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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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!
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?
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.
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.
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!
Spring is sprung in a cold Canadian way. Canada geese tread water and shards of ice at our cottage. Getting ready to breed.
And they aren’t alone…
On my friend, Gail Hamilton’s farm, on a warm sunny day, you will encounter THIS!
Buried under the heap of writhing reptiles are some very bothered female garter snakes. ARGH!!
Important to remember though that garter snakes are not venomous and perform a valuable ecological service in keeping down the insect and rodent populations. More of them is a good thing.
Our daughter had a pet garter snake named Slither. Caring for Slither introduced me to Toronto’s strange sub-culture of reptile fanciers. Did you know that they hold fashion shows for iguanas? And that iguanas make intelligent pets? This knowledge inspired me to write my award-winning story, The Lizard, which appeared in Crimespree Magazine, Issue 52 and was reprinted in Kings River Life Magazine, August 2014.
There’s a darker side to reptile fancy, too, starting with “pinky”, the most delectable food that no snake can resist. And what exactly is pinky? A euphemism for fresh frozen baby mice. (Ee-yuck!) Snake hoarding figures in a story I’m drafting now, working title Snake Oil. Stay tuned!
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.
No signs, no nothingat 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!
Gail Hamilton and I first became friends through the Canadian Authors Association. I was in total awe of her because Gail was a publishedauthor - and she earned her living through her writing! To this day, I remain in awe of Gail and her accomplishments. She has had an extensive career as a copywriter and produced nonfiction reference books.Altogether she has written 24 books, including several romance novels for Harlequin and adaptations of the critically acclaimed TV series, Road to Avonlea for Harper Collins.
These days Gail lives on a farm in Prince Edward County, Ontario and has ventured into historical fiction with The Tomorrow Country.A talented nature photographer, she shares a few of her pics today at Cyber Cafe. Visit and learn more about Gail here.
Madeleine has asked me to chat about my blog so here goes.
I started the blog back in 2010 but didn’t take it seriously until a couple of years ago when told all authors need blogs for promotion and I better get busy. I did try but seem constitutionally averse to flogging my work. First it was difficult to think of something new. Second, a blog about writing ends up aimed at writers who already know everything I could talk about and don’t need more about conversations with the cat when stuck. I won’t even mention the constant battles with WordPress.
My next bright idea was to rustle up curious lore from the era of my book, THE TOMORROW COUNTRY, set in Victorian London. Only that dragged me back into a time and place I had long ago left behind. I started avoiding it. The blog, which I had committed to publish every week, suffered yawning gaps. I found so many other things to do on blog day.
The only things I wanted to write about were the rural everyday happenings around me, backed by photos from my trusty little camera. So the blog has evolved into snapshots of country life interspersed with periodic rants on things I feel strongly about: banning bottled water, solving male violence, chronic bad temper in movie monsters.
This worried me until I stumbled upon the concept of relationship marketing. Yes, I cried, that’s what I’m doing. People get to know fascinating me and then rush to read my equally fascinating works. Love the idea!
However, by far the majority of my blog readers are from, of all places, China. Next comes the United States, Ukraine, France and Canada, followed by the Russian Federation, Germany, Poland and a whole raft of other countries that include Sweden, Japan, Turkey, Brazil, Romania, Israel, Viet Nam, Thailand and Hong Kong.
I am at a loss to explain my appeal to the Chinese even as I picture some Beijing urbanite riveted by pioneer plowing in rural Ontario. Nor can I explain my most enduringly popular post, entitled Old Friend Crashes to Earth, about an oak that blew down across the lane. It runs neck on neck with another favourite about the Victorian corset and Waking the Fire Goddess, describing the first lighting of my wood stove in the fall. Titles surely help. A post called Beaver Balls, attracts lots of hits from folks who may even stay to read after finding it’s about mud ball towers marking beaver territory. My theory is that so much of the world’s population is now urbanized and run ragged that there is a hidden thirst for simple messages from the natural world.
Does this blog impact book sales or make more savvy marketers shake their heads? I don’t know. I do know it is the only blog that is going to actually get written because it is so much fun to do.
Greenspan did do his part for society, too. In 1986, he successfully thwarted an attempt by the federal conservatives to restore capital punishment. And he took on controversial cases of self-defence and euthanasia involving ordinary folks.
A brilliant and witty speaker, he was a popular MC at many annual banquets of the Crime Writers of Canada. His epitaph reads appropriately: