River to Lake, No Ice

19 April 2015 – Finally warm! Look, no gloves! The Tuesday Walking Society is all girlish giggles of joy as we set out from the Old Mill subway station & start south along the west side of the Humber River. New growth is beginning to appear, but last fall’s rusty leaves still carpet this marker in King’s Mill Park.

lookout west side of Humber R.,  just south of Old Mills subway station


The park is well-named: Toronto’s first industrial building was a mill — the King’s Mill — built here in 1793. It is long gone, though traces remain of subsequent mills on the same site. No traces at all, these days, of the Huron-Wendat villages that once populated this watershed, except for a map showing the locations of some archaeological digs.

This fact makes me grimace a bit at the next map, one of the colourful big ones that dot the route of any of the city’s Discovery Walks. We are following Humber River, Old Mill & Marshes, and the trail bears this name:

Discovery Walk map, posted on  Stephen Dr at Berry Rd.

My grimace is for the title. “The Shared Path”? More likely the seized path, given the typical course of European-indigenous interactions. (But yes, all that is long ago, and now is now. We cannot change then; we are responsible for now.)

At this point Phyllis & I are out of King’s Mill Park. We have to put in a few fairly boring blocks of city streets before the trail enters South Humber Park. Back to the river, back into nature, though always with the city dancing on the horizon.

view east from South Humber Park

The Humber River watershed is the largest in the Toronto area, an important corridor for migratory birds & monarch butterflies. (All the more reason to celebrate the Humber Bay Butterfly Habitat just west of the Humber, on the lake.)

There are marshes along this stretch of river, one of the city’s few remaining river-mouth marshes, prime breeding habitat for ducks, turtles & fish.

And prime wading grounds for Great Blue Heron.

GBH in the Humber Marshes

Down, down we walk. I tie my jacket about my waist, revel in the warmth. Nothing gradual about the transition from one season to the next, not in this part of the world: we jump straight from winter’s Full Stop to spring’s Fast-Forward, ka-boom.

The trail goes under two major expressways close to the lake: first the Queensway, then the Gardiner. Traffic overhead, concrete pillars all around, a few charmingly old-fashioned light standards along the way.

under the Queensway & Gardiner bridges across the Humber River

Painted in firm black letters on one of the pillars: “Retake the lake.”

Now a prettier bridge, one of my great favourites from any angle, the pedestrian bridge at the very mouth of the Humber.

pedestrian bridge at mouth of Humber River, from the north

We turn westward through lakeside parkland, a narrow but amazingly effective ribbon of peace & recreation between the lake on one side and soaring condos on the other. It is also a good viewing spot for the downtown silhouette, back there to the east …

view from Humber Bay Shores park toward city to east

You see that Mute Swan, gliding through the inlet? These guys are around all winter — not like those sissy Stratford (Ontario) swans, carefully relocated to protected habitat each fall & then ceremoniously paraded back to the Thames (still Ontario) in spring!

Sorry, I got distracted there, smirking at the Stratford swans. The thing we notice about our local tough-guy swans is that, today, they are all fluffed up as they cruise around. As if they’d watched one too many Michelin Man images in the tire commercials, and got ideas. (“Hey look, I bet we could be even rounder than that!”)

Mute Swan, all fluffed up

I’m sure any ornithologist could explain the phenomenon, but I prefer to think they’re just having fun. They look like they are, as the wind catches all those surfaces and propels them this way & that.

Not fun at all, our next stop, but one I always make. We walk out the east lobe of Humber Bay Park, jutting into the lake, and stop for a moment at the monument to Air India flight 182. The flight originated in Toronto; so did the terrorist bomb that, on 23 June 1985, exploded over Ireland, killing all 392 passengers & crew.

Air India 182 memorial, Humber Bay Park East

Terrorism is commonplace, a chilling truth. Yet each act of terrorism matters, each lost life matters. I once stood at the wall of victims’ names, by chance next to a young man who gently touched a name, and said that fellow had been his work colleague & his friend. I see people come upon this memorial unawares, chattering happily about other things; they halt, first puzzled, then — always — touched. I am also touched, in a world of so much violence, to see the power of remembrance.

A happier finale to the walk, symbols of life not death. We head back to the main shoreline, & start weaving our way east through the Humber Bay Butterfly Habitat along the lake.

Our path angles through the HBBH Home Garden, with its great metal ravens standing guard. Each hollow sculpture is stuffed with straw — real birds with real nests, tucked inside the artwork. Their backdrop is a line of waterfront condos. Everybody like a lake view!

Home Garden, Humber Bay Butterfly Habitat

Then off down Marine Parade Drive, the ever-busier roadway between condos & park, for a bistro with a patio and our first outdoors latte-&-something of the season …

Art With an Echo

14 April 2015 – I don’t mean echoes of sound (BOOM! boom-boom-boom), but of memory. The bounce-back of one image being overlaid with an earlier image, or even with a cluster of emotions. Either way, just for a moment, time & space fly wide open all around you.

And so I stand just inside the Doug Coupland show at the Royal Ontario Museum, and blink at what I see, and at what I “see” superimposed on what I see.

I see stacks of bright plastic (Meditations in Plastic), in front of patchwork walls of slogans (Slogans for the 21st Century).

Coupland show, ROM

The plastic columns are beguiling, and signature Coupland. My mind’s eye leaves the ROM, and revisits Concord CityPlace where much larger variations on these columns fill a kiddies’ splash pad.

Bobber Plaza, Concord CityPlace, artist Doug Coupland


Back to the ROM. Past Meditations to take a closer look at those towering walls of slogans, each in its own glowing plastic square. Some I find silly, some clever-boots, & some thought-provoking, especially ones touching on the technology/human dynamic. (This, after all, is the man who defined a whole generation, and launched his own career, with his 1991 first novel, Generation X.)

I linger, picking out slogans I want to think about. Other visitors do the same, some practically bumping the wall with their intensity.

Slogans for the 21st C., Coupland show, ROM

This time the echo takes me to another wall, not plastic & definitely not in a gallery.

I’m remembering one of the murals that fill “Graffiti Alley.” It’s a Toronto alley but known nation-wide, because this is where CBC-TV’s Rick Mercer films his rants.

in "Graffiti Alley" (s. of Queen St. West)

One final ROM echo, a deliberate detour on my way to the (relocated) main doors. There, still soaring up one of the stairwells, is the first totem I ever saw — long before my visit to the great totems of Ninstints, in Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands), a long-abandoned village now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

ROM totem pole

Back out to the sunny day, more walking north & west before turning homeward again, and I think I am done with echoes. But I’m not.

Eyes flick right from long habit as I pass an alley heading south from Harbord St. just east of Bathurst. You never know what you’ll see, do you?

I see a mural on the convenience store’s side wall. Goofy-fun-silly.

Croft St. at Harbord St.

Then I see it’s signed “Buck-Teeth Girls Club” — and BOOM! (boom-boom-boom), there’s the echo.

Phyllis & I followed the West Toronto Railpath one day, goggled at all the murals, and giggled at this one.

mural in West Toronto Railpath

Then I discover this alley has not only coughed up another Buck-Teeth Girls Club mural for me (only #2 in my collection), it seems full of interesting garage art all the way south.

Next I discover it isn’t an alley, though it sure looks like one. It is Croft St. where, long ago, through murals at the southern (College St.) end, I learned about the eponymous John Croft, the one fatality in the Great Fire of 1904, still the worst fire in Toronto’s history.

So I start south with anticipation for the far end, as well as curiosity about what might lie in-between. First up, an echo of something we have never seen, but should remember even so, and honour.

garage door, Croft St.

Nothing lost about the subject of the next mural! These guys are all around us.

garage in Croft St.

Also not lost, Harbord Street, half a block to the north.

Croft St. garage art

I am just finding a good position for the next shot, realizing I need to take in a double garage, wondering which owner persuaded the other to make it a joint project, when — Zzzzzzz — up goes the right-hand garage door. In rolls the car. Out comes the driver, smiling at me & my camera. Zzzzzzzz — down goes the door.

Turns out he owns both properties, so no persuasion necessary. “My wife hired the artist, & it was a great idea. If you have a mural, you don’t get tagged.”

garage in Croft St.

He raises a cautionary finger. “But it has to have street-art style, you know? If it’s too pretty, they’ll tag it.”

detail, double-garage, Croft St.

His is not “too pretty.” His wife chose well.

Farther south, there begin to be a few residence doors on the street, rather than just garages. Still lots of garages, though, and a continuing back-alley feel to the street.

garage, Croft St.

Good-news / bad-news about the Great Fire murals. Bad news: The ones facing onto the alley have been defaced: some clown has used opaque silver paint to obliterate the story with his own ID in giant script.

