Scenes of Toronto: Pleasant View, Diabolical Drive

Originally published on Torontoist on October 30, 2009.

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The Pleasant View neighbourhood in the northeast corner of North York looks placid enough—comfortable middle class demographics, a community centre to take a relaxing skate or swim, and so on. On the surface, the only thing that appears askew is an inability to determine if the neighbourhood’s name should be spelled as one word (the recreational complex) or two (city documents and the local library branch). But one look at the intersection in front of the swimming pool hints that darker forces lurk in the background.

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Given certain popular culture associations with the names Lucifer and Van Horne, it’s tempting to think that a devilish wit was at work when these street names were doled out and joined together. It’s an imaginative theory but unlikely, especially in the naming of Van Horne Avenue, which honours nineteeth century railroad tycoon William Cornelius Van Horne.

As for Lucifer Drive, we checked with Brian Hall of the city’s Survey and Mapping Services division for its origins. He revealed that the street received its name in 1968 (the same year Rosemary’s Baby hit local screens—coincidence?) and theorized that the name may have honoured an early type of match or stemmed from a practice of naming streets after the developer’s stable of racehorses.

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A stroll down Lucifer reveals a two-block suburban residential street with roomy homes whose owners sweep away fallen leaves. The twisted limbs of the bare trees lining the sidewalks are one of the few hints of seasonal spookiness, though they aren’t droopy enough to provoke a sense that they could come alive and drag you to Hell at any second. For those searching for the truly diabolical in the vicinity, your best bet is to navigate nearby construction work on Victoria Park, or drop into the Value Village a couple of blocks east on Van Horne to pick up devil horns, red makeup, or the proper costume elements to resemble a likely citizen of any form of purgatory that may exist.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Map showing location of Van Horne Avenue (now Dupont Street). New World Atlas and Gazetteer (New York: P.F. Collier and Son Company, 1924). Image via University of Alabama Map Library. Full jpeg of map.

The old City of Toronto also had a Van Horne Avenue, which was one of several streets stitched together to form present-day Dupont Street. Van Horne ran between Dufferin and Ossington.

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Scenes of Toronto: Winter 2009

You Can’t Please All of the Riders All of the Time

Originally published on Torontoist on January 2, 2009.

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Our transit planners try. They really try.

System-wide service improvements unveiled by the TTC in November included extended hours and the addition of bicycle racks to many routes. While this was good news to many passengers, as with most things in life there are users who feel their needs were glossed over.

Hence the frustrations poured out onto an innocent service improvement bulletin posted on the Davisville bus platform by at least two disgruntled passengers unhappy with the current state of the 11 Bayview route. Never mind that their pleas and grousing are unleashed on a rush hour service that doesn’t pass by the neighbourhood’s largest health facility.

Perhaps the first passenger has a phobia about going to Lawrence station to use its frequent Sunnybrook service?

Sacrilegious Parking

Originally published on Torontoist on January 15, 2009.

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According to its website, Mount Pleasant Road Baptist Church promises to share with its parishioners, via John 10:10, “a delight that God is in the business of bringing order, beauty and joy to people who have suffered from the chaos of this world.” Joy, or at least a mischievous sense of humour, is evident on a sign hanging on the Belsize Drive side of the church, where officials could have placed a standard “no parking” sign.

We have not received official word from the gatekeepers to the afterlife on how many souls have been condemned to eternal wandering on the basis of poor parking decisions.

A Recession Lesson

Originally published on Torontoist on January 29, 2009.

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The current economic situation has not been kind to American retailers. With sales sinking and several wobbly chains going the liquidation route, the U.S. retail landscape might not be the best model to emulate at the moment.

This brings us to Yankee Stuff, a store proudly displaying the red, white, and blue (and several small Canadian flags) on Bloor Street in Korea Town. While walking by the star-spangled storefront in December, we noticed a sign in the window for a sale honouring the state of the economy south of the border. Since it was billed as an ongoing offer we assumed that, based on reading the work of several economic pundits, this sale would last for at least a year or two.

And how has the recession sale gone?

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We returned after Christmas to find that, based on the wrapping paper covering the display window, the recession had claimed another victim.
The lesson? Be careful of naming your sale after an economic event, as said event may come back to bite you.

Parking in a Time Warp

Originally published on Torontoist on March 12, 2009.

