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.

Small Park, Big Art

15 February 2015 – I like urban parkettes, they punch ‘way above their weight. Small space, lots of radiating benefit. Even so, I’m not paying any attention to Columbus Parkette as I continue the walk that began in High Park.

By now I’m on Dundas St. West, near Sorauren Av., striding along. My eye only half-registers the patch of (currently snow-white) ground & play equipment on the south side of the street.

But both eyes fully register this Uber 5000 canary!

Uber 5000 canary detail, Columbus Parkette

And the rest of the mural, all along the side of the variety store on the parkette’s eastern edge.

shop wall, east end, Columbus Parkette

I swivel, properly looking around by now, and see more street art on the shop wall at the park’s west end.

detail on shop wall, west end Columbus Parkette

And more again, this time all over the little building (washrooms I think) within the park itself. I don’t need the signature to tell me it’s a Jeff Blackburn bear — that loopy bear face is as good as a tag.

Blackburn bear, Columbus Parkette

Somebody else, or perhaps multi-others, created the even loopier subway car on the building’s end wall. (At least, I think so.)

south wall, Columbus Parkette building

I start looking beyond the park, past the play equipment into the criss-cross of lanes to the south. I squint against the sun.

Columbus Parkette, 1985 Dundas STt. West

Oh, this is promising. Garage art in all directions. Tromp-tromp. In I go. The first one I approach, right at the east end, is a double pleasure.

signed Li-Hill, Columbus Parkette

First, the pleasure of its artistic quality. Second, the pleasure of seeing a Li-Hill signature out on the street. He does some street art under this, his real name, but you see a lot more work in his distinctive street style, linked to his street name.

I can’t identify the artists for most of what I see in these lanes. I just walk around, and enjoy myself.

lane behind Columbus Parkette

Ah, next up comes an expansive mural, spread across several buildings, in a style I can identify & link with an artist. This is by Elicser.

Elicser, in lane behind Columbus Parkette

Tucked high in the left corner, not visible in the shot, the legend: “I was on cloud nine for a long time.”

You’ll have noticed I tend to photograph representational work more than ones that are instead strongly graphic. Here’s an exception. Sorry, I can’t tell you if the “CBS” is the artist’s tag or something else, or nothing at all. (Help-help, anyone who knows.)

lane south of Columbus Parkette

I come to a laneway T-juntion, turn south, and stop to admire what I’m pretty sure is a home-grown garage door mural. It’s endearing. I’m glad it’s here.

lane by west end, Columbus Parkette

A woman out walking her dog stops to enjoy it as well. Dog catches up. He’s very small, very furry, wearing a resplendent winter coat but no boots. “Bailey hates slush, but won’t wear boots,” mourns his owner. She gives a philosophic shrug.

We part ways at the bird house …

lane junction south of Columbus Parkette

… agreeing that an inquisitive dog, or just an obsession with walking, introduces you to a lot of back lanes. Which is a good thing.

I look north again, start doubling my way back up to Dundas Street, now in the lane on the parkette’s west side. Far end, a big red “construction danger” banner smacks the eye, apparently draped over an interesting bit of mural work on that building’s side wall.

lane bordering west side, Columbus Parkette

I walk up the lane, planning to yoick aside that banner, if I can, see what’s hidden beneath.

And then … the joke is on me. The banner is part of the mural. (I should have guessed.)

banner-mural, near Dundas at Columbus Parkette

So, with thanks to all the artists who have created this network of open-air galleries, I finally rejoin Dundas Street and my interrupted east-bound walk.

Cannot resist including one more shot. It is totally unrelated to everything else in this post, but it too is very stylish.

Picture a sports pub, down by Dufferin Street. Picture the usual mixed retail/entertainment/residential neighbourhood. Picture patrons piling out of said sports pub, late in the evening. Add the sound track.

Now read the sign.

The Derby, 1516 Dundas St. West

We Canadians are so polite.


