Loring-Wyle Parkette

This installment of my “Ghost City” column for The Grid was originally published on October 30, 2012.

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“Young Girl,” Florence Wyle, 1938, located in the Loring-Wyle Parkette. Toronto Star, March 18, 2005.

They were known simply as “The Girls.” For half a century, Frances Loring and Florence Wyle enjoyed a personal and professional relationship devoted to promoting sculpture as a vital art form. Their work graced venues ranging from backyard gardens to busy expressways. Loring and Wyle were regarded in their neighbourhood as eccentrics for their manly clothing, and were also known as the “Clay Ladies,” as they encouraged aspiring sculptors and introduced local children to fine art. One such child was Timothy Findley, whose father pointed to the women during a walk one day and told him, “One day you will remember these women, and you will understand how wonderful they are.”

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Moore Park Loop, looking north, June 7, 1926. Photo by Alfred Pearson. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 16, Series 71, Item 4339.

The Moore Park Residents’ Association appreciated their legacy. In the early 1980s, it was proposed that an inactive streetcar loop at the northeast corner of St. Clair Avenue and Mount Pleasant Road be turned into a small park honouring the sculptors. The Moore Park loop was built to serve the St. Clair line when it was extended east to Mount Pleasant in December 1924, then Eglinton Avenue a year later. The tracks were abandoned after a short-lived Mount Pleasant streetcar route switched to trolley buses in 1976, but the path of the rails is still visible in the middle of the St. Clair-Mount Pleasant intersection.

Opened in 1984, the Loring-Wyle Parkette sits a block north of the combined home and studio Loring and Wyle shared for nearly half a century. The house at 110 Glenrose Avenue was known as “The Church” because it was originally the Sunday schoolhouse for Christ Church Deer Park. The structure was moved east from Yonge Street several years before the pair purchased it in 1920. It became a centre of Toronto’s artistic community, where peers like the Group of Seven relaxed, discussed projects, and organized groups like the Sculptors Society of Canada. The Girls held regular Saturday night parties where guests enjoyed treats like scotch mixed with fresh snow and Wyle’s hog-calling demonstrations. The parties drew “a crowd of congenial people enjoying themselves in distinctive surroundings,” according to biographer Rebecca Sisler. “They were made particularly convivial and lively by the warmth and undemanding friendliness of The Girls. Those who attended the parties still claim they were the best in the country.”

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Frances Loring and sculptor Florence Wyle standing among statues, January 21, 1950. Photo by Gilbert A. Milne. Archives of Ontario, C 3-1-0-0-666.

Loring and Wyle met as students learning neoclassical sculpting techniques at the Art Institute of Chicago around 1906. Five years later they established a studio in the Bohemian heart of America, Greenwich Village. While Wyle’s family objected to her career choice, Loring’s father, a mining engineer, provided financial backing and felt Wyle would be a steadying influence on his daughter. He was responsible for their move to Toronto around 1913, after shutting down The Girls’ studio while they were on vacation—he felt they were making little money and was never comfortable with the unconventional atmosphere of their new home. Loring moved to Toronto, theoretically to take care of her mother, and Wyle followed soon after. Perhaps making amends for his actions, Loring’s father funded their first local studio, above a carpentry shop at Church and Lombard Streets.

Among the projects the pair collaborated on was the Lion Monument, which served as the gateway for the Queen Elizabeth Way at the Humber River. Loring chose a “snarling, defiant, British lion, eight feet high!” as the focal point to symbolize Great Britain’s readiness to fight at the start of World War II, while Wyle worked on a portrait of King George VI and the future Queen Mother. The monument remains one of their most visible works, even if freeway expansion forced its move to nearby Sir Casimir Gzowski Park in 1975. Loring also created public works like the statue of Sir Robert Borden on Parliament Hill and a relief on the south wall of Exhibition Place’s Queen Elizabeth Building. Hundreds of their works are currently held by the Art Gallery of Ontario, on whose collection committee Loring sat during the 1950s.

