But do such houses exist in Toronto? Yes, they do! And I’ve learned to spot them.
The obvious clues are boarded up or broken windows, wildly overgrown gardens, leaking roofs and guttering. Though occasionally these signs can apply to a fully inhabited, sadly neglected house!
More subtle signs appear for vacant homes: usually the overgrown garden is a giveaway. No obvious cars, a sheen of dust on the windows, a dispirited ambience…Though someone somewhere is keeping up the basic maintenance to avoid destruction.
Water, sun and nature move swiftly to claim back the planet.
What fascinates me are the reasons why the house stands deserted. There are stories there. Did the owner grow too elderly or infirm? Turn away from the world because of heartbreak? Was there a family dispute? A lingering estate problem?
And what of this strange sight, spotted on a winter walk?
Has the hoarding become so extreme that it’s spilled onto the veranda? Or did someone clear it out for the junk removal service?
It’s March and my thoughts turn to training for The Ride. If Toronto’s wild weather allows, mid-March means riding the real roads!
The 2021 Ride to Conquer is virtual once again, but training is real – and an escape from COVID.
And a chance to Urbex Toronto. (Urbex = urban exploration.)
Spring this year promises to be mild and soon. I jumped on the bike the earliest since the inaugural 2008 ride and pulled off 13 km.
The Beltline trail proved to be treacherous. Crossing over the Iron Horse Bridge, I hit ice. It’s like hydroplaning in a car: don’t steer, don’t brake, don’t waver. Maintain speed and balance and hope to *$%# you make it over the next 50 feet.
I reached my beloved icon, Tout Est Possible – and happily contended with mere mud before retreating to dodging traffic on regular roads.
It turns out that the Beltline Tout Est Possible is only one of at least 20 such icons scattered throughout Toronto. Many appear in non-obvious locations in places like Sherwood Park, Nordheimer Ravine and Taylor Creek Park.
The artist remains unknown like Banksy since their work started appearing in 2011. I’m happy to report that when my fav got erased, the artist restored it before too long.
For a description of fellow cyclists’ full tour of the icons, see the blogTO article here.
On Monday, August 17th, I headed on Ride #2 of my pledge to do 200 km in August, the distance from Toronto to Niagara Falls.
The morning was perfect, one of the most beautiful this summer. Cool, sunny, no blustering head winds. I headed down through Leaside into Sunnybrook Park through the Lyndhurst Hospital entrance.
I’m familiar with the rehab hospital because a friend spend several months there after a bad car accident. He’d travelled down to the USA to buy a vintage sports car, but on returning to Canada, he slid off the road. The problem: the rubber in the vintage tires had gone hard with age and lost all traction. Happily, he made a remarkable recovery.
The other reason, I’m familiar with Lyndhurst is because of the killer hill down into Sunnybrook. During my marathon training days, we used to run UP this hill. Fortunately today, I am biking DOWN.
Past the dog park and along a picture perfect creek . Few people out this Monday morning other than the usual runners, hikers and dog walkers.
The wild flowers are out!
A tricky aspect of Sunnybrook trails for cyclists is negotiating the narrow, heavily used pedestrian bridges. I’m less worried about COVID than I am about blunt force trauma, having nearly been crashed into numerous times by MAMILs (cyclist pejorative for obnoxious middle-aged men in lycra). Luckily I cross over the Don Valley pedestrian bridge with no incident before stopping at “The Teeth”.
Allegedly the artist created the concrete structures to be elephants that would blend with nature. Hence the trees growing out of them. But for Toronto runners “The Teeth” are a landmark for running routes. And, yes, I agree they really look like molars.
Today, I decide to head east into Taylor Creek Park, a trail with numerous dread pedestrian bridges over rocks and running water. My luck holds – few MAMILs crushing everyone in their path to score their Personal Best time! I take a breather to check out an impromptu memorial along the way.
The stones remind me of the lovely Jewish tradition of leaving a stone in the cemetery after visiting a loved one.
The main trail ends at Dawes Road. To get to Victoria Park, I cross yet another pedestrian bridge and bike through an underpass with some neat street art. After this the trail is mostly a gravelly track that gets muddy and floods after a rain. The climb up to Victoria Park is another heart thumper.
This is my Test Hill. If I can make it up all the way in my “Granny Gear” or the lowest possible on my hybrid, I’m fit enough for The Ride. But since, the Ride has gone virtual, I bike up the first half and walk up the rest.
Down the Victoria Park bike path across Danforth. This heavily trafficked road is a bit nerve-wracking, because my riding buddy once took a header over the handle bars after hitting a pothole beneath the underpass.
Over to the safety of Scarborough Road for a straight run down to the Beaches. I pass by Adam Beck school with its colorful murals. This is one of my favs.
Today the weather cools noticeably as I near the lake. It and the boardwalk are especially lovely today.
A strong headwind as I pedal toward the Distillery District and my usual reward at Balzac’s cafe. While munching down my muffin, I see thunderous clouds building in the west.
Change of plans, the route through to the Humber will have to wait until Ride #3 or #4. I charge north, taking the bike path along Sherbourne making for home.
This is a sad route; I call it the Economic Disparity Route. It passes by Moss Park arena and the neighboring homeless shelter. During COVID, many more homeless are wandering the streets often shouting, in distress, deluded in the middle of traffic. Cop cars and emergency vehicles every time this year when I’ve passed through – and that’s a lot.
Sherbourne crosses over into Rosedale, once of Toronto’s wealthiest enclaves. To my surprise I see people camped out in a parkette within a stone’s throw of multi-million dollar mansions.
Summerhill pedestrian bridge again requires careful negotiating. I usually walk my bike over to dodge schoolkids, nannies with babies, seniors and of course, the ubiquitous MAMILs. Some neat street art on the crumbling concrete walls bordering the steep hill of McPherson Drive.
From here it is short pleasant ride through Moore Park into Mt. Pleasant cemetery.
Keeping a watchful eye on the threatening weather, I finish off the distance via the Beltline and looping through Mt. Pleasant. There are enough hills and gradients to keep my heart pumping.
Almost done for Ride #2, I pause by one of the Mt. Pleasant icons, a memorial to two young men who died within months of each other. The plaque reads: Why has God picked all his beautiful flowers first. There is a love story here.
COVID forced the pause button down on modern society. And the intensification of social media meant the whole world watched George Floyd get murdered. Yes, let’s use the right word – murdered over an alleged counterfeit $20 bill.
Many times I’ve handed a $20 bill to a cashier who semi-surreptitiously checked it out with a UV light under the counter. What’s the worst that would have happened to me if it looked fake? The cashier would simply have handed it back and told me it’s phoney.
Because I’m white. Also I live in Canada.
As a kid, I witnessed the shootings at Kent State University on the TV news. The image of state troopers firing into and killing unarmed student protestors seared into my memory forever. Up until then, I believed the world was the way society and my folks told me it was. That day I began to see the way the world really is.
I’m hoping there’s an upside to the ubiquitous spying technology we’re so addicted to. (In case you missed it, our phones are turning us into “Little Brother”.) But amidst FAANG’s avid personal data collection, the truth occasionally slips out.
Will public outrage reach the critical mass needed for meaningful action? Does this mean Revolution, Baby?
Maybe this time it’s really gonna be different.
So I biked through Toronto’s Graffiti Alley to take in the street art memorializing George Floyd. Here’s what I found. The pics speak for themselves.
Graffiti Alley runs a short block south of Queen, east-west from Spadina to Bathurst. It’s gritty, the paintings multi-layered and ever-changing. Check Google Maps for location.
Strange times indeed. Normally in March and April, I’m training for The Ride to Conquer Cancer, to support cancer research at Toronto’s Princess Margaret Hospital, one of the top five centres in the world.
2020 would have been my 13th ride. Alas, not to be. The Ride is in limbo along with the rest of our world. Hard to see how an event of 4000+ sweaty riders plus 1000 volunteers, all served by well-used porta-potties, leaking buckets of energy drinks and pawed-over treats, could happen in this epidemic year.
No matter what they decide about the Ride itself, the donations will go to cancer research, if not this year, then in 2021. If only cancer went into quarantine! Happily though PMH has officially joined the war on CORVID-19 with researchers working on a treatment / vaccine.
What to do in the meantime? Luckily because I’m a runner and cyclist I’m not housebound. No rules against either activity…yet. Public health authorities encourage everyone to get fresh air. But where?
My favorite training loop, Mt. Pleasant cemetery, is closed, but city trails are not. And the streets are eerily empty of traffic. Surreal to be sure. My intrepid fellow companions are: dog walkers, families with small children, senior citizens and other crazy cyclists and runners. Waved to a gym buddy – an 82 year old grandmother and long distance runner who grew up during the Battle of Britain.
My British blood stirs. This is our boomer moment, I guess. Crap! And it’s spring and reason for happiness.
One of my favorite bike routes runs along the Beltline. Uplifting to discover that its interesting street art is not only intact, but restored.
Wildlife may be reclaiming their habitat judging by the sign spotted near the end of the Beltline. Stay safe, my friends!
A well-kept secret in Toronto is that our city actively promotes street art. There’s even hope that Toronto can become a go-to destination for followers and fans.
One interesting sideline is the beautification of our plain, military-grey hydro boxes. Hell, the city even pays artists to do this. Here are some neat examples spotted on my cycling forays. Click on each image to enlarge it.
It’s been a chilly spring and I’m still wearing my winter bike gear in May! But riding through the wind and rain toughens you up to any adverse weather on the Ride to Conquer Cancer. As always, the City of Toronto keeps closing bike routes and the repairs are s-l-o-w. This year it’s the southern part of the Don Valley trail, which I normally do on every training ride.