A Nitwit in High Park

11 February 2015 – I’m on the northern edge of High Park, just below Bloor Street, soaking up this rare combination of mild but sunny weather. Usually I walk south for a while mid-park, then take a path down the slope to Grenadier Pond; today I follow the first snowy trail I see toward the water.

trail to creek n. of Grenadier Pond

It brings me out well north of the pond — here there’s just a pretty, narrow feeder creek between the park and its residential neighbours to the west.

creek north of Grenadier Pond

I see the first of what becomes a whole series of warning signs. “Ice Unsafe Keep Off,” they shout. Honestly, I think. Of course the ice will be unsafe — even out on the pond, given Toronto’s seesaw temperatures. What nitwit would take the risk?

Then again, nitwits are never in short supply. I accept the need for warning signs, but focus my own attention on the equally plentiful High Park nature factoid signs.

Which is why I know that the rustling cattails, seducing me to follow this path …

into the cattails!

… are Typha latiolia, grow up to 2 m. tall, and not only stabilize the wetland & strain pollutants, but are useful to humans from roots to tips.

I admire all this, as well I ought, but what I’m enjoying, this very minute, is their beauty. I am surrounded. It is wonderful.

amongst the cattails!

I keep weaving along this well-tromped path in the snow, emerge into a little clearing, still with cattails all around, blazing against the sky.

in the cattail clearing...

And then… And then I realize I am well out from shore.

I am a nitwit!

I quickly justify myself: it’s very firm underfoot, it’s all snow with no icy sheen to suggest oozing water, there are lots of other footprints, blah blah. But I am still definitely of the Nitwit Brigade, so I meekly follow a path (firm, snowy, with footprints) back to land.

Where I flutter apologetic eyelashes at the next sign.

one of the signs, looking out into Grenadier Pond

But then I see, well out in the pond, a long ridge of snow. Joined by other ridges. Creating a rectangular border. In other words …

An ice rink.

My Canadian DNA calls; I obey; back out I go. To mid-pond.

the very traditional, totally unauthorized, mid-pond ice rink

Perfectly smooth ice, it’s a beauty. This young woman and her boyfriend have been joyously sliding about on their boots, now she’s taking pictures. Me too. And I get a major kick out of just standing here mid-pond, and looking all around. A winter-only treat!

Later I read about the long history of skating — indeed, City-sanctioned and facilitated until recently. But now, it is decidedly unauthorized. News  reports suggest the police occasionally shoo people off, but it’s hardly their top priority.

I eventually return to shore, safe & dry, loop around the park some more, still marvelling at the brilliance of the day. Among its other delights, it makes for gloriously crisp shadows (here, cast by a vine sculpture near Colborne Lodge).

vine sculpture, near Colborne Lodge, High Park

Finally I leave the park. Enough nature, time for city streets. East a bit to Roncesvalles, & north. What fun this street is. I bop in & out of a couple of nifty shops, buy nothing, but enjoy their style.

Well, I don’t quite “buy nothing.” There is the ritual latte to be had, this time at Roncy’s Bean where, I am amused to see, they put out two tip jars — “vote” on this week’s question by putting your loose change in one jar or the other.

People really get into it, the young barista tells me with a grin. “They want to know the outcome!” She’s an artist, so she obliges with a weekly poster.

vote with your change, at Roncy's Bean

Desert vs Antarctica last week, and a tie vote, hence the sunglasses on the penguin and the scarf on the tropical bird. This week’s showdown is in honour of Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day: “cheesy romantic” movie or “romantic comedy”? So far, it’s running neck & neck.

One more salute to Valentine’s Day, this one from much later in the walk, and brought to you by a garage door just off Dundas West near Ossington:

alley south from Dundas West, just west of Ossington

“Wait a minute!” I hope you’re saying to yourself. “What do you mean, ‘much later’? What about everything in-between?”

A-ha. “In-between” was so unexpected, so vivid, that it’s going to be its own post. There I am, walking past a small & not terribly special parkette — and I suddenly realize it is the epicentre of a whole universe of street art.

