Scenes From Garrison Creek

The path of the Garrison bisects streets and runs through parks, joining neighbourhoods like any major throughway in Toronto would today. It clues us into the early geography and industry of York and later Toronto. In tracing its former course, I followed its Discovery Walk from Bloor to Queen Street.

2. Garrison Discovery Walk

The Garrison ran a longer distance than what I track. For one, the Discovery Walk itself ends at Fort York, which gave the waterway its name. But north of Bloor, it extends to St. Clair. On Shaw, the creek exacts its revenge on a slanted house, deemed the crookedest home in Toronto, which was put up for sale in July 2015.

0. Shaw Street crooked house

The rolling counters of the Christie Pits Park is a product of the creek, whose rich river bed lent itself favourably to the sand operation that stood here in the 19th century (much in the same way that the creeks of Leslieville propped up the area’s clay and brick industry).

4. Christie Pits Park

To its south, Christie Pits has sister green space in Bickford Park, whose history and geography is very similar. With the Garrison running through its centre, there was a brickyard here too. The surrounding neighbourhood on much of Grace and Beatrice Streets and its various laneways (including the arty garage-lined alley bordering Bickford) was filled in after the yard ceased operations in the early 20th century.

10. Bickford Park

11. Bickford Park lane art

Christie Pits and Bickford amount to accidental parkland in my mind: places of industry that weren’t earmarked to be recreational spaces but that ended up being so after outliving their original uses. It’s a more-common-than-expected origin story of Toronto parks.

Bickford Park brickyard 1903
Source: Goad Fire Insurance Atlas, 1903.
Bickford Park, 1913
Source: City of Toronto Archives, 1913

On Harbord, a tombstone rises out of the street as a monument to the 1905 bridge that’s buried beneath it. It’s the first of two on this walk.

16. Harbord Street Bridge

South of it, through what is now the levelled Art Eggleton Park (named for the former mayor), the valley is just infill. In the yard of Montrose Junior, a school of fishys swim alongside the school of students.

18. Art Eggleton Park

20. Art Eggleton Park school fishys

The Garrison may be gone, but its effect on the layout of Toronto is very much apparent. The odd curvy configuration of Crawford & Montrose Streets follows the creek’s path, and further dispels the myth that Toronto is a perfectly formed grid.

24. Crawford Street

Garrison Creek Crawford Street, 2015.
Source: Toronto Historic Maps, 2015.
Garrison Creek Crawford Street, 1899
Source: Toronto Historic Maps, 1899.
Garrison Creek Crawford Street, 1858
Source: Toronto Historic Maps, 1858.

Onwards, the Garrison path passes through College’s Little Italy, where the heritage listed MOD club and Revival Bar stand. The former was the 1922 Great War Veterans’ Association (GWVA) Clubhouse and the latter was the Brethren Mission built in 1910.

25. MOD Club

27. Revival College Street

The ravine’s parade through parkland continues through the less famed, yet quite peaceful Fred Hamilton Park. The Discovery Walk route has its own wayfinding arrows to direct people, but there are other markers alerting people of the ravine’s one time presence through the area.

30. Fred Hamilton Park

33. Fred Hamilton Park Garrison Creek

At the end of Roxton one comes to Dundas West’s Little Portugal and Trinity Bellwoods Park. Its northwest corner is the original Bellwoods Park, as labelled by early maps. There’s a pleasant discovery in the statue of Simon Bolivar, the liberator of South America.

40. Trinity Bellwoods Park Simon Bolivar

At Crawford Street, there’s a Heritage Toronto marker for the second lost bridge of the walk. Beyond the plaque, there’s no remnant of the Crawford Street bridge’s existence. Like Harbord, its valley too is infill.

42. Crawford Street Bridge

43. Crawford Street Bridge

But fortunately, interesting topography doesn’t completely escape the park – there are toboggan hills here too.

Trinity Bellwoods map, 1913
Topographical Map. Source: City of Toronto Archives, 1913

44. Trinity Bellwoods Park

As expected, Trinity Bellwoods is well used on this day. It is toited as a hipster haven in grand Toronto lore, but that label shouldn’t stop peoples of all demographics from using it. It’s so celebrated that 1990s & 2000s Canadian rock outfit, Treble Charger, sang about it.