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The temporarily closed performing arts venue at the southeast corner of Yonge and Front has undergone a number of name changes since opening more than half a century ago. Which identity do you prefer—O’Keefe, Hummingbird, or Sony? We can take a pretty good guess at which one the Toronto Parking Authority likes the most, based on signage found at the Yonge Street end of the massive Green P structure on the south side of The Esplanade.

We’re not sure when this sign was erected, but it would have been correct between the opening of the Hockey Hall of Fame’s current location in 1993 and the name switch from O’Keefe to Hummingbird in 1996. Is this relic an oversight or does this reveal a gut feeling by parking officials that no one would ever adjust to any name change?

UPDATE: As of 2017, this parking lot will still direct you to the O’Keefe Centre.

Scenes of Toronto: Fall 2008

Nature Versus Streetcar Shelter

Originally published on Torontoist on October 23, 2008.

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Once upon a time, the stretch of Lake Shore Boulevard around Park Lawn Road was a stop for tourists and those looking for a quick good time, thanks to nearly thirty motels that lined the strip. All but three (Casa Mendoza, Shore Breeze, and Beach) are gone now, leaving empty lots awaiting their probable transformation into condominiums with romantic views of Lake Ontario and the Mr. Christie cookie plant.

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The lag between the demolition of old motels, such as the Hillcrest and North American, and the arrival of new towers has allowed Mother Nature to take her course in several of the empty lots. The result: a streetcar shelter where riders on the 501 can enjoy the aroma of fresh-baked cookies to take their mind off any fears of someday being crushed by the emerging forest.

The overgrowth is creepier at night, making you feel like a doomed character in a “plants take over the world” story. A strong wind could easily conjure a week’s worth of nightmares.

UPDATE: All three of those surviving motels soon vanished. The Mr. Christie plant closed in 2013, and is being demolished as of fall 2017.

One Wrong Turn

Originally published on Torontoist on October 30, 2008. Possibly my lone attempt to do an Action Line/The Fixer help piece.

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When some people see an erroneous street sign, they call the city to have it fixed. Others will glance for a moment, pop their eyes, and then move along without a second thought. In the case of a faulty curve sign recently erected on Wicksteed Avenue in the industrial section of Leaside, one observer vented their frustration on the sign itself.

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After we called the city’s transportation department, the sign was promptly removed. A bare metal post was all that remained as of last night.

Phone Dosa Dosa, Hey, Hey, Hey

Originally published on Torontoist on December 4, 2008.

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Branches of Pizza Pizza are a common sight around Toronto. Most don’t jump out at the eye, though some outlets deserve marks for making an effort to stand out with artwork and other decorations (we miss the silver spangles that once graced Yonge Street). At the Danforth Avenue and Dawes Road branch it’s the attached eatery with a similar name that draws attention.

The shape of the outdoor sign hints at 2795 Danforth Avenue’s previous incarnation as home to Pizza Pizza’s sister chain Chicken Chicken. Give the pattern of repetitive names, our first thought was that the pizza giant had embraced the ethnic diversity of Toronto and decided to branch out into other forms of cheap, filling food—in this case, crispy, not-too-greasy Indian crepes and a variety of satisfying accompaniments.

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When contacted to determine if there was a connection with Dosa Dosa, Pizza Pizza corporate provided a one-word answer: no.

UPDATE: Dosa Dosa was replaced by other eateries. As of October 2017, it houses Double Sushi. The Pizza Pizza next door is still in business.

Scenes of Toronto: Summer 2008

Part One: Too Much Fun in the Sun

Originally published on Torontoist on July 2, 2008.

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Scientists and doctors have long warned the public about the dangers of staying out in the sun for too long. Relaxing as sunbathing is, the effects of forgetting to slap on the sunscreen may be felt long afterwards. One sun-worshipper at Hanlan’s Point beach discovered the worst-case scenario yesterday, staying out so long that they fused with the sand. Despite this mishap, their patriotic fervour remained undimmed.

Lineups up to two hours long did not deter thousands of Torontonians from hopping on a ferry and spending their holiday afternoon on the Toronto Islands. Sunny skies and a pleasant breeze provided the backdrop for cycling, picnics, frisbee tossing, boat racing, swimming, sand sculpting, and other activities to celebrate Canada’s 141st birthday.

Part Two: The Luckiest Moose in Town

Originally published on Torontoist on August 29, 2008.

