Monthly Archives: July 2015

Andy Warhol: Revisited

The idea of a popup gallery is neat. It’s impermanent and for a limited time – a chance to take in something that one wouldn’t otherwise have a chance to see. That, in of itself, is a buzz creator. To make it about Andy Warhol is just icing.

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In the case of the Andy Warhol: Revisited Pop Art exhibition, which makes its temporary home in a vacant store at 77 Bloor Street West, there isn’t a showcase of the famed artist’s works in Toronto, so it makes for a very cool initiative by Revolver Gallery.

Going into this, my own exposure to Andy Warhol was pretty limited. I’m aware that he was an odd artist from New York who employed a very distinct, colourful style, and himself became an identifiable figure in Western popular culture. Oh, and David Bowie was into his work. But the rhyme or reason behind his work? I couldn’t tell ya.

That started to change when I was at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC earlier this year. Two of his iconic pieces gave me an inside to him: the famed Campbell’s Soup Cans and Gold Marilyn Monroe.

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They reveal two themes that play out in much of his artwork: growing commercialism and the obsession (his own and society’s) with the notion of ‘celebrity’.

So now, literally revisiting Warhol here in Toronto, I get a chance to learn more. Walking into the gallery, the first thing I encounter is a fun play on the soup cans.

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Aesthetically and functionally, the space itself really works. It’s a nearly all white room with the works lining the walls. There’s lots of seating, many of them positioned in front of the pieces. In the centre of the room is a media area with walls of hundreds of self-portraits.

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The back of the gallery notably features a wall of ‘Socialites’ – people that asked Warhol to capture them in his art, thereby offering them a kind of immortality.

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Near that is a row of the recognizable soup cans. I’d like to know what Hot Dog Bean tastes like. Warhol himself must’ve known very well because at one point that’s all he ate.

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There’s  a wall of shadowy figures (including Warhol himself, who I didn’t make out at first and needed to ask a gallery docent)…

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…and historical icons! The simple, yet powerful ‘Red Lenin’ might be my favourite piece in the entire exhibition. Its simplicity speaks to how compelling and bold a figure he was.

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There’s plenty more to see beyond what I’ve shown, which definitely warrants a first hand look for yourself, reader.

All in all, Andy Warhol: Revisited really works as the ‘museum-style exhibition’ it presents itself as. It’s even got a tiny, yet tempting gift shop. It is on until December 31 of this year, and the works within the exhibit rotate throughout that duration. That’ll certainly warrant at least a few repeat visits!

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Scenes From The Toronto Necropolis

I sometimes avoid telling people that I’m interested in cemeteries, particularly the famed, old ones like the Toronto Necropolis. To history buffs and genealogists, they get it. To other people, not so much. Why would you go to a cemetery when you’re not visiting a loved one?

Well, for starters, the Necropolis is Toronto’s second non-denominational cemetery. It opened in 1850 after the closing of Potter’s Field in Yorkville and (some of) its inhabitants were moved to this one.

Toronto Necropolis Chapel
The two buildings that front the cemetery, found at the end of Winchester Street, are the 1872 Gothic Revival Chapel and the Victorian Gingerbread-style former gravekeeper’s residence (now offices).

Toronto Necropolis Chapel plaque

Toronto Necropolis office
A peek inside the cozy chapel produces a stunning stain glass window and vaulted ceiling.

Toronto Necropolis chapel inside (1)              Toronto Necropolis chapel inside (2)

It doesn’t take much wandering to realize that there’s nothing too orderly about the Necropolis. Graves with varying lifetimes are placed next to each other in a fashion that isn’t the row-on-row fashion that dominates our mental image of what a cemetery looks like.

Toronto Necropolis (2)
That’s because the Necropolis exists in a quasi-parkland sort of setup that was part of a broader 19th century movement to make cemeteries more inviting. It certainly achieves that. It’s also an inviting place for the information it tells us about our society.

The Necropolis is rich in its story-telling potential: from macro political tales of the 1837 Upper Canada rebellion & the founding of Canada to the individual profiles of the first black mayor of Toronto or the first black doctor in Canada. It also gives us a chance to talk about everyday existence as it pertains to life and death of people throughout time.