The pair remained partners until their deaths within a month of each other in 1968, though their biographers question whether, despite sharing a bedroom for years, their relationship was physical. “Whether or not The Girls were lovers,” Elspeth Cameron wrote in her Loring-Wyle bio And Beauty Answers, “theirs was the closest emotional relationship either of them ever had. In Platonic terms, they were soulmates, as complementary to each other as Yin and Yang.” Their deep bond is reflected by the busts they crafted of each other early in their partnership, which stand today in their park.

Sources: And Beauty Answers by Elspeth Cameron (Toronto: Cormorant, 2007), The Girls by Rebecca Sisler (Toronto: Clarke, Irwin, 1972), and the May 9, 1991 edition of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

From the CBC archives, a look at Loring and Wyle in their studio.

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Toronto Star, November 27, 1920.

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Star Weekly, November 6, 1926. Click on images for larger versions.

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.

Snapshots from Celebration Square

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Needing an escape from the house before last weekend’s snowstorm, I wandered out to Mississauga’s city centre in the middle of a west-end errand run. For all the sunshine, it was a quiet afternoon, with few skaters enjoying the skyline surrounding Celebration Square.

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Maybe people were afraid to take a lunch time risk, or maybe they were stuck in surrounding office buildings, dreaming of tying on skates to start their weekend.

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The east side of the rink was lined with neon signs to brighten the January blahs.

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From CS&P Architects website:

The transformation of both the Mississauga City Hall and Library Squares into Celebration Square, a single, coherent public space, has helped to revitalize the City’s downtown core, and serves as a catalyst for economic development and tourism. The project scope includes a major outdoor sound stage and video screens, a smaller amphitheatre, as well as landscape gardens and lawn, water fountains, skating rinks, public plazas, a multi-purpose pavilion, food services, a market structure, and a War Memorial. The initiative was based on the principles developed in close collaboration with multiple citizen groups. The dramatic transformation has significantly increased the use of the Square for daily civil life.

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Opened in June 2011, Celebration Square works well as the heart of Mississauga. It was developed in consultation with New York City-based Project for Public Spaces. “Our impression is that they have bravely gone forward with radical ideas that I think every city should be trying and not every city does,” Philip Myrick, a consultant working with the Project told the Mississauga News in 2012. “I think more and more cities are realizing standard procedures aren’t what people are looking for these days and they need to pay attention to how to create the desirability (for residents).” On opening day, mayor Hazel McCallion hoped that the space would “develop a citywide spirit.”

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Pull up a chair, soak up the sun, sit back, relax, and await the next day’s blast of winter.

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Whenever I walk through Celebration Square, especially when festivities are happening, I feel like I’m in the heart of a city rather than a plaza slapped down in the middle of a suburb.

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The book sale section of the Mississauga Public Library’s central branch is not large, but tends to be filled with interesting finds, such as a shelf-and-a-half of Ontario Hydro reports stretching from the pre-First World War era to the opening of its first nuclear plants. All yours for a dollar each.

I grabbed four volumes from the early 1920s, partly in case I ever have to write about a key period in the development of hydro in the province, partly to decipher half the Twitter-esque editorials published in the Telegram during this era (public ownership of hydro, and support for Adam Beck’s dream of a radial railway system were pet causes of the paper at the time).

Also purchased: a book of notes from Dionne Brand, a Pelican tie-in to Britain’s Open University, and a paperback of English working class oral history.

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I took a quick walk around Square One, entering by this nod to the lunar new year.

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I didn’t see any “brownie ate my cookie” treats in the window of Reds, but nearly gave in to the temptation of their delicious two-bite butter tarts.

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Locally-inspired art in the men’s department of Simons. Here’s the description of this piece, Raincity Robot, by Brendan Lee Satish Tang:

Fusing futuristic and traditional ideas, Brendan L.S. Tang’s Raincity Robot (an extension of his Manga Ormulu series) illustrates the tensions and contradictions that characterize contemporary culture. The Chinese vase of the Raincity Robot is reminiscent of the Four Sisters smokestacks at the former Lakeview Generating Station, while the barnacle-like robotic prosthetics at the base reference the lakeside geography and technological industry of Mississauga.

