Category Archives: Landmarks

Scenes From Casa Loma Neighbourhood

The journey begins on Dupont street at the northern terminus of St. George Street. Across the way is the very yellow Pour House pub, which much like the rest of the structures on the street is a converted 18th century home. These businesses are all huddle together to make the Dupont By the Castle BIA. Fact: Toronto is the originator of the BIA.

1. Dupont Pour House

This still, in many ways, is an industrial area. Manhole covers hiding the buried Toronto Hydro lines tell me that.

2. Toronto Hydro-Electric manhole cover

But it’s also a industrial area looking to be something else. The railway overpass on Davenport is a perfect example of that. It’s ugly and it’s grimy. But like our alleys, someone (or many someones) has taken this dead space and injected from life and creativity.

3. Davenport Avenue underpass mural

On the other side of the tracks (hmm, that sounds more menacing than I intended it be), Davenport meets Macpherson and Poplar Plains to make an odd intersection. It’s not very pedestrian friendly for someone trying to go from west to east, as I am now. Given that, OK, maybe the other side is a bit menacing.

4. Davenport, Poplar Plains, MacPherson Intersection

Finally mustering it, I come to the massive Macpherson Avenue Substation.  Completed in 1911, it was designed by city architect Robert McCallum who also did Yorkville Public Library and many early 20th century firehalls, among many other city owned buildings.

6. MacPherson Avenue Substation

7. MacPherson Avenue Substation

Across the way is warehouse looking thing. I don’t know what is or was, but I like it. Keystones!

8. MacPherson Ave warehouse

Next, I follow Rathnelly up, a charming street which shares (or lends?) its name to the area’s moniker – The Republic of Rathnelly. How and when did a micro-neighbourhood become a state, you ask? I had to ask as well. The answer is it’s one big inside joke dating back to the 1960s when the areas residents ‘broke away’ from Canada.

9. Rathnelly Avenue

Around the bend is High Level/Poplar Plains Pumping Station, another McCallum project from 1906 (with subsequent additions). Our Rathnellians (?) ‘occupied’ it while in ‘negotiations’ with the Canadian government.

It’s interestingly the second water plant on the site, replacing the old Yorkville Water Works. I make my way around and marvel the outside. There will never be another infrastructure building in this style again. And really, that’s for good reason, isn’t it? Things have to evolve and be of their period.

10. High Level Pumping Station

11. High Level Pumping Station

Leaving the water plant, I pass through the floating island park that is Boulton Parkette and continue up Davenport. I come across another power building, this time Bridgman Transformer Station, 1904. Now operated by Toronto Hydro & Hydro One, it was originally designed for the Electrical Development Company, of which Sir Henry Pellatt of Casa Loma fame (more in a moment on that) was the president.  In April 2015, it looks like there’s more work to be done.

12. Bridgman Transformer Station

13. Bridgman Transformer Station

14. Bridgman Transformer Station

Moving past the transformer station (and another weird three-way intersection), I continue along Davenport. At Madison, an orange building catches my attention. It stumps me. Waldorf? What’s that? Well, turns out it’s the Waldorf Academy, a private school which uses an alternative educational approach – one that’s holistic and multidimensional. Hmm, the more you know?

15. Waldorf Academy Madison Avenue

Davenport hugs the escarpment left behind by the ancient Lake Iroquois. The way up the hill is the Baldwin Steps, which are located up the street from the Toronto Archives. It’s been a long while since I’ve navigated them. In fact, I have very vague childhood memories of making the climb. There are joggers working them as I ascend. I envy them. They attack it so effortless. Meanwhile I have to catch my breath and relieve the burning in my thighs.

16. Baldwin Steps

17. Baldwin Steps

18. Baldwin Steps looking south

The top of the hill and the entire area at large is marked by two neighbouring museums. The first is Spadina Museum House and Gardens. It’s the 1866 manor of the Austin family, now a City of Toronto Historic Site restored back to the 1920s. It’s after closing time, so I can only admire from behind the gates. Next time.

19. Spadina House

Next, I walk around to Pellatt’s Casa Loma, also a Lennox design (perhaps his most famous?), completed in 1914.  The House on the Hill is a mishmash of styles and thus drives some architecture junkies nuts. Me, I’m mostly indifferent. As I scan it now, it’s definitely imposing, but doesn’t wow or horrify me. The one constant in its history has been it’s uncertain future – the idea of a civic museum inside its walls is one of them.

21. Casa Loma

23. Casa Loma plaque

Peering into the fountain, I don’t see any pennies. De-circulation will do that I guess. I also have to smile at the warning sign behind it. The only reason to make a rule is if there have been past examples.

24. Casa Loma Fountain

25. Casa Loma Fountain

Facing the museum is Pellatt Lodge, 1905, the residence of the Pellatts while the castle was under construction.

26. Pellatt Lodge

28. Pellatt Lodge

Up the street, I can see another tower rise above the land, and I admittedly have a “Another castle?!” moment. Then I realize these must be the stables – which my childhood does not recall at all but my brain knows a bit about. There’s some reno-ing happening here too. The best tidbit about the stables: SONAR was being developed in its tunnels during World War II.

29. Casa Loma Stables

30. Casa Loma Stables

Next, I backtrack on to Austin Terrace and give the street a little promenade. It’s narrow, it’s quiet, it’s treelined – all the checkmarks of a residential street checked off. My stopping point before circling back to the castle is a neat cottage-y house at Austin Court.