A-ha, indeed. You’ll see.





Saturday & Snow & Back to the 70s

8 February 2015 – The snow was anticipated, it was absolutely certain this would be another walk in the snow. Didn’t expect to revisit the 70s, though.

It’s not yet snowing as we walk back home from our Saturday morning visit to Merchants of Green Coffee. Despite the grey day, we four are buzzed and not just from the caffeine bouncing through our systems. We’e been exploring the building’s heritage industrial architecture, and learning more about MGC’s  partnership with a Honduran women’s co-op in Cafe Solar, the world’s first coffee produced by 100% renewable energy.

But my head snaps back from Honduras to Toronto when I see the latest stage in that Regent Park demolition. (My Little Boxes post shows an earlier stage.)

Regent Park demolition

With the east-end wall removed, it’s now like some wild ship’s prow, braving the elements.

Which is what I do later myself, heading home from a visit to friend and artist Betty White‘s current show at the TeodoraART Gallery in mid-town Toronto.

By now the snow is about to start. I cut through the Village of Yorkville Park, one I’ve shown you before and like a lot, partly for its respect for history.

Speaking of demolitions — as we were — this park is tucked on the exact footprint of the six Victorian rowhouse homes demolished to make way for a subway line. Each segment of the park illustrates one type of Canadian landscape, and occupies the exact footprint of one of those homes.

I walk past the great granite outcrop, brought in sections from the Canadian Shield to the north, currently topped by a romping toddler and her dad. Next to it, the water curtain that, at the moment, is an ice sculpture instead.

ice in Village of Yorkville Park

It’s such a tiny park, slivered between glossy, upmarket retail on Bloor St. to the south and boutiques on Cumberland to the north. I step through the Prairie Grassland, heading for the Pine Grove …

Village of Yorkville Park

… very aware, for a moment, of all that retail intruding on this little enclave of Nature.

Yet, somehow, magically, that awareness always fades. In summer visitors read their books and eat their lunch among the trees; now, in winter, we trace our footpaths among those trees instead. Like this …

among Yorkville Park trees

And this …

paths among the trees, to the N/E

But eventually I am back out on Bloor Street, then farther east and a bit south and tucking myself down Maitland Lane, mostly because I’ve never been there before.

And that’s where my 2015 self gets twirled back to the 1970s. All because of the faded TWP logo, still readable (to a knowing eye), on the back of this Alexander St. theatre.

back of Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, with TWP logo

Now it is Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, a home for queer theatre in the city. I remember it as — and the BBT website generously also remembers its years as — Toronto Workshop Productions. George Luscombe’s baby, a pioneering “alternative” theatre, home to Chicago ’70 (trial of the Chicago 7) and Ten Lost Years (the adaptation of Barry Broadfoot’s oral history of the Depression in Canada) and more, a whole lot more.

Oh my. I stand there, remembering my younger self & those years & voices & faces & events, and snowflakes keep tumbling down, getting thicker.

So I rejoin 2015, and head for home.

Eventually, it takes me through Allen Gardens. I stand by the off-leash dog play area in the fading light, and look at how lamps glow both outside the 1909 glass conservatory and inside as well. It’s magic, I think.


I have to confess it wasn’t quite this magic. Most of those explosions are flash + snowflake, not softly glowing lamp.

No. You know what? I take that back. It didn’t look quite that dramatic, but it felt that good.


Into the Snow

4 February 2015 – It’s grey & mushy today; total opposite to Monday’s bright sky, crisp air, everything wreathed in a big, sparkling layer of fresh powder snow.

Big? Not big in Atlantic Province terms, or Eastern Seaboard of the USA terms, or perhaps your own terms as you read this — but big for Toronto.

And very pretty.

farm-style Victorian house, near Cabbagetown

Snow suits this Victorian architecture, especially with some dark conifers thrown in for contrast.