Beginning just ahead of the chapel and roughly circling clockwise around the cemetery, amongst the notables I see are:

George Brown, founder of the Globe &  father of Confederation.

Toronto Necropolis George Brown (2)
A monument to the only two men hanged for the 1837 Rebellion. It purposely looks broken to signify a life cut short. The original gravestone stands in front.

Toronto Necropolis 1837 Rebellion (3)

Toronto Necropolis 1837 Rebellion (2)             Toronto Necropolis 1837 Rebellion (1)

The Lamb family, of which Daniel Lamb, who founded the Riverdale Zoo, was a member (although he is curiously buried elsewhere).

Toronto Necropolis Lamb Family (1)
The Ward sisters, of which Ward’s Island is named, who drowned tragically in the harbour. Their stone, like many in the cemetery, is very weathered and illegible.

Toronto Necropolis Ward sisters
Anderson Ruffin Abbott
, the first black doctor in Canada. He tended to Abraham Lincoln on the night of his death.

Toronto Necropolis Anderson Ruffin Abbott
William Lyon Mackenzie, the leader of the previously mentioned rebellion, Toronto’s first mayor, and newspaper publisher. (I hope he’s not writing too critically about us down there.)

Toronto Necropolis William Lyon Mackenzie
A couple of familiar Toronto street names in Yorkville’s Joseph Bloor(e) and Willowdale’s John Cummer Sr. of the Cummer family. The former possesses the creepiest portrait of any Toronto historical figure, while the latter were industrious North York pioneers with the giddiest name.

Toronto Necropolis Joseph Bloore        Toronto Necropolis John Cummer Sr

And most recently, former NDP leader Jack Layton with his smiling bust as sculpted by his widow, Olivia Chow.

Toronto Necropolis Jack Layton
But beyond the notables, it’s interesting to walk around and take in the kinds of stones, the tributes families have laid out for their loved ones, and the contours of the land.

There are garden-like walkups, ‘fenced’ off monuments, and beautiful sculptures. And lots of obelisks.

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Toronto Necropolis (4)              Toronto Necropolis (5)

The Necropolis has some public art, one of which is entitled ‘Onwards’ – a reminder to move one with one’s life while also honouring those who have left us.

Toronto Necropolis Onwards (1)
As I make my exit out of the Necropolis and get a final look at the chapel and cottage, I’m pretty convinced about the intrigue, beauty, and cultural significance of the Necropolis and places like it. Next time I’m asked Why?, I’ll be more inclined to say back Why not?.

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Toronto Necropolis (7)

Toronto Necropolis Chapel Back
For the final find of the afternoon – another buried tribute of sorts – there’s also a time capsule buried in front of cottage, one of quite a few in the city. Sadly, I don’t know if any of them will be opened in my lifetime.

Toronto Necropolis time capsule

Scenes From Riverdale Farm

My welcome into Riverdale Farm comes with a new-ish, yet old-timey looking gate, however I bypass it to round around to the Winchester Street entrance.

1 Riverdale Farm sign
The farm’s main building, the Victorian-style Simpson House, is home to the Cabbagetown Regent Park Museum, which is open for business today. It’s unique in that it’s the only museum in Toronto devoted to telling the story of a specific city neighbourhood. I have a soft spot for the museum for the time I volunteered there.

2 Riverdale Farm Simpson House
My time at the museum has taught me of the Riverdale Farm area’s long past: From the pristine valley the Aboriginals encountered (the Algonquian word for the Don itself was Wonscotonach, meaning ‘burnt back grounds’), to the land granted to John Scadding by Mr. John Graves Simcoe which was eventually purchased by the City for parkland, to the zoo Daniel Lamb (whose family is buried in the neighbouring Toronto Necropolis) established here in 1888, and finally, to the heritage farm we now know and have enjoyed since 1978. Walking through the farm, I get a sense of each layer.

4. Riverdale Farm
My first stop is the Pig Barn to take in, among others, some turkeys and bunnies that would have existed in a farm around the turn of the 20th century.