31. Austin Court house

From there, it’s down the hill on Walmer again where there are mansions overlooking the way. Hello Davenport, old friend. And hello, George Brown College. The school’s Casa Loma campus was founded here in the 70s and it definitely looks it. Or at least, the newer buildings do. Its older ones are repurposed industrial structures. I get a kick that there’s a Tim Horton’s neighbouring by. Students do need their caffeine after all!

33. George Brown Casa Loma

32. George Brown Casa Loma

34. George Brown Casa Loma

Continuing on, I hit Tollkeeper’s Park. It houses the Tollkeeper’s Cottage, a lesser known museum which throws back to the days of toll roads and the stations that operated them. This one at Davenport and Bathurst was in service as early as 1850 and the building itself dates to the 1830s. It’s definitely a great opportunity to tell the story of early York and winding Davenport Road. As I sniff around the site there’s a couple also checking it out. They go right up to it, but I don’t think they get very far because it seems to only be open on Saturdays.

35. Tollkeeper's Cottage Park

36. Davenport Road Plaque

Moving south, the TTC’s Hillcrest facilty hugs the west side of Bathurst and has been on the site since the 1920s. The Inglis building on its southern end catches my attention specifically. Those long arched windows.

37. TTC Hillcrest Yard Inglis

38. TTC Hillcrest Yard

Finally, the day ends as it began at the tracks. Animated faces greet me at the Bathurst underpass. On the other side, I elect to give my feet a break and catch a streetcar.

39. Bathurst Street underpass mural

40. Bathurst Street underpass mural

Scenes From Yorkville

40. Yorkville Avenue at Hazelton Avenue

Before I can start my stroll, I note the taste for coffee developing in my buds. I opt not for Starbucks and not for Timmies, which hang beside each other in competition, but for the Toronto Reference Library. Yes, it may be closed on this Easter Monday, but Balzac’s isn’t. The customer in front of me in line tries to pronounce the name of the brew she’s ordering; the barista has to correct her. Me, I don’t bother with the given name of my amber roast; I grab it and am on my way.  Now I can start.

1. Toronto Reference Library

Yorkville is about as quintessential a Toronto neighbourhood as you can get. It also has a deeply layered past and an ever evolving future, some of which I am already aware of and eager to see the evidence of. While its borders have expanded and contracted over its long history, it’s my thought that the part east of Yonge doesn’t get a lot of consideration.

And so, that’s what I intend to do to start things off.

I don’t get very far on Asquith before I see my first discovery. Although I’m hugging (not literally) the Bell building on the opposite side of the street, my eyes spot a pathway beyond the library across the way. The street sign reads ‘Sherlock Holmes Walk’. Literary giants next to one another! Having read Mr. Conan Doyle’s biography years ago, I imagine he would approve of the tribute – he loved Toronto and Canada (and hated the States).

3. Bell Canada Asquith Avenue

4. Sherlock Holmes Walk Toronto Reference Library 5. Sherlock Holmes Walk Toronto Reference Library

At the end of the way is Church Street, whose curvy route between Bloor and Yonge Streets is the result of a project to relieve traffic congestion in the 1920s. Even without this knowledge, the odd meeting of Church, Collier, and Park streets and the island it forms in the middle just looks unnatural. I look towards Davenport, spotting the famed Masonic Temple, 1917, but opt to head in the opposite direction.

Goads Atlas 1884, Yorkville east of Yonge

Yorkville, east of Yonge Street. Source: Goads Atlas, 1884.

My next stop, situated beside a singular Victorian house (no doubt once part of a row), is Asquith Green, which sadly is more muggy brown than green. Still though, I remind myself of the parkette’s potential in the summer and give it points for the animal cutouts and accenting structure in the middle. I don’t know the source of what I think is a quote, but subsequent Googling has produced ‘We Rise Again’, an Eastern Canadian music classic. Here’s a  moving version with the great Maritme songstresses, Anne Murray and the late Rita MacNeil.

7. Victorian house beside Asquith Green Park

8. Asquith Green Park

9. Asquith Green Park

Following Park Road up, I come to Rosedale Valley Road. This quiet throughway marks the border between Yorkville and its upscale residential sister, Rosedale.

It is also built on top of the now completely buried Castle Frank Brook. It is particularly important in shaping the modern geography of Yorkville, but also to its history – particularly in its brewing and brick making past. Located southwest of me near Sherbourne Street, for example, was Joseph Bloore’s brewery. Bloor Street, of course, is his namesake. (Mr. Bloore also holds the distinction of having the freakiest portrait of any figure in Toronto’s history.) Parkland marks the intersection, and trudge through it to arrive at Severn Street.

Joseph Bloor Brewery, 1865

Joseph Bloor Brewery, 1865. Source: Toronto Public Library.

12. Lawren Harris Park

14. Lawren Harris Park

The tiny dead end street is anything but inconsequential. For one, it’s named after John Severn, another 19th century brewer. His establishment stood at Yonge and Church. Moreover, Castle Frank Brook’s alternate name is Severn/Brewery Creek.

Severn's Brewery, 1870s

Severn’s Brewery, 1870s. Source: Toronto Public Library.

Severn's Brewery, 1912

Severn’s Brewery, 1912. Source: Toronto Public Library.

Perhaps even more notable to the street is that one can find the Studio Building. On the way here, I passed through Lawren Harris Park; Mr. Harris  lived and worked in the  Studio Building, 1914, along with other members of the Group of Seven.

16. Severn Street 17. Studio Building Severn Street

The Studio Building holds double distinction as a National Historic Site and a Toronto heritage property. The Toronto Historical Board plaque in particular informs me that the Harris in Lawren Harris is of the Massey-Harris industrial empire. Learn something everyday. The Studio Building was designed to be a secluded quiet spot where artists can work their creative process. As I move around the building I hear the periodic screeching of the Yonge subway and somehow I think that doesn’t completely hold true today (although the surrounding parkland does help a bit).

