of official disapproval, neglect, public love and eventual official restoration. I blogged about Rainbow Tunnel after visiting the site with artist Tom Linardos, who helped lead the Mural Routes project that cleaned and painted the interior (not part of the original artwork).

It’s all holding up beautifully, I am so relieved to say, still bright with scenes that draw on nature and the topography all around. In a fanciful way, mind — take this little bridge, with happy couple on top and fox and fish beneath.

inside Rainbow Tunnel

Just before the T-junction I take a decidedly unofficial side path through the woods right down to the water’s edge. Where I disturb a great Blue Heron, who flaps off all powerful wings, neck and trailing legs.

Back up to the official trail, right at the T-junction. I look back down the river, think I can see exactly where I emerged from the trees to startle the heron.

East Don River, from a wetlands on the trail

I know what’s coming next! (After Tom Linardos danced me through the tunnel that September day, he brought me on down this trail — which I also blogged about, a few days later.)

I’d like this soaring great CP Rail bridge just fine for its own sake, all that geometry made tangible.

CP Rail bridge over the East Don

It’s a working train track.

CP Rail warning sign

And it has an entirely unnecessary, entirely wonderful, pedestrian underpass beneath the trestles.

CP bridge pedestrian underpass

Each segment of the handrail is a work of art.

Like this.

segment of CP underpass

All around, wildflowers.

I smile foolishly at this tableau at the corner of the little footbridge over the Don. I could be in remote countryside somewhere, cicadas singing, but I’m not; I’m in downtown Toronto.

wildflowers by the Don

Back across the Don, continuing south with the trail; knowing I’m about to go under the CN tracks for a second time. The first time gave us the Rainbow Tunnel. What could match that?

pedestrian underpass, CN Rail bridge over the East Don


Another pedestrian underpass, this time with rocks suspended to remind us of various flood years along the Don. The rocks’ heights are symbolic, artistic; attractive in groupings 

trio of the rocks

and, individually as well.

one CN Rail bridge rock

I turn back soon after, linger again a moment amidst the CP Rail bridge strutwork …

CP Rail bridge

and head for the car.

I am cranky, as I go, that there is no signage to credit the artists who created these metal-work underpasses.

But I am thankful that Toronto, like many other cities, finds ways to use its own topography to preserve nature as part of our urban identity.




The Butterfly

12 July 2015 – We don’t start with the butterfly. A butterfly never enters our minds. We start in the big park next to Rosehill Reservoir just south of St. Clair Ave. E., where we peer over a fence down, down into Moore Park Ravine.

Moore Park Ravine, from David A. Balfour Park

Layer by layer, the descent; path by path, zigzagging its way down to Mud Creek, part of the Don River watershed.

Not a route we walk in snow & ice.

steps from Balfour Park down to Mud Creek

See? Well-maintained steps, but not ones to navigate in mid-winter.

But now it is summer, quite still & breathless even here under the tree canopies. We meet joggers, walkers, dog walkers, sport cyclists.

I view the graffiti on these bridge trestles with a cold eye.

a bridge spanning Moore Park Ravine

Handsome bridge — I’ve always liked the vaulted lines of these severely functional trestles — but boring artwork. If you’re going to bother at all, why not do something worth having? (I find I support the City’s legal distinction between Graffiti Vandalism, which is supressed & removed, and Graffiti Art, which is encouraged.)

The turning-point for this fairly brief walk — made brief by heat & probable showers — is Evergreen Brick Works, the historic Don Valley Brick Works now repurposed as a community environmental centre. Before we enter the EBW space itself, we linger in the Weston Quarry Garden, its water-lilies just now beginning to blossom.

Weston Quarry Gardens, next to EBW

A brick works must have bricks, which means it must also have a quarry — and this was it. The quarry pits were reinvented first, transformed into a city park to excite the imagination when the old industrial footprint was still abandoned, rusted & toxic.

Toxic no more. EBW bustles with life and purpose: to inspire & equip its visitors “to live, work and play more sustainably.” Day-camp kiddies eddy about the place with their counsellors; adult visitors stroll the grounds, wander into The Kilns, the cavernous space once reeking with heat & noise as quarry clay was baked into bricks.