But there are rewards. Cruising down a Leaside street and crossing north over Eglinton en route to Sunnybrook I discovered Graffiti Alley North. The street runs parallel to Eglinton now torn up by the light rail construction. Feast your eyes, readers!
I’m home from Hawaii and a most enjoyable Left Coast Crime. Back on the bike, too, training for my 10th Ride to Conquer Cancer. Always good to see spring struggling through on the Belt Line Trail.
Had to touch the usual icons of street art on the way, Uplifting Homily and Toronto’s own, Boaty McBoatface.
School kids are getting into it. Crossing through Cedarvale Park I spot this though it’s marred by some cynical graffiti. Met an elderly dog walker who recognized – and approved – of my recording street art. As a volunteer, he’s been an advocate for the park for 30 years. He pointed out the escape hatch from the subway, cleverly hidden in a rock pile just off the trail.
As always, part of my regular route is inaccessible due to repair. This year the middle Don Valley trail from Pottery Road to Riverdale is closed with dire warning to trespassers that the police are patrolling. But the lower part is open and I was rewarded by new art.
Little do the motorists atop the ramp from DVP to the Gardiner know what’s beneath them. Feast your eyes, readers!
Thank you for making 2016 a fabulous year – with even more to look forward to in the New Year.
After a quick family visit to London, England, we are back home to celebrate Christmas and to perform our sacred rituals – like nom-nom-noming the Festive Special at Swiss Chalet with Ed’s car club!
Santarchy ruled again on Dec 17th. Costumes were especially creative with an emphasis on naughty. No need for a big budget as you will see in the following pics!
This year went off without a hitch. The weather was mild and perfect for marching down Queen Street. Gathering at the Imperial Pub, we stormed Dundas Square then invaded the Eaton Centre to give out candy canes and treats to kids.
Group photo on the steps of Old City Hall, then after a long wait for the Zamboni, an impromptu slide across the skating rink at city hall dodging security guards and skaters on blades.
Get turned away at The Rex – check. Wave to Christmas-spirited cab drivers and cops – check. First stop, The Black Bull – check. The bartenders serve 50+ customers without missing a beat. Amazing!
Some great costumes below.
On to night clubs, Crocodile Rock and The Ball Room, where like the Big Lebowski, you can go bowling. At 1 pm, Ed and I called it a night and walked through the rain to the perennial late night fave, Fran’s on Shuter street. We survived and look forward to Santarchy 2017.
Just got back from Bouchercon 2016 held in New Orleans, LA. It was my first visit to this haunted city – and I loved it. Tropical heat, “painted-lady” mansions, ornate ironwork, fin de siècle French cafes, crass voodoo shops (gruesome made in China shrunken heads), a streetcar really named Desire, antique neon signs, fab music…the list is endless.
A bar culture shocking to a Canadian. Alcohol is freely available 24/7. Walgreen’s Drugstore sports shelves and shelves of bourbon. People wander freely about the streets drinking – as long as the container is plastic.
But what did I really want to see? GATORS!Swamp tours out of New Orleans end up at a nature conservancy about an hour’s drive out of the city. Tourists are loaded into flat-bottomed boats named, somewhat disturbingly, Gatorbait!
Our guide climbs on board the Gatorbait carrying a bag of marshmallows. This is not, as we first suppose, a cheap snack for us. No, kiddies, this is the true gator bait! As we are soon to learn, gators love marshmallows. And propelled by their powerful tails, they will jump out of the water for a hotdog on a stick. After all, hotdogs look just like tourist fingers!
Our guide tosses a marshmallow onto the brown brackish water. Impossible to know what lurks beneath the surface. It looks so bland and boring. Until two beady primordial eyes glide to the surface and snap! We’re back in the days of the dinosaurs.
Hey, who cares if the sugar rots the gators’ teeth or clogs their arteries? Gators aren’t endangered, the guide tells us. They’re farmed locally, from eggs collected at the nature preserve. Otherwise the gators would eat them, a twisted sort of birth control. In fact, that’s why they love marshmallows. The candy looks just like gator eggs!
In fact, gators will eat just about anything smaller than them, especially baby alligators. (More birth control.) Someone asks the guide if they eat humans. “Oh, no” he says. “My buds and I swim and jet ski all through the bayou. They’re a lot more scared of us than we are of them.”
Other denizens of the swamp share the gators’ sweet tooth: an egret, a blue heron and a baby wild hog who chomps away at the mushy treats with a wary eye on a nearby, avariciously hungry baby gator.
More interesting facts: gators are territorial (no kidding), they cool off by panting like dogs, food rots in their stomachs if the weather gets too cold and they can live to be 100 years old. Reminds me of certain presidential candidates…
For breakfast we sample gator sausage. Hmm. A bit dry with a taste reminiscent of the mystery meat served up in university cafeterias. Better to eat than to be eaten though…