18. Studio Building Toronto plaque

19. Studio Building National Historic Site plaque

I continue on my way, this time following Aylmer up. I stop for a moment to watch the trains roll in and out of Rosedale Station and then cross Yonge. The street becomes Belmont and I’m liking the streetscape on either side of me. Other than admiring the charm, however, I do have another purpose for being here.

22. Rosedale Station from Aylmer

23. Belmont Street Toronto

24. Belmont Street

25. Belmont Street

Belmont House is a retirement home and long term care centre built in the 60s. More interesting to its story is that it is built on the site of an Aged Men’s Home, Aged Women’s Home, and Magdalen Asylum & Industrial House of Refuge.

The latter establishment is most fascinating. On first glance at the name, it doesn’t sound like a particularly good place – asylums generally don’t provoke the best connotations and the Biblical character it’s named for isn’t always portrayed in the best light either. The ever trustworthy Wikipedia tells that Magdalen Asylums are not just a Toronto thing. Its history, however, promotes it as a place of care for homeless women and I suppose I will take it as such.

26. Belmont House Toronto

27. Belmost House

This detour completed, I circle back to Yonge Street and walk north. I turn onto Ramsden Park, the former site of 19th century brickyards. Castle Frank Brook ran through here too, the riverbed making for rich clay deposits. The park’s uneven, dug-in landscape is the only remnant of its industrial past. (And here I’ll shamelessly plug my Industrial Heritage Map). There’s also a few stubborn remnants of winter in a file snow piles that refuse to acknowledge the existence of spring.

Yorkville Brickyards Goad's, 1884 - Copy

Yorkville Brickyards. Source: Goad’s Atlas, 1884.

Yorkville Brickyards, 1880s

Yorkville Brickyards, 1880s. Source: Toronto Public Library.

29. Ramsden Park

30. Ramsden Park

Pears Street, which runs adjacent, is named for one of the brick makers. A cat lounges on the sidewalk and soaks up the sun. He has the right idea. I eventually hit Avenue Road. Across the way is 174 Avenue, otherwise known as the Village Corner in the 1960s Yorkville folk scene. The Village Corner gave the first break to Ian & Silvia and a young Gordon Lightfoot in 1962. For more on Gordon Lightfoot’s Toronto, look here please.

31. Pears Avenue Cat

32. 174 Avenue Village Corner

With a skip down the street and a turn onto Hazelton Avenue, I’m onto more familiar settings when it comes to the neighbourhood of Yorkville. Hazelton is considered part of the heart of the Village and is pretty much an architecture lover’s dream. Bay and Gable, Gothic, Worker’s Cottage…it’s hard not to dream while being here. Alas, I stop myself from getting too ‘in the clouds’.

33. Hazelton Avenue

34. Hazelton Avenue

The southern end of the street has a more commercial character. It features Heliconian Hall, the second National Historic Site of the day (and, like the Studio Building, also holds dual heritage recognition). The Hall is the counterpart to a place like the Arts & Letters Club on Elm Street in that it was originally a professional association for women when they were excluded from Arts & Letter Clubs. Today it is an event space.

Across the way are a line of boutiques and neat little street art. I lament at the sight of one characters wearing a Leaf jerseys. Somehow the ‘maybe next year’ saying isn’t appropriate. They are also the lead in to Hazelton Lanes, the premiere mall of the Village.

36. Hazelton Avenue street art 38. Hazelton Lanes

39. Hazelton Lanes street art

Yorkville Avenue marks the end of the street. At the corner is the Hazelton Hotel, which represents everything Yorkville is today – fashionable, luxurious, and expensive. The Hotel replaced a series of rowhouses after the heyday of the bohemian village, one of which housed the Riverboat Coffee House. This was the most famous of all coffee houses and another venue Mr. Lightfoot got his ‘chops.’

41. Hazelton Hotel

Yorkville Avenue Riverboat

I follow the street east, passing the first Mount Sinai Hospital (1922) and the Sheriff’s House (1837) on either side of the street. I peek down Bellair and inwardly judge the patio-ers. I know it’s a sunny day and there’s a certain desperation for more welcoming climates, but it is still very chilly and not quite patio weather. Moving on, the wideness of Bay Street to me breaks apart the neat, quiet street vibe. It’s no wonder that, like Church Street, it didn’t always run through Yorkville. Bay was extended north to Davenport in 1922.

42. Sheriff's House Yorkville Avenue

43. Yorkville Avenue and Bellair

44. Bay Street Yorkville

In any case, I cross it and pass the shiny and blue Four Seasons Hotel (which might be my favourite tall towers in the city) and its adjoining parkette. Beside is Fire Hall #10, 1890, which displays the Yorkville Coat of Arms. The emblem was once located a stone’s throw away at the now lost Yorkville Town Hall on Yonge Street. Decked on the coat of arms are symbols of early industrialists that built the Village, including our friend Severn the brewer.

45. Four Seasons Hotel Park

47. Four Season Hotel Toronto 48. Yorkville Fire Hall

49. Yorkville Fire Hall Coat of Arms

Beside the fire station is Yorkville Library, 1907.  This Beaux-Arts gem is one of the famed Carnegie Libraries. Adjoined to it is Town Hall Square Park, which, and I know parks come in different forms and sizes, but isn’t too park-ish too me. Maybe users of the park, like the woman promenading around with her dog, disagree.