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While most of the moose that embellished city streets during the “Moose in the City” public art display in 2000 have vanished from view, a few hardy specimens continue to graze among us. A survivor on Dundas Street in Chinatown has been rewarded for its perseverance by having the complex next to it named in its honour. Time will tell if the moose’s luck will rub off on the grocery store that also bears its name or the other tenants.

Scenes of Toronto: Winter 2008

Part One: After the Nativity Has Gone

Originally published on Torontoist on January 17, 2008.

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The post-holiday cleanup slowly continues across the city. Tree collection winds down this week, decorated lightposts grow patchier, and leftover sugar cookies are available for deep discounts alongside remaining Halloween candy.

Religious displays are not immune from the slow pace of cleaning, though we suspect that this nativity scene at St. Francis of Assisi Church at Grace and Mansfield also depicts an event that the Bible overlooked. Religious scholars debate if burlap, hemp, or Glad bags were the preferred choice of turn-of-the-era stable boys.

Part Two: Long Live Mediocrity!

Originally published on Torontist on January 31, 2008.

Long Live Mediocrity!

Drivers passing through the south end of Leaside on Millwood Road may have noticed commentary added to a Baxter’s Soup billboard. An anonymous critic with a penchant for exclamation marks has unleashed their critique of the petit bourgeoisie of the neighbourhood, chastising them for falling for the flattery of an instant meal that appeals to their yuppie pretensions and expensive jeans.

It might also be the work of a disgruntled diner who thought that the can of butternut squash and red pepper soup they bought on sale last week only rated two-and-a-half stars out of five.

Scenes of Toronto: Fall 2007

Part One: Pumpkin Watch

Originally published on Torontoist on October 29, 2007.

Torontoist firmly believes in the old adage that one can never have too many photographs of pumpkins. Whether they are ornately carved, falling from a 32nd floor window or baked into a luscious pie, we are always on the prowl at this time of the year for interesting shots of glorious gourds.

Unfortunately, many of the city’s pumpkins come to a tragic end. Take the smashed specimen above, found sitting atop a phone at Duncan and Queen on Sunday afternoon.

Our guess is that Saturday-night revelers in Clubland found this innocent gourd and decided to have fun with it. Perhaps they drop-kicked the pumpkin, with a portion landing on the phone. Perhaps they were stricken with a sudden case of the munchies. Perhaps in its final minutes the pumpkin attempted to call 911 for help, until it realized that it had no opposable digits.

Part Two: A Crack in the Infrastructure

Originally published on Torontoist on November 8, 2007.

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Spray-painted markings for infrastructure projects are a common sight in the urban landscape. A myriad of numbers and arrows painted on lawns and sidewalks form a special language for technical crews to follow, usually to locate buried pipes and wires.

Sometimes they point out the obvious.

Torontoist is relieved that we no will no longer trip over breaks in the pavement without warning whenever we walk through Rosedale. Mothers everywhere are grateful that fewer broken backs may stem from this crack.

We tip our hat to the utility crew (or prankster) responsible.

Marking discovered on Sherbourne Street near Elm Avenue. 

Part Three: The Coziest Coffee Shop in Town

Originally published on Torontoist on November 30, 2007.

Coffee Shop Inside

Torontoist likes its java joints in all shapes and sizes. Whether it’s a mom-and-pop lunch counter that has fired up the pots since Confederation, multinational chains, or the latest in fairly traded barista artistry, Toronto is home to a wide variety of places where one can find an honest cup of joe and a comfortable place to sit.

Our latest discovery may be the city’s coziest coffee counter. Located on College west of Bathurst, it is not recommended for the claustrophobic. Space inside may be at a premium, but the weathered sign indicates that sitting in a position reminiscent of an elementary school fire drill barely hinders one’s enjoyment of a freshly ground drink.

BEHIND THE SCENES

For a time, I wrote these little vignettes based on photos I took while strolling around the city. They were quick to prepare, and allowed me to be silly. I’ll group them by season as I come across them in the vaults.

One other thing you may notice if you click the link to the original sidewalk crack story: the story is credited to Kevin Plummer. Due to a glitch which occurred during one of Torontoist’s revamps, posts from November 2007 are not necessarily credited to the people who actually wrote them. There are at least three bearing my name which I didn’t write, covering ballet, a Slash biography, and holiday skating in Nathan Phillips Square. On the other hand, three installments of “Vintage Toronto Ads” wound up under Kevin’s name. Here’s a post from that period that is definitely one of Kevin’s: a proto-Historicist on William Lyon Mackenzie and the Rebellion of 1837.