Ride #4 – Victory Lap! The Beaches, The Lake and Downtown

The 2021 Virtual Ride to Conquer Cancer took place over two days, the August 28-29th weekend. For Ride #4, my final pledge ride, I picked Saturday, August 28th, mostly because my parents got married on that date in 1943, nearly 80 years ago!

 

 

Ed snapped this pic of me as I headed out, wearing my yellow Ambassador’s jersey. The weather looked cloudy and unsettled so I skipped the opening speeches on YouTube to beat the heat.

I rode east to Bayview and turned south, treating myself to a 1 km downhill zoom to the Don Valley bike trail that runs parallel to the Bayview Extension – an easy ride past the Brickworks and Rosedale Valley Road to River Street.

Thanks to COVID, the City has made the tail end of Bayview Extension one way and carved off half a lane for a new bike path.  That deposited me squarely into the Canary District and the corporate art therein.

Where is Fight Club?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A moment of nostalgia for the super-techs at Gears Bike Store: they fixed my flat in 15 minutes during the 2020 virtual Ride. They’ve now relocated north to King St.  The Canary District looked deserted: not the eastern twin of overbuilt Liberty Village…yet.

I decided to take the lakeshore trail to stay out of traffic and use the headwind to ward off the promised heat.

Passing under the Gardiner Expressway, I took in the gallery of street art.

Murals worth a special visit
Fav detail: not exactly Ru Paul though

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Skater park

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once again, it was a fast ride with the west wind behind me.  The lake looked spectacular though the rain clouds did look ominous.

Beaches turnaround
Storm warning

 

 

 

 

 

Few people were out this morning. I passed the occasional dog walker and happily connected and chatted with a fellow Rider who was doing her third Ride.  By the time I reached the Distillery District for my usual Balzac’s break, I was almost exactly halfway done.  Waiting for Ed to drive down to join me, I found some neat things: the original shoreline of Lake Ontario memorialized and the LOVE sculpture.

Beyond this line, trash and infill from building Toronto!
Love spelled in padlocks

Pledging eternal love by using a padlock originated in Europe in the early 2000s even though the origin is sad. During WWI a young Serbian woman fell in love with a soldier and they put a padlock on the Bridge of Love. He left her for another and she died of heartbreak.

 

Not a great recommendation but since 2000,  lovers have placed locks on bridges and fences throughout the world. In Paris, the Pont des Arts was so overloaded that in 2014 part of its parapet collapsed. Cities now routinely remove these padlocks. Some, taking a more positive route, invite people to create sculptures like LOVE above. Read more about love locks here.

Halfway there!
Welcome break!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After coffee, I cycled out along the Lakeshore bike path to my usual turnaround point at the Humber Bridge and Palace Pier.

On the bridge, I met and chatted with a team of fellow riders, all wearing yellow jerseys. They all work for the same software company and were riding for the father of the young woman with them.  A heartfelt moment and reminder of why we ride.

On the way back, I began to feel the heat, but luckily I was nearing the end of the journey. I turned up Bay Street and kept to the lane reserved for bikes, cabs and buses. I played chicken with three buses all the way up to Belmont Street. With relief,  I turned right and from there went north onto Yonge St.

Summerhill LCBO clock tower
50 km done!

Once again, thanks to COVID, the City has installed a bike lane up Yonge St. starting at Bloor  St. It was the fastest way home for me though it did mean two thigh-burning climbs between Summerhill and St. Clair Ave.

Happily when I passed the Summerhill clock tower, I hit the 50 km mark! After I reached St. Clair, I had a quick pedal through the calm of Mt. Pleasant Cemetery, said hello to the boys and arrived home in time for lunch.  Total distance: 53.422 km!!

The Boys
Home and done!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This was my 14th Ride. Did I sign up for next year? Of course, I did. Who could say no to a pair of stylish socks like these?

Apparently only 64 riders have done the Toronto Ride every single year since the inaugural one in 2008. I’m one of them!

On to training for 2022 and big hugs and many, many thanks for your wonderful support of cancer research at Princess Margaret Hospital.

 

 

RIDE #3 – Beltline – Traffic- The Humber Trail

Hello again Donors and Readers!

Here at last is my blog on Ride #3. (Spoiler alert: I did successfully complete my four pledged rides for a total of  200 km!)  

Tuesday, August 24th I headed west to the Humber River one of my favorite trails.  Getting there from mid-town Toronto unfortunately requires a hair-raising pedal through traffic.  I started out early to beat the  promised scorching heat.  The first few kilometers were along the cool shade of the Beltline trail.

Tout est possible – a fav landmark!

The Beltline trail follows the path of a commuter railway that opened in 1892.  It never turned a profit and only lasted two years. For almost a century afterwards Torontonians wrangled over how to use the land until David Crombie, Toronto’s tiny perfect mayor, turned it into a bike path. (If you’re having a sleepless night, you can read the detailed history of bureaucracy and indecision here. )

Hidden western entrance to York Beltline Trail
Pylons and not much else – York Trail

As a runner, I was familiar with the Kay Gardner section that runs from Mt. Pleasant Cemetery to the Allen Expressway. There my buddies and I would literally “hit the wall” before looping back, 11 km roundtrip from the Pearly  Gates on Bayview. I ran across the York section west of Allen Road purely by accident, actually coming east from the Humber. The access from the west is well hidden down a narrow sidewalk past an auto bodyshop and as The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Galaxy would say behind the sign saying “Beware of the leopard”.

