SURREAL TRAPDOOR: Marshmallow Salad at the Legion!

You think I’m kidding, dear Readers? No need to wait for a time machine. Merely hop in your  smug-emitting hybrid and head down to Huron County in August.

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Fab fruit & veggies

Fall fairs are big here. It’s still possible to be a big fish, or even a small fry, in your local pond without competing with the millions and millions served on the internet.  You can find fame growing the largest vegetable, making cakes with vegetables, crafting fantasy planters, great pies or jams and pickles.

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Biggest vegetable winner : did aliens visit?
Veggie birthday cake: not as good as money cake!
Veggie birthday cake: my dad would have made me eat it!
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Gandalf lives!

The handmade quilts and tapestries are especially awe-inspiring: all hand sewn. True artistry!!

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Each weed is an individually sewn strand!
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All hand sewn!

Pies are a fall fair staple. Not only in a variety of contests but best of all for eating!  The variety is huge: apple, rhubarb, strawberry, blueberry, pecan, pumpkin, raisin.  If you can dream it, you can enjoy it here.

We manage to drive through Stratford regularly without getting infected by Shakespeare but summer stock comedy greatly appeals so we headed to the Blyth festival. If Truth Be Told turned out to be a well-acted drama about local heroine and Nobel prize winner, Alice Munro.  Sadly we missed the comedy about the turkey baster…

The theatre package included a country supper at the Legion. Awesome! But we hadn’t counted on the current demographic for summer stock theatre. Suffice it to say that we were the youngest by a lot!

Dinner time on the ticket said 6:15 pm. We wandered up and down the main street of Blyth and finally conceding that we were uncharacteristically early, we walked the 50 feet to the Legion. Rule #1, elderly people always arrive early.  Rule #2, don’t get between the geriatrics and food or there will be blood. At 6:00 pm there wasn’t a seat to be had except two up against the wall in the corner at the furthest distance from the bar and the washroom.

My childhood Sunday dinner!
My childhood Sunday dinner!

Food as expected was “meat, potatoes and two veg” and the roast was cooked the way my dad liked it, black all the way through. Portions were huge and the volunteer wait staff friendly. But what’s this? Something that looked like miniature coloured marshmallows in a creamy dressing. No, that couldn’t be. But yes MARSHMALLOW salad! I didn’t think they made rainbow, mini-marshmallows anymore.

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Huron County: the Jurassic Park of retro brands!!

It tasted the way you’d expect it to taste. But when in Rome… And I slather chutney, red pepper jelly, etc on my cheese and meats so the sugar sin was probably the same.

Ed was delighted to find Old Vienna on tap, a beer he hadn’t seen since he guzzled it as an engineering undergrad.  Huron County: the veritable Jurassic Park of retro brands.

And dessert was pie, of course, but lemon meringue and banana cream disappeared long before the waitress ploughed through the crowd to reach our Arctic exile. We settled for pecan and pumpkin – both damn good! – but skipped the watery, grey coffee. Americanos at the fancy new hipster bar across the street proved a salvation – and our true urban nature.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WANDERINGS: Street Art – Defilement & Rebirth

East York wanderings with TO Poet  revealed a fab gallery of street art in East York and motivated me to explore the alleyways of my own hood. My explorations revealed some hidden, lushly vined and mysterious trails, but sad to say, the garage doors and garden walls remain empty canvasses.

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Welcome any artists who venture here…

But how could I forget the Man Fish of Bayview? Our single example of street art, adorning the side wall of a vintage barbershop. I pass by it nearly every day – so often, it’s become invisible via mundanity. I found it defiled by the ubiquitous graffiti tags that lurk in our hood’s hidden corners / canvases. Proof that we’re regularly explored, but, sorry folks, no art yet.

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Defiled Man Fish

So I struck further afield. And there, tucked away in a hidden alley parallel to the  subway tracks, I struck relative gold. The murals decorating the backs of the buildings may reflect the biz enterprises facing Yonge Street.

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TTC car, not exactly as illustrated
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What, no helmet?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Disgruntled diners
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More disgruntled diners

 

 

 

 

 

They ate there?
They ate there?

Even further afield, spectacular treasure on St. Clair Avenue West, an 8-storey masterpiece allegedly the world’s largest street mural by artist, Phlegm, whose black and white surreal visions of the man machine are world famous.

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Birth of the man machine!

Starting July 8, 2016, Phlegm painted the mural via hair-raising swing stage over the next four weeks. He was assisted by Stephanie Bellefleure.  To see the details of the buildings in the figure, have a look here.

The mural was made possible, in part through StreetARToronto (StART), a city department that tries to beautify Toronto through street art – and thereby make it a tourist destination. It funds one well-known artist per year.

Ah-ha! That’s why we stumble upon well-done murals depicting historical or cultural mythology – and other more vibrant and subversive stuff! (More in my next blog)

Phlegm’s 8-storey Man Machine depicts famous Toronto buildings like the CN Tower, Casa Loma, the Mackenzie house, ya-da, ya-da.  Funding etc. also through the STEPS Initiative and Slate Management who wanted to give the Yonge and St. Clair area a much-needed boot up its esthetic, business and cultural arse. Let’s hope it works!

 

SURREAL TRAPDOOR: Barbies…No Escape!

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Ah, Montreal!
NEWS FLASH! Our street's cool took a hit last week when police raided our local weed shop. Sigh! Closed until further notice but its owners urge us to contact our MP's. The cat café is still there though...
Scroll down to read the full blog below: Our Street is Now Cool

 

Visiting Montreal, my fav decayed beauty. Drifted around its Underground City to escape the blistering 35 degree heat and stumbled upon Les Cours Mont-Royal.

Architecturally tres interessant, it sports neat tile work, Harry Potter-like staircases and a 12-storey atrium built into the courtyard of a heritage building. Lots of chandeliers – even in the food courts.  The hoped-for high-end stores? Well, Montreal is broke, people…

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If you build it, they really won’t come. No, really.

But, readers, it was really hot outside so I drifted some more and the Surreal Trapdoor opened at the Barbie Expo. Argh!

I am American!
I am American!

Quintessentially American, the expo displays hundreds of Barbies in glass cases and professes to give all donations to a crippled children’s charity.  Many of the dolls represent American icons, see Statue of Liberty above, as well as show biz idols. Witness Exhibit A:

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Wicked Witch of the West
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Tippi Hedren in The Birds
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Carol Burnett

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Barbie is big biz. Loadsa money made from little girls who have absorbed gender stereotyping from birth. Look like the straight white American male’s sex fantasy and rake in money and status: big boobs, big hair and an empty plastic head are your ticket to ride!

Little clue, this James Bond diorama. The ultimate straight white male fantasy: every woman is a Barbie!

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I’ll take the Daniel Craig doll though! Om, nom, nom!

I guess you can tell I’m not a fan. Proud to say neither was our daughter. Her favorite trick was to put Barbie’s plastic head on her index finger and recite: “I have a little tiny brain.”

To keep up with the times, I spotted some bizarre turns. Ethnic and show-girl costumes are interchangeable. Witness more Exhibit A:

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Politically incorrect Barbie
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Buy shoes!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have to admit though that I kinda liked this one:

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Zombie bride Barbie!

WANDERINGS: Montreal’s Decayed Beauty

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Spectacular ruin seen along the Lachine canal

As a kid growing up in Ottawa, a trip to Montreal was a Big Deal.  At the time, it was bustling, vibrant, the only Canadian city known to the outside world.  Then the separatists happened. Sun Life moved to Toronto, taking business and commerce with it and Montreal became a relative ghost town.

A phrase from Denys Arcand’s film, The Decline of the American Empire, comes to mind: “It is pleasant to live during a decline.” Humanity overshadows the military – you simply can’t pay for all those soldiers and weapons.  Simple pleasures – food, wine, relationships – are the order of the day.