Railways carried materials to and from the site, as old structures & signage remind us. “Do Not Pass When Signals Flashing…”

The Kilns, EBW

Inside, the long rows of ovens lie quiet. Unusually, the whole building is quiet, without any of the displays or events that usually bring life to the alleys between the ovens.

All the easier to admire the graffiti. Once, perhaps, graffiti-vandalism; now, graffiti-heritage.

ovens in The Kilns, EBW

After its life as a functioning brick works, and before its new life as Evergreen Brick Works, the site lay abandoned. The homeless found shelter, and told their stories on its walls. The images have been preserved, respected as part of the site’s total human heritage.

Phyllis & I stop in the EBW café for our customary mid-walk latte & Americano. Plus — because they were right in front of us, a whole pile of them — plus a blueberry scone each. Plump inside with blueberries, crunchy outside with sprinkled sugar.

Before heading off-site, we visit one of our favourite displays: the courtyard wall map of Toronto’s watersheds. It grows more wonderful by the year, as vegetation works its way up each water course. The Don River watershed is pretty well central, tentacles of green tracing its varied sources.

watershed map, EBW

Then, having come in from the north-west, we continue the loop out to the south-west, passing wetlands and a fenced off-leash dog area, where two bossy standard poodles urge us firmly on our way. We use our best dog-charmer voices; they are unimpressed.

All right, fine, and on we go. We take the trail toward Moore Park, then pause at the fingerboard where one helpful fingertip points to our diverging path on up Milkmen’s Lane.

Two passing hikers see us consulting maps and offer help. The trails are no trouble, we assure them; the challenge is to figure out Rosedale — a confusing enclave of old-money residential streets — before we climb up the lane and have to deal with the city again.

Big laugh all around.

Then one hiker does a double-take. “Look!” he cries, pointing to the back of Phyllis’ leg. She cranes her head, I do a two-step.

And …

the butterfly!


A perfect last moment, down there in the ravine.

Into the Islamic Garden

8 July 2015 – I gave you a small taste, last post, a hint of what drew me to revisit the Aga Khan Museum on Saturday.

The museum itself is special, the first devoted to Islamic culture and civilization in all North America, but it is only one of three elements in this extraordinary complex known collectively as the Aga Khan Park. The second element is the adjoining Ismaili Centre; the third is the formal Islamic Garden that, literally, grounds the other two.

It is why I am here.

I had last seen the complex in winter snow. Now, in early summer warmth, I want to see the garden. It has been officially open barely a week: on 29 May, His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan, whose Foundation caused all this to happen, joined Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne for the ceremony.

I could have driven; instead I take the easy but long streetcar ride north-east from downtown. Car or TTC, you enter from busy Wynford Drive. The dome of the Ismaili Centre rises above a tall buffer hedge of conifers.

Ismaili Centre, from Wynford Dr.

You feel you are about to enter another world. Step past the conifers and, yes, you do enter another world — a world, says its creator, Lebanese landscape architect Vladimir Djurovic, of symmetry, geometry and sensations.

Ismaili Centre, from just inside hedge buffer zone

And … a world of water. “Water is the main element of an Islamic garden,” he says.

No splashing fountains. Instead, five large, calm, granite-lined reflecting ponds. Ponds surrounded by serviceberry trees and soft gravel, which — says WordPress blog Ismailimail, serve as “mirrors that draw the Ismaili Centre and the Aga Khan Museum into the formal garden.”

I am mesmerized by the ponds. This bright, calm day, they are indeed mirrors. I look at the peaceful rows of serviceberry trees; I drop my eyes to look at them again, this time in a pond …

rows of servieberry trees, in a pond

and then I walk between two of those rows, toward the Ismaili Centre. Another pond, another reflection of the Centre.

the Ismaili Centre, from between tree rows

I turn, look back at the Aga Khan Museum. It sits quietly across a bed of gravel, with two more ponds in counterpoint. One, from this angle, is perfectly black. One reflects the museum.

across the gardens, toward the Aga Khan Museum

I step through a different line of trees, and smack! I am up against the park’s other boundary.