Art and shopping malls go well together. As owners and communities devise new uses for mall space as chains fold, more art galleries would work well, either as satellites to existing institutions, pop-ups, or new creations. The Art Gallery of Windsor temporarily moved into Devonshire Mall during the mid-1990s after its former home became the city’s first casino site and. As the Canadian Encyclopedia puts it, “the gallery board saw the move to a shopping mall as an opportunity to bring art closer to the world that inspires it and to find out more about how art finds its place in to our culture.” I took advantage of the relocation, often sticking my head in after scouring the mall’s record stores.

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Outside Simons, it appeared the we-don’t-take-your-stinkin’-cash Eva’s Chimneys is being replaced with something called “Stuffies.” I quickly imagined a food stall catering to furries.

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).

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.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Fabulous Cloverdale Mall

Originally published on Torontoist on November 19, 2014.

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Globe and Mail, November 15, 1956.

In many ways, Cloverdale Mall fulfils the visions of early shopping-centre designers: a convenient, one-stop destination at the heart of a suburban community. As a 2013 profile of the mall in The Grid observed, “its very ordinariness and prosaic mix of shops is precisely what makes it so valuable to its customers.”

What Cloverdale lacks in flashiness it makes up for by serving its neighbourhood. Initiatives such as offering free temporary space for non-profit organizations and a “Heartwalkers” program for health-conscious shoppers demonstrate an awareness of the community’s needs.

The mall’s efforts have been rewarded, too: in 2007, Cloverdale won the inaugural Social Responsibility Award from the Canadian branch of the International Council of Shopping Centres for its fundraising campaign to build the city’s first free-standing residential hospice, the Dorothy Lea Hospice Palliative Care Centre.

There was a tinge of glitz to Cloverdale’s opening on November 15, 1956. The original 34-store section of the open-air plaza consisted of two rows of businesses separated by a 30-foot wide walkway. Tile mosaics designed by Joseph Iliu provided storefront decoration—the largest was a seven-by-19-foot panel on the west wall of the Dominion supermarket depicting fish, produce, and a cocktail glass.

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Globe and Mail, November 22, 1956.

Near Dominion stood the plaza’s major art installation, a 25-foot high sculpture by Montreal artist Robert Roussil known, depending on the source, as “Figures in Movement” or “Galaxie Humaine.” The work was made of British Columbia fir and covered in lead. “I think I have a normal Canadian viewpoint and this sculpture is designed for everybody,” Roussil told the Globe and Mail. “Like anything new it won’t take long for people to become interested. Whether they accept it or not is another matter.”

Businesses at Cloverdale quickly found ways to draw in customers. Major retailers such as Dominion benefitted from Etobicoke’s relaxed evening-shopping bylaws. Record store owner Wilf Sayer capitalized on the growing power of teen consumers. He began inviting them to his shop on Tuesday nights for listening sessions and dancing, offering pop on the house.

As the events became more popular, Sayer stopped subsidizing the drinks and moved the dances into the plaza. After 600 people showed up for the July 2, 1957 starlight dance, he turned the event into a biweekly affair. In an interview with the Globe and Mail, Sayer encouraged parents to chaperone so they could “see for themselves that it is a wholesome evening of entertainment.” While the playlist included Elvis Presley and other early rockers, squares were pleased by the strains of Pat Boone and Andy Williams.

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Globe and Mail, July 17, 1960.

The mall gained a major anchor when Montreal-based department store Morgan’s opened a branch in August 1960. Globe and Mail advertorial columnist Mary Walpole wrote that the store “has an air of big town sophistication and which we think is a compliment to the people who go a-shopping there … whether it is mother and the carriage crowd in sun dresses and slims or smart suburbanites who might have stepped off the cover of Harper’s [Bazaar].” The Morgan’s space would later house The Bay, Zellers (which relocated from elsewhere in the mall), and Target.

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Etobicoke Gazette, August 5, 1976.