5. Riverdale Farm bunny

6. Riverdale Farm turkey
From there, it’s off to see some goats and sheep, although the latter are sadly M.I.A.

8. Riverdale Farm goats
9. Riverdale Farm
Following the path all the way down, I come to the Residence. This is the first of a handful of remaining buildings that are original to the zoo. This one was, in fact, the keeper’s home. It was also a morgue and an animal hospital as well during its tenure.

11. Riverdale Farm Residence
My favourite feature and tidbit of the Residence is the use of clinker bricks in its construction, which incidentally was conducted by Don Jail inmates as a work project. I’ve heard stories of prisoners interacting with children, and how it was the happiest time for the inmates during their sentences because of it.

12. Riverdale Farm  Residence clinker bricks

13. Riverdale Farm Residence
Backtracking, I do some wayfinding and try to determine whether north is actually north (it isn’t), before finding myself at the cows.

14. Riverdale Farm directions

16. Riverdale Farm cows
Above the cow paddock is the Donnybrook Ruin, a towering structure whose original purpose, as far as I know, is a mystery. I was delighted to spot some clinkers in its walls too.

17. Riverdale Farm Donnybrook ruins

18. Riverdale Farm Donnybrook ruins clinkers
I forge on down the Lower Road and come to the Riverdale Farm Ponds. These  algae covered water bodies are important bird and wildlife sanctuaries, and serve as vibrant ecosystems. They also help in renaturalizing the Don River Valley and bring it back to a time before the river was channelized and rerouted.

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20. Rivedale Farm pond
Before meandering across a bridge, I note a barrier to the side which warns of the crossing’s occasionally flooding. Yuh oh. Although I can’t be sure, the bridge itself looks like a left-over from the zoo days.

22. Riverdale Farm bridge

29. Riverdale Farm  bridge
The monkey cage is most definitely a relic, however. Much is made of the ethics of keeping animals in cages for viewing pleasure; even more is made of the state of early zoos and the sizes of the holding cells. The Riverdale Zoo closed and moved to Scarborough in part because its very inadequate facilities. (Also, a zoo next to a growing metropolis isn’t the best of ideas.)

25. Riverdale Farm monkey cage

26. Riverdale Farm monkey cage
Mustering the uphill climb back, I take a peek down the Middle Road, which doesn’t really lead to anything, but allots for a good view of the Meeting House.

31. Riverdale Farm                33. Riverdale Farm

My exit from the farm includes some horse-inspired art outside of the Simpson House. I quizzically study it for a second, eventually giving my due to the effort that must’ve went into its construction. Then, I’m off on my way, this time passing under the new-old sign I shunned before.

34. Riverdale Farm  horse art
This isn’t the end of my Riverdale Farm themed encounters, however. This charming little Bell Box Mural located Parliament on Winchester boasts a great tribute to our barnyard friends.

35. Riverdale Farm Winchester Bell box mural

Pompeii: In the Shadow of the Volcano at the Royal Ontario Museum

The Royal Ontario Museum’s Pompeii: In the Shadow of the Volcano looks and sounds every bit like a ROM big-ticket exhibition. That’s because it is. The presentation and quality that have been trademarks for the museum for years are all there.

ROM Pompeii (1)

In its grand story-telling, it follows a logical enough progression. It starts with the ‘what, where, when, why, and how’ of Mount Vesuvius itself…

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…then profiles some notable Pompeii-ans(?)…

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…then  talks about city life…

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….and finally, almost coming full circle, deals with the human toll of the eruption.

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This gets to you, no?

There’s nothing redefining about Pompeii as a blockbuster, and there didn’t need to be. There are a lot of artefacts, which exist primarily as static displays, and interpretive paneling and quotes on the wall.

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A good summary of the Pompeii phenomenon.

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Ancient Oboe!

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Canine Art

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Pizza toppings…erm, olives.

The text was at a good reading level and there wasn’t too much of it. I like to be told about the things I’m looking at, but I also get bored very easy with large sections of writing. I didn’t need to do a lot of skimming or ignoring with Pompeii.

ROM Pompeii

If I could change anything, though, I wanted more of the ‘We don’t know for sure…’ or ‘This is what we think this is or happened…’ element to the interpretation. There are issues in trying to piece together ancient cultures – sources are scarce and unreliable, as an example – and, maybe I’m wrong on this, but I get the impression that Pompeii is very much figured out. Perhaps, though, because everything was preserved under magma, there is that clearer picture.

There are sprinkles of audience involvement, particularly in the toga tying station, the gladiator station, the mosaic making station, and stereoscope viewer. I enjoyed the viewer especially for how basic it is. It shows flash and gimmicks don’t always rule the day. Pompeii also encourages sharing on social media, as highlighted by the clever hashtag #ROMpeii.

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ROM Pompeii (6)

ROM Pompeii (12)

ROM Pompeii (13)

Moving through the exhibit, there is a bit of crowding near the start, but once I got out of the gladiator section and into the city section, things were more free-flowing.

Roman history, even though I have studied it, generally doesn’t intrigue me as much as other topics, but I could nonetheless find a lot of value in The ROM’s Pompeii: In the Shadow of the Volcano as a great museological experience. All in all, the look and feel and effort make it a worth-while endeavour.

Scenes From Warden Woods Park

Warden Woods is undoubtedly a gem. It’s a gem as a piece of natural heritage in Toronto, and it’s a gem along Taylor-Massey Creek. I’m here as a part of a Heritage Toronto tour, led by Andrew McCammon of the Taylor-Massey Project, a volunteer effort dedicated to preserving the Taylor-Massey watershed.

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We gather at the corner of the Warden and St. Clair Avenues opposite Warden Subway Station and descend into the park.

A bit of background on the Taylor-Massey: it feeds into the River Don, flowing from the Forks and concluding at Terraview Park near Victoria Park & the 401 in Scarborough. Its real headwaters, though, are actually buried under the highway and just north of it. Also, like its name suggests, it consists of two branches named for prominent Toronto families.

The first thing that strikes me about the creek is how naturalized it looks. There’s actual flow to it! Whereas other creeks in the city (including parts of the Taylor-Massey) have been channelized and filled with concrete beds, there’s nothing of the sort with this ‘reach’ of the ravine.

We get our first look at the creek and see also a far off cliff – a mini-Scarborough Bluff, as I like to think of it. Both are glacial remnants of the last ice age.

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As Andrew explains, the TMP is trying to make the watershed into a functioning, vibrant ecosystem. That has meant no washrooms in the park (although I don’t see why any would be needed) and no night lights. Curiously, there’s only one bench in the whole park, too. Warden Woods is home to many bird sanctuaries and serves as a stop over for migratory species.

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But it doesn’t mean the creek isn’t without its challenges. That same great view shows that its banks have been fortified with armor-stone bricks to prevent erosion. Other parts lack the armor-stone, though.

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The trail itself begins as a gravel path. Unlike other parks of its size and larger, it doesn’t branch off. To the right is the creek, to the left is thick forest. It is a serene stroll – if you don’t mind the rattle of nearby subway cars.

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Warden Woods Park also faces issues of storm water and sewage water draining into the creek. Andrew brings us to a bridge over a tiny tributary and has us note the smell. Pungent stuff it is.

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The problem with coordinating a plan of ‘attack’ to tackle these issues is that there are a couple of bodies – Toronto Parks, Toronto & Region Conservation Authority, as examples – that have some jurisdiction over Warden Woods and similar areas. Sadly, they don’t talk to each other as much as they should. With the City’s Ravine Strategy,  perhaps a concentrated effort will be in place.

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The other issue within Warden Woods – and in most natural settings in Toronto – is invasive species. Particular to both is the prevalence of garlic mustard, which impedes the ability for any other plant to grow in its vicinity.

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We come to a large bridge, which Andrew says at one time had a plaque dedicated to the Thompson Brothers. Across it is a path that once led to a mini BMX course and today is a great spot for bird watching. Serendipitously, at that very moment a hawk (red tailed, maybe?) flies high above us.

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Further past the bridge, the now paved path curves and meanders at about the spot where the shores of ancient Lake Iroquois once stood.

At the end of the trail, Warden Woods Trail curiously becomes a parking lot, which is unfortunate because if one where passing through on Pharmacy, he/she would have no clue that a great natural escape exists down the way.