How narrow this magic world really is, caught between Wynford Drive on one side and, on the other, the roar of the Don Valley Parkway just past this fence and down an embankment.

from the park, down into the DVP

I double back on myself, back through the trees and, immediately, the DVP disappears. Not just visually, but — and perhaps because visually — psychologically and aurally as well.

Now I see greenspace and hear the soft crunch of gravel beneath my feet.

tree shadows on the gravel

I walk past the Museum itself one more time …

the Aga Khan Museum

and I leave, still entranced by water.

detail, one of the pond edges

The soft murmur of the water, the endless gentle shimmer of the water as it falls away to infinity on all four sides of each pond.

“The park builds on a long established tradition of Islamic gardens and greenspace,” says Ismailimail. “… [T]hese outdoor spaces offer quiet respite in which to pause, reflect and gather.”

Summer, Tra-la

4 July 2015 – No gentle morphing from one season to another, around here. Mother Nature flips the switch, and pouf! there you are in a whole new environment.

And so with summer. Warmth is only part of it. There’s an energy, a dance, a dynamic, that says … here we are! Finally.

The city puts on her summer face. We blink at what is added, and also at what is finsished, done, dismantled & trundled away.

More bright Muskoka chairs inviting us to loll in our parks, some red but green ones too. Or perhaps all the green ones  — like these in Berczy Park — are specific additions in honour of the upcoming Pan Am / Parapan Am Games.

new chairs in Berczy Park

Berczy Park, by the way, is up for a stunning transformation. Check it out here.

Other additions to our summer face, also green but definitely not plastic.

Veggies crops in the Moss Park Community Kitchen Garden, for example …

Moss Park Community Kitchen Garden, Sherbourne n. of Queen

and vines smothering path archways in St. James Park.

N/E entrance to St. James Park

Next, as Phyllis & I make our Tuesday way down to Union Station, the joy of what is finally gone, as well as what is now revealed.

Gone the barricades & hoardings & screens that covered the station and filled the street for so long we had forgotten what it was to walk with calm breath and a long view.


Now the restored façade of the station itself, a broad new pedestrian plaza in front and, pride of place, the painstakingly restored Victorian clock.

unveiled Union Station Plaza, with its restored clock

Right, still a bit of burnishing going on, that’s fine, we can live with that. And, right, not a clock to rank with some of the medieval glories to be seen in European city squares. But it is ours, it speaks of our history, and it restores dimension to our sense of place.

And, says Phyllis, who walked all around …

Union Station Plaza clock

the four faces show almost exactly the same time!

A few days later I’m on Yonge Street near-ish to Shuter, shaking my head free of the buzz of a a summer foray into the retail levels of the Eaton Centre. (Yikes.)

My vision clears, and look!

painted traffic signal box, Yonge nr Shuter

The first urban pigeons I’ve ever seen that I like.

Another sign of summer, one of this year’s crop of painted traffic signal boxes. Thank you StreetARToronto, thanks for your Out of the Box program; thank you artists. Thank you especially this one, whose signature I read as T4K Bui, but that can’t be right because I can’t find him/her in the artist lists. Thank you anyway.

Some of the artists camouflage the boxes’ contours; others, like this one, make them a feature.

detail of the box

One last image. Very summer 2015, not possible until this year.

May was the official opening of the glorious Islamic gardens between the new (fall 2014) Aga Khan Museum & Ismaili Centre. My earlier visits were all in winter, the gardens shrouded in snow. I could only imagine the summer impact of the 5 reflecting pools in their context of soft gravel, with calm rows of conifers and serviceberry trees.

Earlier today, I went up to Don Mills, to see for myself.

one of 5 reflecting pools, Aga Khan Museum gardens

Consider that your tease, a glimpse of my next post.

Happy Canada Day!

1 July 2015 — Another of the Prince Edward County barn quilts, this one near Bloomfield, and saved for today.

"Oh Canada" Rutter Bros. Heating & Cooling

You can see why.

Down the Street & Next to the Lake

24 June 2015 — But before I get to streets & lakes: Bonne fête nationale to any Québécois(es) reading this post. Today is the St-Jean-Baptiste, & there’ll be dancing in the streets tonight.