47. Trinity Bellwoods Park

46. Trinity Bellwoods Park

At its south end, ornate gates mark the Queen Street entrance to the park. The gates put the Trinity in Trinity Bellwoods and are living memories of the original Trinity College whose buildings stood here for a century from 1852 to 1956.

48. Trinity Bellwoods Park gates

Queen Street has a perfectly lined streetscape, save for one building set back from everything else. This is the 1847 Georgian style John Farr house – at one time located on the banks of the Garrison as it crossed Queen Street. Farr was a brewer who made use of the creek for his enterprise.

52. Queen Street West

Farr House
Source: Lost Toronto

The brewing history of the Garrison has been well-researched and documented with amazing posts by Lost Toronto, the Black Creek Growler, and Doug Taylor as well as Jordan St. John’s recent and excellent book, Lost Breweries of Toronto. To uncover the creek even more, I recommend a look at this amazing, interactive, map-filled timeline created by public historian Alex Meyers.

The written discourse about the Garrison as well as the various geographic and commemorative signs in its former path are amazing reminders that the creek’s existence is very much in Toronto’s consciousness.

54. Trinity Bellwoods Garrison Creek

Scenes From Open Streets TO 2015 – Bloor Street West

On September 6, 2015, Toronto opened its streets for the second time this year for Open Streets TO. Last time, I walked the dynamic Yonge Street, noting the history and influence of Eaton’s on the strip. On this day, I decide to tackle the other main street: Bloor.

10. Open Streets TO
In the course of walking this 3km stretch, I came to the curious realization that I’m actually walking three Bloors: the Mink Mile upscale shopping district, the museum/UofT/Annex row, and the smaller shop and bar section within the Koreatown BIA.

I suppose there could be a fourth if I include Bloor east of Yonge: the neglected, forgotten Bloor. (Seriously, I have no idea what’s there.)

2. Bloor Street West Mink Mile
Yonge and Bloor is changing. It’s had a long history, beginning as the gateway into the Village of Yorkville and continuing to be reinvented today. Its southern corners will eventually host two massive towers – one that’s well far along and the other that’s just a plot for now (formerly occupied by the fallen Stollery’s building). When One Bloor East Number One Bloor and The One are completed, they will be imposing gatekeepers.

1. One Bloor

4. Stollerys site & One Bloor
The Mink Mile lines both sides of the street from Bloor to Avenue. There’s nothing modest about the size of its storefronts – and for good reason. It’s the most prestigious commercial real estate in the city and country. It’s an exclusive part of town, and even though I’ve walked the stretch many times, it’s easy to feel excluded because of it. Still though, it’s a beautiful and walkable stretch of street with colourful planters and wide sidewalks.

3. Bloor Street West Mink Mile 2
5. Bay & Bloor
At Queen’s Park, the ROM crystal boldly juts into the street. It’s a controversial structure in the city. The museum is beloved as a classy, archaic building, the original Romanesque Revival wing which lines Philosopher’s Walk opening in 1914. But then there’s this thing that’s been slabbed onto it. You either like it or hate it.

And I get the hate – it represents everything that many feel is wrong with redevelopment & heritage in Toronto. It’s the new ruining the old – whether it’s attaching a tower to an older pediment or obliterating the old with a new tower completely (cough*Stollery’s*cough). But to me, the ROM is a structure that works aesthetically. I like it.

7. ROM
The ROM kicks off the campus/museum-y row. Beside it is the Royal Conservatory, built in 1880 as the first McMaster University before it moved to Hamilton. As one might expect, there’s a musical performance in front of it. Like the ROM, the Convervatory also has a modern addition which really meshes old & new. And Koerner Hall is a great venue.

8. Royal Conservatory of Music

9. Open Streets TO chalk message
The Bata Shoe Museum mans the southwest corner at St. George. It’s a Raymond Moriyama design, who intended it to look like a shoe box. That was in 1994. In 1924, the corner looked a bit different.

12. St. George & Bloor Bata Shoe

Bloor St. George 1924
Source: City of Toronto Archives, 1924.

166 St. George Street looks somewhat similar to the George Gooderham house (1892), which survives diagonally from it. They were both built in the 1890s in the castle-like Romanesque Revival style, as highlighted by their mighty turrets and fine masonry. The Gooderham residence, now the York Club, is the last bastion of residential Bloor Street.

George Gooderham York Club
Taken April 2015.