The mall, which was enclosed in 1976, has seen its ups and downs. But local retailers such as Hot Oven Bakery and Taylor Somers clothiers have stayed for decades, enhancing Cloverdale’s community-oriented feel and offering the mall some stability. Several other current tenants either have been around since the beginning (LCBO, Scotiabank) or are descended from early businesses (Coles, Metro).

Major retail announcements in Toronto increasingly tend to focus on high-end “prestige” outlets or cheap chic, so it’s reassuring that a pretension-free mall such as Cloverdale manages to survive, and to continue serving its community.

Additional material from the November 16, 1956, November 17, 1956, August 3, 1957 and August 19, 1960 editions of the Globe and Mail; the April 29, 2013 edition of The Grid; and the September 26, 2007 edition of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Globe and Mail, November 16, 1956.

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Globe and Mail, November 17, 1956.

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Etobicoke Gazette, August 12, 1975.

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Etobicoke Gazette, August 19, 1975.

Ted Rogers Gets a Statue at Rogers Centre

Originally published on Torontoist on June 24, 2013.

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You’ve got to give some credit to Ted Rogers: the late media mogul didn’t pretend he was a rabid baseball fanatic. “I have to be careful how I say this,” he wrote in his 2008 autobiography Relentless, “but I am not really a sports fan.” As he settled into his ownership of the Blue Jays, Rogers found himself “getting more and more interested in sports, from both a business standpoint, in that I mean a branding standpoint, and just as a fan. I go to every one of the Blue Jays home openers and some other games, where I get to meet and shake the hands of a lot of wonderful fans.”

On Tuesday, current Rogers CEO Nadir Mohamed observed that Rogers would now be able to continue greeting fans, thanks to a bronze statue unveiled during a ceremony outside Rogers Centre before the night’s Blue Jays-Dodgers game. Located near Gate 6, beside Bremner Boulevard, the 12-foot bronze monument was sculpted by Siegfried Puchta, whose works include the firefighters’ memorial in Queen’s Park. It depicts Rogers holding the files that, according to his widow Loretta, he always carried.

While Rogers’s business acumen and philanthropic efforts should not be discounted, placing a memorial to him at the home of a team he owned for less than a decade seems slightly off.

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The ceremony, which included a performance by The Tenors, a religious blessing, and shout outs to attendees like former Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston, portrayed Rogers as an awe-inspiring visionary. It’s true that Rogers restored the team to local ownership when he purchased it from Interbrew in September 2000. But, as Canada.com pointed out over the weekend, a more appropriate place to memorialize Rogers would be at the company’s headquarters at Bloor and Ted Rogers Way. A cynic might think the statue’s placement was just another branding exercise.

When sporting venues sprout statues, they usually honour athletes who excelled for the home team or made a great historical impact. Honourees who played roles off the field tend to be franchise builders (like Gene Autry in Anaheim and Ewing Kauffman in Kansas City) or beloved broadcasters (like Harry Caray in Chicago and Ernie Harwell in Detroit). By those criteria, if Rogers Centre administrators commission more statues, future subjects could include the likes of day-one employee and current Blue Jays president/CEO Paul Beeston and Hall of Fame broadcaster Tom Cheek. As for which players and managers should be bronzed, we’re open to suggestions.

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Even so, Rogers’s statue offers the possibility of a new tradition for the Blue Jays. During the official photo-op following the ceremony, we noticed one of Rogers’s grandsons rubbing the statue’s foot. Perhaps, like generations who have shined the foot of the memorial to Timothy Eaton, currently sitting in the Royal Ontario Museum, this kid hoped a little polish would bring good luck. We imagine fans flowing into the park, stopping to give a little rub for a home-team victory, perhaps even uttering Rogers’s signature phrase, which is inscribed on the statue’s base: “The best is yet to come.”

Additional material from Relentless, by Ted Rogers with Robert Brehl (Toronto: HarperCollins, 2008).

BEHIND THE SCENES

Of all the events I covered for Torontoist, this was one of the most absurd. From the religious blessing to musical performances, it felt over-the-top, and not in a good way.

Luminato 2012: The Encampment

Pitching Your Tent at The Encampment

Originally published on Torontoist on March 26, 2012.