And, speaking of streets …

Down the Street

Down a few streets, in fact, but we won’t quibble, will we. When I headed off to Central Y on Monday, I took my camera along. Two targets in mind.

Here’s the first, & who could resist?

Sparky the Fire Plug...

So that’s the cutest Dalmatian you ever did see on a fire hydrant, but why is he there? Because the “314” on his cap stands for …

Grosvenor & Yonge

Grosvenor & Yonge


That photo opp I discovered all by myself, since the station is right next to the Y.

I learned about my second target of the day from my very good neighbour & even better friend, Brian. Yet another ratty old traffic signal box has been painted! he reported. Check out the corner of Church & Wood.

So I did.

painted traffic signal box, Church & Wood

Love it. Also love the artist’s website address.

signal-box artist's URL

It’s really-real. Type it into your search engine & go see for yourself.

So that was Monday, and then came — as it invariably must — Tuesday. Which marked the long-delayed reunion of the Tuesday Walking Society! Phyllis & I decided to take ourselves south on Sherbourne right down to Queen’s Quay Blvd. and …

Close to the Lake

While I was off admiring gardens & barn quilts & whatnot in Prince Edward County, the City of Toronto unveiled a new! improved! stretch of Queen’s Quay Boulevard. It now separates its various forms of traffic from each other, and provides more amply for pedestrians & cyclists into the bargain.

But first we cross Queen’s Quay, and skirt the west side of Sherbourne Common (its winter skating rink now miraculously a splash pad for squealing toddlers) to walk right at lake’s edge. This route takes us around the east face of a George Brown College building.

This isn’t the first time I’ve noticed the reflective qualities of its huge glass panels — but I have never, ever, seen such a glorious display as they present today, cloud-swirled from top to bottom.

Just look. It could be a painting.

George Brown College, Sherbourne & QQ

Soon after, heading west, we’re at Sugar Beach, where the preferred seating choices show that summer has truly (as well as officially) arrived.

lakeside on Sugar Beach

What do I mean? I mean people are by preference lounging in the shade, not seeking the sun. The white ferry in the background is making its way through uncharacteristically murky waters: we had a fierce rainstorm overnight, and the lake is still roiled from all that wave action.

I referred to “Sugar Beach” a moment ago. Exactly the right name. The east side of the slip is all sand, deck chairs & happy umbrellas, while the west side …

Redpath Sugar Refinery

… is the Redpath Sugar Refinery facility, which processes raw sugar from the Caribbean. The cargo arrives in lakers that tie up in the slip, opening their maws for this great machinery to scoop up loose sugar from their holds and start it on the journey that ends in tidy packages on grocers’ shelves.

Phyllis & I walk on west, the warm smell of cooking sugar in our nostrils.

Past new condos now springing up; past Yonge Street; past Bay Street, with its Toronto Island ferry docks. Still weaving our way lakeside, now along the lakefront skirting Harbourfront Centre and the Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery.

Each, as always, with outdoors art installations. I’m struck by this image by Ottawa artist Meryl McMaster.

Wingeds Calling, artist Meryl McMaster, in Ontario Square

“Wingeds Calling” is part of her In-Between Worlds series, which “explores the mixing and transforming of bicultural identities” — in her case, Plains Cree and British-Dutch.

Different medium, equal power as we pass The Power Plant installation of a work by French-Algerian artist Zineb Sedira.

The Death of a Journey V, by Zeneb Sedira

“The Death of a Journey V” is part of Sedira’s 2008 Shipwrecks series. It shows a vessel called United Malika, which in 2003 ran aground on a stretch of North Atlantic coastline while enroute to a ship graveyard in Mauritania. I’m not clear if it was eventually towed to Muaritania or has been left to rust away where it first foundered.

Either way … what an image.

We do eventually make our way back out to Queen’s Quay Blvd West, in that reinvented stretch between Bay and Spadina. I think it an extraordinarily interesting bit of civic re-engineering. It has been transformed from roaring traffic lanes with narrow sidewalks squeezed either side, to a calm, spacious & very orderly separation of pedestrians, cyclists & vehicles.

