Tag Archives: toronto

Scenes From Old Town

Spontaneous, impromptu adventures. They are the best, aren’t they? As a person who overthinks and plans the heck out of things, I’ve realised lately that when you go into something with high hopes and little expectations, things turn out to be more fun.

I find myself at George Brown’s St. James Campus, meeting my brother in front of the Hospitality Building at the top of Frederick on Adelaide. It’s a new state of the art building, but its surroundings for the most part aren’t. Beside it is a trio of heritage buildings: Toronto’s First Post Office, the De La Salle Institute, and the former Bank of Upper Canada Building. Actually, the Hospitality Building was previously occupied by a still existing heritage building that still exists, Campbell House Museum, which was moved to University and Queen in 1972.

0. Bank of Upper Canada Building

0. De La Salle Institute

0. Toronto's 1st Post Office

This collection of structures is important in telling the story of York and Toronto, but the block-wide red brick building across from us grabs my attention the most. Ah, converted industrial buildings: my great interest in this thing called local history. A good chunk of George Brown features adaptive reuse projects. The one across the street is the former Christie factory.

0. Christie Factory George Brown 1902

Christie, Brown & Co., Adelaide St. E., s. side, betw. George & Frederick Sts.; looking s.w. 1902. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

1. Old Christie Factory George Brown

My brother tells me that a pedestrian bridge was planned above the intersection to join the two buildings. It never materialized and after we part, I woefully resign to using the boring old crosswalk. Or maybe not so boring. At the corner I see an inkling of Old Toronto street names. Hello Mr. Duke!

2. Duke Street sign at Frederick

3. Frederick Street sign at Adelaide

As I meander south, it’s like architectural Pokemon – I gotta catch ‘em all. But this is a journey within a journey. I really want to check out the Market Gallery – I just get some trinkets along the way!

This is also a good time to plug my Map of Toronto’s Industrial Heritage, where I am attempting to plot the city’s industrial and manufacturing places – existing and lost, still running and demolished.

4. Old Factory on Frederick Street

Among these is Young People’s Theatre, which greets me at Front Street.  Just as it sounds, YPT is an arts space which puts on performances for young audiences. The building itself, though, was never intended to be a theatre. It started off as stables for Toronto Street Railway Company in 1886 – you know, back when horses used to draw the city’s streetcars. After the system became electrified, it became a power generating plant. It sat vacant for a while, faced demolition (such is the story many old and idle buildings, no?) until YPT moved in. One has to think of the logistics of converting a space like that into a theatre. Industrial buildings into lofts or offices seem like the most common examples of adaptive reuse, so to see a power plant into a theatre is truly remarkable!

5. Young People's Theatre Front Street Old TTC building

Still looking at the south side of Front Street, on the west side of Frederick is another industrial building. This is J&J Taylor Safeworks. As a Toronto Historical Board plaque on the building tells us, the structure was built in 1867 as a meat packing plant. In 1871, it became the home to J&J Taylor. It looks to be office space today.

I didn’t venture over to see it, but there’s a Taylor’s Wharf Lane immediately south of the building which commemorates the wharf that used to exist in the area – when the original shoreline was at about Front. Ironically though, the Taylor and in the wharf and the Taylor in the safe manufacturer are unrelated. More on lanes later.

6. Front and George factory

Continuing westward, I get to St. Lawrence Market and I note the doors are curiously closed. Poor twisted me – it’s Monday! I guess the ‘Toronto Does Her Bit’ exhibition will have to wait. I do get a look down pedestrian Market Street, though. There’s a shiny new Balzac’s there. I continue on to the crazy Church-Wellington-Front intersection, highlighted by the often photographed Flat Iron Building. I have enough shots of it so I opt out of one now and turn north.

7. Market Street

I travel past St. James Church and Adelaide Street again. When I hit Lombard I make a left. Impromptu adventure. One of the random nuggets of knowledge in my head tells me there’s something here that I’ve been meaning to check out: 86 Lombard. Today it’s the Fred Victor Women’s Hostel, but in 1907 it was built to be the city morgue. Imagine that: a house of the dead on our streets! There’s some hidden history for you. Actually, more to that point, a now covered sign high above door even once showed its original purpose.

8. Lombard Street Morgue

Lombard Street City Morgue, 1936

Lombard Street City Morgue, 1936. Credit: City of Toronto Archives

Some former factories catch my attention on Richmond street. Although I cannot find anything on the darker building, the red brick building has a ‘sweet’ past. It is part of a complex of structures that stretch to Queen Street which used to make up Robertson Bros Confection Ltd (established in 1862). If my facts are right, the structure on Richmond was the warehouse and dates around 1906. The purpose of the rest of the buildings and their dates is a little bit more difficult to sort out.

9. Industrial Architecture Richmond Street

Robertson Brothers Ltd from Goads Atlas, 1924

Robertson Brothers Ltd from Goads Atlas, 1924

After capturing them in my phone, I turn around to note my surroundings. There’s some street art dedicated to Nelson Mandela!

10. Nelson Mandela Richmond Street

Finally, just before Queen Street is Ditty Lane. This coloured little alley was named for the Ditty Hotel that stood at Queen and Church (although I can’t say exactlywhere at the intersection). The beauty of our laneways is they commemorate lost landmarks, unknown local personalitiess, and hidden histories. On Adelaide east of Bay, for example, lies Grand Opera lane – a tribute to, you guessed, the now vanquished Grand Opera.

Oh, and I had to look up ‘Ditty’ – it’s a little song. Perhaps it was a musical hotel?

11. Ditty Lane

12. Ditty Lane
On Queen Street, my adventure ends (or continues?) as I jump on a westbound streetcar towards my next destination.

City building, expropriation, and lost histories

For all the houses, farmland, communities that been sold or expropriated to build infrastructure in and around Toronto – roads, highways, subway lines, airports, even our city hall – there isn’t a lot made of the losses that went into the gains. At least, I haven’t encountered a lot. Historian Jay Young explores the expropriation of homes to build Toronto’s underground transit network in his dissertation “Searching for a Better Way: Subway Life and Metropolitan Growth in Toronto, 1942-1978” . It is a fascinating read and I wonder if there’s more out there (Young does cites another article by Jason Gilliland about expropriation in Montreal). If history is about telling stories that haven’t been told yet and recounting perhaps lost perspectives, then I’d like to hear these stories and perspectives. Where are they and where did they go?

They are important ones and vital to how we see and experience the city today. When waiting for a plane at Pearson International’s Terminal 1 or for a bus at Pape Station’s loading bay, it isn’t obvious to think about the structures and the lives that pre-existed those grand transportation hubs. There’s no marker for their sacrifices. Urban landscapes shift and streetscapes change as the new replaces the old. And when the tangible goes, often so does the intangible. But they were here and I wonder what became of them. Progress shifted their life paths. How many of them expected to live in their settings for many years to come? There’s a segment of the population today that boast multi-generational ownership of their homes; perhaps that number could have been higher.

To be clear, I’m not lamenting the construction of the Yonge-University-Spadina line or YYZ or Highway 401. They move people around and are needed to accommodate a growing metropolis. I’m just left with the questions about the people that made it happen. How was the dialogue with the city to give up their homes? What was it like looking at their empty houses and properties for the last time? Where did they even go after? How did their lives differ? What was the good? What was the bad? Are there relatives today that claim those stories? I think those are stories worth hearing and remembering.

Future site of Pape Subway Station, 1927. Credit: City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 16, Series 71, Item 4828

Future site of Pape Subway Station, 1927. Credit: City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 16, Series 71, Item 4828

Future Site of Dupont Subway Station, 1954. Credit: City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 33b, Item 425

Future site of Dupont Subway Station, 1954. Credit: City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 33b, Item 425

For additional reading of a sad modern-day example, check out the expropriation of the Meyers farm to expand the CFB Trenton air force base.

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

 

Scenes From Todmorden Mills

I get off the 100C Flemingdon Park bus at Broadview and Mortimer and cross the street. To the west, Mortimer becomes Pottery Road and is my route on the way to Todmorden Mills Heritage Site. A sign ushers me to the descent.

1. Pottery Road Sign

And quite the descent it is! There are several topographical kinks within the city, and this street is definitely one of them. I’m no cyclist myself, but I have to feel for the people coming up the hill. In fact, as I read more about it , Pottery Road ranks up there for people on bikes as the toughest to navigate. My pity pretty soon turn inwards, because I realise that I’ll probably have to muster the climb on the return trip. D’oh.

2. Pottery Road Descent

Another sign and a bricked path ushers me into the Todmorden Mills grounds. Located in the Don River Valley, it’s a site that claims both industrial and natural heritage. In 1967, it was re-adapted as a historic site and operates today under the City of Toronto Museums to help tell the story of Toronto. I was here once before, although very briefly to help out to an event. Today is a long overdue chance to do some more exploring of the museum and the great Wildflower Preserve I’ve heard so much about. (Although, ironically enough, I still don’t have an adequate amount of time to do a just visit). I also read about an intriguing photo exhibition in the Papermill Theatre, which is my first stop.

3. Todmorden Mills City Museum Sign

On the way toward the building, I have to look up to the smokestack, which was nominated for a 2013 Heritage Toronto Award for its recent restoration. Anyone who has ridden down the Don Valley Parkway has seen the chimney and its giant lettering.

4. Brick Path

5. Papermill Theatre Smokestack

Inside the Papermill Theatre is an art show entitled ‘The Past is Never Far.’ It features the work of three people who have visually captured the city at various points in its history: Elizabeth Simcoe, who painted some of the first images of Toronto, William James, who took 6000 some odd photos of the city which are all digitized in the Toronto Archives, and Summer Leigh. If the last name doesn’t ring a bell, it’s because she’s the artist behind the show.

6. The Past Is Never Far

Summer takes the images of her predecessors and photographs their subjects in their modern locations. So we can find James’ photo of the dirty foot of Yonge Street in 1909 mixed in with her take of the same site the 21st century. Or Lady Simcoe’s view of Toronto harbour in 1793 with the current incarnation of the shore as we see it today. It all makes for a great visual look into Toronto’s past and present.

Taken together, the exhibition tells a great story. Its message comes in the title, and is something I have been saying and thinking for a while now: Toronto is a layered city. Some of its (her?) landforms and landmarks have changed a great deal. Some haven’t. Perhaps some of the changes aren’t immediately apparent to us, but they are there nonetheless. The past isn’t far. You just have to dig for it, do some analysis, maybe even put on a photo exhibition.

That said however, perhaps some things do stay the same. Summer has one image up of William James that features the Don River Valley flooded in 1910. 100 years and a parkway later and we’re still facing the wrath of the overflowing Don. I shake my head and smile at that. Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose, n’est-ce pas?

9. The Past Is Never Far

As a nice and unexpected treat, the artist herself is on hand, and I am able to pick her brain about what I see – whether she was actually at the disputed  location of the Simcoes’ Castle Frank residence, as an example. Among the random things we talk about are old school horse drawn streetcars and being de facto tour guides for people in our lives. Through that chat it quickly becomes clear that she is a true buff in Toronto history, whose knowledge, talent, and vision really shows in her work. We probably can geek back and forth about the city for another good chunk of time, but alas, time isn’t abundant today and I graciously thank her again and make my exit.

I head up to the brick path and continue down it. To my left, I see a familiar blue marker. The Ontario Heritage Trust sign gives my the need-to-know of  Todmorden’s history. I briefly circle around the exteriors of the buildings. I did some reading prior to coming, and, if I had more more time, I would enjoy a tour, but it will have to wait until next time.

10. Ontario Heritage Trust Todmorden Mills Sign

Also happening on the grounds of the museum is Eco-Art-Fest, an arts, heritage, culture festival put on by No. 9, who I first heard about during Jane’s Walk preparations. There is a designated ‘chilling’ area which has some pretty soothing country tunes going, an elevated platform (I think it’s also a stage) with an oven, picnic benches, and craft table where a few children try their hands at water colour painting (shoutout to Elizabeth Simcoe with that activity).

17. Outdoor Area with Oven

I continue on the brick path once again, heading toward the bridge. I see a few joggers around, and I have to admit that it that this would be a very good place for a run. I would run through here if I loved closer. A few feet before the bridge is a swirly blue line with the words ‘Don Was Here’ in bold lettering. No, some guy named Donald hasn’t marked his presence. It’s actually a public art initiative commissioned by No. 9 and curated by Labspace Studio in partnership with the Toronto Region Conservation Authority. There are several of these ‘Don Was Here’ markers from Todmorden Mills to the mouth of the river which shows the meandering route of the Don before it was rerouted and straightened. It’s a pretty amazing tribute to the city’s natural heritage. The project has got an interactive site too…with a map!

12. Don Was Here at Todmorden Mills

I notice some letter on the side of the bridge as I cross it, but may little mind to it (more on this later). Instead, I focus on the green area it overlooks. I walk around (passing another ‘Don Was Here’ marker) and inspect it a little better. Beyond that it looks really beautiful, I can’t pick out any species or just the entire ecological significance of it.

13. Don Was Here at Todmorden Mills

14. Bridge

I circle around and head back to the open area with the benches so I can give the Wildflower Preserve a walkthrough. I am greeted by a pair of signs to explain everything. It turns out the area under the bridge was the last area on the trail. I get the signs on my phone because I know I’ll need them. And hey, now I know what an Oxbow is.

15. Wildflower Preserve Sign

16. Wildflower Preserve Sign

I spend a few minutes at the pond to take in everything. Gazing out and down at the green surface, I am hoping to spot something alive. Instead, I just see a pop can half-submerged in algae and just think somebody has really missed the point. I do catch movement, something skipping across the water. I can’t tell if it’s a fish or a frog, but I take it anyways and move on.

19. Wildflower Preserve Pond

The tree canopies are tall enough to make me feel closed in and away from everything, but even with the rustling wind, buzzing insects, chirping birds, I still can hear highway traffic. It’s a weird thing spot to be in. I feel like I’m in a secluded spot, but really, I am not. Actually, it reminds me of wandering the Betty Sutherland Trail near the 401. A city within a park, indeed.

At one point, my curiosity is piqued when I spot what looks houses floating in the oxbow. I have to maneuver through and over things to get to the water’s edge. Yup, they are floating houses. Either some trekkers got really mischievous and creative or this is something deliberate and tied to the museum. I suspect the latter. I do some research after the fact, and the Ec0-Art-Fest website and its scrolling banner images provide the answer. The houses are an installation for the festival – as is the lettering on the bridge (which read from the other side says ‘Like a Bridge’) and the ‘Don Was Here’ project. Eureka!

22. Boat houses Todmorden Mills Wildflower Preserve

As I walk the paths, I try to see if I recognize any flora. I think the yellow flowers are goldenrod, but I’m not willing to bet my guitar on it. In co-creating a nature walking tour last summer, I was introduced into identifying certain floral species, but it does not help me out here. Instead, I just go back to marveling at the Preserve in a big picture sense.

20. Goldenrod, maybe

21. Bridge

I remember something Summer said about our former industrial centres. Places like Todmorden, the neighbouring Evergreen Brickworks, and the quarries of Greenwood and Smythe Parks were pretty dirty looking once upon a time. To see their conversion into beautiful natural and park lands is just remarkable. Tormorden and the Brickworks in particular have their own ecosystems, which makes this preserve more amazing to be in and think about.

For a while I try to go off the main path onto offshoot routes, but then I realise that I really have no idea where they would end up. And I’m being stupid with time. So I turn back and get to the end of the wooded area. I’m at the back of the parking lot, and instead of walking through it, I turn around and tour the Preserve again. When I reach the beginning, I spot a warning I missed the first go around. I smile at the mention of the ‘East York’. The borough lives on.

24. Wildflower Preserve

26. Wildflower Preserve Sign Borough of East York

Walking back to Pottery, I give the museum one last look and then head off to do the climb. Part of me wants to visit the Brickworks, but I know this is not doable. I convince myself it would be a real beneficial exercise to power through at a quick pace, but halfway I’m a bit gassed and cursing my idea. Fortuitously, I do break beside a Sumac, though! Happy that I recognize something, I leisurely finish the ascend and then make it back to The Danforth.

27. Todmorden Mills

28. Pottery Road Sumac

A Grand Geographic Timeline of Toronto History?

This is just me trying to get down some ideas. It may be rough and unclear, but hopefully something to build on.

As a follower of Toronto’s history, I come across a lot of dates – when something was built, when a town is incorporated, when a park is founded etc.

What’s interesting, though, is I’ve started noticing how certain years come up in different stories across the city.

Take the year 1858 as an example. A storm splits Toronto Peninsula to create the Toronto Islands. 26 km to the northeast John Hill founds a post office in Agincourt which signals the start of that community.

It’s fun to think about what was happening in different parts of the city at the same time. You have communities with no formal connections to each other growing alongside each other. Communities that eventually form the modern City of Toronto.

Wikipedia’s page on the History of Toronto has articles on History of Neighbourhoods, Historic places, Oldest buildings and structures, and Timeline of Toronto History. It would interesting to combine these into a giant timeline of events in Toronto’s history. More than that, because this relies on displaying information tied to places, I’d like to see the information displayed on a map (because really, who doesn’t like looking at maps?). I imagine being able to look at map of a given year and clicking on different nodes placed on that map. Then, being able to explore the map from the following year.

I imagine being able to draw observations about how the city developed, what was settled when, what areas were industrializing/de-industrializing, when and how natural landforms were shaped (think the burial of creeks) etc..

In all, it would be another way to capture the story of Toronto. Just an idea.

A View of York (Toronto) Upper Canada, 1820

Edmund Wyly Grier’s “A View of York (Toronto) Upper Canada, 1820” Credit: Toronto Public Library

My Doors Open Toronto 2014 Itinerary

In making this list, I quickly realised I would see the whole city if I could, so there are sites I likely neglected. I also had to map things in order to visualize how I’d go about the weekend, so check that out too.

Have to see:

Arcadian: Only open on the Sunday. I had no prior knowledge of its existence, but I am all for cultural and social venues in the city – especially those done in Art Deco. And I wonder about this City View Cafe…

Carlaw Creative Lofts: Anyone that has seen my posts, knows I’m fascinated by the industrial heritage of Carlaw Avenue. I’m very excited to see this readapted factory space.

The Great Hall: More West Queen West goodness. It’s impressive to look up at every time and I’m very curious about it. Plus, haunted stories!

The Theatre Centre: Practically adjacent to The Great Hall which makes this very convenient. Former Carnegie library converted into a cultural space. And a cafe!

Bank of Upper Canada: 1834 Neo-classical building in the oldest part of the city. Sounds fun enough…

Would love to see:

Artscape Youngplace: I remember reading about the opening of this place and thought it was a good idea. The reuse of old spaces, especially to turn them into community hubs, is a fascinating thing. Plus, there’s a Youngplace Coffee Pub. Hmm, I suspect coffee is going to be a theme in where I decided to go…

Bloor Hot Docs Cinema: The first non-new-this-year venue on this list. Choice here comes through an interest in old cinemas. Might have to weary that it closes at 3 though…

Bridgepoint Active Care Centre: This is the Don Jail – who doesn’t want to tour it? Actually, for that reason, Bridgepoint has warned several times about lineups and are making this a ticketed thing. Tickets will be handed out at 9:40am each day. Worth the hassle? Possibly. The crowds might be a deterrence…

CAMH Walls: West Queen West seems to be a goldmine for sites this year. The walls are the last physical remnant of the Lunatic Asylum. I would be curious to know about them…

R.C. Harris Plant: It’s a fan favourite and has eluded me every year. Will this time be the one? Possibly. I wonder if the construction on Queen East will get in my way…

Russell Carhouse – Old structure, old streetcars (and the new streetcars as well!) Similar transportation issues as R.C. Harris, though…

Necropolis – Fits right in with the ‘Spirits’ theme of the weekend. I’ve been here before, but never really toured it in search of the great Toronto names. This would be a great opportunity…

Scenes From Gerrard East Back Alleys and Side Streets

I start by rounding around the front of the New Town Family Restaurant. The individual handing out free three-day GoodLife passes nearly startles me. I decline – wouldn’t know who to give them to. “No worries,” he tells me, as I note the good choice in location nonetheless. The diner hugging the corner boasts what seems to be its entire menu on its sign – all day breakfast among it. Even as a proponent of breakfast food at any hour of the day, I have yet to try it out.

1 New Town Family Restaurant

2 Little India

I round the bend, finding myself on Gerrard Street East. It’s a street I have frequented quite a bit over the last year. It is of course home to the Gerrard India Bazaar BIA and one of the most impactful and distinctive streetscapes in the city. It is always a treat to gaze on the colourful facades of the clothing and jewellery shops, but it’s not my goal today. No, today I want to look behind the scenes.

On the way, I note a couple of scenes. The Glen Rhodes United Church, as imposing as it is on the street, at first glance is a bit of an anomaly amongst its South Asian surroundings. The church in its earliest form predates Little India by 60 years, however. I am impressed not only by its Gothic structure, but by its status as an affirmed church and a centre for the Pakistani community.

4 Glen Rhodes United 1909 1926

5 Glen Rhodes United Church Affirmed

6 Glen Rhodes United Pakistani Community

The next street over from Rhodes is Craven, locally known as Tiny Town for its DIY houses. I am tempted to cross the street and head south, but alas, I continue on. Less impressive is the amount of closed, empty shops. If you walk down the entire course of the Bazaar, you’ll notice quite a few of them. It’s a sad sight and speaks to perhaps the decline or at least the changing nature of the South Asian hub.

7 Craven Road

8 Gerrard East Empty Shop

Ashdale Avenue is where I move off Gerrard. I snap a picture of the mural in front of the library before heading north. I enter the alley from behind the library. My first encounter is the Naaz Theatre complex. I didn’t have a chance to check it out from the front, but if it mimics the back, it still needs a lot of work. Actually, I can hear the grinding of a saw happening from inside. My other senses catch the tempting aromas from the street and the not so inticing wall designs.

10 Gerrard Ashdale Library Murals

11 Ashdale Alley

12 Naaz Theatre Rear

13 Gerrard Graffiti

Wooden fences and back decks populate the lane. I admittedly feel weird about being there. Like an arena dressing room to the public, it feels like a no go zone – the unpretty behind-the-scenes scene.

14 Gerrard East Alley

15 Gerrard East Alley

At Woodfield, I am thrown slightly off course by a couple of unplanned and planned distractions. First, the unexpected  – a series of images making up a mural. I interpret the first to be a face with large eyes, a mustache, and tiny mouth – wearing a crown. Walking up to the street, I can’t resist but get another peek of my favourite building on the street.

16 Woodfield Mural

17 Woodfield Mural

18 Gerrard and Woodfield

My planned diversion is to head north. Woodfield has a bit of road maintenance going on. A passing jogger has to navigate around the holes in the sidewalk and through the muddy road. Canadian flags and a mismatch of adjacent housing have my attention. I also remember that a tunnelized stream runs under the street.

19 Canadian Flag

20 Canadian Flag

21 Woodfield Houses

Ahead in the distance the street slopes up to an end. Before that, it’s bisected by another road. The row of houses leading up to southwest corner concludes a flat roofed brick building. This is Woodfield Grocery and puzzles me. I know of corner shops existing in Cabbagetown, so this is unexpected. I wonder how long it’s been here.

I head inside. I see no one at the counter but then hear a ‘hello’ from seemingly nowhere. A couple of steps forward produces a woman sitting in a hidden corner reading the paper and manning the security cameras. I head to the back of the shop and fetch myself a chocolate milk. While she rings it up, I mention my curiosities about its odd location. She makes no comment, so I go on to ask whether a lot of people come by. “Sometimes. More in the summer.” The language barrier between us has me sensing an awkward conversation coming, so I leave it at that and wish her a good day as I exit.

22 Woodfield Ave

23 Woodfield Grocery

If I continue up Woodfield I’ll hit a path which trails under the CNR tracks toward Monarch Park. Alas, this is an adventure already travelled, so I hang a left.

My plan is to head down Highfield to rejoin the laneways. Before I do, I note the houses north of Walpole. They are a bit out of place compared to the rest of street.  As my Greenwood Avenue exploits showed me, the residential neighbourhood in this area developed in pockets as the brickyards closed down and the land was converted.

24 Highfield Post-War Houses

The image of daisies on a black brick building welcomes me back to the lane. This is the Riverdale Hub, a former industrial building turned community centre. I had a chance to tour it during last year’s Doors Open. It is an interesting building with a wonderful mandate.

25 Gerrard Alley at Highfield

26 Riverdale Hub Daisies

On Glenside I see perhaps the grandest design of the day. A woman from the residential complex behind me exits as I capture it. I often wonder if I’ll be asked what I’m doing when I am snapping photos. Alas, she continues on her business and I add the peacock to my Galaxy SIII’s gallery.

27 Glenside Peacock Mural

28 Glenside Peacock Mural

29 Gerrard Alley at Glenside

30 Gerrard Alley at Glenside

The alley hits an incline and I reach Redwood on the otherside. The Centre of Gravity Circus/Side Show Café is a fascinating structure. I know it’s an old theatre complex but looking up I see ‘Pool and Billiards Parlour’. Perhaps one of its incarnations after it ceased to be a theatre (whenever that was)?

31 Zero Gravity Circus side

32 Zero Gravity Circus side stairs Circles

33 Zero Gravity Circus Pool and Billards Parlor

34 Sideshow Cafe

I round back to check out the rest of building. More graffiti and a door leading to a death drop. That’s different.

35 Zero Gravity Circus Rear

36 Zero Gravity Circus Rear Door to Nowhere

Continuing on, I come to Greenwood. Across the street the alley continues. I contemplate it, but with a 14% phone battery, I nix it. Thwarted by technology.

37 Gerrard Alley

38 Greenwood Avenue

I instead head to Gerrard to attack my bucket list. The first thing that catches my attention at the Brickyard Grounds is the coloured archival photo of the corner.  It’s a long and narrow shop, but spacious nonetheless. I walk up to the counter and am amicably greeted by the barista. Not being one for lattes, I simply ask for drip. Behind me another barista alerts me she’s trying to pass through. Between the counter and the wall there is not tons of rooms. I apologize, joking that I tend to take up a lot of space. She tells me instead that they knew they’d regret putting shelving on the wall. We have a laugh about that.

I fit my coffee with milk and sugar and take a spot at the front of the store – right under the picture. I snap it for my collection and run through the rest of my photos from today while working on my coffee. I half-eavesdrop on the surrounding conversations including a police officer’s chats with the baristas and then a patron near me.

40 Brickyard Grounds 1930s

I bring my finished cup up to the counter and thank the barista that passed behind me earlier. I ask about what I had and she says it is an organic, fair trade roast and tells me about the differences it and dark roasts. Then I compliment her on the unbelievable job they have done with the place and the awesome tribute to the local history of the area. She mentions the photo, which she had touched up by a graphic designer, and points out they took the sign to the former occupants – the Native Canadian Arts & Crafts Gallery – and fitted it onto the counter. Didn’t even notice it ‘til then. From there, I pledge to come back – weekend brunch looks too enticing – and after exchanging names (thanks for the chat Sophie!), I leave.

My Transit Now Toronto app settles my dilemma between the bus and the streetcar. It’ll be the 31 today, and it comes five minutes to swoop me to the subway.

39 Brickyard Grounds

Scenes From Gibson Park

If I didn’t know the context behind Gibson Park, I would figure it to be an interesting place with creative yet seemingly senseless public art. Nothing is senseless, however, and I am well aware of its context. There were a few discoveries to be had – even a poetic display about discovery and exploration themselves.

Approaching the park from Beecroft, I see a random horse next to a pole with rings attached to it. This is Stephen Cruise’s 1998 One Hundred Links — One Chain. Several rocks populate its base while a couple of bushes – sadly succumbing to winter – accompany it at either side. I nearly miss the name of the park behind it.

Gibson Park One Hundred Links - One Chain

Of course, the rhyme and the reason lie in the park’s namesake – Mr. David Gibson – whose former Georgian-style residence (now a City of Toronto museum) rests nearby. Gibson was a land surveyor in the 19th century; the post with the trinkets represents his tools of the trade. The rocks aren’t just rocks either. A closer look produces geographic and UTM coordinates for the park. Pretty cool, eh?

Gibson Park One Hundred Links - One Chain

The horse? Well, that’s a reference to an archival photo of Gibson House taken of granddaughter Eva Gibson in a now lost path of the home.

Eva Gibson and Logo (Gibson House Museum).

Eva Gibson with Logo, circa 1905. Source: Gibson House Museum.

Traveling around the display, I see an ample amount of seating and chess tables. I have yet to see anyone play a game in public at any location. I think about doing it myself sometime…and then realize they would be pretty short contests because I am terrible.

Gibson Park Chess Tables

The parkette area is very nicely designed, and nearly makes me neglect the adjoining green space. It is a decently sized lot, but the construction wall at its eastern fringe has me considering the ‘City Within A Park’ motto yet again. More specifically, I doubt whether to even call this a ‘natural space’. Beyond the barrier, a tower rises above Gibson Park. There are a bunch of them springing up around the area as a whole. If I look hard enough into the distance, I can barely make out Gibson House.

Gibson Park (2)
I circle back, wanting to look at the art display again. In doing so, I cross perhaps the neatest  and unexpected installation I’ve seen in Toronto. I see a poem spread across five planks. They read:

“We shall not cease from exploration
and the end of all our exploring
will be to arrive where we started
and know the place for the first time.”
‘Little Gigging’ Four Quarters
-T.S. Eliot

T.S. Eliot Gibson Park (1)

T.S. Eliot Gibson Park (2)

T.S. Eliot Gibson Park (3)

T.S. Eliot Gibson Park (4)

T.S. Eliot Gibson Park (5)
I sit down to ponder everything amazing about this find. The work of T.S. Eliot – one of the great literary communicators – finding itself into this little park in North York. And talking about exploration no less! What kind of exploration? I’m not sure. The city wanderer in me takes it as literal at first, but perhaps there’s something more symbolic to it. That is to say, life is an exploratory sequence of happenings – taking us from us from place to place and experience to experience. Perhaps when we circle back to our roots and to the core of who we are (were?) at the start of it all, would we recognize ourselves and everything?

Update: In 2015, the Gibson Square condo development by Menkes Developments finally wrapped up. The result was a completed, redeveloped Gibson Park, which opened in May 2015.

Gibson Park 2
The path to getting the Gibson Square Condos involved a Ontario Municipal Board challenge by Toronto City Council. Menkes won. To gain approval for their project, the developer also agreed to redo Gibson Park. The company turned over ownership of the park to the City of Toronto, but it handles all maintenance.

Gibson Park 3

Gibson Park 4

Worked into the park is neat granite mural which pays tribute to the Gibsons. It features Eva Gibson and Logo too.

Gibson Park mural 2

Gibson Park mural
Over on Yonge Street, the towers loom above Gibson Square. In the middle of the space is a Tolman Sweet Apple Tree, the last tree connect to the Gibsons’ historic apple orchard.

Gibson Square

Tolman Sweet Apple tree
Gibson House Museum

Related Links

Inside Toronto Beach Mirror – “NATURAL ROOTS: The Tolman sweet apple at Yonge and Sheppard is the last tree from David Gibson’s orchard” by Edith  George

Toronto Star – “Gibson Square revives historical spirit of North York” by Tracy Hanes

Dead Zellers, Dead Sears, and Dead Factories…But Hopefully Living Memories

Have I just had more of an eye for it or has there been quite a string of places announcing their closures lately? Chapters Runnymede (which actually did close recently), The Annex Book City (done in the spring), and The World’s Biggest Bookstore (over on March 23)…coincidentally all book shops, all neighbourhood landmarks, all ending.

Sunday evening, I made unintended stop at another place that is part of that list: the Eaton Centre Sears. I knew about its closing since the announcement, but was not yet able to get down there before it closed up shop for good. Fortuitously finding myself on Yonge Street, I decided to go for it. I didn’t plan on it happening in such a fashion, but I was also there during its final minutes open to public.

Sears Eaton Centre Empty 2

And I admit: even though my personal attachment to that store was not that strong, being there really got to me.

Whether we choose to make a big deal out of it, the closing of Sears does mark the end of a retail era and dynasty in Toronto and a change in the city’s retail landscape – just like the end of Eaton’s before it and the beginning of Nordstrom’s after it. Yes, I realize Sears is not Eaton’s and does not begin to match its iconic status. Regardless of the sad mismanagement that led to its demise, Eaton’s holds an undeniable place within the city’s (and country’s) commercial and retail heritage. Can we claim the same for Sears? Definitely not. But it is still worthy of recognition.

As I walk through the barren space, I am reminded of the Bridlewood Mall Dead Zellers I passed by a few months ago. So empty. The pillars without anything between them is – as odd a choice a word it may be – very unsettling.

Dead Zellers Bridlewood Mall 1

Dead Zellers Bridlewood Mall 2

The ‘Everything Must Go’ signs throughout the Sears mean, well, everything – even all the makeup fixtures – must go. I get shivers thinking about the retail ghosts on each level, between each column. I think about the hordes of shoppers that have wandered its floors and traveled its escalators over the years.