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Fort York during The Encampment. Digital rendering by Thom Sokoloski.

Later this spring, a new tent city will make its home in Toronto. But unlike the Occupy Toronto protest in St. James Park last year, this encampment will have nothing to do with changing the present, and everything to do with celebrating the past. It will help kick off the city’s commemoration of the War of 1812 Bicentennial.

Each night from June 8 to June 24, 200 illuminated tents will transform the grounds of Fort York into The Encampment, an art installation designed to tell the stories of civilians who lived through the battles of two centuries ago. Commissioned both to commemorate the War of 1812 and for the Luminato Festival, this piece marks the second time artists Thom Sokoloski and Jenny-Anne McCowan, of Thomas + Guinevere, have created a large-scale tent installation in Toronto. (The first, Confinement of the Intellect, was presented during the inaugural edition of Nuit Blanche in 2006. It was about the history of mental health services.)

For The Encampment, volunteers can apply online before midnight tonight to participate as “creative collaborators” who will build the content within each tent. Those accepted will be given access to an online story bank featuring hundreds of biographies of people who lived in Canada during the war. Each participant will pick a story and design a tent around it. As the call for public participation puts it, “200 civilian stories of love, loss, survival, and patriotism will be explored, as well as those of collaboration, deception, greed and betrayal.”

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Image from 2006’s Confinement of the Intellect. Photo by Ryan Mallard.

The artists hope their civilian collaborators will research their chosen stories as if they were conducting archeological digs. During a preview for prospective participants at Fort York yesterday, Sokoloski suggested that collaborators could look for items emblematic of the tale they are telling. As one example, he suggested that if a shoelace was important in the life of a person who lived at Queen and Jarvis, the participant could scour that area for a shoelace to display.

Starting in April, participants will attend a series of workshops, during which they’ll design the installations with guidance from the artists, who are suggesting that the displays incorporate sensory elements like sound or taste. Despite these general guidelines, Sokoloski admitted that “we have no idea how it’s all going to end up.” He compared the tents to individual stage shows: the tent flaps will be closed until each visitor comes in to experience his or her own opening curtain. The only lighting will be provided by lanterns; in the artists’ past installations, this has led to interesting presentation tricks. McCowan mentioned a display about a malaria victim—created as part of a previous installation project similar to The Encampment—where visitors discovered, as their eyes adjusted to the lighting, that the tent was covered in mosquito imagery.

In the coming weeks, all the participants will figure out what works and what doesn’t, and will provide feedback to one another. After that, the tents will wait for the public to discover the tales within them.

Review of The Encampment

Originally published on Torontoist on June 13, 2012.

If you’re considering checking out The Encampment, it’s best to do so at dusk. As the colours of sunset fade to black and your eyes adjust to the approaching night, rows upon rows of white illuminated tents emerge. Attendees become shadows drifting across the grounds of Fort York, appearing for a moment on one tent before shifting to another.

Housed within the 200 tents are a wide range of interpretations of the lives of those who lived through the War of 1812. The “creative collaborators,” who worked under the supervision of artists Thom Sokoloski and Jenny-Anne McCowan, took approaches ranging from straightforward documentation of a person’s life to highly symbolic representations of individual war experiences. We were charmed by the creativity displayed in most tents, though we admit some left us scratching our heads over what the artist’s point was.

One of the strongest exhibits revolves around William Warren Baldwin, a lawyer whose postwar career saw him become a prominent advocate of responsible government (which his son Robert would see to fruition as co-leader of the Baldwin-Lafontaine government in 1849). Visitors to tent 172 are asked to “please carefully hold up and examine the vintages of Hon. Dr. William Warren Baldwin.” A wine rack filled with bottles sits in the middle of the tent. Each is labelled with a quote from Baldwin or a reference to his life, and instead of wine, the bottles are filled with an image printed on a transparency that is literally or symbolically related to the label—for example, a label where Baldwin describes his wife is accompanied by a picture of a key, presumably to her heart. It’s a neat effect that tied facts and visuals together well.