More than that, it’s been done in a way that caters to, that showcases, the totally different environments each side of the boulevard. South-side: the lake & recreation. North-side: office towers & city commerce.

Queen's Quay West, from south-side sidewalk looking north

So. Here we are on the south side, looking north across the series of zones.

  • First, beneath my feet, the widened (and decorated) pedestrian walkway, with frequent & generous benches.
  • Then the dark grey bike trail, with a turquoise line to separate its lanes.
  • Then more pedestrian walkway, with newly planted trees at intervals.
  • Then two lanes (only two lanes!) for vehicular traffic.
  • Then a regular-width sidewalk on the north side. But look — with slivers of parkette tucked in where possible between buildings, complete with bright red Muskoka chairs for those who seek a get-away moment of relaxation.

I don’t know how motorists feel about it; I do know pedestrians & cyclists are already making major use of their expanded facilities, and we aren’t even in full tourist/summer season as yet.

Before Phyllis & I finally turn around and head east again, we revisit a couple of already-known but much-loved lakefront sites/sights.

Stacks and stacks of canoes, so dramatically bright against winter snow but even more cheerful now — or so one anthropomorphically imagines — with summer canoe day camps about to begin.

canoes by Harbourfront Centre

And then the Simcoe Wave Deck. It is far & away the loopiest of the three wave decks that were installed in 2009, all of them part of the city’s “new blue edge” and meant to help us connect with our lakefront more easily and more playfully.

Simcoe Wave Deck

The process continues, with the re-engineered stretch of Queen’s Quay as the very latest addition. And see how it complements the existing wave deck: the generous pedestrian pathways & big, fat Muskoka chairs add to the fun.

So, yes, in yearly increments, we can — and do — connect with our lakefront more easily and more playfully. I’m not an idiot booster, mind you; I’m aware of problems, & I’m uneasy about how many new condos & other buildings are still piling in, at water’s edge.

Still, as urban action goes, out here in the messy real world,  I think it’s pretty swell.

Look! Barn Quilts!

18 June 2015 – You’ll look at this & think,”Oh, she’s taking us back to Wisconsin, showing us another of those ‘barn quilts’ she discovered in the American Mid-West.”

on County Rd 32

Except I’m not. This is right here in Prince Edward County (PEC), in south-eastern Ontario.

Well, who knew? But isn’t it always the way: you learn a new word, & suddenly you see it everywhere. Same thing with barn quilts: I discover the phenomenon in their American Mid-West birthplace — & several weeks later they’re all around me on my side of the border.

Much credit goes to Pat Dubyk, a now-retired school librarian and County artist. She jumped on the idea when her horticulturalist husband Ron came back from judging Communities in Bloom entries in south-west Ontario, reporting he’d seen barn quilts in the area, and didn’t that seem like a natural project for their own County?

Pat Dubyk

That was in 2012. Pat tried a first experimental board (above), which still hangs on their property, and began rounding up support. By 2013, the first quilts were in place, and PEC had become — to quote their barn quilts website — “the newest community to become part of a North American network of rural art.”

Now it’s 2015, and you can follow a trail to discover 80-plus quilts throughout the County.

Credit not just to Pat, of course. Also to Ron; to the Ontario Barn Quilt Trails association, which they joined; to the Trillium Foundation for its grant; to local farms, schools, businesses and individuals — and to the volunteers who do the painting (except for those which people paint for themselves).

This particular morning, two veteran volunteers are up to their elbows in masking tape & paint pots: Audrey Tomik (left, below), a Victoria B.C. resident who summers here each year & now makes barn quilts part of her summer; and Gail Henderson (right), who recently retired as a local high school art teacher.

Audrey Tomik, L; Gail Henderson, R

Both Pat & Gail did very early quilts with school classes. Pat got grade-school students working on a design for CML Snider Public School in Wellington. Result: “Pioneer Patchwork.”

"Pioneer Patchwork" CML Snider Public School, Wellington

“Every barn quilt design is based on a genuine quilt block pattern,” says Pat. “Then you adapt. With the children, you may tweak their ideas a bit, but it’s still collaborative.”