Good news: for the first time in my visits here, there are no cars parked in front of the fire mural on the north wall. Hurray! I can finally see it whole.

part of Great Fire of 1904 murals, Croft St.

I’m happy. I’ve seen new art, I’ve played with my echoes of art,  the sun is shining …

… and it is almost warm.


Poppin’ Through the Parks

9 April 2015 – It became a park walk, though that hadn’t been the plan. But I should have had a premonition, as I marched off to our agreed meeting place: this message I passed en route wasn’t just mushy street art philosophy, it was a warning.

A warning, I tell you. A directive.

written inside an Evol "horse"

Or, in the case of the Tuesday Walking Society: Find each other.

The plan was to rendez-vous outside the recently reopened conservatory attached to a downtown park called Cloud Gardens. Our 8 a.m. phone conversation agreed that the midtown transit disruption (a fire investigation) would soon clear, allowing Phyllis lots of time to head south & meet me there at 9:30.

At 10:05 I conclude she wasn’t able to get through after all. (For the first time ever, I wish I had a smart phone…)

Not only no Phyllis, no visit to the conservatory, either. Someone is in there, playing monkey-on-the-wall & watering hanging plants, but the doors are locked. I take a wistful peek through the glass …

Cloud Gardens conservatory, Temperance St.

… and decide to shove off. This park is featured on the city’s Downtown Discovery Walk; I study a handy map posted in the grounds, and follow its lead. It will take me through familiar parks, but that’s fine, and it will eventually send me past Union Station — just where Phyllis & I had planned to go next. So I may be solo, but I’ll be honouring the spirit of our intended walk.

Next up: Courthouse Square. Toronto is still in the first dreary transition from winter to spring: no buds, no blooms, no leaves, grass still winter-beige. Thank goodness for year-round public art. This stack of law books, for example, appropriate to their context.

Court House Square, 10 Court St.

I see a smudge of white beyond the books, check it out. Snowdrops! The first I’ve seen this year. There are a few blooms, after all. But you do have to look for them …

Across Church Street now, jogging just a titch north so I can obey the Discovery Walk route and cut through St. James Park from north-east to south-west. As I go, I pause to admire the very modern — and, I think, entirely coherent — addition to the south side of the very traditional Anglican Dioscesan Centre.

between the Diocesan Centre and St. James Cathedral

St. James Park still very winter-brown. A fine bust of Robert Gourlay (1778-1863), though — a Scottish immigrant who advocated reforms, was banished, and is now honoured. “He championed reforms ahead of his time.”

Back across Church, two more heads. Not metal busts & much more ephemeral, they decorate hoardings advertising condos-to-come on Colborne Street.

just north of Colborne St.

@vydycatz, says the one on the left; @kizmet32, on the right.

Next official stop: Berczy Park. Like St. James Park, it too has street attractions right opposite. Bike art, this time.

opposite Berczy Park

A little out of season, but who cares?

And into Berczy Park, where the Flatiron mural dominates the scene, as it deserves to do, but where I personally most enjoy the sidewalk murals leading up to it.

Flatiron Bldg & mural, Berczy Park

I enjoy them so much, I use a mural section at the top of my blog home page. I spend a moment walking sideways the length of the mural, charmed all over again.

detail, sidewalk murals, Berczy Park

Who could resist?

And on I go, I have a Walk to pursue, down through the Toronto Sculpture Garden (currently sculpture-free, whoops) and along Front Street toward Union Station. Where, promises the Walk, I will find Union Station Parkette.

Construction chaos still swirls around the station, sufficient to force them to put up signs saying “sidewalk,” with helpful big arrows to point the way. So a mere parkette is lost to view. I don’t find it.

But I do find Phyllis!

We suddenly see each other, opposite sides of the street, with a red light giving us time to make funny faces at each other & start laughing. We are still laughing when the green light reunites us. Thank goodness Union Station drew us both.

And now, in full two-woman force, the Tuesday Walking Society first checks latest renovations inside the venerable old railway station, then heads outside again and continues to the next Discovery Walk destination: Roundhouse Park.

Um, with a stop across the street to admire the woodpecker in the parkette immediately south of the Toronto Convention Centre. Unlike the elusive woodpecker who returns to the same dead tree each spring opposite my house, whom I hear but never manage to see, this guy is very easy to see.