Other elements that caught our eye included bloodied sheets marking the demise of American officer Zebulon Pike at the Battle of York (tent 127); a table containing “Paul’s To Do List” (Paul Jennings, tent 131); chained shoes and a toy train track symbolizing the Underground Railway activities of African Methodist Episcopal Church founder Richard Allen (tent 93); and sketches of Fort York pasted above a set of walls (military engineer Ralph Henry Bruyeres, tent 120).

The subjects provide a good sampling of the cultural groups involved in the war, from First Nations people to prominent Toronto figures whose family names remain visible on our streets and schools (Baldwin, Jarvis, Ketchum, Strachan, Wood). The creators largely succeed in their goal of treating the installation like an archaeological dig—wandering into each tent reveals a new artifact or tidbit of information, with many elements lying on the grass like newly unearthed objects. We overheard visitors discussing what they had learned in the tents in tones similar to stereotypical movie archaeologists excited about finding an Egyptian treasure.

Don’t worry, there’s no danger of a mummy’s curse or zombified War of 1812 soldier attacking you. Still, if you wander through a quiet section of the installation, you might wonder if the shadows around you are the tent subjects checking their own stories.

Vintage Toronto Ads: The Artwork of Royal Bank Plaza

Originally published on Torontoist on January 20, 2009.

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artscanada 218/219, February/March 1978.

During the development of Royal Bank Plaza, building designer Boris Zerafa was tasked with commissioning artwork to enhance the complex, especially the atrium. Artists based in locales ranging from Quebec to Italy were contacted and given sketches and scale models of the building to work from, though we wonder if any samples of the gold-plated windows were included.

Today’s ad spotlights four of the commissions. Clockwise from top left: Rita Letendre (born 1928) and her abstract painting Irowakan, which, like other murals she produced for display in Toronto, was later destroyedFoliage, a bronze by sculptor Gio Pomodoro (1930–2002) that was placed outside the building and was the only piece to predate the complex; Jesus Raphael Soto (1923–2005) and Suspended Virtual Volume, his ceiling sculpture consisting of ten thousand aluminium rods; and Mariette Rousseau-Vermette (1926–2006) standing in front of her tapestry, Reflection.

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artscanada 218/219, February/March 1978.

Soto was interviewed about his piece in the same issue of artscanada that this ad appeared in. He discussed the reasoning behind using white and yellow rods:

It is my belief that an art that is investigating pure structure should avoid as much as possible unprogrammable variations of colour. Some variations can be programmed, others can only be dealt with by intuition or simply according to taste. When working on a monumental scale I think you have to avoid gratuitous preferences. You look for relationships in the elements. I could have put many colours in the structure at the bank and it would have worked, but it would be betraying a colourless space. It would mean using the space as a frame instead of integrating with it, which I didn’t want. This is why I chose the simplest colours: white, and yellow, which is a close variant of white, and the nylon cable which becomes grey. This is the reason for the sobriety of the sculpture.

Though the atrium space has been reduced over the years, and a good view of Soto’s work from the lower retail level is no longer possible, Suspended Virtual Volume merits a recommendation for tourists from Frommer’s.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Towering Over Deer Park

Originally published on Torontoist on November 4, 2008.

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Bravo, November-December 1982.

How does a company celebrate a century in business? If you’re George Weston Limited, you hire a photographer to shoot corporate headquarters at sunrise, just as neighbours in Deer Park get ready to start their day with fine Weston’s or Loblaws products.

The 20-storey octagonal Wittington Tower opened in the mid-1970s. Architect Leslie Rebanks won an honourable mention citation from the American Institute of Business Designers in 1976 for the artistic touches that were utilized in the lobby. A relative of the Weston family, Rebanks would work on the Loblaws store design rolled out in the late 1990s and serve on the committee that chose Daniel Libeskind’s crystal design for the Royal Ontario Museum.

New for ’82 was Sails, sculpted by Gordon Smith from stainless steel. We wonder if plans were ever developed to produce a collectible version for the public as President’s Choice Memories of Deer Park Mini Sails.