Voila Montreal! The best food and social programs in Canada. Great bars and restos, fab festivals winter and summer.  Affordable housing.  What’s not to like? The city’s new axiom is distilled in this artist’s street painting below: I want to rest in peace before I die.20160518_121320

And, in keeping with Montreal’s sparkling culture, amazing street art. Feast your eyes, readers. (Click on each image to view in more detail.) 

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Business fleeing to Toronto?
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Ghost city

 

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Resurgence of humanity
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Rebirth

 

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Explosion of culture
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Bird of prey?

 

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Twilight birdie
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With the setting sun, the Mayans rise again

 

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Improvements to the Lachine Canal

 

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Beauty outlasts all. This famous diner’s owner is 90+ and still works there every day!

Wanderings with TO Poet: Alley Art

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Typical boring alley…you think

TO Poet’s keen eye finds beauty in the oddities and detritus of hidden Toronto. (Enjoy his pics on Tumbler here.)  He’s an early riser and dedicated walker. Recently, he led me through the back alleys of East York to view some amazing art.

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Welcome all art lovers who enter here

East York, until 1998, was Canada’s only borough.  In 1924, the 600 or so residents, pissed about their apparently inferior roads and sewers,  voted against joining the City of Toronto.  For decades the area remained dry, ie no serving of alcohol. so its southern edge, Bloor-Danforth Street, became the sinful watering hole. Prohibition was only abandoned in the 1970’s!

Most Torontonians associate East York with WWII veterans who flooded the area in 1940’s.  The houses are tiny by today’s standards, typically bungalows with high basements, metal awnings over the cement front steps and trim, if conventional gardens.

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Characteristic street

So one might expect street art to be scarce. Not so! Garage doors are the preferred canvas. View here: (BTW for a better view and deets, click on each pic.)

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Neat abstract
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Crazy Penguin

 

 

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Crazy fish

 

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Water lilies
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Aquarium bubbles
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Conventional calligraphy
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Abstract calligraphy
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Space rocket motorbike

Garage walls also offer opportunity. Especially corner walls.

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Sleep of spring
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I see you

 

 

 

 

 

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Mother chick
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Mystical tech support

 

 

 

 

 

 

And regular walls:

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Wolves de rigueur
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21st century Rousseau

 

 

 

 

 

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Self portrait?
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Conventional skull motif

 

 

 

 

 

Or an interesting take on fence paint:

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Originally and staunchly British, East York’s population is now almost 50% foreign born. As a student, I survived on the beloved Greek steam table and souvlaki  restaurants along the Danforth. Gentrification has swept these away, but not this feast for the eyes.

 

 

WANDERINGS: The Ride to Conquer Cancer 2016

Greetings readers!

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Toronto Street Art: Ride to Conquer Cancer

Just completed my 9th Ride to Conquer Cancer, a 213 km marathon charity bike ride from Toronto to Niagara Falls via Hamilton. The Ride is the biggest fundraising success story in Canada. This year over 4000 cyclists raised $17+million for the Princess Margaret Cancer Research Centre, which has spear-headed individual cancer therapy.

My friend, Andre and I did the inaugural Ride in 2008 and it had by far the best spirit. People rode everything from carbon fibre racing machines to old clunkers pulled out of the garage. No cops doing traffic: instead we relied on a friendly motor cycle club. Road signs got lost or misplaced. The route was tres hilly, too. I remember falling into bed at 6 pm, completely exhausted after finishing that first day.

Since then, every year never fails to be an adventure due to the vagaries of weather or the misadventures of crazy cyclists. This year was no exception. 

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Start at Ex Day 1

Here you see me and my buddy, Marci, at the start of the Ride in Toronto. (That’s me on the left.) We were worried about the predicted thunderstorms hence the rain gear. Instead we got major crosswinds that threatened to blow us off the road as we struggled up and down a hilly course in 35 degree weather (that’s 85 Fahrenheit). Almost impossible to avoid serious dehydration: I downed 2 litres of Gatorade en route!

We did get our reward at the end of Day 1 though: 15 km of speedy downhill to the McMaster University finish line and two beers each! To be shared with our faithful husbands and support crew.