50. Yorkville Library

51. Yorkville Town Hall Square

52. Yorkville Town Hall Square

I leave the area and head down a laneway to Cumberland. Cumberland Terrace is to my left. It’s a bit of an oddity within its surroundings. It might have fit in well in 1970s when Yorkville was beginning its gentrification, but now it’s a bit of a tacky sour thumb.

Village of Yorkville Park (doesn’t really roll off the tongue, does it?) is a bit of an oddball park too. It’s meant to represent the diversity of Canadian landscapes from coast to coast. I wouldn’t have known this if I had not read it. The highlight for most people is the giant rock which represents the Canadian Shield (and actually the hunk of rock really did come from the Canadian Shield!). I take a seat on some nearby rest points, and, as the subway rumbles under me, I recognize that park does it’s job. It’s well used and a meeting point for people. It’s excellent for people watching, for example  the people lining the other side of the street and sitting in the patio of Hemingway’s (more internal judgement).

54. Village of Yorkville Park 55. Village of Yorkville Park

58. Cumberland Avenue

59. Hemingway's Yorkville

Down Bellair I go and I’m at Bloor Street. Needing to cross the street, I head towards Bay.  The Manulife Centre, 1974, presides over the intersection and its ill-fated scramble crossing. From mynew location, I get a good view of the ‘Mink Mile’ that is Bloor. A noted spotting is the Pottery Barn, whose facade alludes to its prior incarnation as the University Theatre.

60. Bloor Street Mink Mile 61. Manulife Centre

62. Bloor Street University Theatre Pottery Barn

I take a little detour down St. Thomas and catch a look at the sophisticated Windsor Arms Hotel, 1927. It actually reminds me of a fortress. This area wasn’t part of the original Village of Yorkville, but as mentioned earlier, borders have expanded and contracted, and somehow the area south of Bloor is lumped into Yorkville. The Windsor Arms fits in well with the swankiness of the neighbourhood anyways. As I’m admiring and snapping pictures, a UPS driver buzzes the door of the adjacent University Apartment. He doesn’t find who he’s looking for.

63. Windsor Arms Hotel

64. Windsor Arms Hotel

I have to let out an internal weep at what I see at the construction site on the opposing corner. There are Victorian facades fronting an empty pit, and I realize we’re about to get a facadist (ie, cop out) approach to preserving the heritage elements to whatever development is on the way. Shame.

65. Sultan & St. Thomas development

66. Sultan & St. Thomas development

Back on Bloor, I make a mental cue for Pink Floyd because I’m off to Yonge to end things where they began. It’s actually a sad note, because, like the site of Sultan and St. Thomas Streets, I note with a frown at the ‘progress’ on the Stollery’s site and how poorly the demolition unfolded. Across the way, One Bloor inches closer to completion.

67. Stollery's

68. One Bloor Toronto

Scenes From The Exhibition Grounds

My destination: Ricoh Coliseum. The event: the Toronto Marlies of the AHL battle the Iowa Wild. Beyond the great company and live hockey to be had, it’s also bobblehead giveaway day. Bonus. With a three o’clock game time, I plan on arriving by two in order to secure one. Before that though, I intend on exploring.

I arrive on the 511 streetcar, descending not at the Exhibition streetcar loop but at Strachan Avenue. I walk south on the street, my mind set on entering at the big arch.

I cross the street and then cross again. I get my first discovery of the day. To my left there’s a block-like yellow building. Although I don’t know it’s name or purpose specifically (and don’t venture close enough to find a sign), it looks like a displaced building from the R.C.  Harris Water Plant – Art Deco in style, from the 30s, and industrial in nature.

1. Gore Park Pumping Station

My suspicions ring true. Upon later investigation, I find out this is Gore Park Pumping Station. Built in 1924, it’s not exactly the long lost child of the R.C. Harris Filtration Plant that I pinned to be. Rather, it predates it by eight years (seventeen if one counts when the water temple was finally completed).

Moving on, I come to Princes’ Gate. Despite this being Toronto’s  (more impressive take on the) Arc de Triomphe or Washington Square Arch, I have no distinct memories of passing under it, nor do I know much about it. In fact, during a summer Toronto history trivia outing I found out who the names of the princes it’s honoured for.

3. Princes' Gate

I cross the street opposite Coronation Park and get a better look. There’s slush on the ground and snow blowing in the air and somehow I get the sense that there’s a different vibe when the Ex rolls around, but this works for me. The detailing and construction of this grand structure is impressive.

4. Princes' Gate

5. Princes' Gate

On the other side of the angels, there is a blue Ontario Heritage Trust sign. A truck with a man in the cabin loiters beside it. I wonder whether he’s looking at me while a snap a picture of the plaque, which is completely surrounded by snow. I take a moment to read the image on my phone screen. The Beaux-Arts monument was opened in 1927 by Princes Edward and George.

6. Ontario Heritage Trust Princes' Gate

Past this, I come to the 1929 Automotive Building, now the Allstream Centre. As I walk the lamp-line sidewalk,  my architectural eye once again detects more distinct Art Deco styling.

8. Automotive Building

9. Automotive Building    10. Automotive Building

11. Automotive Building Art Deco DetailingI make it to the main entrance and step back to marvel at it. High arches, fancy railings, intricate carvings, detailed windows…it’s a handsome building for sure.

13. Automotive Building EntranceOn the opposing side of the street stands the slighty more modern (1996, to be exact) Direct Energy Centre. I cross the street to get a look, stopping in the middle of the empty way to gaze again at the Princes’ Gate.