The York Trail is belied by the overgrown entrance. It’s actually quite exposed and bland, running as many rec trails do, under a set of hydro wires and pylons. But behind a set of industrial buildings, there’s some neat street art.

The Leopard??
Optimistic name I think

 At the end of the Beltline, I pedal back along Bowie to Montgomery and cut through Prospect Cemetery, which bears a striking resemblance to Mt. Pleasant Cemetery, which is hardly surprising since they were designed by the same people. Prospect is bigger than Mt. Pleasant, consisting of three pleasantly green sections to ride through despite a steep climb midway. 

You might think that Prospect provides a lengthy stretch in which to contemplate one’s own mortality, but death is far more imminent on the next part of my route which follows St. Clair Avenue west until it ends at Scarlett Street.

There are no – and I mean NO – accommodations for cyclists along busy St. Clair. Stay alert, stay alive. I watch for car doors opening, street car tracks and open air patios that have narrowed the thoroughfare to one lane. In some sections, I beat a retreat to the sidewalk.  Better to be humbled into walking with pedestrians than blending in with the traffic in a grisly way.

The misnamed Peter Pan minimart is sadly no more
Good street art though

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At last, the Humber River

I’m much relieved to turn onto Scarlett Street and its bike path. It’s a speedy downhill ride for the most part to the quiet refuge of the Humber River trails.

Cool painted curbstones along Scarlett

 

 

The northern parts of the trail are wilder and susceptible to flooding. One spring, a cycling team mate and I watched an enormous snapping turtle swim across our path. 

 

In 1954, Hurricane Hazel struck Toronto with winds of 115 km/hr. The Humber, Don and Rouge Rivers overflowed and killed 81 people, destroying nearly 2000 homes. After this disaster, Toronto no longer builds on floodplains and developed an early warning weather system.  Today though the trail is dry. I say hello to the few hikers and wave to the kids at a bike camp.

The Humber Trail has a general downgrade interspersed with some short steep hills.  Long sections are being rebuilt in the section north of Old Mill Road. I’m glad that my trusty bike is a hybrid and that Ed pumped up my tires as I negotiate the gravel and mud. 

Old Mill TTC station and street art

 South of Old Mill, the trail gets challenging with two heart thumper climbs out of the valley. There’s a short section that detours through city streets before I reach my midway point and the last part of the Humber trail.

It’s now a downhill zoom through a wood and field flowers. One of my fav features along the trail is the Oculus, a UFO-inspired 1950s pavilion designed by British architect, Alan Crossley, and engineer, Laurence Cazaly.  Over the years, Oculus had been defaced by tag graffiti and the City considered demolishing it. Happily, in 2019, it was saved. It’s now an art installation complete with alien graphics. (See pics below.)

 

Happily cleaned up Oculus
Space adventure explanation

 

 

 

 

 

At the pedestrian bridge by Palace Pier, I turn east for the 15 km journey along the lake shore.  I pass a kid-friendly dinosaur playground. Along the way I pass one of Toronto’s saddest ghost bicycles, a memorial to a 5 year old boy killed when he fell into Lake Shore traffic.   

Sad memorial
I still love dinosaurs

 

 

It’s full sun by now and 30+ degrees. Too hot even for biking. No free Perrier today at Ontario Place. At Balzacs in the Distillery District,  I treat myself to an iced coffee before taking my usual route home: up Sherbourne through Summerhill and Mt. Pleasant cemetery.

Home at last and my third  pledged 50 km ride is done

 

 

RIDE #2 – Virtual Ride to Conquer Cancer – Don Valley and The Lake

Greetings Donors and Readers!

Ride #2  completed! Today Ed persuaded me to put on my 2021 Ambassador’s jersey ahead of the official virtual ride date. One way to tell the world about The Ride to Conquer Cancer, so I did.

Ready to go!

Because of the weather forecast for August 20th  –  full sun and soaring temperatures of 30+ degrees – I opted for the shadiest and coolest bike routes through the Don Valley and along the lake.

Slippery metal grid

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I headed down early into Sunnybrook. This morning I chose the Serena Gundy entrance just east of Laird Avenue, a narrow steep hill that swings down through some pretty parkland that’s a favorite of day camps. A scary metal grid bridge crosses the West Don before dumping cyclists out between two huge boulders into a parking lot.

Serena Gundy, late wife of founder of Wood Gundy stock brokerage.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cool day camp artwork

The park was donated by James Gundy, one of the founders of Wood Gundy, in memory of his late wife, Serena. WG used to be one of Canada’s biggest stock brokerage firms before CIBC absorbed it in 1988. When I first entered the finance biz, the principle of “The Four Pillars” was sacrosanct. Banks, stock brokerages, insurance and, I believe, credit unions operated in separate silos to protect customers. However, the Four Pillars vanished in 1980s. Now banks sell you stocks and insurance.  Thirty years later our financial world, fingers crossed, has not collapsed.