You can never hear him, though.

one of the woodpckers, lawn South Building

Roundhouse Park deserves its name: once a functioning railway roundhouse, its turntable is still in place and assorted train station structures and vintage locos fill the space. I keep meaning to visit the train museum … One day!

vintage train in Roundhouse Park

We’re in busy, noisy, entertainment-district territory: the Convention Centre to the north, the Aquarium, Steamwhistle Brewery in the roundhouse building with its guided tours, Rogers Centre right next door.

And, tucked into a slice of space just west of the Rogers Centre, another little park.

just S/W of Rogers Centre

Extraordinary what even the tiniest bit of landscaped space can accomplish. Gravel, birch trees, a big rock … and the surrounding world fades away. You are at peace.

This is surely private parkland — not in the sense of prohibiting visitors, only in the sense that it has been created and is maintained by the developer of the adjacent condos.

We keep walking west, headed for another huge condo complex, Concord CityPlace, with — to its credit — a lot of parkland and public art.

The public got to name one section of the park. The winning name: Canoe Landing Park. Here’s why:

Red Canoe by Doug Coupland

Doug Coupland’s Red Canoe, his homage to Tom Thomson, juts out over the steep embankment & the Gardiner Expressway below. I’ve loved the sculpture since I first climbed up to admire it; I’m angry now to see the interior is covered in scrawled graffiti, both at the vandals and at Concord, who ought to look after their artwork better than this. (I am here assuming it is the developer’s responsibility. If it is someone else’s, I’ll be angry with them instead.)

Happily, we see no vandalism on Puente de Luz. This is another CityPlace installation, art that earns its keep. It is a real, functional pedestrian bridge that spans multiple railway tracks to connect the complex with Front Street to the north. This real bridge, however, is designed by a real artist (Francisco Gazitua). Can you tell?

Puente de Luz, Front St. West

Any lingering temper about vandalism is banished by the bit of coffee philosophy we spot as soon as we reach Front Street. It is trying to lure us to an espresso bar just steps away.

Atlas Espresso Bar

And we do stop for coffee, though not there. And then we head east. Phyllis jumps a northbound subway car at Yonge, and I walk on home.

Don Was Here

Remember this shot from my previous post, about walking Lower Don Recreational Trail? And my puzzlement about who was placing this slogan & ripple on the trail, and why?

also trail markings!

Now I know why. All credit to blogger Bobgeor, whose Scenes From A City blog also celebrates Toronto. He explains:

It’s a public art installation which marks to the route of the Don before it was straightened at the end of the 19th century. There’s a bunch of them along the Don Recreational Trail all the way up to Todmorden.

Bridges & Water

6 April 2015 – Imagine me up there on the Prince Edward (aka Bloor) Viaduct, suddenly noticing this colourful retaining wall and wanting a closer look. Fortunately, I don’t have to resort to a spot of base jumping. Its illegality & my cowardice aside, leaping from that bridge is now impossible: it has been jump-proofed.

Prince Edward (Bloor) Viaduct, from trail below

Safe, easy, legal access? Down Pottery Rd to the Don River, and south on the trail.

Pottery Road access to Route 45

The trail parallels the Don Valley Parkway for a bit, then drops into the valley. Highway up there to my left, city towers on distant skylines — but down here, only the trail, slowly awakening nature, water and bridges.

Like this railway bridge, crossing the Don to soar up one edge of the Evergreen Brick Works.

railway bridge over the Don, with the Brick Works behind

Tagging on every trestle. Not what I think of as art; just tags. (I know, I know: if you can read them they are ripe with messages. But I cannot read them, and they are not beautiful, so they offer me nothing.)

Sometimes the bridge itself is beautiful. The wonderful radiating curves of this next low bridge, for example, draw my grateful eye away from the uninspired tagging beneath it.

low bridge over the Don, between Brick Works & Bloor Viaduct

I suppose this next painted statement is also uninspired … it is certainly unoriginal … but I am charmed.

along Route 45 South

My mind flashes back to the Leuty Lifeguard Station  I showed you recently, with its Happy Face addition, and I wonder: when did I become such a sucker for this stuff?

I don’t wonder for long, because I see another stretch of trail adored with the type of bright yellow squiggles I’ve seen on bike trails before — but, until now, always from a bridge looking down. The symbols are enigmatic. The work of midnight druids with a paint-pot?

yellow symbols on Route 45 South

Then I look closer, form my hypothesis, and have it confirmed a bit farther down the trail.

trail markings

Not the work of druids at all — unless they are also city employees, that is, marking cracks that need repair. The outline shows a whole area needing work; the chevrons signal the sunken patch between.