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Enjoying much-earned beer with road crew, Tim

Day 2 dawned clear and much cooler. The wind was behind us and we pumped our way through 119 km of undulating wine country. Beautiful!

Riding with 4000+ cyclists is hazardous. We saw 3 accidents involving 3-tiered response with wailing ambulances. The compulsory safety video doesn’t sink in for many participants who freewheel down hills at 30 MILES per hour, pass too closely and indulge in forbidden drafting.

Many participants sported road rash or suffered bike breakdowns. Fancy road bikes do not fare well on rough, pot-holed roads. Elite cyclists may despise my faithful hybrid, which is slow on hills, but it’s rugged and has held me up through thousands of kilometres.

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Crossing the finish at Niagara Falls

Next year will be the 10th anniversary of the Ride. Did I sign up? Sure! And so did Marci. More adventures to be had in defeating this horrible disease!

Wanderings: Street Art and Alleys

My friend, TO Poet, loves Toronto’s hidden alleys: the laneways that run between the backyards of houses or the houses themselves. He collects images of strange tableaux he runs across on his wanderings: this week abandoned wall units.  View TO Poet’s photos on Tumblr where he posts Tuesdays and Sundays here and check out his website here.

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Biological beer can that bleeds?

The word “alley” – no doubt the corruption of the French word “allee” –  means roadway.  In the past, when land was cheap, in Domestic Land, alleys played the role of the servants’ back stairs,  giving access to garages, garbage cans and compost heaps.

Not so in the city core. There alleys become romantic, sinister, intriguing, seductive. In noir film and literature, urban alleys are the main stage for thefts, assaults, fights and, of course, death.

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Scary urban alley by daylight

Now on my training rides, I’m more and more tempted to steer my bike into these beckoning non-fairways. Taking a short cut, I discovered some fab street art! Feast your eyes, readers!

Strange dino-beasts
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Trash & Star Trek Pt 1
Trash & Star Trek Pt.2
Trash & Star Trek Pt.2

 

 

 

 

 

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Don’t believe all you read!
Even Enterprise crew washes their tights
Even Enterprise crew washes their tights

 

 

 

WANDERINGS: Viaducts, Street Art and Suicides

I’m training  for my 9th Ride to Conquer Cancer. Up to now, I’ve braved icy roads and braced frigid head winds.  Finally this week decent conditions, so I took my favorite route down the Don Valley trail.

Spring at last!
Spring at last!

The trail meanders between the bucolic waters  of the Don River and the ear-deafening stream of cars along the Don Valley Expressway.  It’s frequented by dog walkers, elderly hikers, birdwatchers, other bike maniacs, a few homeless and the odd city worker doing some nameless, incomprehensible task.

Street artists have been hard at work, too. Crossing under a viaduct, I spot this amazing painting.

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Street Art at base of viaduct

Sadly the viaducts are a favorite of suicides.  The enormous Bloor viaduct sports a remarkable barrier that has proven 100% effective in prevention though cynics point out that it may merely drive unfortunates north to this one.

 Structurally beautiful, the Bloor viaduct barrier was created by Harvard-educated architect, Ellis Kirkland, who originally designed it to be lit up at night.

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Bloor Street Viaduct Wannabe

In a macabre twist of fate, Kirkland became the centre of a downtown drama last month. She stabbed the concierge at her apartment building, fled and was rescued from jumping off a 27th floor balcony at a nearby hotel.  Fortunately, both she and the concierge survived. Read the full and tragically ironic story here.

 

WANDERINGS: Expo 67 Then & Now

Nothing is more absurd than people’s vision of the future – anon

Last winter, on a visit to Montreal, our daughter insisted we visit La Fete des Neiges, which is held in Park Jean Drapeau, the former site of Expo 67. I was overcome by curiosity.  What did the site look like now, nearly 50 years later?

Hey it's the 1960's. Women weren't persons!
Hey it’s the 1960’s. Women weren’t persons!

Expo 67 was a Big Deal to Canada. It marked our 100th birthday. We had to to show the world that Canada was a real country, not just a British Dominion. History affirms we were successful.