Hope you’ll never this!
black and white skunk
Generic pic – didn’t want to stop

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At The Teeth and Tout Est Possible, I turned right and headed onto the North Don Valley trail for 5 km. This is one of my favorite trails, sheltered, well-paved and mostly downgrade. The Don River seems tame, but it can get wild in spring to the delight of kayakers.  it’s also burst its bank and flooded roads many times.

I’ve encountered plenty of small wild life here – even a deer once!  Today I noticed a group of people gathered around… a skunk! Luckily it wasn’t mad.

I crossed over Pottery Road onto the South Don Valley trail, which has lots of neat artwork along the way. Sadly during COVID, many of the official Toronto Street Art murals have been obliterated by tags. See below:

Not an empty canvas anymore
Today even Garfield is gone

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Halfway along, I encountered several trucks, workmen and assorted equipment blocking the route. They were obliterating the graffiti tags with a smooth cement coating. This doesn’t work. The punks love it. The cement leaves an empty canvas for, you guessed it, more tags.

The gargoyle garden is happily not damaged, but at the end of the trail, several of my favorites are.

Another favorite
Not doing well

I met Ed at the Distillery District for a coffee at Balzac’s. Life feels almost normal on summer day.

Now that craft beers taken over, artisans are taking up custom spirits, too. We spotted this interesting entrance. Wouldn’t it make a great location for Noir at the Bar?

Very cool!

Temperatures stayed manageable by the lake. I headed west along Queen’s Quay and the Martin Goodman trail, marking my midway point at the Windmill by Exhibition Place.

 

 

Green energy demo
Halfway!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s a 30 km loop along the lakeshore trail from the Distillery District to the Humber River and back. I passed several landmarks: Sunnyside Beach, the Ex and Marilyn Bell park.

Marilyn Bell, swimmer
Marilyn Bell

On September 9, 1954, Marilyn Bell, at only 16 years of age, became the first person to swim Lake Ontario.  Entering the water at Youngstown, New York, she fought through lamprey eels, hypothermia, oil spills and high waves to land close to Sunnyside 21 hours later. Winds and currents blew her off course so that she actually swam 72 km instead of the planned 51.5 km.  She’s a true hero who inspired many marathon swimmers, including Vicki Keith, the lady of all five Great Lakes.

Marilyn Bell

To learn more about these remarkable women and the unusual sport of marathon swimming, I recommend my friend, Laura E. Young’s book, Solo Yet Never Alone. Marilyn Bell retired at only 18 after swimming the Straits of Juan de Fuca. She chose to lead her own life, married and became a teacher, mother and grandmother. Now 83, she lives in a retirement home in New York State. Despite a spinal injury, she still swims!

On my way back from Palace Pier, I stopped to look at the lake. Lots of sailing boats out with both blue and white sails. As a child, learning to sail with my dad, my dream was to own a wood-hulled Dragon with blue sails. It’s now a vintage sail boat with its own fans and niche regattas.

Perfect day to be out on the water
See the source image
The Dragon – lots of maintenance with a wood boat!

When I passed by the inukshuk, I got lucky.  Perrier had set up a pop-up / guerilla marketing booth handing out ice-cold cans of a new product to cyclists: Perrier water flavored with fruit and laced with Yerba Mate.  Free caffeine! Just what I needed.

Inukshuk icon
A miracle!
Redpath  in 2008 – no condos!

It’s remarkable how much the waterfront has changed in the past 10 years. In 2008, the Redpath sugar refinery was easily the largest of the few buildings along the eastern part of Queen’s Quay.

Dusty forgotten sign

Today I had a hard time finding it, dwarfed  and hemmed in by several monolithic condo towers. Even the sign to the Redpath museum looked dusty. It’s no longer Redpath and no longer a Canadian company. The caramel tang of melting sugar is overwhelmingly strong. Wonder what the condo dwellers make of it?

 

Home!

I pedaled over to lower Sherbourne and took the bike lane for the fastest way home: up through Rosedale, Moore Park and Mt. Pleasant Cemetery. I was happy that my calculations were correct as it was getting too hot even to bike.

Home at exactly 50 km!

EAT THIS BOOK: Forgotten Writer #5 – Lia Matera and Star Witness or UFO’s and Me

As a kid I was space mad. I longed to become an astronaut or an astronomer. And while I was growing up, sightings of UFO’s were prominent in the news.  I became convinced that space aliens were visiting  our planet.

Maybe that’s why I have fond memories of Lia Matera’s thriller, Star Witness, the fifth book in her Willa Jansson series. The book opens with a hit-between-the-eyes description of a horrific road accident: a sporty Fiat has dived into the roof of an old Buick, squishing the driver. The owner of the Fiat, Alan, has vanished. When the police locate him, he claims he was abducted by aliens. They’re the ones who dropped his car on the Buick!

It falls to grumpy lawyer, Willa Jansson to defend Alan and his incredible alibi. But delving into reports of UFO’s and encounters of the third kind, her skepticism dissolves. Holy Cartman’s anal probe!

Matera did a deep dive into UFO’s and weird encounters and included a listing of books and videos at the end of Star Witness. In her foreword  she describes how  her personal skepticism took a journey much like Willa Jansson’s.

Even today in Canada, we have firm believers in UFO’s. (Check out the meet-ups in Toronto alone!) Many years ago, I met and chatted with one of BC’s leading UFO believers thanks to my friend, retired filmmaker, Chris Windsor.

Chris had studied film making at UBC while I slogged away at my doctorate in organic chemistry. His student film, Roofman, was a huge hit with audiences at the university. That success and his talent landed him a job making industrial training films in Alberta. Mind-numbing and soul-destroying to be sure, but at least he was earning a living in his chosen profession.

In his spare time, Chris began working on a documentary about UFO’s.  By then I was living in Victoria and writing my PhD thesis. Out of the blue one afternoon, Chris phoned. Would I help him out on a film shoot? He and his cinematographer were in town to interview the President of BC’s UFO Society.

Boy that was a hard choice – cranking out dry scientific prose or skiving off with two friends  to explore UFO’s. Hell, yes!

The three of us headed off in Chris’s car to interview the UFO President at his house in a rural part of Vancouver Island. He turned out to be a  kindly middle-aged man who lived in a tidy, respectable middle class home: he looked and acted like our dads though if memory serves, he did don a tinfoil hat.  And his belief in UFO’s was absolute.

I’ll always owe Chris for that amazing life experience. I don’t know what happened with his UFO documentary, because shortly after that I handed in my thesis, graduated and moved back to Ontario.

So what happened to Lia Matera and Chris Windsor? Lia Matera , herself a  lawyer, was chief editor of the Constitutional Law Quarterly and a teaching fellow at Stanford Law School, when she took up crime writing. She wrote the Willa Jansson and Laura Di Palma series of crime novels, twelve books in all, plus a dozen short stories. Her work collected several nominations for leading awards: the Edgar, Anthony and Macavity. She won the Shamus award in 1996.

Matera wrote from 1987 to 1996 then very little thereafter though Ellery Queen Magazine published her chilling tale, “Snow Job” as recently as 2019. Did she go back to law? Did she retire? The crime writing world is poorer for it!

Chris did go on to make a feature film, Big Meat Eater, a horror comedy that was released in 1982.  It got favorable reviews and was a finalist at the 1983 Genies  for Best Original Screenplay, but it never became a huge hit.  Chris told me that unfortunately, as a Canadian film it was eclipsed by the American film, Eating Raoul, another horror comedy about cannibalism.

Andrew Gillies, Chris’s star in Roofman and Big Meat Eater went on to have a long career as a stage and film actor, with roles in The Virgin Suicides and Orphan Black. 

Sadly, Chris left the film business. He may simply have burned out. To learn about the arduous art of film making, read his excellent article in the Georgia Strait here. He now lives in Asia where he has worked for many years.

VALUE: So what’s my used paperback copy of Star Witness worth on Abe Books? About $2 to $8US.  It doesn’t appear to be available in Canada

BOTTOM LINE: Keep. In honour of UFO’s!

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE RIDE TO CONQUER CANCER: RIDE #4 Don Valley – The Beaches- Exhibition Place- Downtown Toronto

50 km done! Thank you wonderful Donors!!

Hello Readers!

Saturday August 29th was the 2020 virtual Ride to Conquer Cancer – and my 4th and final pledge ride of 50 km.

On Friday I picked up my official blue jersey from the mid-town Ride office. Distancing in the line-up, I  happily ran into a friend from yoga class – and fellow rider. We almost didn’t recognize each other with our masks on.

The virtual event was a new experience.  Saturday morning I dutifully logged onto YouTube to  listen to the opening speeches, which were inspiring – and short.  I learned that 4000 Riders would be cycling throughout Ontario – and indeed all over the world, even in the mountains of Columbia.

Speeches done, I set off on my final 50 km.  It felt strange not to see Niagara Falls at the end and to ride solo. The sky looked ominously dark. The weather report called for scattered thunderstorms. But so what – I’ve ridden through thunderstorms on The Ride before.

Lyndhurst Hospital gates

I cut down through Leaside and entered Sunnybrook Park through Lyndhurst Hospital. The big hill down was slick from the night’s rain and my sunglasses fogged up immediately from the humidity. I took it slow.

The sun came out as I passed the dog park and paused to wipe off my glasses. Then off for a beautiful, easy morning ride through the park. Very few people about.  I met my first fellow Rider halfway along the trail. The poor guy was fixing his punctured tire, but kindly refused my offers to help.

They do NOT look like elephants

Thinking, been there, did that on Ride #3 and wishing him the good luck I had,  I reach “The Teeth” and turn south onto the Don Valley trail.

Gargoyle park

The Upper Don Valley trail is getting busy. MAMELS, runners, dog walkers, other cyclists. I wave to a corporate team of Riders at the Pottery Road crossover and embark on the equally busy Lower Don path.

Sad to see the official, i.e. commissioned, street art murals steadily defaced by “tags” this past season. The murals in the tunnel of the Belleville underpass are pretty much obliterated.

Diver defaced but Garfield stands strong
Exit from Belleville underpass.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At Lakeshore, I turn east and head under the concrete arches of the Gardiner toward The Beaches. I pass many icons: Ashbridge sewage works, the movie studios, Canadian Tire mega store and the skater’s park with its cool art.