I squint at the blue ripple beyond, how appropriate so close to a river, and then laugh at the stencil message.

also trail markings!

“Don was here”? It doesn’t exactly seem official, does it? Yet we are next to the Don River, and the ripple, and the message, are repeated at intervals down the trail.

By now I’m opposite the colourful retaining wall section that drew my attention while crossing the Viaduct. It’s not that any of the panels look particularly interesting — it’s just that they go on and on.

And on.

retaining wall graffiti north of the Bloor Viaduct

But now I can get closer, so I do. I clamber up through the brush and the muck (oh, you should see my boots) for a closer look  …

panels on the retaining wall

… which also involves crossing that railway track. After looking both ways, of course! (Though, given the amount of rust on the rails, I doubt it’s active.)

As I start back through the muck to the trail, I eye all the construction work being done on Viaduct trestles. Then I spot the message added to a box on-site, and laugh. (Later, cleaning my boots, I keep that redeeming laugh in mind.)

Viaduct constuction site

Soon I’m well south of the Viaduct, closing in on the access stairs up to the pedestrian bridge that spans the Don, linking the two sides of Riverdale Park.

And then I’m at the stairs. Up, up the steps — where I meet a dog hell-bent on down-down the steps. Alas, his owner has other plans, and the owner holds the determining end of the leash. A moment’s quick-shuffle realignment of feet and paws, and they take off. (Across-across, not down-down.)

I linger, look over the tagged railing to yet more bridges beyond.

bridges over the Don River, from the Riverdale Park bridge

Three that I can see, one of them reflected perfectly in the river below. I know the Don will pass under a few more again, before it finally flows into Lake Ontario.


Spring Fever

2 April 2015 – Put on your happy face …


Leuty Lifeguard Station, The Beach, Toronto


It’s beginning to feel like spring.

Sunday Church, with Clarinet Solo

31 March 2015 — It is Sunday & I am off to church. Not a regular church service, as that “clarinet solo” reference warns you, and not quite an everyday, regular church, either. Even though it is Anglican, consecrated, and active.

signboard, St. Andrew by the Lake, Centre Island, Toronto

It is also on Toronto Island.

Built in 1884, veteran of long use, disuse, near-demolition, last-minute reprieve, relocation & restoration, St. Andrew by the Lake is now peacefully a place of worship for Islanders & visitors — and also home to other events.

I’m headed for the ferry docks, hoping to catch the 12:30 p.m. boat, which will give me a little walking-around time before Canzona‘s 2 p.m. concert of English Music for Clarinet and Piano. The ensemble, now in its 12th season, performs with and without other musical colleagues both in the Island church and in an equally small & interesting city church.

It’s fitting I’m attending an Island performance: I recently learned about the group from a fine woman I first met decades ago, when we both lived on Algonquin Island, one of the cluster that constitutes “Toronto Island.”

But first! I peer up Bay Street from Dundas, anxious for the sight of a bus — timing is all, when you’re ferry-dependent — and I am immediately diverted by a line-up spilling its way up the street.

For cheesecake. (Not that kind. Behave yourself.)

line-up for Uncle Tetsu’s Cheesecake

Uncle Tetsu’s Japanese Cheesecake, says the sign.

If you don’t live in Asia, you are forgiven for the question-marks now dancing over your head. Uncle Tetsu has 70-plus locations in Asia, primarily Japan, China & Taiwan — and, as of March 18, 2015, exactly one in North America. At Bay & Dundas, in Toronto. Is this a great city, or what?

I have no time to join the line-up, tempted though I am; I have a ferry to catch & here comes my bus.

Do you like maps? I hope so. The one at the ferry dock shows where I am taking you today.

section, Toronto Island map

Follow the dotted line left to Ward’s Island dock. Then, together, we’ll walk away from Ward’s Island, follow the road’s curve to the bridge for Algonquin Island, nip across to say hello to my one-time home, then back to the lagoon path, past Snake Island & its neighbour, up to the lake side for a look at the Centre Island pier in winter, and finally back to the harbour side and the church (#30 on the map).

Except we are not riding in one of the very tubby, very jolly 1930s summer ferries, as shown on the map.