I find I have to adjust to the scope of this project. I’d first been excited to see barn quilt panels around the County, but then slightly wary. Shouldn’t they only be on barns? Is the idea not somehow … um, compromised … to encourage art galleries, shops, schools, churches, and anybody else to arrange for one as well?

Then I learn that barn quilt trails first began in Ohio in 2001, driven by someone who deeply loved the art form, but funded as an economic development & tourism project. I accept that ideas have to be free to evolve, to find their way to live & breathe in their own era & local environment.

And I hear about the criteria. “We don’t do logos, ads, slogans, billboards, pictures,” says Audrey, laughing. “We make barn quilt art.”

So off we go, Leslie, Susan (Mme Chauffeur, thank you Susan) & I, to drive around the County and check out the barn quilt trail.

Well! We see the range. There is “Bee Creative,” at Love Nest Studio & Gallery near Bloomfield …

"Bee Creative" Love Nest Gallery

and “Stained Glass 1″ on the Wellington United Church hall …

"Stained Glass 1" Wellington United Church

and the “Wellington Gazebo Star” in the community park next door …

"Wellingon Gazebo Star" Wellington Park

and “Wellington Charmer” on the Home Hardware outlet on the town’s main street.

"Wellington Charmer" Wellington Home Hardware

The building has several more as well, and I’m not surprised. Pat has already told me that Home Hardware is a very good supporter of the project.

All fine, very appealing, great community stuff, wonderful to look at — but I’m still just a wee bit twitchy. It’s not personal, is it?

Then we visit another commercial establishment, Fields on the West Lake, near Bloomfield. With not one but two barn quilts, quite magnificently displayed.

"Henry Family Quilt" L, "Country Apples" R; Fields on West Lake

That’s “County Apples” on the right, next to the signage for their Blooms on West Lake shop, and “Henry Family Quilt” on the left.

"Henry Family Quilt" Fields on West Lake

I talk to the young woman. “That was the pattern for a family quilt,” she says. “And now, look, there it is on our barn.” I comment that she must really enjoy seeing it up there. She sparkles me a big smile before getting back to her tasks of the day.

So I have to soften my attitude. The barn quilt can be attached to a commercial enterprise, and still have a great deal of personal meaning.

And even when there may not be a personal story, why not enjoy it anyway? (I do, after all, enjoy urban street art!)

So when we three stop for a mid-afternoon treat in Bloomfield, I am totally happy with “Butterfly Blues” on the café wall.

"Butterfly Blues" Saylor House Café

Next down the main highway just outside Bloomfield, past “Sztuke Windmill” on the Sztuke family’s barn …

"Sztuke Windmill" Sztuke Family

before we take to a County road for a very special farm indeed.

This is Wilhome Farm, which has been worked by eight generations of Williamses, over the last 201 years. (Oh I know, if you’re reading this in England, eight generations is nothing much. But here in North America, it deserves a salute.)



"Williams Star" Wilhome Farms, Cty Rd 32

The barn quilt is the “Williams Star,” explain Anne & Don Williams on the quilt trails website. It has one star for each generation, and a colour for each element of their farm world: “green representing the land and crops, red representing the buildings and animals, blue representing water and rain and yellow representing the sun.”

Nearby, in another Williams family front yard, “Hole in the Barn Door.”

"Hole in the Barn Door" Bob & Helen Williams Cty Rd 32

The next day I’m out exploring again, this time solo, in a slightly different part of the County. I stop at Small Pond Arts outside Picton, to admire “Grandmother’s Fan #1.”

"Grandmother's Fan 1" by Krista Dalby Small Pond Arts

I talk to Krista Dalby, one half of the artist couple who own the studio. She tells me she painted this one herself — well, she is an artist! — to honour the quilt created by her maternal great-grandmother. “It was always there in my childhood, then it disappeared, and then it reappeared thanks to my sister.” The fabric quilt is pretty well in tatters by now, she says, but from it she could rescue the quilt-block design and create her barn quilt. (For more about Krista’s barn quilt & about Small Ponds Arts, visit her blog.)

“My husband is Macedonian,” she adds. “He is going to create a barn quilt design based on a family quilt of his own.”