Street art and tags encouraged here

It’s now mid-morning and the beaches are getting really crowded despite the many signs warning to “keep ur distance”.
Pedaling feels remarkably fluid and fast.  I know from experience that this means strong headwinds from the west behind me. I zoom along in top gear, thinking smugly how well my training has paid off, but when I turn around…

At the turnaround by Balmy Beach I prepare myself for a slog.

Beautiful garden at turnaround

 

 

The Beach and dredging in the harbour

 

 

 

 

Riding against a headwind can be a humbling experience. I cope by gearing down and “spinning”. In other words, my feet go round and round the pedals in low gear like a hamster on a wheel. Several stony-thighed MAMELS pass me, but they may not know an endurance runner’s secret: always conserve energy.

Halfway!
NOMS!

I reached the 25 km halfway mark at the Beaches turnaround. Delighted to rendezvous with Ed at Balzac’s cafe in the Distillery District to nosh down my reward of coffee and delicious chocolate banana muffin!

Fav stopover in the Distillery District

By the time we’ve finished our coffee break, the skies have cleared. I head west in brilliant sunshine, cross over Lakeshore and take the crazy-busy Queen’s Quay bike trail. At least no construction trucks today.

I pass and wave to many Riders wearing the blue RIDE ON bike jersey.  The headwinds have subsided somewhat.  At Princes Gate  the southern half of Lakeshore Blvd has been closed off to traffic, allowing more space to humans. (Maybe Toronto’s imitating Paris which closes the road along the Seine every Sunday morning so that cyclists and walkers can enjoy the river bank in peace.)

This is too good to pass up. Besides, for every Ride, the City of Toronto closes  Lakeshore Blvd to allow 5000 Riders to get to Mississauga. The weather turns stormy again by the time I reach the end of Exhibition Park.

Seagulls only, no Riders in this empty parking lot

For nostalgia, I cross through Exhibition Park. Normally the crazy, sleazy Ex would be in full swing now. Ed loves it, especially the “Pure Foods” like deep fried butter and Canada’s favorite, Tiny Tom donuts.   Sadly, Tom Brazier, the founder died earlier this year but his family will be carrying on his well-loved business. (See the history on video on the Tiny Tom Donut website.)

I return to the lakeshore trail via a handy pedestrian bridge and turn east for home. I’m already at 42 km!

Getting there

Because it’s Saturday, I decide to try the bike lanes through downtown Toronto. At Spadina, I take a new  trail through the generically-named Southern Linear Park, pass The Dome and the Aquarium (you can get Tiny Tom donuts there) and pay tribute to the great Steam Whistle Brewery.

Heading home

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Front of Steam Whistle brew pub
Riders reward

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Since the very first Ride in 2008, Steam Whistle has been rewarding thirsty Riders with TWO beers at the end of each day. (Ed as road crew gets his beer!) Here’s me celebrating the end of my very first Ride.

Steamwhistle forever!

I’m really impressed with the new bike trails through downtown. I remember biking to work during various TTC strikes wondering if I’d make it home in one piece. Now I spot Bike Share everywhere. Progress at long last!

Up Simcoe, a short dash along Queen St., then onto Bay St. with its single lane reserved for buses, cabs and cyclists. I definitely feel rain drops now and eye various options for shelter just in case.

Despite the thundery-looking heavens, I take a minute to salute Queen’s Park, my old employer and  IT client. At the site of what was probably the ugliest government building in Ontario, there’s an enormous multi-story wrapped in flapping construction paper like an erstwhile Christo / Jeanne Claude artwork.

The building I remember – where we IT consultants were consigned – was a square cement low-rise, dingy, poorly lit and without a single bit of decoration.  For years, it housed the Ontario Publications book store on the ground floor. (Please contain your excitement!)

Vast improvement though NOT Christo / Jeanne Claude

The most remarkable thing about the building was its survivability. Perhaps its dowdiness convinced taxpayers the Government of Ontario wasn’t wasting their money (ha!ha!).

But even the most hardy disappear in the end. I’m not sure if this glass tower will be housing civil servants or condo dwellers.

Up Bay Street and down Belmont Avenue, the site of the legendary Toronto Truck Theatre where Agatha Christie’s Mousetrap had its longest run outside of London, England. The Canadian version of  Mousetrap opened on 19 August 1977 and closed on 18 January 2004 after a run of 26 years and over 9,000 performances. The only person who ever guessed the murderer was our daughter, who was about 9 at the time, because she noticed that…sorry, no spoilers.

Up Yonge Street, dodging traffic, aiming to cut through the St. Clair reservoir. No luck, it’s still under construction – for nearly two years now.

I steel myself for more risk-taking adventures (Yonge does not have a bike lane) and turn in to Mt. Pleasant cemetery just north of Heath St. I finish my ride in the calm and peace of its roadways. No traffic, the sun bursts out and before I know it, I’m home and done.

At 5pm I logged back on to YouTube for the closing speeches. This year The Ride raised $7 million, nearly 50% more than the organizers had anticipated.

THANK YOU WONDERFUL DONORS!!

4th Ride done!
My faithful bike!

 

 

 

 

RIDE #3 – The Ride to Conquer Cancer – Bayview Extension, Underpass Park, Queen’s Quay, Humber River Trail, Annette/Dupont, Rosedale and Mt. Pleasant

Hi everyone!

Obey COVID raccoon or else!

Beautiful morning on Monday, August 24th for the third of my pledged four 2020 Rides to Conquer Cancer.

In Ride #2,  thunderstorms drove me back closer to home, so today my goal was to head west along the lake shore to the Humber River trail. But the best-laid plans…

I zipped down Bayview extension, passed the warning raccoon and opted for the section of the Don Valley trail that runs along the eastern edge of Bayview. I ride past the Brick Works (and the sadly closed Cafe Belong) down to Rosedale Valley Road.

Happily I discover that Toronto City has put in a bike path along Bayview itself as far as River Street. Traffic is a little hairy, but manageable.

Crane collapse on River Street

Up the hill to River Street and the falling cranes thereon (read article here).  Scary to think that the day before the accident, my cycling buddy and I rode under this crane. Holy  dodging a bullet!

Historical sign. Photo by Rick Harris (no relation).

I zoom past the Toronto Humane Society, where I volunteered as a “cat groomer” many years ago then cross through the Canary District to get to Lakeshore.

Funnily enough the legendary Canary restaurant was one of the most celebrated dives in Toronto. Whenever we drove by it, I dared myself to eat there, but I never had the guts –ha, ha– to do it. The building has a storied history – warehouse, school, artist apartments – and even starred in films shot in Toronto. (I’ll be writing up the late, great Canary in a future blog.)

Old man and dog

 

 

 

 

 

 

A new street through the Canary District takes you under the Gardiner Expressway. There I ran across Underpass Park, one of Toronto’s better efforts to beautify the  grottiness under the cement arches the raised highway. There’s a children’s playground and lots of interesting street art.

Flamingos et R. Crumb inspired art

I carefully heed the pedestrian signals to avoid getting flattened by the mad traffic on Lakeshore Boulevard. All going well all, as I ride along the Queen’s Quay when thump, flap, flap, flap! It’s a sound cyclists know all too well – I’ve a puncture in my rear tire.

Punctures are an unhappy reality for urban cyclists. Bits of broken glass, loose screws, hard plastic, sharp rocks – all are lurking to destroy your inner tube. Earlier this season, I had a “snake bite” puncture: if you go over a curb too hard, the inner tube can twist and you get twin holes. Sigh.

I wheel my bike over to Balzac’s in the Distillery District and enjoy an early coffee break while awaiting rescue via Ed in the Mazda. Slight panic when the internet tells me that my usual bike shop has closed for summer holidays. Then I remember passing by GEARS bike shop on my way through Canary.  A short drive over after rewarding Ed with a latte. Terrific service – they replace my inner tube and I’m back in the saddle within 20 minutes.

By now, it’s late morning and the two-lane Queen’s Quay bike trail is bustling with MAMELs, biking families, mums and babies in strollers. Hard to pass so I settle in to the slower flow. Unbelievable amount of construction with high rise condos going up everywhere.

Ontario place Cinesphere now hidden
Windmill green eco project

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s hard to spot Cinesphere, where I’ve seen so many great films. I hope it survives COVID as well as my fav landmark, the windmill demo project. Only a mild headwind today so it isn’t turning.

The crowds thin out slightly. I have to stop for a flock of Canada geese crossing the trail and spot an encampment only 10 feet away from the thunderous traffic on Lakeshore. The Sunnyside Bathing Station is surprisingly open despite COVID.

Canada goose crossing
Homeless camp next to Lakeshore

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunnyside is still open

At long last the “millennial” white pedestrian bridge over the Humber is in sight signaling the turn north onto the Humber River trail. Close by the bridge are the twin Palace Pier towers.

Palace Pier murder scene

In 1981, Patrick Kelly, an undercover RCMP officer, tossed his wife off  the 17th floor balcony of the building.  He was convicted of first degree murder in 1984. His trial revealed that he’d turned to the dark side, working with organized crime to fund his extravagant lifestyle as well as his extra-marital love affairs.

He made parole in 2010 only to have it revoked in 2012 because of his relationships with women and insisting on cash payments for his antiques “business” in Prince George. By 2016, he was out again, living on Vancouver Island. Caveat emptor – indeed caveat everybody.

Otter and fish street art

The trail along the western edge of the Humber River is lightly travelled today. I’ve had it easy so far since the roads have sloped down to the lake. Now I’ve got a few heart thumper hills until I emerge at Old Mill and Etienne Brule park to tackle the toughest climb yet.

Even at my fittest, I’ve never made it all the way up Humberview, a killer hill complete with hairpin bend, impatient drivers, etc.  I walk up my usual bit then dive into the shady alleys of Baby Point.

Baby Point alley way

A friend lives nearby. I’d always pronounced it “baybee” but in fact, it’s “Babbee”, the name of  French fur trader, Jacques Bâby. Not a very nice guy though.

Recently the plaque below appeared near the stone gates of the enclave. It was created and funded by a white person with a social conscience. Not a comfortable truth to learn that Canadians also enslaved Black and indigenous people.