At Huron is the former Rochdale College. I feel especially connected to this site because of its association with 1960s Yorkville, which effectively got me into learning about Toronto history. The school opened in September 1968, following the Yorkville hippie ‘exodus’ after the hepatitis crisis of that summer. The building wasn’t even finished.

13. Rochdale College Bloor Street
Rochdale was intended to be an innovative, experimental alternative to conventional university education, which by accounts of Rochdalians (see comments) had its plusses and  negatives. Being an outsider who was born long after Rochdale, I’m cautious about commenting about its legacy. I do wonder if it’s an “you-had-to-be-there-to-know” kind of history. The dominant perception that seems to have prevailed in history is that Rochdale was a chaotic, drug-filled environment that succumbed to its own dangers. But its influence and legacy goes beyond that limited view. The Unknown Student (1969), created by the Rochdale Sculpture Group, sits in despair in front of the building.

14. Unknown Student Rochdale College
For more on Rochdale and the Unknown Student, there’s Stuart Henderson’s incredible thesis and book Making the Scene: Yorkville and Hip Toronto in the 1960s, Dream Tower: the life and legacy of Rochdale College, Rochdale, the runaway college, and this very informative blog on the sculpture (featuring some great shots of the lost houses across the street).

Spadina Avenue/Road marks the end of UofT and the beginning of what I call the modest commercial strip that extends to (and past) Christie. I’m welcomed by a jovial band.

16. Open Streets TO music Spadina
Trinity-St. Paul’s United Church is another interesting landmark to me for its Eaton family connection. Timothy Eaton, with his empire already quite profitable, helped f(o)und the construction of Trinity Methodist Church, as it was first named in 1889.

There are few nearby Eaton homes in the Annex as well. You can see their locations and other Eaton affiliated sites in my T. Eaton Co.’s Toronto map.

17. Trinity-St. Paul's United Church
While caught up in the examining Trinity-St. Paul’s, I hear ringing behind me. I have to sidestep the oncoming cyclist, who I’m pretty sure is Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam.  It’s serendipitous, because she is an advocate for city building & public space, and responsible for bringing us Open Streets. She tells me a ‘thank you’ and rides out of sight.

Next, I come to two nearby structures which I believe were once neighbourhood theatres. Actually, the first – now housing a Bulk Barn and the Annex Billiards Club – looks like a one-time theatre, although I can’t confirm.

19. Annex Billiards
The second – the muralled Lee’s Palace (of Scott Pilgrim fame) – was Allen’s Bloor, opened here in 1919. I’ve taken in one concert at Lee’s: an intimidate showing by 90s rock outfit Econoline Crush in 2007. I have to puzzle at why or how someone painted ‘WE HATE YOU’ on the top (or who is ‘we’).

21. Lee's Palace Allen's Bloor 2
At Bathurst & Bloor, Honest Ed’s buzzes with Open Streets activity. A train of cycists ride by some yogis. Nearby, people partake in some road hockey. Behind them, Ed Mirvish’s store – a Toronto institution since 1948 – is set for closure and redevelopment in 2017. It’ll be another project to track, especially in what happens to Mirvish Village.

22. Open Streets TO Honest Ed's Hockey

23. Open Streets TO Honest Ed's Cyclists Yoga
The next stretch of street encompasses downtown Toronto’s Koreatown. It’s a neighbourhood whose beginnings reach back to the 1960 & 70s, when the first wave of Korean immigrants came to Toronto and began to rent out these shops on Bloor West.

25. Bloor Koreatown
The Korean Village Restaurant, for example, opened in 1978 and is one of the oldest and best Korean eateries in the city. There’s a date marker above its door, taking it back to the 1900s. I like to imagine the layers of occupants in this structure over the years. Those are a lot of stories.

26. Korean Village Restaurant 1

26. Korean Village Restaurant 2
Approaching Christie, I stop to take a photo, because I’m reminded of an archival shot I saw days before of the same location in 1920.

29. Christie & Bloor
The Bloor Street of 1920 at Christie Street was residential, streetcar lined, and cobblestoned with a recently created Christie Pits/Willowvale Park.

Series 372, Subseries 58 - Road and street condition photographs
Source: City of Toronto Archives, 1920.

As it should, Christie Pits bookends Open Streets TO as an activity hub. There’s target shooting and more yoga.

32. Christie Pits Park
Finally, I gaze back east. Number One Bloor is somehow still visible kilometres away! Between where that tower and I stand, there are several neighbourhoods and several moods and many landmarks with their own stories, all linked together by this one stretch of road. It’s amazing how that happens – and we have so many examples of it across our city. With that, it’s off to the next adventure!

30. Open Streets TO Christie Street 1

Scenes From The Canadian National Exhibition 2015

I’d be a tad bit remiss if I didn’t write about the Canadian National Exhibition. After all, it is a Toronto institution, right? It doesn’t feature so prominently in my own personal story, but I know many who have some memory of it.

Today, it’s known to us today by a few monikers – the long name and its short forms: CNE & The Ex – but it started under the banner of the Toronto Industrial Exhibition in 1879. I’d go into the history more (because that’s my thing), but the CNE has it covered way better than I ever could. They have a finely organized and extensive site devoted to its heritage! Do check it out!

Actually, I will add one tidbit I recently picked up: the very first edition of the Eaton’s catalogue was distributed at the Exhibition in 1884.

For me, the appeal of The Ex rests on four things: the Midway rides & games, the special attractions, the ambitious food, and the grounds & buildings itself.

First, the Midway. Oodles of people filter between games of roulette (the clean kind – there’s a casino for the other), bingo, basketball, water shooting (my fave from my Chuck E. Cheese’s days), and ball-into-block throwing.

CNE 2015 Midway
Then there are the rides – often the butt of jokes on their reliability. There’s the usual suspects: the rocking boat, carousel, Mini Drop Zone. And high above, people get the perfect view of it all.

CNE 2015 Midway 2
Next, there’s the special stuff. This year there was an amazing sand sculpture competition, butter sculpture contest (featuring #DeadRaccoonTO), a WWI exhibition, farm animals, and more (including the traditional air show on the final weekend).

Of note to me was the Metrolinx LRV stationed near Ricoh Colliseum. I’ve never been on the new streetcars (shocking, I know), but the new Bombardier designs will be like them I’m told. We’ll first see these cars in 2020 at earliest (if all goes to plan).

CNE 2015 Metrolinx LTR vehicle
Next, there’s the food. There was a lot of it. Most of it oily and sugary. Deep fried velvet oreos, garlic snow crab fries, poutine balls, Jamaican patty-bunned hamburgers. And the perennial treat: waffle ice cream sandwich.

My own choices included an artery clogging bacon wrapped grilled cheese sandwich from Bacon Nation washed down by a Fran’s brownie cheesecake milkshake. You can expect I did a lot of walking afterwards.

CNE 2015 Bacon Wrapped Grilled Cheese
Finally, the CNE grounds are also known for some great architecture – old & new. You can read about my adventures in exploring some of that here – although it doesn’t include the Press Building, Bandshell, Horticulture Building, and Modernist constructions Food Building & Dufferin Gate. Of course, the famed Scadding Cabin also resides here too.

Toronto Then and Now also boasts a great post on the Exhibition lands’ First Nations and military past.

Scenes From Vale of Avoca & Mount Pleasant Cemetery

I’m at Yonge and St. Clair. It’s my second Explore Toronto Meetup, the first – a stroll through Rosedale and Yellow Creek – concluding in this very spot. We’re picking up where we left off with a walk through the Vale of Avoca and Mount Pleasant Cemetery.

To start things off, despite boasting a time when the area witnessed deer trotting around, Deer Park is very post-WWII. Heading east on St. Clair, I see the Weston Centre, built 1975. As its name might suggest, it houses the headquarters of the mighty George Weston Ltd. empire.

Weston Centre
Beside that is Deer Park Library, a 1952 construction designed by Arthur Eadie. Personally, it’s actually a boring structure as far as libraries go, but not every branch can be a handsome Carnegie or a swanky fortress of glass, can they? Deer Park is very 1950s – simple, modernist, in starch contrast to the extravagance of the 1930s. Across from the library is the Arthur Meighen building, itself of the mid-1950s.

Deer Park Library
Looking east on St. Clair, it’s hard not to think about the bridge that spans the deep Vale of Avoca ravine. Our river valleys are great gems, but they’ve been barriers in the past to building a city with, well, continuous roads. The St. Clair Viaduct came to us in 1925. Before that, a narrower bridge taking a diagonal path was used to cross the valley.

