Tag Archives: graffiti

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 Rush Lane, Queen West, and Niagara

Note: Adventures as of last fall-ish. Here’s hoping we get some greenery soon!

My first impression of Graffiti Alley? It’s just as much in a hidden corridor and loading zone as it is a gallery. I enter from Augusta, although the path begins at Spadina in the east. The mighty needle rises above some cartoon caricatures dancing around some windows.

2. Rush Lane

Nearby, there’s some more sophisticated aquatic renderings. The creative output in both drawings are impressive. It’s a grand exercise in place making, isn’t it? Here you have previously dead, in-between ‘spaces’ turning into destinations themselves through the creative efforts of some talented individuals.

3. Rush Lane

5. Rush Lane

7. Rush Lane
As a past adventure taught me, names hold meaning, and assigning a name to a space goes a long way into place making. Graffiti Alley is formally recognized as Rush Lane, and doesn’t refer to the trio from Willowdale, but a local who once owned many shops along Queen Street. Making meaning through commemoration. With that knowledge, I come out at Portland and head up to the street.

6. Rush Lane
The Outer Layer hugs the corner of Queen and Portland. The rather unfortunately faded plaque can’t tell me this, but this was built as a Bank of Montreal branch in 1899. It was designed by Frederick Herbert, who, in my opinion, is the second most iconic architect of old Toronto (E.J. Lennox being the first.) Through observation throughout the city, it doesn’t seem too often that an old bank deviates from its original purpose. Of course, it does happen – the most formidable of Banks of Montreal is now the Hockey Hall of Fame.

11. Outer Layer
I do slip inside the shop for a moment. I’m on a mission for some quirky Toronto-themed postcards to send overseas. I don’t find any here, but I do come away with a Lou Reed card and a TTC subway magnet I pick up at the register.

Across the way is the formidable looking Epicure Cafe building. I’ve eaten there a few times…very affordable prices for great food. Even further down (not pictured) is Tequila Bookwork, another great local eatery and drinkery.

8. Epicure Cafe
I follow the way past Bathurst, where a backpacker greets me on the other side of the crossing. I’m not sure what kind of works he’s packing.

12. Bellbox Mural Queen and Bathurst
Outside the Dog’s Bullocks (possibly the greatest name for a bar), a group begins a chant that I don’t get but they find wildly amusing. A few doors down is Valhalla Cards, which houses a grand collection of postcards. Among my purchases are a 1910 look up Bay Street and a Captain Canuck cover from 1975.

13. Valhalla Queen Street
13. Valhalla Cards Postcards
Next, I take a swing onto Niagara Street, and another alley quickly greets me. Unlike Rush Lane, this one is unnamed – but this is expected. Of the 3000+ alleys in Toronto, only 200 are actually places. One such exists north of Gerrard between Coxwell and Greenwood.

15. Queen Street Lane at Niagara
Here I encounter a cyclist and  the CN Tower again – albeit anthropomorphized. I love TO too, little needle.

14. Queen Street Lane at Niagara
I also get some two-word advice.

16. Queen Street Lane at Niagara

For an existential thought, I mentally tag on ‘Yourself’ to this one.

17. Queen Street Lane at Niagara

18. Queen Street Lane at Niagara
Back on Niagara, another sweet mural presents itself.

20. Queen Street Lane at Niagara
Whenever I used to see Niagara Street on a map, I’d always wondered why it curved. All the streets around it follow a grid; what is Niagara’s deal? Did the town planners have a fun day at the office that day?

Only recently did I come to the realization that’s all geography. The now buried Garrison Greek ran roughly parallel to the street. In fact the western side of Niagara used to have breweries and lumber yards, which lined the banks of the creek.

1858 Boulton Atlas Niagara Street

Boulton Atlas, 1858 – Niagara Street and area

Down the way I find Niagara Street Junior Public School, which celebrates its centennial this year. It’s actually the second incarnation of the school, the first built in 1874 and later demolished to make way for the new building.

