A Pandemic Day’s Wanderings: My First Subway Ride in Three Months

The last time I took a subway ride was back in March, either returning from the airport or on one last set of downtown errands before COVID-19 shut down the city. Needing to shoot some photos for some personal projects and not feeling like driving downtown on a sunny Monday afternoon, I decided to reacquaint myself with the subway after a three-month separation.

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Greenwood station has one of the city’s new wayfinding pillars, which include maps and historical tidbits about the surrounding area. I had forgotten I contributed to several pillars that would be installed downtown – more about them in a future post.

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Once past the Presto barrier, hand sanitizer was available.

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This vision of mouth sores is not the most encouraging ad to see in the subway at the moment.

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On the train, many seats were blocked off to promote social distancing. Some of the signs looked worse for wear.

There were three other people in my car when I got on, none of whom were wearing masks. Who knows if they’ll comply if the TTC’s proposal to make wearing masks mandatory goes ahead. I felt a little uncomfortable until Pape, when nearly everyone who boarded was masked.

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Given the current protests about policing, and controversies around fare enforcement, I’m surprised this ad hadn’t been replaced by the TTC or ripped out by an angry rider.

Overall, the ride was fine. It was very quiet, and everyone observed the spacing suggestions. My comfort level grew, and I suspect I’ll use the system when convenient during the week.

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The Bloor platform was eerily quiet.

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Who wants to solve an online mattress company puzzle?

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Hopping off at Queen, I noticed that the Bay was open, but, in compliance with current COVID regulations, you couldn’t enter from subway level.

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Inside the store, sanitizing stations were set up on each floor by the escalators. Few people were walking around. Fewer appeared to be tempted by the merchandise, possibly from a combination of closed dressing rooms in the clothing sections and underwhelming discounts throughout. It was hard not to feel like I was walking through the ruins of a lost civilization, who had left their mannequins behind.

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That feeling hit even harder at Nathan Phillips Square, which should have been full of life at 3:30 on a sunny Monday in June. I was curious if any messages supporting the anti-racism protests had been scrawled in chalk. Unless they had been scrubbed or washed away, there weren’t any. The ground was a blank canvas waiting for something, anything, to liven it up.

There were people sitting on the benches lining the outside of the square, mostly eating food truck hot dog and fries, or adjusting their cameras.

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The shady sidewalk alongside Osgoode Hall was a good place to process my thoughts, letting the affects of pandemic on the city sink in.

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An amusing mural on Duncan Street by Camilla Teodoro celebrating the usual experience of walking through the city felt extra comforting.

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A message of love drawn on the plywood erected by the entrance of the Michaels at John and Richmond. Given the lack of other graffiti, I’m guessing this was installed to protect the store in case any protest-related problems arose.

They didn’t.

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Commercial plug department: the Spacing Store is open to pick up orders. Plenty of great stuff is displayed in their windows, including a few books I may have contributed to…

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Wandering up Spadina, a banner at Chinatown Centre encouraged silly walks. Nobody took up this offer…

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…least of all Sun Yat-Sen. Maybe his doppleganger in Chinatown East would be more enticed to join in.

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Commentary on the current discussion on race, found in Kensington Market.

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An existential question asked by a garage door on Croft Street. It’s a question I’ve asked myself a lot lately about any number of things, from the value of my work to how the world functions. So much soul searching these days…

Did I mention this was a contemplative walk?

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Two of the brighter examples of the murals currently along Croft Street.

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An ode to Harbord Street…

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…and the city’s lost rivers, a little difficult to appreciate on garbage day.

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Up on Bloor Street, buckets of cheap fondant at Bulk Barn, ideal for anyone who had “learn cake decorating” on their pandemic to-do list.

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Heading back to Bloor-Yonge station, there were long, snaking lines outside stores in Yorkville, primarily Artizia, Sephora, and Zara. Many mixed feelings about this, including the effects of fast fashion on people and the environment, the desire to return to anything resembling our individual senses of normalcy, and Toronto’s love for long lines under any circumstances.

Epitomizing that last point was a family I saw standing in the queue outside the Gap at Bay and Bloor. They were gorging on Chick Fil A, which I bet they also spent plenty of time waiting for.

Bonus Features: Peace Day, 1919 (Post #500!)

Before diving into this post, read my article for TVO about the celebrations and controversies surrounding Peace Day in July 1919. This also marks the 500th post on Tales of Toronto (though this entry isn’t strictly a Toronto story…).

The Treaty of Versailles

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Souvenir, signing of peace, Versailles, 1919. Canada. Dept. of Soldiers’ Civil Re-establishment. Toronto Public Library.

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Hamilton Herald, June 28, 1919. Click on image for larger version.

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Eaton’s ad inspired by the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, Toronto Times, June 28, 1919.

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 The Globe, June 30, 1919. Click on image for larger version.

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The Globe, June 30, 1919.

To Celebrate Peace Day or Not?

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Front page editorial, Peterborough Evening Examiner, July 17, 1919.

In several communities across the province, the question was whether to devote their full efforts towards peace celebrations planned for the August civic holiday weekend, or quickly come up with festivities to placate veterans groups and die-hard imperialists.

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Editorial, Peterborough Evening Examiner, July 18, 1919.

In Peterborough, the front page of the July 18, 1919 Evening Examiner was filled with notices from retailers who would close. The decision to honour the holiday didn’t come until a meeting of local merchants wrapped up late that afternoon. “The only exception,” the paper reported, “will be the butchers who will close at noon owing to the hot weather and the necessity of supplying the public with a fresh supply of meat.” Peterborough’s factories also agreed to close on Peace Day.

As merchant Dickson Hall put it, “it is a scandal to remain open, contrary to the wishes of the King and the people.”

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Peterborough Evening Examiner, July 18, 1919.

Peace Day preparations were a mess in Windsor and the surrounding “Border Cities” (which included Ford City, Riverside, Sandwich, and Walkerville). “The attitude adopted by the Great War Veterans to have a parade and celebration has somewhat upset the calculations of those who expected to see the day pass quietly and unobserved,” the Border Cities Star reported on July 18. “The fact that organized labour also has decided to ‘take a holiday’ has added to the general confusion.” The Star believed that talk of punishing merchants who stayed open would “simmer out.” Merchants decided to take a half-holiday, shutting their doors at 1 p.m.

In the end, Windsorites preferred a quiet day. Many relaxed along the Detroit River or headed to Bob-Lo Island amusement park. Anyone who wanted to party could have travelled to large celebrations in Leamington and Tilbury. A veterans parade fizzled out, prompting at least one GWVA member to warn that Windsor’s lukewarm embrace of the GWVA’s vision of Peace Day would cause the Border Cities to lose out on future veteran conventions.

Meanwhile, In Hamilton…

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Hamilton Herald, July 17, 1919.

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A rebuttal to the Herald‘s claims from the front page of the July 18, 1919 edition of the Hamilton Spectator.

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Hamilton Spectator, July 18, 1919.

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Hamilton Herald, July 21, 1919.

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If the festivities planned for Hamilton weren’t enticing, one could have taken advantage of Toronto’s celebrations, as shown in this July 17, 1919 ad from the Spectator.

Peace Day along The Danforth

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Evening Telegram, July 21, 1919. Click on image for larger version.

In Toronto’s east end, the main Peace Day celebrations took place along Danforth Avenue. A parade was held between Broadview Avenue and Withrow Park, where around 70,000 people enjoyed the festivities.

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Toronto Star, July 21, 1919.

Members of the Todmorden lodge of the Sons of England volunteered to provide refreshments in the park. Numbers published in the Toronto World indicated that the lodge sold over 7,200 soft drinks and 250 gallons of ice cream, bringing in over $1,000.

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Toronto World, July 21, 1919.

Peace Day in Earlscourt

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Evening Telegram, July 21, 1919. Click on image for larger version.

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Toronto World, July 21, 1919.

For more on events in Earlscourt, check out this post on McRoberts Avenue.

Peace Day in Queen’s Park

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Toronto World, July 21, 1919.

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Evening Telegram, July 21, 1919.

During the singalong, Mayor Church announced that there would be no speeches. “The reports in the Toronto papers of Toronto’s peace celebration all agree that it was an unqualified success,” observed the editorial page of the July 21 edition of the Hamilton Herald, “but anything where there are no speeches is a reporter’s idea of an unqualified success.”

Not-So-Peaceful Actions

Piecing together the accounts of the rowdyism and violence which occurred in Toronto was like putting together a jigsaw puzzle, with each paper having its own set of details. Here are the full stories.

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The Globe, July 21, 1919.

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Mail and Empire, July 21, 1919.

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Evening Telegram, July 21, 1919.

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Toronto Times, July 21, 1919.

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Toronto World, July 21, 1919.

Shaping Toronto: Chinatowns

Originally published on Torontoist on February 4, 2016.

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Marking the end of the Second World War in Chinatown, August 12, 1945 (two days before the official declaration was signed). City of Toronto Archives, Globe and Mail fonds, Fonds 1266, Item 98337.

A glance at the listing for Adelaide Street East in the 1878 city directory shows a mix of Anglo-sounding businessmen whose trades range from contracting to insurance. The name at number 9 stands out: Sam Ching & Co, Chinese laundry. Mr. Ching’s presence was a cultural milestone, as he was the first recorded Chinese resident of Toronto.

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Page from the 1878 city directory listing Sam Ching’s business at 9 Adelaide Street East.

Since Ching’s era, Toronto has included several Chinatowns, a term which has evolved from its original negative connotation. As Library and Archives Canada observes, “’Chinatown’ was coined in the 19th century as a European concept to signify an undesirable neighbourhood full of vice, and peopled by an inferior race.” That proper Torontonians of the early 20th century viewed the city’s small Chinese population—just over 1,000 in 1910—as lesser beings puts it mildly.

Both the respectable and gutter press hyped up the “yellow peril,” editorializing on how the eastern mindset was alien to western concepts of democracy and good citizenship, and how the Chinese would corrupt morals via gambling and opium. Efforts to curb their presence in the laundry and restaurant trades ranged from licensing fees to unsuccessful attempts by City Council to deny business licenses. Paranoia led to provincial legislation preventing Chinese-owned businesses from hiring white women, lest they be sold into white slavery. The Rosedale Ratepayers Association wanted to keep Chinese laundries out of their neighbourhood, adding them to the long list of things people don’t want in Rosedale.

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100-110 Elizabeth Street, April 8, 1937. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 33, Item 178.

While there had been small clusters of Chinese along Queen Street (one at George, another at York), by the end of the First World War a stable community established itself in The Ward, the neighbourhood west of Old City Hall which, despite its great poverty, had welcomed numerous immigrant communities. Elizabeth Street between Queen and Dundas served as this Chinatown’s spine, lined with businesses, restaurants, and societies. It mostly served single men, thanks to a series of harsh immigration measures preventing families from joining them. These laws escalated from head taxes to the Chinese Immigration Act of 1923, which all but banned entry to Canada for two decades.

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56-48 Elizabeth Street, April 8, 1937. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 33, Item 171.

Over that time, the “almond-eyed Celestials,” as the Globe dubbed Chinese residents during the early 1920s, endured frequent police raids on gambling houses, a riot, and periodic rumours of imminent tong wars. If anything, the gambling dens offered lonely people social space, work, and shelter during hard times. Viewed as a threat to the existing social order, the Chinese found Chinatown a refuge they felt accepted in.

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Globe and Mail, October 14, 1948.

Major changes came after the Second World War. The end of the Chinese Immigration Act led to a slow reunion of families. Provincial liquor law reforms allowing cocktail bars provoked a restaurant boom in Chinatown. Locals and tourists dined at Kwong ChowLichee GardenNanking TavernSai Woo, and other eateries which benefitted from both the new booze rules and increasing interest in Chinese-Canadian cuisine.

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Globe and Mail, June 17, 1969.

There were also new threats. The City acquired properties at the southern end of Chinatown to build the current City Hall and Nathan Phillips Square. By 1967, the city’s development commissioner recommended that the remaining buildings be replaced by municipal structures. Lead by the likes of Kwong Chow owner and community activist Jean Lumb, the Save Chinatown committee fought to preserve what was left. Lumb presented her arguments to the Star:

One reason why we feel there should always be a Chinatown in a city the size of Toronto is simply that there has been one, and to have it lost would be strongly felt. Its existence has its effects on people, especially as long as there are new Chinese immigrants coming every year. We should have a spot for them to start from, a place where they can be among their own people, hear their own language spoken. The Chinese people are quiet and reserved; it takes them longer than many other immigrants to make friends, to get used to new ways.

Some people say a Chinatown encourages ghettos and this is a reason why it shouldn’t be, but that’s not so. It just gives the people a sense of belonging. It’s a nice environment for them until they’re ready to go on their way more and fit into the Canadian community.

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Toronto Star, August 28, 1971.

After a series of deputations in 1969, City Council decided to keep what was now known as Old Chinatown. Efforts to keep the neighbourhood alive during the 1970s included Dragon Mall (a pedestrianized Elizabeth Street, à la the Yonge Street Mall) and earning recognition as a tourist destination. Over time, large scale development projects crept in and the remaining Chinese businesses closed. By the 21st century little remained beyond historical plaques marking where the neighbourhood had been.

Meanwhile, the gradual loosening of immigration rules during the 1960s prompted an influx of arrivals, especially from Hong Kong. As the old Chinatown shrank, a new one grew to the west along Dundas and Spadina, replacing the Jewish community which was moving north. By the late 1970s this area was recognized as downtown’s primary Chinatown, marked with cultural motifs and Chinese-language street signs.