I remember only snippets from our family visits to Expo: like the Sputnik chocolate ice cream sundae I enjoyed at the Russian pavilion. And the split-screen films re-introduced by the National Film Board.

Ghostly American Pavilion
Ghostly American Pavilion

Today virtually nothing remains. Nature has taken over. The site is covered by trees and bush. And the Fete des Neiges is sweet, low-key and family-oriented. Furries entertain the kids, people skate and snow tube and we enjoyed mulled wine and maple syrup poured on snow. Post industrialism lives!

Wasn't the future wonderful?
Wasn’t the future wonderful?

Expo 67’s vision of our future seems absurdly rosy – even quaint.  Were we really expected to live in upside down pyramids, geodesic domes and Gaudi-like apartments? My friend Deb and her parents lived a year in the Habitat apartments as a future model family: isn’t that something to tell your kids?expo-canada

 

 

 

 

Wasn’t the future wonderful? It’s as though resources and land were infinite. Mind you, the burden of overpopulation isn’t acknowledged or envisioned even today. 

Habitat for Humanity
Habitat for Humanity – Gaudi would have loved it!
Monorail!
Monorail punctures Bucky Ball!

Strange what has survived from Expo 67 and what has not. La Ronde, the amusement park, was considered tres low-brow and tacky. Well, folks, it’s still there and thriving!

And so, I’m happy to say, is my secret favorite, the American Pavilion. 

I loved it! It had the longest escalator in the world at the time: 37 metres straight up. The monorail drove right through it! And I could watch the crop-dusting plane chase Cary Grant in North by Northwest over and over again. What was not to like?

Critics opined though the exhibits were vacuous pop culture. They wanted meaty hi-tech and military muscle.  They considered the dome a flimsy temporary construct of scaffolding and plastic that might not last the exhibition.

Well, they were nearly right. On May 20, 1976, the acrylic plastic sheathing caught fire and the pavilion burned up in 30 minutes. Here’s the video.

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Bucky burns!

The steel lattice survived though. In 1990  Environment Canada created an environmental museum inside it. Today the biosphere showcases climate change, ecotechnologies and sustainable development.  Bio Bucky: Our real future!

 

 

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Restored Bio Bucky!

 

 

 

 

 

WANDERINGS: Bikes and Banksy

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Outside training for The Ride begins in mid-March. And yes, those bits of yellow and purple poking through the dead leaves are crocuses! And that’s my shadow snapping the pic.

I can’t lie, dear Readers, riding a bike in Toronto in mid-March is COLD. You start to pray for heavy duty hills to get the blood flowing, because unlike running, you never warm up on a bike. You slowly get chillier and chillier until your hands and feet refuse to move. If the wind is really bad, you seize up too much to climb off your trusty wheels to stagger into the warmth of that beckoning doughnut store.

But, hey, that’s part of training! On the upside, when biking, you FEEL the world, discover unseen treasures…surreal trapdoors…

 This Sunday, layered in dorky bike gear, I headed out along the Beltline Trail. This defunct 19th century railway is now an 8 km trail used by runners, cyclists and dog walkers.   Most people use the 5 km section of hard-packed dirt; only locals know about the 3 km paved section on the west side of the Allen Expressway. And that’s the pouffy part with historical plaques and stuff.

20160320_135141No signs, no nothing at the east end. To access it, you have to sneak past a body shop and down a narrow sidewalk bordering a townhouse.  I stumbled upon the far west end by accident on an 80 km ride back from the Humber. 

Winter has been hard on the trail. Gates are flaking rusty metal, the plastic covering on the map / plaques has splintered into thousands of cracks. Vandals have scrawled insults sorely lacking in wit or originality.

Then suddenly TREASURE! I adore Banksy and Shepherd Fairey. And here was my reward for braving the cold: a Toronto WOW. Amazing use of building fixtures – and abandoned scary trucks. Enjoy!

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Green tiger burning bright

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Building fan fits in
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Fab croc and entrail design

 

Cool fish
Cool fish
More conventional
More conventional
Scary truck
Scary truck
Scary Easter Bunny
Scary Easter Bunny