I drive past one more example, “Swirling Star,” on a barn down by Milford. No commercial outlet that I can see. It’s just there. Settling nicely into place.

"Swirling Star" Nancy Fleck Milford

I think about what the two women told me of old family fabric quilts, now reborn in MDO board & paint. I think about what Pat told me, all the stories she hears as she contacts people about the project, all the personal history now being brought to life around the County as a whole.

The Trillium Foundation, says the PEC Barn Quilts Trail website, supports these trails in Ontario “as a way to tell community stories.”

Yes! That is exactly it. We also benefit — we who drive by & take photos — but the real value is within the community, whose stories are being gathered & made tangible in a whole new way.




Down the Garden Path

15 June 2015 – We’ve often holidayed in Picton / Prince Edward County, but this is the first time with friends. It is also, therefore, the first time with the advantage of additional resources of knowledge, curiosity & day-trip suggestions.

So I’m not showing you more of the County’s extraordinary porches & doorways (though I may yet). I am instead taking you where Chris & Susan took us: to SpindleTree Gardens. It is a 20-acre haven of gardens & architectural quirks about an hour’s drive north-east of Picton, created with love, skill & dogged persistence by Tom Brown & Susan Meisner.

I like visiting gardens, especially ones created by the sheer determination of obsessed individuals over time, and most especially ones that also include what I call ‘architectural quirks’ — old bits of stuff, the flotsam & jetsam of rural life, repurposed.

Like these welcoming pillars among the daisies & poppies & spotted willow next to the farmhouse.

garden nearest the tea room

I’m charmed, right off the bat. Well, I was already charmed, having heard tales from Chris & Susan, who are friends-of-friends of the owners. A preparatory coffee in the little tearoom & off we go, on a self-guiding tour. (Which we choose to do in reverse order, for reasons I now forget…)

Around a first corner, angling our way past the greenhouse conservatory with its gothic church-style windows & stained glass …

the greenhouse conservatory

and into the Pump & Circumplants [sic] garden. First I notice the spike guarding one corner of boxwood hedge …

in the Pump & Circumplants garden

and then the fallolloping spring flowers, happy in the sunshine, with one of the ponds glinting at us in the distance.

spring flowers in the Pump & Circumplants garden

Over the ponds …

bridge over two ponds

and after a bit up to to the Grande Allée of flowering black locust trees.

the Grande Allée

Probably a grander Allée when flowering, but I’m happy to admire the pattern of the brickwork path, and, even more wonderful, the pattern of the black locust tree’s bark.

black locust tree

Plus pods. Don’t forget the pods.

Poppies are at their best, exactly precisely right now. Leslie (another of our group) draws my attention to this one:

poppy next to the Grande Allée

And on down the Allée, and around another corner — and there’s the maze! I hadn’t expected one (not bothering to read my walk brochure), but it’s exactly the right thing to have, in such a garden, is it not?

the maze at SpindleTree Gardens

We each make it to the centre — guided occasionally by muttered “Oops” or “Yes!” from someone around the next bend — where we smack the fleur-de-lys pole to create audible proof of our success, before working our way out again.

There is a small pond just a bit farther on, covered in duck weed (or somesuch), except for the perfect oval of clear water created by the bubbler beneath.

small pond at SpindleTree

More happy plants, with (cross-reference to my previous post) what are surely happy rocks to keep them snug in their beds.

beds of peonies

Some native bleeding hearts, just as we round our way back to our starting point — all the more wonderful because, unlike hybrids, their bloom is so fleeting.

native bleeding heart

Some final found objects to bid us farewell. (“People see stuff here & bring him more stuff,” says Susan.) Some old sections of fence, maybe-perhaps, but just as likely to be sections of some old farm implement. Maybe-perhaps.

fence? farm implement?

And beavers.

ornamental garden post

At least I can recognize a beaver!





    "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"

  • Recent Posts

  • Walk, Talk, Rock… B.C.-style

  • Post Categories

  • Archives

  • Blog Stats

    • 46,294 hits
  • Since 14 August 2014

    Flag Counter
  • Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 1,071 other followers


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,071 other followers

%d bloggers like this: