A Pandemic Night’s Wanderings: The Beaches, AGO, Grange Park

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All photos in this post taken on May 11, 2020 and copyright Jamie Bradburn. 

A crisp night with few people out and about: the perfect time for my wife and I to wander around the city.

We began our journey on Queen Street in the east end of The Beaches. So far we haven’t relied on wine to get us through the crisis, but, judging from the regular lineups we’ve seen outside of LCBO stores, plenty of others are. Perhaps this is a good time to branch out and try different brands and styles, or conduct experiments in home vintages.

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Outside a pet supply store, spaces were marked out for socially distanced pickup. Or was it a tribute to those unfortunate souls who earn three strikes on Family Feud?

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At Beech Avenue, a quartet of Muskoka chairs for a socially distanced rest.

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Films on extended run at the Fox Theatre.

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A message similar to those on marquees across the city, with a touch of Bogey.

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A quiet night at the laundromat, with baskets lined up neatly in a row.

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With the speed that businesses were forced to close, there are still a few St. Patrick’s Day displays kicking around. Later on, we reflected on how many window displays in the city have frozen a moment in time, and wondered if that’s incredible or unsettling.

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A note of thanks painted on Valumart’s window.

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We walked down to the lake, where warnings about ongoing work by the TRCA and COVID greeted us at the bottom of Silver Birch Avenue.

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All along the boardwalk, there were signs that chairs and benches had once been covered with police tape, but the public had other ideas regarding their use. Other wanderers were seen admiring the clear night sky from Muskoka chairs along the beach.

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After weaving our way along side streets back to the car, we headed into downtown. I’ve barely visited the core since the crisis began, and the few experiences haven’t been entirely pleasant. One night I drove along Yonge Street and played dodge ball with panhandlers driven by the lack of foot traffic into more desperate behaviour towards motorists. I feared for their safety (wandering in and out of traffic in a way that could have been fatal had they encountered road racers) and mine (blocking my path as I tried to turn, aggressively knocking on the window).  It was an uncomfortable experience for many reasons, ranging from practical (don’t accidentally injure or kill somebody!) to societal (was I nervous because these were desperate people coping with poverty and mental illness?).

We parked along McCaul across from OCAD. Few people were around, and the silence was broken by the occasional diverted streetcar passing by. The school was well lit.

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At the AGO, a reminder of exhibitions I’ll never get to see. We talked about how museums might reopen, figuring those with large, roomy exhibition spaces where social distancing occur easily might return first, perhaps with reduced capacity or a reservation system for viewing time. Special exhibitions may have to have less “wow” factor to keep crowds away.

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So, so quiet.

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On the backside of the AGO, the garbage and recycling containers in Grange Park were taped off.

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Henry Moore’s Two Large Forms seems to have found a good home in the revitalized park since moving from the other side of the gallery in 2017. Google Maps currently describes the park as a “city oasis with a Henry Moore sculpture.”

Won’t deny that…

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Like several other downtown landmarks, OCAD was bathed in a purple glow to honour those working in the hospitality industry.

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Its doors may be closed due to COVID, but the University Settlement Community Centre still shines its lights on Grange Road.

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Among the other buildings lit in purple: Casa Loma, which we drove by on our way home.

An Early November Night’s Walk

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Once upon a time, I wrote a lot about my walks through the city. Whether they were solo strolls or psychogeographic excursions, I snapped many pictures along the way and summarized the trip in old-fashioned blog posts.

Friends have asked over the years if I would ever return to writing about walks. So I am. If nothing else, going for these strolls takes me away from my work desk.

I think I got a look of approval from Toronto’s first mayor from his perch at Queen station (though I swear he also mumbled something about muskets).

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Originally I was going to wander along Danforth through Greektown, peering in at the early Christmas displays, such as this one at Kitchen Stuff Plus. Feeling there was more walking in me, I hopped on the subway at Broadview and headed downtown.

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It was five minutes to closing time when I entered the Queen Street Bay. This cow didn’t seem bothered by the customers scurrying to leave the store. It was also proud to show off their holiday wreath, which at least one cutting board approved of.

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Heading into the Bay Adelaide Centre, I had a feeling that I was being watched…

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…and they weren’t the watcher from the wall.

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Is the use of the word “path” intentional, given this is a busy corridor in the PATH system? Is it the path to financial well-being? Consumer satisfaction? Enlightenment?

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Given the early Christmas decorations I had seen earlier, “Do You Hear What I Hear?” lodged itself in my brain.

As for seeing what they saw, all I could see was a row of closeups of eyes staring at me. Which, for some people, might be unnerving.

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Time to move on to another complex.

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Recent wayfinding installed in the PATH not only directs you to nearby attractions and buildings, but lets you know how long it takes to get to your destination.*

*Not valid during lunchtime, especially during inclement weather.

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First Canadian Place, like much of the PATH after business hours, takes on a quiet character. The hustle and bustle of bankers and lawyers gives way to the occasional wanderer. It’s a great place for reflection while walking.

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Heading into the Toronto-Dominion Centre provides one of the last glimpses of the uniform signage that, until the early 2000s, dominated Mies van der Rohe’s original design for the shopping level of the complex.

From Shawn Micallef’s book Stroll:

The Toronto-Dominion Centre was long an exception to the generic look of much of the PATH. Architect Mies van der Rohe laid out a mausoleum of a mall down there, a place of order, clean lines and polished travertine marble. Even the store signs were uniform: white letters on a black background using a font Mies designed specifically for the TD Centre.

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The remaining black elements give the centre more character than its neighbours, making it one of the most atmospheric to stroll after hours. The loud partying sounds from the Duke of Devon felt out of place.

From Patricia McHugh and Alex Bozikovic’s book Toronto Architecture: A City Guide:

Also, this is where Mies did the city the dubious favour of pioneering the the underground shopping concourse. The Miesian signage and detailing are now gone from underground, but the PATH system continues to grow, turning office-dwellers into moles and emptying the streets.

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One of the most interesting signs points to the King & Bay Chaplaincy, a spiritual retreat whose corridor was under construction. It feels like a necessary amenity for people to cope with the pressure of working in the Financial District.

From the February 2, 2008 Globe and Mail:

Hope comes in the form of a door handily emblazoned HOPE. Inside, Pat Kimeda sits quietly behind the desk of the King-Bay Chaplaincy, an interdenominational Christian chapel tucked below escalators in the TD Tower. Ms. Kimeda says many downtown workers come to deal with relationship issues, others in a daze after being dismissed. “All types of people come, and sometimes the problems are not so different,” she says. “Whether it’s family or work, often people are dealing with stress for one reason or another.”

But is it odd, expecting people to find faith in the heart of the country’s biggest financial district? Ms. Kimeda pauses. “It’s Bay Street. It’s money, money, money,” she says. “[But]not every person walking down here is like that. A lot are very, very deep.”

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Compared to the Toronto-Dominion Centre, walking into Royal Bank Plaza feels like you’ve entered just another office/shopping complex. It doesn’t live up to the promise of the exterior, as described in Toronto Architecture: A City Guide:

Any building in Toronto that makes it look as if the sun is shining on a dreary winter day has a lot going for it. The faceted gold-enriched mirror-glass of Royal Bank’s Late-Modern jewel seems to reflect a warm sunny glow no matter what the weather. This is a very showy building all around.

One of the biggest mistakes: closing off public viewing access to Jesus Raphael Soto’s ceiling sculpture Suspended Virtual Volume, which can sort of be seen through the front windows.

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Also available (for the moment) in Royal Bank Plaza: a vending machine dispensing $8.99 cake slices shipped in from Hoboken.

Given all the great bakeries in the city, I’ll pass.

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Artwork on the wall next to the cake machine. Aww.

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My feet needed to rest, so I headed out of Royal Bank Plaza into a building with more atmosphere…

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…but first, the small shopping centre in the Royal York Hotel.

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At the barber shop, a fine display of after shaves…

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…and shaving products usually spotted at my local Italian grocery store.

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A bank of elevators waiting to whisk guests to their rooms for a night of romance, or people attending functions throughout the hotel.

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From Andrew Hepburn’s The Toronto Guide 1966-67:

The hotel, one of the the most celebrated hotels in the world and the largest in the British Commonwealth, has 1,600 guest rooms and suites and some of the most interesting public rooms in Canada, particularly a series of private dining rooms, each one decorated to suggest the character and history of a Canadian province.

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The Royal York’s lobby is one of my favourite places to rest in the city. Easing into one of the comfortable chairs sends you into a state of relaxation, along with the classic decor. I’ll sit for 15-20 minutes to collect my thoughts, typing into my phone or writing in a notebook ideas to be saved for later.

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The constant stream of activity makes it a great people-watching spot. On this night, there were attendees of a black-tie function roaming around, along with young tourism, couples out for a drink, and happy Leafs fans savouring a victory over Vegas.

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Musically, a live pianist in Reign restaurant blended with dance music blaring from a speaker somewhere behind my chair.

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An abandoned issue of O waiting for the next guests to flip through it.

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Feeling recharged, it was time to head across the street…

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…into Union Station.

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First stop was Luis Jacob’s Toronto Biennial of Art exhibit The View from Here. According to the artist statement, the exhibit pairs Jacob’s photos with selections from his rare map collection, “representing different yet overlapping narratives of the same places. The tension between these views invites a reconsideration of Toronto’s identity and presumed cohesion as a city.”

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I thought the reflected glow of a nearby TD logo added something to this picture taken in The Junction.

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Another TD offering nearby: seating.

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I headed into the new York Concourse, but it was packed with Leafs fans waiting for their GO trains home. Back into the Great Hall…

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Who wants VIA merchandise?

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While waiting for the Leafs fans to disperse, I wandered into Brookfield Place. While Royal Bank Plaza hid its sculpture to add more office space, Brookfield embraces Santiago Calatrava’s work in the Allen Lambert Galleria.

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From Toronto Architecture: A City Guide:

Inside is a real architectural gift to the city: a galleria and “heritage square” by the Spanish architect and engineer Santiago Calatrava. Built to satisfy the city’s public art requirement, this bravura arcade of white steel evokes by turns whale bones, an ancient forest, and Victorian engineering feats such as the Eiffel Tower.

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Looking down at the food court.

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The steel fountain at the centre of Sam Pollock Square.

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Near the entrance to the Hockey Hall of Fame is a corner of pucks spanning all levels of hockey…

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…including franchises that never played a game, such as the WHA’s Miami Screaming Eagles.

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The night’s final image: a display of fall gourds on the Yonge Street side of Marché Mövenpick.