Sears Eaton Centre Fixtures For Sale

But even more so, I consider the employees. Some of them currently work the counters for the very last time, ringing in the last few sales ever. I think about their stories as insiders. They knew the store better than anyone. If someone in 10 or 50 years were to ask ‘What was the Eaton Centre Sears like?’, they would be able to tell us. What would they be able to tell us?

Sears Eaton Centre Shoppers

And then I think about them, as the store’s final occupants, having to see and experience its operations wind down. What are they feeling? This Toronto Star article highlites some of it. Sadness, lament, nostalgia, surrealness, disbelief, uncertainty, perhaps new opportunity? I suspect any combination of these. Because I too feel it in my life.

I consider all this because I am currently experiencing it first hand at an east end factory that is in its last days as well. Like the Sears, it is the end of era – for manufacturing in Toronto, for the near century year old building, and in the individual lives of its workers.

As a soon to be former employee of Weston Foods, I have been thinking a lot lately about my tenure in the plant. A month ago,  I cleaned out my locker. It was an odd experience to say the least. Having been there longer than I should have been, I was glad to close that chapter for good. But seeing the plant emptier and quieter than I had ever seen it and employee morale not overly high, it just felt weird and sad. I was and am very attached to that place and its people. The end was near and that got to me.

Weston Bakeries Eastern Avenue 2

On that day, I reminisced with friends and coworkers about the great, stupid, funny times we shared together. We talked about the weird cast of characters that have come and gone over the years. We talked about all the changes in management, employees, jobs, machines etc we’ve seen. Like a considerable chunk of our time spent working, we just told stories. These personal anecdotes will live on with us as long we can recall them.

But I wonder about how others we see this plant after it is converted into a mixed use space – its legacy. Actually, I wonder more about if people will look at it. We, as insiders, are the caretakers of its stories, memories, and legacy.

Weston Bakeries Development Proposal

I often look at the nearby converted factories on Carlaw Avenue and think about what they were like once upon a time: who worked there, what was a work day like, how did that change over time etc.. I wonder if people in the future will think in the same way about our factory on Eastern. They will have the (modified) physical structure still to consider, but what of the things they can’t get from gazing at the brick facade – the intangibles inside its walls? We, as workers, know those intangibles. We can tell stories about mechanization, race, sexual orientation, immigration, gender, management-worker relations, unionism – all as they played out in this 20th century manufacturing plant. As a student and follower of local history and Toronto’s industrial legacy, these inside stories become extremely fascinating to me.

Weston Bakeries Eastern Avenue

Back at Sears, I hear a three minute warning for shoppers. I wonder if it was a hard announcement to make. The giant doors have been closed save for one. I, along with the last few shoppers, pass through it, wondering about the next chapter in the building’s life.

Related Links

Toronto Star – Eaton Centre Sears closes its doors

Toronto Star – Chapters Runnymede closing, with Shoppers Drug Mart moving into heritage premises

Toronto Star – Book City’s flagship Annex store to close after almost 40 years

Toronto Star – World Biggest Bookstore closes February, sold to developer

A Love Letter to Toronto

Inspired by the opening line to Walking Woman’s I Heart Winter, this is my Love Letter to Toronto.

This is a love letter Toronto. To its parks and buildings, its public art and street art, its laneways and throughways, and its suburbs and downtown.

To a city where neighbourhood and ravine, developed and natural, converge within its expansive boundaries to create a dynamic that is truly complicated – yet somehow defining.  A dynamic that is Toronto.

To a city that moves past its dense metropolis and into its boroughs, where outlying farming communities grew to become cookie cutter subdivisions. Where ghosts of pre-amalgamation still remain, creating something so distinctly Toronto.

To a city where its streetscapes and natural formations become an opening into its short yet storied past and vast layered cultural makeup. A look into the identities of the peoples that have called this place for thousands of years. From the aboriginals who once employed its deep waterways and vast forests, to the generations of immigrants that have built and shaped to the metropolis into what we experience today. A city that was built on its diversity. Diversity is Toronto.

To a city that is seemingly under perennial construction, a constant work in progress, where some say an end goal is questionable and nowhere in sight. Where its converted factories and movie theatres alert us to a different past and changing present. Where lost establishments evoke nostalgia while new ones provide opportunity to add to the layers. A city where heritage and modernity and progress and preservation struggle all the same as ideals. A city that is made and remade by those who offer their conscious and unconscious stamp. We are the authors of Toronto.

This was a love letter…a love letter to home.

Allenby

Coxwell Eaton's

Evergreen Brickworks Toronto Ravine Map

Finch Ave East

Gibson House owers

Mechanical Tree

Megaptera

Monarch Park

Montgomery's Inn

Queen Street East

Riverdale Park East

Smythe Park Willows

Yorkville