I started this blog with the goal of exploring Toronto. Within that, I wanted to also uncover more of the hazy, black fog that presides over parts of my mental map of Toronto (which actually reminds me of charting through new terrain in the old Command & Conquer games I used to play).
As an exercise, I decided to recreate the map of Toronto from memory – that is, its main road- and highways, railroads, waterways, and some parks. Gotta say: It was hard and certainly not pretty! This is how I did:
To create this, I drew – that is, recalled – from personal experience in physically being in these places as well as my interest in looking up the paths of railroads or ravines (although, even then it’s hard to recall where two rail lines meet or where a river branches off or curves; for this reason I didn’t bother at all with the smaller ravines like the Highland or Mimico). You can see my corrections as I remember ‘Hey, Dundas West meets Bloor near High Park, not in Etobicoke!’.
The eastern part of the city – my home base – looks pretty decent. South Scarborough is a bit fuzzy, though; it was challenging to remember how much and where Kingston Road curves – even almost forgetting that it meets highway 401 (and forgetting how much the 401 winds and dips too). If I were to draw the north-south throughways, I probably couldn’t remember all their southern termini. I believe everything east of Kennedy stops/starts at the Bluffs (because Kennedy itself stops/starts near Kingston and Danforth). And truthfully, in my mind, the southern end of the borough does feel another city despite existing within the same borders.
The west-er I go, the more empty the map gets. This was expected because, aside from Downsview in the northwestern reaches of North York (which I know from spending five years at York University), I haven’t spent much time in the west end. I couldn’t tell you what a Weston or a Thistletown or a Rexdale looks like or where their hearts are located. Part of it is I haven’t had a tangible reason to travel there: I don’t know what’s there and literally cannot visualize them. I know North Etobicoke, if it’s anything like North Scarborough, has likely a lot of apartment towers. Are there old bits too? Possibly, but I don’t know. The other part is it’s so far in both my mind’s eye and in the real world.
Still though, I should tread through those dark spots, no?
The meetup point is at King and River Streets. While waiting, I chat with Daniel, who I have bounced tweets back and forth but never met in the flesh. I also meet Kyle Baptista of Park People. On top of that, I encounter fellow tweeter Sean Marshall at the bridge. It’s a wonderful meeting of the online community!
Also while waiting, I do a panorama of the interesting sites in the vicinity. To the south is the sleek black River City complex of condos, which, in the last time I wrote about Corktown, was not completed. To the east is the always intriguing convergence of King and Queen Streets. There’s a triangular island and undeveloped plot of land, which Kyle believes is supposed to be a park eventually. Makes sense. To the immediate north is the old Scotiabank and beyond that up River is the 1907 Queen City Vinegar Co. Lofts.
The walk to the Eastern Avenue Bridge travels down Lower River Street, which was absent from Toronto’s street grid up until a few years ago. We pass Underpass Park (great use of dead space), Lawren Harris Square (not to be confused with Lawren Harris Park), and come to the Corktown Common. Only, we don’t actually come to the Corktown Common because it’s been fenced off for the summer for the PanAm games. A shame because it’s a great recreational space which doubles as a natural flood plain.
It’s amazing to think of the reconfiguration the West Don Lands has gone through in the last little while and over the last hundred years. River and Bayview Streets have southern extensions. The railway lands that dominated the area are gone. All the industry that once prevailed on or near the banks of the Don are gone. It’s remarkable to think, in that regard, that the Corktown Common was once occupied by the William Davies Co. pig processing operation.
We travel around the security zone and come the Lower Don Trail. My eye catches a couple of Heritage Toronto plaques highlighting the stories of the waterway. But more than that, the graffiti is disappointing to see. I don’t see a reason to mark up a plaque.
Far into the distance is the Unilever Plant, which is the subject of a lot of city building discussions including the Gardiner East debacledebate. Every week for the final year of the soap plant I saw the striking workers camped outside the factory. Then, they weren’t there and the plant succumbed.
A stroll up the trail (very well used on this sunny Saturday) and we’re at our destination. The Eastern Avenue Bridge is pretty much a bridge in only name because it doesn’t connect anything. It’s truly a bridge to nowhere. On one side is the trail with the meager security and on the other the Don Valley Parkway.
In a pre-DVP world, Eastern Avenue ran a straight course east and west of the Don. But with the construction of the highway in 1961, Eastern was rerouted to curve up from about Broadview Avenue to about Cherry Street before following its original course again.
The Eastern Avenue bridge, the third version of its kind at this crossing, is a big hunk of metal with cool zig-zaggy beams and locales where explorers have left their mark. It’s a dead space, but for our purposes makes a great performance venue – surprisingly so with the highway running beside us. As Natalie – the other creator/host of Learnt Wisdom – told me, their past venues have included underneath the Leaside Bridge, a pool, the Toronto Islands. Their next one is at a cemetery tucked in at a highway interchange.
The lecture starts and, one by one, four speakers come up and tell us their tales of going ‘above and beyond’. I won’t recount the stories themselves, but the messages behind them were great: how being lazy and doing nothing can actually be a good thing; and how small people can do big things & if you have an idea, for it.
If the goal of 100 in 1 Day was to inspire change that would make Toronto a better place, I think the Learnt Wisdom intervention achieved it with the messages of the story tellers.
On that note: If you, reader, have a story to tell on the theme of ‘Milestones’ or have an idea for am unusual venue, get in touch with them.
Following that, Kyle and I retrace our steps back to King Street, and get a good look at the city skyline from the development lands.
My streetcar isn’t going to arrive for another 10 minutes lamentably, so I get a coffee and walk down the street to pass the time. At St. Lawrence Street, a building catches my attention. At first I think it’s a church because of the northern part that juts out, but on further inspection, I better suspect that it’s a factory. Further research has produced that this was originally the Simpson Knitting Mill in the 1920s. Today, it’s work-live lofts.
A peer down Sumach and its almost completed Cherry ROW streetcar line to the Distillery District follows.
Finally, I check in with the great art pieces under the Richmond and Adelaide Street overpasses. The nautical exploration themed design catches my attention most. It’s about this time that, not a boat but, a rocket picks me to conclude this adventure.
What can be said about the RC Harris Plant that hasn’t been said? It’s a stunner architecturally and just so pristine and sterile inside. While my mind was not equiped to really understand the water treatment process, I did enjoy the exposition for the need for such a facility – a growing city needs its infrastructure.
Greenwood Subway Yard
A really popular site and for me, it was cool to say that I went, but I’m not sure it did it for me. It featured some very long lines, a ride on a subway car around the yard, and a self-guided tour through the machine shop. Massive facility, but like at the RC Harris Plant, I didn’t care much for how the subway cars worked.
401 Richmond wasn’t formally part of Doors Open, but they ran tours through the building in their own ‘Doors Ajar’. I did an architectural/historical walk, which was a complete treat because it is such a great building. The industrial history was great, and to know that it’s been repurposed into a beautiful space where great artists and groups can do good work is just amazing.
High Level Pumping Station
Much like the water palace, I didn’t care much for the workings of machinery itself as much as the contextual significance of the site. A nice treat, though, was the 1885 house behind the building, which served as the original pumping station for the Yorkville Waterworks and later the engineer’s house.
This was my favourite site of the weekend. The Masonic Temple has such a layered history and InfoTech pays such good tribute to preserving it and keeping in with its ethos. The top floor is the hall where the Freemasons themselves met. It also features Mick Jagger’s pool table from when the Stones stayed in the building and a swirly slide in an adjoined room. The bottom floors are largely office space, some of which was occupied by MTV, and to pay tribute to the building’s entertainment past, all the rooms are named after artists who performed on its stage.
Arts & Letters Club
The Arts & Letters Club reminded me a lot of the Masonic Temple: performance hall on the ground floor, another ‘hall’ on the top floor with an elevated ‘stage’ as well, and office space in the floors between. It’s also a fascinating piece of cultural heritage as many prominent people have been members of the club, including the Group of Seven.
I did this site last year, but lamented not getting pictures. Bad timing prevented me from doing the tour again, but from what I remember, Knox shows up in more movies than any Toronto location (OK, next to Casa Loma). And for good reason – it’s gorgeous.
Coach House Books
This was the smallest and most hidden of all Doors Open sites this year, but easily one of the best. Coach House Books is located in a laneway north of Robarts, and like the name suggests, it’s a publishing company headquartered in a former stable house. What’s remarkable about Coach House is it has a staff of only three that is responsible for putting out such an amazing line of titles. A few of my favourite books – uTOpia, Some Great Idea, StrollTO, and most recently, The Ward – are Coach House titles.
Munk School of Global Affairs
I was really trying to get to St. George subway when I passed by the Munk School. Then I thought, ‘Eh, why not?’ and walked through its doors. I’m glad I did, because the school’s Transit House was a nice gem. It’s the only building in Toronto that’s positioned in accordance to the needles of a compass. It also has clinker bricks!