23. Niagara Street School
Maybe it’s my suburban upbringing, but the yard is curiously small for a schoolyard to me. The grass is not actually grass either.

24. Niagara Street School
Further down past King Street I find the another institution, the Fu Sien Tong Buddhist Temple. It looks odd to me – not the building itself, because that’s beautiful and an unexpected discovery – but the way it’s set back from the street and not parallel to it.

26. Fu Sien Tong Buddhist Temple

Where Niagara meets Tecumseth is some more industrial history in the former National Casket Co. buildings. It’s a complex of three structures built between 1884 & 1887. The most easterly is the oldest. You can guess that they’re about to undergo development.

28. National Casket Co.

29. National Casket Co.

27. National Casket Co.
That’s not the extent of the industrial character of the street. At the very foot of Tecumseth is the Toronto Abattoir. Or was, anyway. This year marks the end of a 100+ year history of animal processing in the area. To think: an animal slaughterhouse and a coffin factory steps from each other…kind of dark, no?

30. Toronto Abattoirs

Goads Map 1924 Toronto Abattoir & National Casket Co.

Goads Map, 1924 – Toronto Abattoir & National Casket Co.

I can’t tell for sure, but I think there’s a remnant of the radial spur below me. I could be wrong.

30. Tecumseth Street Radial Spur
Beyond the railway lands below is Fort York National Historic Site, although I can’t see it right now. With that, I turn back up the street, spotting the last bit of street art of the day.

33. Toronto Railway Lands from Tecumseth Street

31. Tecumseth Street art

The walk up Tecumseth is rather uneventful – not much happening other than the 1897 Ukrainian Baptist Church near Queen. I snap a picture and then continue on to catch a streetcar.

34. Ukranian Baptist Church

Scenes From Duncan Mills Ruins

Hearing about a couple of old abandoned structures in the middle of a ravine, I explored the Duncan Mill Ruins while on my walk of the adjacent Betty Sutherland Trail. I entered from an unmarked yet paved path on the east end of the bridge on Duncan Mill Road.

Duncan Mill Ruins (1)

I could’ve followed the path until I reached the front of the first derelict building, but in my infinite wisdom I traveled through a thick field of tall grass and logs (and bugs!). This took me to the back where I then walked around and examined it.

Duncan Mill Ruins (4)

Duncan Mill Ruins (5)

The building had the surrounding plant life growing through it, was defaced with graffiti, and was missing part of its roof. It also consists of two ‘rooms’, the main one having an industrial tank of some sort. I found a suitcase nearby which makes me wonder if someone actually camped (camps?) out there (I suggest and hope not).

Duncan Mill Ruins (6)

Duncan Mill Ruins (7)

Duncan Mill Ruins (8)

Duncan Mill Ruins (11)

West of this building (I nearly missed it) is another building. This one is smaller and more in tact. It’s certainly got a roof anyways. A look inside produces a space full of debris and garbage.

Duncan Mill Ruins (15)   Duncan Mill Ruins (16)

As for the speculation on the uses of these buildings, they are clearly industrial. Beyond that, I have none. The North York Historical Society looked into them in 2011 and offered some intriguing explanations, but the status of this report is unknown. A blogger from that same year, whose post I consulted while looking for info on the Betty Sutherland Trail (and indeed first informed me of the Duncan Mill Ruins), did a bit of digging on some of the machinery in the large structure.

I would be very intrigued to know if the NYHS does any more work, but for now, this was an intriguing find.

Update (December 3, 2015): Through some investigative work, Jason Ramsay-Brown of Toronto’s Ravines And Urban Forests speculates that they were a pumping house for Henry Rupert Bain’s Graydon House estate, located east of Don Mills Road!

Useful Links

Unknowne Landes Tumblr – Graffiti Buildings at Betty Sutherland Trail Don