Needs no explanation

From here it’s a long hot ride along Annette and Dupont over to Summerhill. I stop along the way at one of my fav Starbucks at Christie for a cold drink. It’s housed in a former bank, but of course, the usually crowded cafe is much diminished because of COVID. There’s no place to sit down outside so I take a walk break and enjoy the street art along the way.

The Justice League!
Summerhill Station now LCBO!

For many years, this Summerhill landmark, the former North Toronto station stood neglected. Built to rival the downtown Union Station – the tower is copied from the Venetian bell tower in St. Mark’s Square – it fell into disuse by WW2 though it continued to function as a liquor store. It’s now one of LCBO’s flagships. Read its full history here.

Finally I’m on the home stretch. A shady cool ride through Rosedale, Moore Park and Mt. Pleasant cemetery.  I do a short loop past The Boys and reach home for 50km!

Fav memorial – girl reading
Home at last!

 

EAT THIS BOOK: Forgotten Mystery Writers #3 – L. A. Morse and The Old Dick

Older heros, where are they?

In recent years, especially in noir crime fiction, authors and editors have pushed to create  “geezer lit”.  But the sub-genre hasn’t really caught on even though crime fiction readers are an older demographic.

True enough, modern protagonists of crime fiction, especially cozies, have become slightly older, but they’re not really old.

Two notable exceptions did take off.  First of all, there’s the intrepid Miss Marple, inspired by an elderly friend of Dame Agatha Christie’s step grandmother. Miss Marple made her first appearance in a short story published in 1927.

Then more than half a century later,  author L.A. Morse introduced Jake Spanner, his 78 year old PI. The Old Dick was Morse’s first crime novel and he won an Edgar Award for it.

In the early days of Crime Writers of Canada, L. A. Morse was much admired by the membership and perhaps more than a little envied because of his smashing success with The Old Dick. Though Morse worked as an administrator at the University of Toronto, he was actually an American from Los Angeles with two degrees in English literature from the University of California.

Re-reading The Old Dick, it’s easy to understand why it was such a hit. The writing is excellent: Morse goes for the comedy, with wry observations and epigrams packed into every page. He’s channelling his inner Raymond Chandler with observations like :

  • “When you got old, you either went soft or you got dry. Fortunately, I had gotten dry.”
  •  “One of the few advantages of getting really old is that people don’t talk to you…They’re probably afraid that old age is contagious.”
  • “People have always divided the world into “us” and “them”, but when you’re old, you never fit in, so you’re always “them”.”

The Old Dick was not Morse’s first book. He’d already published, The Flesh Eaters, about a 15th century Scottish cannibal clan. He went on to write three more crime novels, all with a satirical edge. He took on Mickey Spillane with two hard-boiled  novels, The Big Enchilada and Sleaze, whose hero, Sam Hunter “made Dirty Harry look like Mother Teresa”. He then showed his cozy side in An Old-Fashioned Mystery, penned by the mysterious and reclusive author, “Runa Fairleigh”.

In the mid-1980s, Morse turned to screen writing. He was one of the writers of    Jake Spanner, Private Eye, a 1989 film starring Robert Mitchum and Ernest Borgnine. Though the movie centred on the Jake Spanner character from The Old Dick, the plot bore no resemblance to the book at all. Despite a strong cast, it failed to take off.

At this point Morse abandoned writing altogether.  He turned to another medium for creative expression: he became -and still is – a sculptor. He became an expert bird watcher and published a two volume reference book on trashy 1980s movies and videos.

BOTTOM LINE:   Abe Books lists the value of my used, unsigned paperback from $4 to $8US.

DECISION – SELL, KEEP or DONATE? 

DONATE with an ounce of regret for the good writing between the covers

 

 

 

 

 

 

SURREAL TRAP DOOR: Attacked by a Grouse!

Grandma’s garden and grouse lair

It’s been a cold spring in Ontario, but time to open up the cottage for the season.  This means gearing up to battle the field mice invasion and/or emptying our bank accounts to repair winter damage.

At first, Anno Horribilis aka 2020 seemed to have thrown us a break. A mature pine tree had cracked in half over the winter but the tree top landed clear of our roof.  No structural damage – whew!

As for the mice, well, remember Walter White’s respirator in Breaking Bad? Good thing we had one, because an ocean of rodent poop was waiting for us in the cupboard under the sink. More feces sprinkled over the counters, stove, you name it.  And a favorite quilt chewed to pieces. Sigh.

It’s necessary to take extreme precautions when cleaning up because Huron County deer mice  harbour the hantavirus. (Nasty info via the Ontario Government publication here.) But my love for animals was about to be further tested…

Outside in my late mother-in-law’s garden, we spotted a pretty bird about the size of a chicken. Not wanting to scare it away, I sneaked closer with my camera.

Grouse well-camouflaged. Probably ruffed grouse species.

 

The bird wasn’t afraid. In fact, it exhibited so little fear that we worried it was someone’s pet. Not a safe environment around our cottage for bunnies and birds – lots of hawks and the occasional carnivore…

While taking the protective plastic off our young fruit trees later on, I noticed the bird again. Quite unafraid, still following us. Worried now, I wondered, should we feed it? Ask our neighbours who it belonged to?

