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Given the current protests about policing, and controversies around fare enforcement, I’m surprised this ad hadn’t been replaced by the TTC or ripped out by an angry rider.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

The Story of Mr. Croft

Originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on May 31, 2008.

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One of the most eyecatching murals on display in Toronto is the colourful piece that acts as a gateway to Croft Street near College and Bathurst. The Monty Pythonesque design may provoke chuckles but the story it relates is a serious one, as the work honours the street’s namesake, the only recorded fatality associated with the Great Toronto Fire of 1904.

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On the evening of April 19, 1904, a nightwatchman noticed flames in an elevator shaft of the E&S Currie Building at 58-60 Wellington Street West. Unfortunately, most of its neighbouring buildings were made of highly flammable wood and designed in ways that fueled fires. The blaze quickly spread and cut a 12-hour path of destruction roughly bounded by Simcoe, Melinda, Yonge and the rail lines. Firefighters from as far as Buffalo assisted Toronto firefighters, with teams from London and Peterborough arriving too late to battle the flames. By 4:30 a.m., the fire was declared to be under control.

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Front Street looking east from Bay Street, April 1904. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1408, Item 2.

Insurance companies and city inspectors quickly assessed the condition of the damaged buildings and prepared a list of properties deemed too unsafe to remain standing. Property owners received notices asking them to bring down their walls immediately or allow the city to demolish the structures. No objections were received.

Over the next few weeks, safecrackers were hired to rescue important documents from the ruins, followed by demolition teams equipped with dynamite. Among the men hired for the demolition was Parliament Street resident John Croft, a recent immigrant from England who had occasionally assisted dynamiters in coal mines in his native land. He was assigned to the W.J. Gage Building at 54-58 Front Street West. His team was not given a storage battery to set off the dynamite and had to resort to lighting long fuses then running for cover (an image associated with modern cartoon gags—a possible inspiration for the mural design?). This worked for the first two explosions that were set on May 4th. The third try proved unlucky for Croft.

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The following morning, The Globe reported on the incident and Croft’s condition:

Croft, with two assistants, William Goudge and A. Ramsden, had set off 30 blasts yesterday morning and at 1 o’clock placed three charges under of portion of the W.J. Gage & Co. wall. Two were exploded safely, but the third fuse, set for a minute and a half, was slow. After waiting for some time, Croft went up the wall to investigate, and as he did the blast went off. The flesh on his right arm was torn to shreds, and he sustained a severe scalp wound and a broken rib. The sight of the left eye was destroyed.

Later that morning Croft died from the shock, leaving behind a wife and three children. He was buried in Mount Pleasant Cemetery. Four years later, the former Ulster Avenue was renamed in his honour. The mural was created a century later, followed by a plaque from Heritage Toronto.

Photos of Croft Street by Jamie Bradburn. Additional material from the May 5, 1904 edition of The Globe.

UPDATE

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Croft Street mural and Heritage Toronto plaque, January 12, 2020. 

The mural honouring John Croft on the street named after him was one of my favourites in the city. It was well illustrated, told its story well, and had a funny, bordering on Monty Python-esque sensibility to it. It deserved to be well taken care of.

Over the years, people have had other ideas.

It’s a problem which has also affected street art on the garages further north along Croft Street. Lovely artwork and creative grafitti are ruined by amateurs or those who don’t care about the work of others. One can argue its the cycle and nature of such things, but it feels like an insult to those who invested time in these projects.

Would it be worth commissioning artists to create a new spin on Croft’s story on this wall (as has happened with other murals in the city, such as the depiction of Leslieville at Queen and Jones), or would that fall into ruin quickly?

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The Heritage Toronto plaque has also been poorly treated. Beyond the defacing of the photo, whoever recently sprayed over the plaque may have thought it was part of the wall. Perhaps they left their sunglasses at the scene of the crime.

The sad part?

The plaque was cleaned up a few weeks ago.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

The Globe, May 5, 1904 (left) and May 6, 1904 (right).