12. Direct Energy Centre

14. Princes' Gate BackBy this point I just want to get around the venue to Ricoh Coliseum, but seeing how frigid day it is, passing through it sounds like a better option. Inside the ‘Toronto Sportman’s Show’ is taking place. I pass one of the exhibition halls which is dedicated to fishing. Not my cup of tea. Instead, I continue meandering through to the other side of the building while taking in the sight above me. There are words hanging above, but even as I make it outside again, I have no luck in making them out.

17. Direct Energy Centre         16. Direct Energy Centre

Hockey is near. I make it outside where BMO Field looms in the distance. Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment is pumping in millions to renovate it – adding more seats, changing the field, among other improvements. There are big visions for it: as big as an NHL Winter Classic. After the amazing experience of following the hometown team out to Michigan last year, I’d be all for it. For now, I’ll settle for minor league hockey.

18. BMO Field Renovation
Ricoh Coliseum is another aged building, once known as simply the Coliseum before corporate hands got their hold on it. The Beaux-Arts sports venue dates back to 1922. It has hosted boxing matches, horse shows, and was a training ground during WWII. Today, it’s the home of the Toronto Marlies and hosts concerts, pro-wrestling, and boat shows. I have taken in many a Marlies game at Ricoh, but it’s also special to me in that I saw my first concert there.

19. Ricoh Coliseum

20. Ricoh ColiseumAfter picking up my free bobblehead and before I can even attempt the game, I spent the next few extended moments looking for a Tim Horton’s to satisfy my caffeine urge (it’s an eternal struggle.) Only after some guidance I realize coffee in sold in the concession stands themselves. Hurrah for $2.75 goodness!

The game itself was actually largely lacklustre up until the final period when the hometeam turned on the firepower. Despite a ruined shutout, the good guys came out with a convincing win!

23. Toronto Marlies Win

Then it’s out to the streetcar loop with the masses, getting a look at the building as I do. I’ll have to remind myself to capture the grand exterior facing the transit loop next time. I’ll also have to remind myself to take in other parts of the Exhibition Grounds – Scadding Cabin and Fort Rouille in particular.

24. Ricoh Coliseum         25. Ricoh Coliseum Walk to Streetcar Loop

And, of course, there’s the free bobblehead of Marlies alum and current Leaf Tyler Bozak! These figurines never look the person they are meant to honour, do they?

26. Toronto Marlies Tyler Bozak Bobblehead

Scenes From The City of Toronto Archives

I’ve been to the City Archives a few times before to toil away in the research hall. But I’ve never made it a destination for any other reason. The Archives, however, does put on museum-eque exhibitions, and its latest – ‘Made in Toronto: Food & Drink Manufacturing in Our City’ – caught my eye. Toronto’s industrial legacy is becoming a big fascination, so this came at a great time.

2015-01-21 14.30.14

As the exhibit poster explains, there are a great number of manufacturing enterprises in Toronto today (more than people realize), but before we even get to today, ‘Made in Toronto’ sets out to present the city’s pioneering industrial players – companies like Weston Foods, Willard’s Chocolates, and Gooderham and Warts (among others).

2015-01-21 14.33.57

The display is divided thematically into baked goods, meat, milk pantry items, chocolate, and alcohol. There are photos of insides and outsides of factories, maps, posters, and memorabilia in display cases. All of it is very well and thoroughly researched and presented.

2015-01-21 14.34.41

2015-01-21 14.46.43

2015-01-21 14.49.00

2015-01-21 14.55.41

Toronto isn’t the manufacturing town it once was and for a number of reasons. Cities and economies change, and industry in the middle of cities just doesn’t make sense anymore. It’s good to back and visit how things were. ‘Made in Toronto’ does just that. It runs until August 2015.

Bonus: and of course, one can’t go to the city archives without taking its ‘Miles of Files”!

2015-01-21 15.08.22

Scenes From The Aga Khan Museum

Deep in the heart of suburbia on Wynford Drive just off the DVP, one can find the newest addition to Toronto’s museum scene – the Aga Khan Museum. It’s a curious place for an arts & culture hub, even with the Ontario Science Centre just a hop away.

In addition to its non-downtown location, the arrival of the AGM was marked with curiousity and a bit of controversy. The opening was delayed, its thematic content is unlike any other museum or gallery in the city, and its construction came with the demolition of the Modernist-designed Bata Shoe Headquarters. Talk surrounding the Aga Khan Museum overwhelming features the question: “Was it worth it losing one unique building for another?”

As I walk up to the museum, I don’t have an answer because it is tough to justify that kind of loss. That said, I can admit that it is a very impressive structure and a fine addition to Toronto’s architectural scene. The entire site consists of the museum itself, the Ismaili Centre, and, between them, a garden and terrace. It’s all a marvel, but I can’t help but wonder how it all looks in the summer (see below).

0. Aga Khan Museum outside

2. Aga Khan Museum Outside

3. Aga Khan Museum Ismaili Centre

The inside is as much a visual wonder. Geometric patterning is a big part of the aesthetic of the Aga Khan Museum. I made a venture out into the courtyard after dropping my belongings at the (complimentary) coat check, which proved to be ill-advised because it was quite chilly. Again, I imagine a different vibe in warmer temperatures.

4. Aga Khan Museum Main Floor

5. Aga Khan Museum Courtyard

9. Aga Khan Museum courtyard

10. Aga Khan Museum courtyard

The main floor exhibition space features the museum’s permanent collection, which is  essentially a historical journey through Islam. For me, it’s a subject matter that I did not encounter during my time as an undergrad of history, so it was a nice treat. The layout, design, and use of the space was very well done (not to mention, it’s got a distinct ‘new museum’ smell!).