I’m dressed for the frosty day: my double-layer Mackenzie Delta parka, traditional Inuvialuit style, brought to me in the 1970s from Inuvik, and my tall white Sorel double-layer boots, equally vintage. I’ve worn both a lot on various Arctic trips, and in them, I feel invincible.

Not that I meet anything that dramatic in Toronto’s Cabbagetown! Just more Victorian homes.

Carlton Street, Cabbagetown

I’m on Carlton Street now, looking for this next home, knowing it’s at one of the street corners on my way east to Riverdale Park. The home is notable any season, because of its unusual bay window — V-shaped rather than bowed.

Carlton Street, Cabbagetown

After a snowfall, I also find it notable for the way the snow settles in swirling loops around that low bush in front.

Into Riverdale Park & Riverdale Farm — more precisely, into Riverdale Park West. The overall park covers both the eastern & western slopes of the Don Valley ravine at this point, linked by a pedestrian bridge that spans two expressways & the Don River.

S/W corner, Riverdale Park West

A small plaque tells us the first private owner of this land was Francis Gwillim Simcoe, son of John Graves Simcoe, first Lieut.-Gov. of Upper Canada, 1791-96. That “private owner” reference is a delicate touch: this was First Nations land, before the white man came along with his notions of private ownership …

Small dog in red coat, frisking among the trees, doesn’t know history, doesn’t care. He’s happy in the snow. So are dog walkers, parents & excited children with sleds & toboggans. Not so happy: the motorist out on the street whose starter motor won’t. Start, I mean.

I walk past the 1840s Francy Barn, brought here from its original location on a pioneer’s farm in Markham Township. (For barn enthusiasts: it’s a bank barn, in Pennsylvania German style.)

The paddock for the Farm’s heritage animals is on my right; the pig barn on my left; the signpost points out path options.

direction signpost, Riverdale Farm/Park West

Forget Lower Pond (top right arrow on the signpost). That road is not maintained in winter, it’s piled high with snow and roped off. I’m about to take the middle path (lower arrows on the right) to the duck pond, which is somewhat cleared, when a loud Baa-aa-aaa stops me in my tracks.

I’d already seen that Rooster was in the paddock (he is a Clydesdale horse — named in a contest won by a schoolchild with a sense of humour), but I hadn’t noticed any other animal life out in the snow.

Another baaaa.

So here’s what I want you to do. Roll back up to the preceding photo before you peek below. (No cheating.) See that dark oval beneath the trio of left-hand arrows, next to a dark bin of some kind?

OK. Now you can scroll down.

woolly sheep!

Woolly sheep. Very, very woolly sheep.They’re nosing at feed in the bin and not at all interested in me. Or in the snow, for that matter. (In those coats, why should they care?)

I tromp on down toward the duck pond, glad of my tall boots whenever I step off the central ploughed strip. The pond is pretty well the end of this path, just before the land drops steeply into the ravine.

No ducks.

Just a bench, where you could sit to watch the ducks.

bench, for other seasons...

If there were ducks. If it were summer.

Tromp-tromp back to the Francy Barn, and around it this time to the west, now I’m parallel with another side of the paddock. I watch a young man stick his camera through some chain-link fencing, see that he’s photographing a couple of cows with a layer of snow on their backs.

“Snow on the cows’ backs!” he marvels. “That‘ll tell people in California I’m not at home any more.” I agree. Then — not wanting him to miss the other snowy backs on offer — I tell him about the sheep. And I add, “But first you can photograph Rooster.” I wave in the general direction of the horse.

We do a whole who’s-on-first-what’s-on-second routine before I can finally make clear that Rooster is not a rooster, not even some Clydesdale breed of rooster, it is a horse and …  Well, we get there eventually.

So the California expat lollops off to photograph Rooster-the-horse and the woolly sheep, and I head for the ravine slopes. Every snowfall, they are alive with kids — whether there’s enough snow to justify the enthusiasm or not.

Today there surely is.

Riverdale Park West, look south-east

Much squealing going on.