We’ll be in the Ongiara, a small, unglamorous car/passenger ferry commissioned in 1960, that does winter service all by itself.

the Ongiara, ferry to/from Toronto Island

Definitely not beautiful.  But she, more precisely her crew, is much loved & appreciated by winter residents, who know how hard that crew works to keep everything functioning for them despite ice, snow, storms & (I am told) an ageing & vulnerable single propeller.

She is loved to the extent that this fall an Island artist made a long mural of gratitude. It is tacked to one of the inside cabin walls, full of Islander comments & signatures, plus comments from other passing visitors. Here’s one bit of it …

gratitude mural inside the Ongiara

Can’t account for the Catalonia riposte. There must be a reference elsewhere that drew this person’s political fire.

Taking this photo gets me talking to a woman who moved to the Island after my time, but with whom I share many experiences — skating on the lagoon & the lake (“It’s like skating into infinity,” she says), ferry & bicycle vignettes, people we both know, & even Canzona. No, she can’t make this performance, but she attends all that she can.

Off the boat at Ward’s — the only stop in winter — and I pause, as I always do, to look back across Toronto Harbour & enjoy the skyline. A little girl comes rocketing down to water’s edge beside me. “That’s Towonto!” she cries to her dad, who is close behind. She is really crisp with her t’s but not quite on top of the r’s. “It’s so pwitty from heah.”

Toronto, from Ward's Island ferry dock

And it is. Plane streaking low over tower-tops toward the Island airport, swans gliding in the harbour, ice sheets still rimming the shoreline, sky & water blazing blue.

Old memories play tag with current sights as I take the path, cross the bridge to Algonquin Island and look at my former home, glowing with reflected sun amidst the trees.

on Algonquin Island

A look westward down the lagoon from the bridge, then back to the road leading to Centre Island. The ice is now too soft for skating, but it still chokes the lagoon, catches most of the wharves & the houseboats beyond.

westward, from Algonquin Island bridge

I pass another Island map. This one announces that more than 50 kinds of trees have been labelled and invites us to take a self-guiding tour among them. Learn all about it, says the sign — and other tours — at Canadian Tree Tours. I note the URL for future walks.

The next sign is for immediate use — a fingerboard, pointing me down the lagoon-side path toward St. Andrew by the Lake.

path to St. Andrew by the Lake

I pass some Disc Golf “holes” (or whatever they call them, in this airborne version of golf), & think that at least I don’t have to worry about discs whizzing over my head, not at this time of year. Later I see two guys tucking discs back into purpose-designed shoulder bags. I am suitably thankful that they, their discs and my head managed to avoid each other.

A side-trip back up to the main path for a look lake-side, near the Centre Island pier.

Centre Island pier

Not exactly Brighton Pier! But it’s ours, and in summer it is in happy, noisy use all day long. Silent now, still deserted, with great slabs of storm-hurled ice either side.

It’s 1:40, time for the church. I love coming on St. Andrew by the Lake from any angle; today I choose to double back very slightly to the east, so I can again approach from that side. Bicycles, of course.

St. Andrew by the Lake, Toronto Island

Early 20th-c English music (Malcolm Arnold, etc.), not my very favourite genre, but the performers — Canzona founders Jacob Stroller (piano) & Jonathan Krehm (clarinet) — are very good, and the total music/Island/church experience is a delight.

Canzona performance, St. Andrew by the Lake, March 29

It is also wonderfully informal, with clarinetist Krehm providing the best non-musical moment of all. Not during his solo (Sonatina, Richard Rodney Bennet), but between the “Prelude” and “Romance” movements of Five Bagatelles, by Gerald Finzi.

A sudden finger-swipe mid-air, a chortling laugh, and the announcement, as he holds up the minuscule evidence: “It’s spring! Here’s a ladybug!”

Time at intermission to chat, but afterwards I hot-foot it for the docks. Old islanders have hurry-for-the-ferry in their genes.

As it happens, I am 15 minutes early, and have time to kill. I push open the door for the little waiting shed, and have one last, unexpected musical moment.

Ward's Island ferry waiting shed

Why am I surprised? Shouldn’t every waiting shed have a couple of pianos? I try a few chords on the one I’m showing you here. It is quite respectably nearly in tune.

Then the Ongiara churns up to the dock. The only music after that is the throb of engines and, as we approach the city, the crunch of ice cakes, breaking against her hull.


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.


    "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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