6. Aga Khan Museum fountain

6. Aga Khan Museum

7. Aga Khan Museum collection

The upper level dons ‘The Lost Dhow’, a temporary exhibit on loan to the AKM which features the recovered objects from a sunken ship in Indonesia. So much of the details of its sinking is unknown, but the interpretation and presentation is very well done!

Also on the second floor is the ‘Garden of Ideas’, a more contemporary art exhibition that overlooks the permanent collection below (people watching, anyone?). Towards the end of the exhibition was a fun artistic piece featuring a picture books of individuals saying ‘I love you’. Clever!

11. Aga Khan Museum Garden of Ideas

The Aga Khan Museum is also unique in that it contains a performing arts centre! The theatre itself is modestly sized and has great acoustics. The white star-like ceiling is a sight. The angular staircase in the lobby is also of great note.

13. Aga Khan Museum Theatre Lobby

14. Aga Khan Museum Theatre Lobby

16. Aga Khan Museum Theatre

15. Aga Khan Museum Window

In all, between the entire collection and the space itself, the museum doesn’t feel too big, but it’s not underwhelming either. It also helps that the building in of itself makes the Aga Khan Museum a destination. I spent a little over two hours exploring and taking in everything and would gladly return in the spring or summer to take it in again.

17. Aga Khan Museum Outside

Update: Aga Khan Museum Park and Ismaili Centre, Summer 2015

Aga Khan Museum Park (2)

Aga Khan Museum Park (4)

Aga Khan Museum Park (5)

Aga Khan Museum Park (6)

Aga Khan Ismaili Centre (1)

Aga Khan Ismaili Centre (2)

Aga Khan Museum Park (1)

Scenes From Birch Cliff and the R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant

3. Warden Avenue Birch Cliff

Arriving on 69 bus, I find myself at the intersection of Kingston Road and Warden Avenue in the Birch Cliff neighbourhood of southern Scarborough. As a northern Scarberian, I’ve never been here before, but it’s a place I at least recognize through my fascination of ‘Before and After’ images.


Warden Avenue and Kingston Road, 1950s-60s to Today. Note the continuity in the bus and bank in both images. Credit: Scarborough Historical Society

I cross the street and stand in front of Taylor Memorial Library. I’m here to see a talk given by Historian Allan Levine on his new book ‘Toronto: Biography of a City’, which is part the Toronto Public Library’s Eh List. It’s 5:50pm. The talk isn’t for another hour and ten minutes, so I get to explore Birch Cliff – or a tiny bit of it, anyways. The first thing that strikes me is the road construction. Kingston Road is seemingly always under perennial maintenance. Must be a headache for Birchcliffians (?).

1. Taylor Memorial Public Library

2. Kingston Road Construction

Warden Avenue south of Kingston is the only portion of the throughway that isn’t served by public transit. It is narrow, tree lined, and entirely residential. Above all, it’s quiet and quiet nice. There are a number of people outside as I walk, and I wonder how they feel about living here and if there’s some kind of Birch Cliff identity. The houses themselves are a mixture of older one-storey homes, bungalows, and post-modern creations.

4. Post-Modern Birch Cliff

5. Warden Avenue

Eventually, I come to the foot of Warden Avenue. It’s not exactly a landmark, but it’s cool enough to me. Where the street ends, a path begins. As I walk, I hear crunching under my feet. There are fallen nuts or something embedded in the sand. I pick one up as a souvenir and place it in my bag.  At the end of the path is a gate – or, at least, was a gate. Past it is, of course, the Scarborough Bluffs. I can hear the waves from where I am. It looks as though someone might’ve attempted this descent or at least part of it, but it’s not an adventure I’m up for, so I turn back.

6. Foot of Warden Avenue

7. Foot of Warden Avenue

8. Nuts

9. Warden Scarborough Bluffs

10. Warden Scarborough Bluffs

I return to Kingston and start heading west. The street was built as a motel lined highway into Toronto – the Dundas Street of Scarborough, if you will. The strip of shops near Warden features a cafe, an empty store, and a bar with karaoke.

As I keep walking, I’m not awed. It’s a rather sad street, and that goes beyond just the construction. Looking across the way, there’s nothing lively – certainly not like the stretch of Kingston that runs through the Beach.

11. Warden Avenue Helene Cafe           12. Warden Avenue Helene Cafe

13. Warden Avenue Closed Store

14. Faded Mural

15. Kingston Road Birch Cliff

Continuing on, to my left is a long fence with trees rising above it. I have no idea what’s on the other side. When the opportunity is right, I peek my head over. A golf course. Further down, I put it all together. This is the Toronto Hunt Club, which is fed in by a private road. It’s a long established organization, and has been here for at least a hundred years.

16. Toronto Hunt Club Kingston Road

17. Toronto Hunt Club Kingston Road

Toronto Hunt Club Kingston Road, Goads, 1913

Oaklands Avenue was Warden south of Kingston. Credit: Goads Atlas, 1913.

Kingston does a curve and turns residential for a bit. At Blantyre, I have to head south. Before that, I stop in at the Petro Canada. It’s a fortuitous break because with all the walking, I forgot to pack water with me (number one rule for an explorer). I refuel and continue. It’s somewhat fitting considering my destination – a great big water temple.

18. Kingston Road Birch Cliff

But first, Blantyre reminds me a bit of Warden Avenue in its array of homes, but it’s clear that it’s a bit more upscale (understandable as I’m closer to the Beach). At Queen Street, for example, are houses that require a stairs to get to.