I now look slightly northward as well as eastward, across the highways & river, bringing into view the pedestrian bridge and the slopes of Riverdale Park East. Jut tiny speckles on the far slopes from here, but I know what they’re doing. Same thing these kids are doing.

looking east but slightly north, over the Don River to Riverdale Park East

The east-side ravine edge is steeper & broader. I remember wading through here in deep snow almost exactly two years ago, then over the bridge and onto those far slopes. Want to see what I saw? Just click.

Today, I turn back on my side of the river. Snow is still thick & fresh, streets largely uncleared, vehicular traffic is light. Most people are happy to be on their own two feet.

needs snow tires...

Not on a bicycle.


“Little Boxes …”

31 January 2015 – Little boxes of different types, in different places, at different times.

Little Boxes – Regent Park, Toronto, Ontario; 1948

I stand at Dundas St. East & River St., and a long-ago song starts bopping through my brain.

“Little boxes on the hillside …”

Regent Park demolition, Dundas E & Sumach

Not really on a hillside, but oh, such little boxes, peeled open by the demolition crew. They are part of an old public-housing building, a fact that — perhaps — adds resonance to the song’s next line:

“Little boxes made of ticky tacky…”

Dundas E at Sumach demolition

But only perhaps.

The original Regent Park complex, including this building, dates from the late 1940s and was Canada’s first (and still largest) social housing project. The fact it is being completely replaced now, building by building, is no necessary indictment of the construction of the day. The materials will be much better now — but, 67 years later, I should hope so.

‘”There’s a green one and a pink one …”

demolition, Regent Park

“And a blue one and a yellow one …”

Regent Park demolition

“And they all look just the same.”

Regent Park demolition

They do — but they don’t. Individual people lived here, and made their own individual homes.

I had already noticed the building, and half-planned to come take a few photos, when I received an email from my friend Kay. She, too, had been struck by the sight: “strange, interesting, somewhat sad but also cheery,” she said, and she was right.

So my half-plan became a for-sure plan, and here I am.

Little Box – Thornton Park, Orlando, Florida; 2015

And here I am not – except virtually, thanks to neighbour Brian, fresh back from a winter break in Florida.

Even without the temperature difference, you would not confuse Regent Park with Thornton Park, the latter being a neighbourhood (says Brian) of “brick-paved streets lined by large live oak trees.”

Thornton Park, Orlando FL

And my point is? Brian made the point. He directed my attention, as I direct yours, to the glimpse of bright blue box at the far right corner of the streetscape above …

… which turns out to be a little box. A little utility box, transformed into a work of  what I call “box art.” It is something I photograph whenever I can.

So he photographed it for me.

utility box, Thornton Park, Orlando FL

“Metrosexual,” is Brian’s assessment. “Chic, trendy, sexually suggestive, animal friendly, all good times and warm sunny weather.”

utility box, Thornton Park, Orlando FL

Yessir. All of the above.

“Little Boxes” – Daly City, California; 1962

Credit so far to Kay, to Brian.

Now let us all give credit to Malvina Reynolds who, as they drove through Daly City, told her husband to take the wheel. “Bud,” she reportedly said, as she watched all those little houses flashing by, “I feel a song coming on.”

She surely did.

It has been with us ever since.






Heart & Sole

28 January 2015 – Yes, a pun, have I no shame? “Sole” not “soul,” as in footwear. As for “heart” — which inspired the title — the early part of the walk is positively dripping with hearts. Even though it’s not yet February, let alone Valentine’s Day.

For example …

sculpture, Gristmill Lane at Parliament Street

I decide to build my Saturday walk off the tail-end of some downtown errands, so here I am, post-errands, at the edge of Gristmill Lane.

The name would be cute enough to make your teeth ache, except it has justification. I’m also on the edge of what is now the entertainment/shopping complex known as the Distillery District. It began life in 1832 as the Gooderham & Worts distillery, which enjoyed long worldwide success & left a legacy of fine Victorian industrial architecture, now repurposed. The names of the various lanes relate directly to that industrial history.