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Corner of Broadview Avenue and Gerrard Street East, sometime between 1975 and 1988. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 1465, File 383, Item 1.

For those who found Spadina too pricey or touristy, there was Chinatown East, which emerged at Broadview and Gerrard. Starting with the opening of Charlie’s Meat in 1971, the neighbourhood’s affordability attracted businesses which served an increasing number of migrants from mainland China and Vietnam.

By the mid-1980s, new Chinatowns developed in the suburbs. The influx of new businesses and residents revealed that fears of the “yellow peril” were far from dead. Agincourt became a flashpoint in 1984, as a wave of immigrants from Hong Kong (on the move as the end of the British lease on the colony in 1997 loomed) arrived. Some longtime residents were alarmed by the new faces around them. “I don’t want to be biased or prejudiced but I don’t think they should be allowed to come into a neighbourhood and take over with such force,” 30-year resident Mildred Jackson told the Star. A heated community meeting ostensibly about parking issues related to the recently-opened Dragon Centre and two other plazas at Sheppard Avenue and Glen Watford Drive degenerated into jeers and racist remarks. The tone may have been set by the meeting’s chair, who referred to the “rape of our community” and that “we should not actively encourage any group to cling together as an enclave” (he later wrote the Star to protest that his remarks were taken out of context). Flyers distributed to homes asked for tougher immigration policies, alleging links between new arrivals and crimes across the Pacific.

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Dragon Centre, Agincourt, February 2016.

Backlash against emerging Chinese business and commercial areas continued over the next decade as new enclaves emerged in Markham and Richmond Hill. But Agincourt also pointed the way to the nature of later areas, from large restaurants to Asian-themed shopping centres like Pacific Mall.

In a book profiling Canadian Chinatowns, Paul Yee summarized how the role of these neighbourhoods changed from a necessary presence to ensure the community’s safety to being woven into the urban fabric.

Some Chinese saw old Chinatowns as living monuments to a turbulent history and to the fragility of equality. Others saw them as sites where Chinese culture was preserved and shared. Both these views supported the building of cultural facilities there. In a sense, old and new Chinatowns bridged the historical divide between Chinese Canadians, because more and more people appreciated Chinatowns’ different functions and freely visited them.

Additional material from The Chinese in Toronto From 1878: From Outside to Inside the Circle by Arlene Chan (Toronto: Dundurn, 2011); Chinatown by Paul Yee (Toronto: James Lorimer & Company, 2005); the July 6, 1922 edition of the Globe; and the March 8, 1969, May 14 1984, and May 29, 1984 editions of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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The Globe, October 11, 1907.

The fear of the “yellow peril” in action – one of the more jaw-dropping (from a modern perspective) editorials regarding the place of Chinese in Canadian society during the early 20th century.

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The Globe, July 6, 1922.

A profile of Chinatown, which tosses off a “gee, aren’t they cute?” vibe.

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Chinese victory celebrations, parade on Elizabeth Street, August 26, 1945. City of Toronto Archives, Globe and Mail fonds, Fonds 1266, Item 98604.

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Toronto Star, March 8, 1969. Click on image for larger version.

The article from which Jean Lumb’s defense of maintaining a Chinatown was quoted from.

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Toronto Star, August 27, 1971. Click on image for larger version.

An early 1970s look at Old Chinatown, which discusses some of the remaining businesses, the Dragon Mall pedestrian zone, and several recipes inspired by local grocers.

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Globe and Mail, June 27, 1975.

One of the first major projects as Spadina became the heart of downtown’s Chinatown was China Court, which opened in August 1976. Within a decade, it was razed for the cold concrete of Chinatown Centre.

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Globe and Mail, August 2, 1976. Click on image for larger version.

The building at 346 Spadina Avenue has gone through numerous incarnations, from the Labor Lyceum, to a series of Asian restaurants beginning with Yen Pin Place.

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Toronto Star, May 29, 1984.

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Toronto Star, June 1, 1984.

The Star’s coverage of a testy meeting in Agincourt, and reaction from readers. The paper also published an editorial criticizing attendees for their remarks, observing that the parking issue was one Scarborough’s city council was attempting to fix.

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Toronto Star, June 16, 1984.

A few weeks later, meeting chairman Dr. Douglas Hood defended his actions, claiming that coverage was a smear job which took several remarks out of context. Having covered community meetings over the years where the yahoos came out in full force, and reading about similar meetings in the 905 belt a decade later, I’m tempted to lean toward the paper’s interpretation of events.

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.