19. Post-Modern Home

20. Blantyre Avenue

21. Blantyre Avenue

At just after 6:30pm, I cross Queen Street and find myself before the R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant, a long yellow building with a massive lawn. I get in close to inspect it while a couple dogs (with their owners nearby) come in to inspect me. I amicably oblige them for a bit, but know I don’t have too much time. What I see is impressive, but I know the other side is where the real marvel lies.

22. R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant Back

23. R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant Back
35. R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant dogs

Immortalized in Ondaatje’s In the Skin of a Lion, rhe R.C. Harris Plant, named for Roland Caldwell, the city’s Public Works Commissioner at the time of its construction, is one of the most photographed landmarks in the city. I have to join the masses in capturing its grandeur. It is built in the Art Deco style of the 1920s and 30s, the same as Commerce Court North – although it is nothing like that tower. This is industrial architecture at its finest and because of it, I’m pretty giddy.

24. R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant

26. R.C. Harris Water Treatment  Front

27. R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant Front

The facility is located at the foot of Victoria Park Avenue, which is  named for the amusement park and forestland that the treatment plant now occupies. As I meander around and note individuals with their animals and/or human companions, it’s funny how it’s still a gathering place – an odd one if one thinks about it. “Let’s take the dog out for walk to the water treatment plant and we’ll talk as well.”

Victoria Park RC Harris Plant, Goads 1913

Credit: Goads Atlas, 1913

Victoria Park RC Harris Water Plant

Victoria Park Amusement Park, Year Unknown. Credit: Scarborough Historical Society

28. R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant

29. R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant

I head down to the water and capture it from below. It’s a moody day, and part of me was hoping for an animated sunset, but there’s still something appealing with the dreariness and fog. There’s no rain, though – that’s a plus.

30. R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant

31. R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant shore

32. R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant shore

33. R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant

34. R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant plaque

My phone indicates it’s 6:50pm, so I regrettable decide to leave Mr. Harris’ great achievement. I know have to get a move on in order to make Mr. Levine’s talk without being too late. I’m not helped by the fact that it’s almost entirely uphill to Kingston road – from the shore, up to the plant, to Queen Street, and up Courcelette Road. I’d take my time to admire the street, but I’m too winded to give it thought. I haven’t been through such strenuous exercise in a while. When I consider it, I’ve missed it and make a note to put myself through that – under less stressful circumstances. By the time I reach the main road, it’s dark. The fog reflects beautiful on the street lights and I can’t resist one last picture.

36. Kingston Road Birch Cliff

I reach Taylor Memorial Library at 7:10pm. Not bad, although I’m still very gassed. It’s a really cozy branch.

I’m directed to the back meeting room where Mr. Levine has already begun lecturing on his book. It’s a great presentation on the ‘life’ of Toronto – Muddy York, The Toronto Maple Leafs, The Ward, The Orange Order, former mayor Nathan Phillips – a lot of which I know about, but still some that garner notes in my Moleskine.

The audience discussion that follows it is most interesting. There were comments about the inadequacy of Toronto’s infrastructure (the TTC at the centre, naturally), how Torontonians are whiners, and, most notably, how the city is soulless. Thinking of my day today, I argue that city does have a character and soul. The examples of soulful cities given include Montreal, Quebec City, and European metropolises. I suppose their souls are wrapped in long, documented histories. Toronto’s is perhaps less obvious, but I say it’s character lies in its neighbourhoods – like Birch Cliff – and the landmarks within them – like the R.C. Harris Treatment Plant. I think it’s a fair point and very fitting given the evening I’ve had.

It’s worth noting that what I saw today is only a small portion of Birch Cliff. The Quarry Lands at Victoria Park and Gerrard, for example, were a big part of the area once upon a time and now await aan uncertain future. Their exploration also await me.

Scenes From North York Centre, Gibson House Museum, and Mel Lastman Square

North York Centre. Lansing.  Uptown. The House that Mel Built. What was intended as a simple errand at Yonge and Sheppard turned into a tour of this downtown away from downtown.

It’s been a few years since I frequented the area on a semi-regular basis, so I was slightly shocked at the amount of growth since I was last here. At Yonge and Sheppard – the fortuitous cross-section between two subway lines – towers in differing stages of development have displaced the Metro-flanked strip mall.

1. Yonge and Sheppard towers

2. Yonge and Sheppard towers

Walking up the street, I can see even more cranes with upcoming condos in the distance. Below them, big box stores and restaurants line the streets. My destination is Gibson House Museum – one of the few historic sites operated by the City of Toronto that I have not visited. The towers I saw earlier surround the museum and tell me that a certain Gibson Square is coming to the corner of Yonge and Park Home. I’m compelled to do me a little look around of the museum to see the extent of the ‘takeover’. From Park Home I can see the hint of the brick building beyond the construction site. I continue to Beecroft, where I pass a parkette . I would examine it better after my museum visit. I notice a a house across the street which I immediate recognize as being of an earlier architectural style. I snap a photo and make a note to ask the Gibson House staff about it.

3. Dempsey House on Beecroft

4. Gibson House back Condo

Moving around Gibson House via Basil Hill Court, I’m struck by the contrast of the back of the house and the condominiums going up in front of it. I circle to the front of the house where I’m greeted by a familiar blue plaque. This marker was erected by the Ontario Heritage Trust (interestingly known as the Archaeological and Historic Sites Board in the text) to commemorate David Gibson. I take a few steps back to admire the entirety of the house – but am stopped by the construction wall behind me. Finally, I go around to the side where the entrance is a modern addition to the back the house.

5. David Gibson Ontario Heritage Trust

6. Gibson House front

7. Gibson House side

I’m greeted at the desk by a nice administrator and I immediately mention my observations while getting to the museum. She concurs that it’s tough situation being “landlocked by condos.” It has affected their foot traffic. I pay my 6.29 for an adult visit, she takes my bag to store while I take the guided tour, and I wait for a costumed interpreter in the Discovery Gallery, reading up on textiles and the Gibson story.

This was not the first home the Gibsons owned on this property. A wood frame house stood here, but after the rebellion of 1837, Gibson – a traitor – fled to the United States and the house was burned. Was he returned in 1850, he built this grand Georgian house.

We start in the living room where Claire tells me about Mr. Gibson and the room we are in. He was a land surveyor, which caused him to be often away doing work . This allowed the family the ability to be financially stable enough – not rich, not poor. Of the room itself, Claire tells how the idea was to give off that the impressions they were well off – “perception becomes reality” at work. It sounds like a pompous attitude to have, but it’s a dynamic I have seen in my own life in the 21st century, so perhaps it’s become somewhat normalized. The room is seperated by doors, which divide the room into an entertaining space for guests and an area where the children could play. The public/private divide comes up again later in my tour.

8. Gibson House Living RoomThe room is decked out in Christmas decor,  although a tree would have been anachronistic for the time. Christmas as a whole was not a big deal; perhaps a meal was had and that was it. Hogmanay was the big holiday celebration. Although, if there were adult drinks involved, at least Eliza Gibson was not involved in them, as she was temperate (I think?).

We go to the upper level where Claire tells me about the hired hand David Gibson employed to run the farm (because Gibson was often away). His room was sizable enough for a comfortable enough living, and was situated far away from the children’s bedrooms (locked as well). Claire says there is speculation about his relationship to the family – whether it was strictly an employer-employee dynamic or the family and their good friend. His room faces westward and allowed him a view of the property he managed. The Gibson farm extended all the way to Bathurst from Yonge but wasn’t very wide. He could look out and see all flat fields. Today, the view presents a challenge in interpreting the site because as Claire mentions one sees “a lovely building” when one looks out today.

The children’s bedroom – consisting of a boys and a girls – are low-key in their appearance. And this was on purpose. Nobody went into the bedrooms save for the children themselves and that was in the morning and at night. All the bells and whistles, with the notable exception of the master and guest bedrooms, were reserved for the public areas of the house. The idea, as Claire presented it, was to create a facade for guests: impressing them into thinking they were better off than reality.

As mentioned before, the Gibsons weren’t poor, but they weren’t the elite of the elite. They owned this great house that, if not for the lack of indoor plumbing, might suit a family today. These facts prompt to ask myself – and Claire – “If the Gibsons were nothing special, why does the family’s story survive, as opposed to other comparable households in the area?” The answer includes a couple of factors working together. First, because of his line of work, David Gibson wrote a lot of things down that inform us about the family and their lives. Unfortunately Gibson House records do not include records from the other occupants (Claire says it is not even known if Eliza Gibson was literate), but his paper trail is sizable enough. Second, it helps that the house itself survived. Being brick, it did not burn down like other residences. It also survived demolition even after the farm was broken up for development. During the Centennial celebrations of 1967, the Canadian government alloted money to restore historic houses and turn them into museums. The Dempsey Brothers Store/Joseph Shepard House that I saw on Beecroft might very well have been a museum, but the Gibson home instead was commemorated.

In addition to these rooms, there is a place for the seamstresses hired by the family, as well as a guest room (which is the nicest of the non-master bedroom rooms).

Downstairs, Claire takes me through the Gibson’s office, the kitchen, and dining room. The former is populated by the man’s surveying equipment (not original, of, course). In the kitchen, my guide takes me through the Gibson’s diet (a lot of potatoes) and says Eliza Gibson took care of the kitchen herself, no help. The focal point of the room is the fireplace. One can only imagine the difficulties in cooking an entire meal on it – and worrying about the real hazard of not catching fire. (Tidbit: museum workers and volunteers need safety training just for this reason). The nearby dining room is a showcase of how great the Gibson had it (or were believed to have it, anyways. It also houses two original artefacts: a clock and a cabinet.

9. Gibson House Office

10. Gibson House Kitchen

11. Gibson House Dining Room

Our tour ends where it began. Claire shows me a posted map where visitors have plotted their place of origins on a map. Also presented to me is a full family tree of the family. I heard about it upstairs, but I need to visualize it. Interesting fact: Eliza and David Gibson were related before they married. I forgot the exact connection, but perhaps it was 2nd cousins. My guide says they didn’t grow up together, so it might alright by today’s standards? I might agree with that.

12. Gibson House Archive Photo

13. Gibson House Family Tree

I thank her and she leaves me to browse a little bit. After that I pay my appreciation to the staff and head my way. My adventure in understanding the area and the museum is not done, however. I head down to Gibson Park to see some public installations related to the Gibsons. You may read about that here.

After the park, I head back to Yonge. My final stop for the day will be Mel Lastman Square. This is the Nathan Phillips and Albert Campbell Squares of North York. The former civic heart of the borough and a cultural gathering place. Just to note a few events associated with it, it hosts skating, a farmer’s market, and Canada Day celebrations. Lastman himself was a former mayor of North York and the first mayor of the Mega-City. His fingerprints are all over the borough.

I have a look around, noting the North York Central Library, where I ventured to on a few occasions during university, and a gazebo of sorts. Satisfied, I head for the subway.

14. Mel Lastman Square

15. Mel Lastman Square Rink

16. North York Central Library

17. Mel Lastman Square sign 18. Mel Lastman Square

19. Mel Lastman Square gazebo


20. Mel Lastman Square