Turning my back to it, all of a sudden, WHACK! Something hard struck me between the shoulder blades. It was the damn bird! Too cowardly to attack fact to face apparently.

OK, I thought, obviously a territorial dispute happening here. For some unknown reason, the grouse had settled on our cottage property for mating and breeding purpose.

Now the grouse was much smaller than me, so its attack was merely disconcerting. Still as a long-term animal rights supporter, I couldn’t help feeling a tiny bit betrayed.

More was to come though. Grouse-zilla kept a beady eye on us as we cleared the yard every so often gathering itself for a rush. By now I was visualizing predators at the top end of the food chain. Where was a fox, muskrat or hawk when you needed one?

“Let’s take a walk to the beaver pond,” Ed suggested. “We’ll lose it in the woods.”

The beaver pond lies about half a kilometre east of our cottage.  You reach it via a trail through the woods.  As we made our way along the trail, we heard it rustling through the undergrowth beside us – all the way to the pond.

“Let’s walk around the pond. It’ll give up,” I said.

So round the pond we went – a fair distance over  ditches, narrow foot bridges, looping round on trails that aren’t easy to find. Did it follow? Of course it did.

It followed us all the way back to the cabin, a distance of at least one kilometre through dense trees and brush. In a (very) grudging way, I admired it. The little f**ker had grit.

After a quick search on the internet, I turned up other tales of grouse attacks. Here’s one of the funniest, Yellowstone Grouse Attack! on video.

We drove off but sadly it wasn’t under our tires. I hear grouse roasts up nice….

 

WANDERINGS: Riding in the Plague Year #1

Greetings Readers!

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.

Seen in Rosedale
Crocuses!
More spring flowers

 

 

 

 

 

One of my favorite bike routes runs along the Beltline. Uplifting to discover that its interesting street art is not only intact, but restored.

James Dean artist
Green tiger burning bright
New. Condom rocket?
Watching u

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

Wildlife may be reclaiming their habitat judging by the sign spotted near the end of the Beltline. Stay safe, my friends!

Happy croc!
Motivation to pedal harder

EAT THIS BOOK: Disappearances by Howard Frank Mosher

In February, Ed and I made our annual ski trip to Stowe, Vermont. Though old Stowe is rapidly disappearing due to the monolith monster condo development at the ski hill (now owned by Vail Resorts with concomitant sticker-shock pricing), vestiges of its old charm remain.

That includes our favorite hotel, The Green Mountain Inn, with its Shaker décor, warm fireplaces and afternoon tea and cookies. Locals  grab coffee and nosh down bacon and eggs at  The Café on Main next door in the Depot Building. Other must-eat noms: the over-sized chocolate chip cookies and superb fresh muffins.

While sipping Green Mountain’s dark roast eye-opener, we tried to resist the pleading eyes of a charming pug – and failed. He’s the resident pet in the best bookstore in Vermont: Bear Bond Books.

 

 

 

I’m trying to downsize my library but a visit to Bear Pond guarantees failure: I never leave without buying a book. Bear Pond promotes local authors, including crime writers: here’s where I discovered Archer Mayor and the Joe Gunther series.  This February, I struck more gold.

Disappearances by Howard Frank Mosher intrigued me. The back cover outlined an adventure in bootlegging Canadian liquor across the US border during the Prohibition: an honourable part of our national history. And the novel drew on the intermingling of French Canadian and Vermont culture at the time. The hero’s name is Quebec Bill Bonhomme.

I’d anticipated that the border was once porous. Who knew how much? I was about to find out.

After the first page, I realized that I’d stumbled upon a gifted writer with a wildly exuberant imagination. Disappearances isn’t a mere adventure: it’s magic realism that reinvents and invigorates the tall tale.  It begins with our heroes’ visit to an asylum run by a mad, alcoholic doctor and an encounter with hermaphroditic twins and veers off into a series of Picaresque disasters. Crazy violence on par with noir author Johnny Shaw,  innumerable car crashes, an albino villain named Carcajou or “Wolverine” who won’t stay dead. Oh and did I mention that this is a comedy? I loved it! 

Disappearances  earned rave reviews from the Washington Post and Harper’s Magazine before winning the New England Book Award for fiction. In 2006, it was made into a film starring Kris Kristofferson and Genevieve Bujold. I’d never heard of it despite the cast.  It has a score of 52% on Rotten Tomatoes – in other words, mixed reviews. According to IMDB, it failed spectacularly at the box office, costing $1.5 million to make and bringing in only $300,000.

Perhaps the wild, over-the-top fantasies work best on the page: a fever dream shared intimately between reader and author. We’re glutted by fabulous CGI and overblown violence on screen every day. Who remembers Tim Burton’s film, Big Fish even though it was a critical and financial success?

Howard Frank Mosher wrote 11 novels, many of which were turned into films by Jay Craven, an indie film-maker and native of Vermont.  And in case you doubt the influence of Quebec, what does “Vermont” mean? Vert mont or green mountain, right? Green Mountain range, Green Mountain Inn. Sometimes it takes 30+ years for the penny to drop.

In the meantime, EAT THIS BOOK!