St. Clair Ave East bridge

Item consists of one photograph of the Moore Park bridge at Avoca Vale. *** Local Caption *** Item consists of one photograph of the Moore Park bridge at Avoca Vale.
Old Avoca Bridge. Source: City of Toronto Archives, 1914.
Vale of Avoca Bridge, 1924
Tail of two bridges. Source: City of Toronto Archives, 1924.

The railings that line Avoca Avenue are from the original pre-1925 bridge.

Avoca Avenue bridge railings
I overhear someone in the group reflect that Shanghai and Toyko don’t have the natural spaces as Toronto does. I don’t know how true it is, but go us! With that colouring my thoughts, we enter the Vale of Avoca where the former bridge once existed. It’s a rather ‘fun’ descent with steps of worrying steepness and edge.

Vale of Avoca 1
It’s not long before one realizes the tranquility of this urban yet rural space. Yellow Creek, as slow moving as it is, flows down below. Around us is just wilderness. One has to wonder how magical this place would look in autumn. You can just look up at the slopes of the ravine and realize how far deep you are.

Vale of Avoca 2
But civilization offers its reminders of its existence once in a while. At the arches of the viaduct, the thumping of automobiles above informs us, “You’re not that far away, explorer.”

Vale of Avoca bridge 2

Vale of Avoca bridge 1
Vale of Avoca Yellow Creek
Moving past a lookout point over the stream, the path transitions from the cool canopied-top ravine to the warm openness of Mount Pleasant Cemetery. It was opened in 1871, although wasn’t annexed into the City of Toronto until 1914. Yellow Creek (and a pond!) once ran through the cemetery’s grounds before being buried sometime in the second quarter of the 20th century (a guess based on these Toronto Historic Maps).

Vale of Avoca 4

Mount Pleasant Cemetery 1
I have a moment where I realize I’ve been to a few a cemetery tours in Toronto and can pick out the rhyme and reason of Mount Pleasant. The significance of park-style layout, the beautifully landscaped plots, the obelisks, ‘cut’ monuments, Celtic crosses: I totally get it.

Mount Pleasant Cemetery 2

Mount Pleasant Cemetery 4
Mount Pleasant Cemetery 5
At a pause in the group’s trek through the expansive path, I rush away to get a look at the nearby Mount Pleasant Mausoleum, built her in 1920. Distinct in its NeoClassical styling, it’s fronted by a beautiful line of gardens.

Mount Pleasant Cemetery Mausoleum

Mount Pleasant Cemetery garden
In addition to the thousands of loved ones buried here, Mount Pleasant hosts a formidable group of luminaries from Toronto’s and Canada’s past. Glen Gould, Foster Hewitt, Oliver Mowat, Steve Stavros, the families Weston, Massey, and Eaton (the latter two clans with full mausoleums) are just a handful of names.

The structure of our group walk doesn’t really allow for a lot of ‘site seeing’, but our path does come across at least two notable monuments. The first is ‘The Resting Place of Pioneers’, a tribute to the unnamed persons from the original town of York that were moved here after the closing of Potter’s Field in Yorkville. There’s a similar marker in the Toronto Necropolis as well.

Mount Pleasant Cemetery Pioneers
The second is a ‘can’t miss grave’ if only for the number of signs erected around it. It’s of William Lyon Mackenzie King, the longest serving non-consecutive prime minister in Canadian history and also noted for his spiritualism, dog loving, and discriminatory racial policies.

Mount Pleasant Cemetery William Lyon Mackenzie King       Mount Pleasant Cemetery William Lyon Mackenzie King 2

It’s a short distance past Mackenzie King, we make our exit. It’s a dissatisfying feeling after not seeing more, but I do remind myself that I am a solo explorer most of the time and the cemetery is massive (we only went through a portion of its western half). I’ll have to return again for a more in-depth reprisal.

As a bonus sight, we come out to the Toronto Beltline – a trail that’s the remnants of a short-lived, decommissioned rail path. It’s itself an adventure (or two), which I add to the ‘to do’ list. You have to give credit to Toronto’s non-road network – one can go from Rosedale to the former City of York without traveling down a street.

Mount Pleasant Cemetery Belt Line
The Beltline trail also hosts the second lookout point of the day, this time swapping a water corridor for a transit corridor. The bars framing the subway tracks like prison constraints is somehow a propos for the city.

Toronto Belt Line subway tracks
Rounding through Oriole Park, the urban hike ends at Davisville Station – or a local watering hole anyways.