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.

A Motherly Sign

Originally published on Torontoist on June 19, 2008.

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Since it was built in 1887, the Alexandrina Block on College Street west of Spadina has seen numerous tenants come and go, including The Bagel music venue. Among its current elements is a 1970s-style sign promising over a dozen variety of submarine sandwiches. Those hoping for a retro experience will be disappointed as all that remains of the self-proclaimed “Rolls Royce of submarines” is the sign, fully intact and party covered by a tree.

The earliest media mention we can find for Mothers a dining guide in the June 3, 1972 edition of Star Week, which gave Mothers four stars out of four (tying it with the only survivor in the $5-$10 category, The Coffee Mill). “Mothers serves a Super-Sub sandwich for $1.35. It could use a little more oregano, but otherwise it’s the closest thing we’ve found in Toronto to the Philadelphia hoagie or New York hero. Hero-worshippers please take note.”

While Mothers may have been lacking in the oregano department, it did offer a unique delivery vehicle to back up its slogan: a Volkswagen Beetle modified to resemble a Rolls Royce. Such conversions were a fad during the period, with surviving examples including one owned by Liberace on display at his museum in Las Vegas. According to co-owner Howard Waxberg in a January 1974 interview with Toronto Life, “it cost us $450 to have the body work done, and then we had to get it painted—maybe $600 altogether.” The main problem with the car was finding suitable parts, especially after an accident damaged the first front grill. Waxberg felt that the vehicle “was the best advertising money we’ve spent. It’s fantastic to drive the thing. People look at you, laugh, point, stop you and ask questions, like ‘What is that?’”

A question now asked by pedestrians passing the sign.

UPDATE

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The Mothers sign gradually faded away. First one side was replaced by a sign for another business. As of July 2019, only the frame remains.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

Mothers Sandwich Shoppes–note the fancier spelling–was revisited by Star Week circa November 1977. The following review, which gave it 2-1/2 stars (out of three I’m guessing, since all of the restaurants listed were given either 2-1/2 or 3 star ratings) ran for nearly a year-and-a-half:

Americans say Canadians have no idea what a submarine sandwich really is. That is with one exception–the owners of Mothers are reputed to make versions more than acceptable to even the sophisticated “sub” palate. Hot steak sandwiches and veal sandwiches are salso served.

At this point, there were also locations at 44 Eglinton Avenue West (at Duplex) and 826 Yonge Street (at Cumberland).

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Want some solitaire with your sub? Photo by Neil Graham, Globe and Mail, February 23, 1993.

By 1993, Mothers served up subs and computer parts. From the February 23, 1993 Globe and Mail:

Staff need a certain amount of versatility to work at Honson Computer Corp. and Mother’s Sandwich Shop in downtown Toronto. When the lunch hour hits, employees scramble back and forth between helping customers pick out computer systems and serving up tangy meatball sandwiches on thick, crusty rolls. The combination computer store and lunch counter is one of the more unusual manifestations of a trend in computer distribution and retailing: most people in the business of selling computers are looking for way to hedge their bets.

According to owner Peter Lee, the key to surviving in the computer business was finding a way to cover your overhead.

In Mr. Lee’s case that meant broadening into chicken soup, french fries, and corned beef on rye. Mr. Lee had operated Honson Computer near the University of Toronto’s downtown campus for six years when the recession hit. Looking for a way to cut costs he took over Mother’s Sandwich Shop next door and piled his computer boxes and demonstration models alongside the long, wooden booths and orange plastic tabletops. Mr. Lee said he makes less than $100 profit on a $2,000 computer system. A sandwich, on the other hand, yields about 100 percent profit.

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.

The Proper Way to Turn a Winch

Originally published on Torontoist on May 9, 2008.

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Discarded building materialsNumerous species of wildlifeThe odd quonset hut. Elements such as these make the Leslie Street Spit an oasis for the ever-curious, with a steady stream of discoveries waiting for unsuspecting walkers or cyclists.

Towards the western end of the spit, the main pathway along the north side narrows into a low bridge, where this sign instructs users on the proper state of excitement required if the need arises the turn the winch. The severity of the fine for turning with a calm, dignified manner is not posted.

Ways to expend any leftover manic energy include wandering by the cormorant nesting area to reenact key scenes from The Birds, running up and down the hill leading to the lighthouse at Vicki Keith Point, and reconstructing a building from the most recent pile of debris trucked in.

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.