I walk east on Gristmill Lane, look back, and of course see teenagers eagerly photographing each other within the heart’s embrace.

view to heart sculptre, from Triinity St. end

More hearts to come.

Walking Society Phyllis tipped me off to a display of locks down one of the lanes. It is the same idea as all those locks on bridges, with their keys thrown in the river to symbolize eternal love, but this time in some sort of wall display.

I stick my head into Tank House Lane — and there it is.

Tank House Lane locks display

Peripheral vision tells me someone is politely waiting for me to drop my camera before crossing my path. I thank her, then become interested in her as she locates a pair of locks, and photographs them.

“They’re ours,” she says. “My boyfriend & I engraved this one with our initials, and this one with the initials of a friend who has passed away. I come every now & then, just to see them … make sure they’re still okay …” She smiles, gives a little shrug. I ask if I can take her photo with them.

“Sure,” she says.

young woman with her locks

Her story makes me like the wall display, feel that it’s real, not just some marketing promo for the complex.

I’ve already decided I’m going to walk on south to the Port Lands. My route takes me out the south end of the Distillery District back to Parliament Street, through parking lots for a car-detailing shop & an equipment rental outlet.

I’m entering graffiti-land, in other words; no more hearts.


parking lot behind Parliament St., just south o the Distillery  District

It’s the love-bot! (I think I made that up, but I may be subliminally remembering a name already in use. The image is one that we do see around town, though usually as 3D cement-block mini-sculptures, not as wall art.)

Right next to it, another image I recognize — the unmistakable ANSER face.

ANSER face, behind lower Parliament St. building just south of Distillery District

I sometimes wonder if he does this with one continuous stroke. I’ve tried to follow the line a few times, work it out — but I’ve always failed, & then I decide it doesn’t matter anyway.

Such an arresting image, partly for the sure-handed graphics but mostly, I think, for those eyes.

detail, ANSER face

I’m amused this time by the winter vines, blown like careless wisps of hair across the face.

Down Parliament to the bike trail, across to Cherry Street, and on down into the Port Lands.

Oh, the Port Lands. Once it was Toronto’s heavy-industry (and often dirty industry) 400-Ha waterfront work horse. It is still a work horse, but now under regeneration & development, its mandate to become an area of commercial/residential/light-industrial/recreational use “in urban form.”

I’ve walked here before, exploring the mix of grime & nature; today I am more focused on nature, specifically Cherry Beach and Clarke Beach Park right down on the lake front.

But first I stop at a Cherry St. institution. T&T Supermarket is an Asian grocery store whose size & range & quality draw customers of all ethnicities, from all over town.

I pause in the parking lot, for a very Port Lands scene indeed: a wintering lake boat, framed by cranes, chain link fence and the downtown silhouette.

from T&T parking lot, 222 Cherry St.

Inside T&T, well … there is everything, as always, and I marvel, as always. Today, I can also marvel at exuberant piles of merchandise gearing up for Chinese New Year.

T&T, ready for Chinese New Year

On down Cherry Street to its southern tip. I am finally at the lake, where I turn west rather than east, following ice & snow & rocks along beach front that I’ve never explored before.

I look back east; it reveals the other side of the 1930s Cherry Life Station, slightly younger sibling to the Leuty Life Station and also still in seasonal use. (In the distance, the Inner Harbour and Leslie Spit.)

Cherry Life Station, in Clarke Beach Park

This south-western curve of the Port Lands may be new to me, but not to the walkers and dog-walkers I meet along the way. We smile, chat a moment, agree it’s a beautiful day — and it is, especially with no wind.

I poke along at water’s edge, watch the mini-floes drifting by. I remember being awed by the real, full-size thing on Arctic walks (Grise Fiord in particular), but I am here and I am now, and I enjoy this just as much.

lake front, in Clarke Beach Park

The day moves on, the sun drops even lower in the sky, the wind picks up. My cue to leave.

So I do. Northbound this time on Cherry St., ignoring the blandishments of a café halfway up, because I have an even better one in mind.

Balzac’s! It means a detour back into the Distillery District on the way home …

Balzac's, Distillery District

… and it’s worth it.



Ice Hockey! Gustav Klimt! Drizzle!

25 January 2015 – Oh, so much drizzle. Zero-ish, very grey, and neither rain nor snow can quite win the precipitation battle, so they take turns. I’ve had a great visit with a friend up-town, I’ve decided to make the trip home my Saturday walk, so here I am in Oriole Park, about to chain my way south through various parks.

I’d like to tell you I’m all bright-eyed about it, but I’m not, I’m pretty well as sulky as everybody else stomping along, hood up, eyes forward.

Until I see the membranes of the dragonfly wing, silhouetted against the sky.

dragonfly fountain, Oriole Park playground

I like that, I do, & I find I am at least marginally less sulky. I walk around the dragonfly — a fountain, arched over the splash pad in the park’s kiddy playground — and imagine how cheerful it must be in summer.

dragonfly fountain, Oriole Park playground

“Summer will come, ” I think.

By the time I hit Ramsden Park, mid-town level, I’m willing to engage with what I see, willing to be pleased. Even by the russet tones of left-over vines, their texture piled on all the other textures along this lane.

fence on Ramsden Park Rd.

This park, just like Oriole Park, is practically empty. You can usually count on a universe of dog-walkers, but not today. Whatever the woofers might think, the humans clearly prefer to stay inside.

But not all humans!

ice rinks, Ramsden Park

Some people aren’t sulking & waiting for summer, I tell myself; some people want a long, cold winter. Not just these hockey players, either — behind this rink is the “civilian” rink, where I see parents helping wobbly-ankled children get the hang of their new skates.

I’m still zigzagging my way south-east. A jog a bit south of Ramsden Park takes me onto a street I’ve never before noticed, where I stop & stare at this little house. Once the neighbourhood norm, it is now dwarfed by the extent & scale of redevelopment.

house at McMurrich & Roden Pl.

I find I am … touched. Moved. How can I be moved by bricks & mortar? It is absurdly anthropomorphic of me, but I find this little place so sweet, so vulnerable. I want it to survive, and I am heartened to see a discreet corporate name just around the corner, suggesting that it is being cared for and will survive. For a while, anyway.

One more look, from the side-street.

view from Roden Place

My mind’s eye repopulates the street with back views like this — but my 2015 eye notes the tower and the construction crane in the background.

Another back view of a house — probably from roughly the same era, but farther south, and glimpsed from George Hislop Park. You immediately forget the house, and focus on the face.

She flames, as Klimt images always flame, she plays peek-a-boo with pedestrians over the park’s west-side fence.

Gustav Klimt image, seen from George Hislop Park

Any day that gives you both hockey and Gustav Klimt  is an OK day. Even in the drizzle.

So I am now reconciled to the weather and happy. I am almost immediately rewarded with a laugh — just a bit east of this park, on Isabella Street. This is the heart of the city’s gay life, now officially recognized with rainbow imagery on all the Church Wellesley Village street signs.

No street sign on this block, just a long line of bike locks. One of them bright pink.

on Isabella St., west of Church

Still in the village, now cutting through Barbara Hall Park at Church Street, with a detour to check the back of a garage on a south-side lane.

JAH mural in lane on south of Barbara Hall Park

I’m always happy to add another image by artist-architect JAH to my digital collection, so click-click. (And if you click-click here, you’ll visit my January 2014 post about his art, and his dissertation on graffiti in the digital age — which won him his Master of Architecture degree from U of Toronto.)

Into Allen Gardens, the last park before home, and I check the huge off-leash dog compound on the north side. It is usually teeming with dogs. Only two of them, this dull day.

Allen Gardens off-leash dog parks

Blue Dog. Green Dog. But no dog-dogs.

I lie. One is approaching as I walk away. He’s frisking along, but I can tell by the owner’s set face that this will be a short visit indeed.




    "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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