Day 1: Friday May 1, 2015
The City’s Best Hiding Places: A Geocaching Tour!
Walk Leader: Denise Pinto
I liked this walk because it reintroduced me into a hobby I took up a few summers ago…and then inexplicably dropped. Geocaching is basically a treasure hunt involving GPSs and storytelling.
Denise Pinto, the very awesome global head of Jane’s Walk, led us around her own neighbourhood south of the Danforth around Donlands and Greenwood. It’s a neat area full of parks connected with corridors of green space. Looking at old maps, some of those parks are the remnants of a buried creek. Who knew?
And actually, that feeds into the point of geocaching: One hides a cache in order to bring someone to a place that is special to him and wants people to know. It’s about sharing stories and experience. Denise hid caches along the way and had us find them.
Among our route, we passed a playground, a community garden, and a lookout for the Greenwood Subway Yard. As a bonus, it ended at the Allenby.
Day 2: Saturday May 2, 2o15
To demolish, or not to demolish? Exploring Heritage Character in Toronto’s Downtown
Walk Leader: Michael Matthys
This one was about the layers of history, heritage preservation, and how we make use of historic buildings that live past their original uses. Michael Matthys, a planner by trade with DIALOG, took us through the Downtown Yonge Street neighbourhood and showed us examples – good and bad and controversial – of sustainable adaption of modern buildings.
75 St. Nicholas Street, for example, is a condo development that utilizes an old planing mill as its base. The problem – and it is one in many people’s eyes – is that the factory is no more than a facade. The mill was dissassembled, rebuilt brick by brick, and incorporated into the condo. Michael raises the question on whether this kind of preservation makes sense. What heritage is preserved? What’s the economic benefit from it?
Another case comes with 5 St. Joseph, which like 75 St. Nicholas, reuses a light industrial space – the old M. Rawlinson factory. Also like 75 St. Nicholas, planning got into the discussion. Are condos what we want? The city is growing; people need to live somewhere. It’s hard to strike a balance. It’s how we – citizens, government, developers – go about it. A nice bonus of going on Jane’s Walks, you get unexpected perspectives: while talking about this development, a resident of the building across the street told us that tower blocks sunlight to it.
After passing through the infamous site of the floating Irwin house development, the walk ended with a stop at Maple Leaf Gardens, which is a great example of a transformed space that pays tribute to its original use. The Gardens is one of two remaining Original Six arenas, and out of the two is the better preserved and utilized. The Mattamy Centre, the home of the Ryerson Rams, on the top floor is great because once again MLG is used for its original purpose.
Building Bloor: Alec Keefer with the Rosina Shopkeeper Project
Walk Organizer: Alec Keefer
This was the most attended walk of my weekend, and there was good and bad that came with that. It was the first of two walks this weekend on the Rosina Shopkeeper Project, a great grassroots effort to tell the stories of the tenants and entrepreneurs of Bloor Street.
The leader – local historian and former president of the Toronto Architectural Conservancy – Alec Keefer, is a library on all things old Toronto. His insights into the architecture, the construction, and function of the structures of Bloor Street West is remarkable. He explains the start of Bloor Street as a residential street of 1910s Edwardian homes which were then often fitted with an addition to support commercial space. He points out details about the face of structures like the important of cap roofs – many of which are now gone – and fire walls separating units.
The flip side to huge turnout on a great topic: it’s hard to take in everything. I lost out on a lot of stories just because I could not hear. Also, it can be a task to travel down Bloor on a beautiful Saturday afternoon; it is definitely a challenge to meander its narrow sidewalks with over 100 other people.
The one tidbit I do recall is on the Black Horse pub. It had an ornamental horse on the front of the building, which suggests that the original occupants might have been saddlers and worked with leather.
As a side note, this walk was also memorable because I had my first interaction with a fellow blogger in the real world. Shoutout to Mary (notcontary) for the chance encounter!
Day 3: SUNDAY May 3, 2o15
Intriguing, industrial, Sterling Road!!
Walk Leader: Catto Houghton
I not only attended this tour, but as a volunteer for Jane’s Walk, I wanted to help out on this walk. So I did. It’s a street loaded with industrial history and one in huge transition. How could I not be part of that?
Led by artist Catto Houghton, who has connections to Sterling and the Junction & Junction Triangle areas, it’s a street that has a ton of hidden history – and a hidden reality to most Torontonians today.
The whole time I mentally equated it as the Carlaw Avenue of the west side. Factories started popping up on both streets in the 1900s and 1910s, relied heavily on the surrounding railroads, reached a heyday in the mid part of the century, and then closed and subsequently either demolished or vacant until purposing in the latter part. It seems that Carlaw is nearing the end of its shift, but Sterling has a bit to go.
The east side of the street immediately north of Dundas is a parking lot, but that was populated with factories way back when. The lot now services Nestle, the great complex that hugs both sides of the street. Nestle is latest incarnation of a lineage of chocolate making enterprises on Sterling dating back at least 100 years, starting with Cowan Cocoa and Chocolate. Cowan went under 1926 and was taken over by Rowntree’s, which created to first chocolate bar. Finally, Nestle bought Rowntree’s in 1988. The original Cowan building is still part of its facility. Catto, part of her great research, brought out some great ephemeralia of these companies.
The Tower Automotive building is an intriguing case. It’s a landmark on the street, but not looking so good now. There was plans to rezone the street to allow mixed use development, including repurposing the tower into lofts. Our friends Nestle fought hard against this because having residents as neighbours is not in their interests. I’ve seen it before in the Weston’s factory I worked in. Operating in a residential neighbourhood leads to noise complaints lead to buckling to pressure. Those plans are on hold and it’s definitely a case to watch.
The walk was unlike others in that in Catto arranged interior tours. Like Carlaw’s Creative Lofts, Sterling has a few complexes of live-work space where artists and entrepreneurs set up shop. The street is also home to an axe throwing league and a circus school. But you wouldn’t know it.
I’ll definitely have to come back and explore more of the area.
Dark Age Ahead – The Wizard of Ossington Jane’s Walk
Walk Leader: HiMY SYeD
If I understand HiMY‘s message correctly from this walk, I can summarize everything here, but to truly understand The Wizard of Ossington, you have to attend it, experience it, and share in the conversations and story telling. Still, I’ll do a bit of summarizing and encourage people to check out the next time.
HiMY’s took us through the Christie Pits neighbourhood and picked out visual examples as well as examples from his own experience which help to illustrate Jane Jacob’s last book, The Dark Age Ahead. For a last book, it’s definitely not a pick-me-up. She identifies trends in North American society that if continued might lead to a Dark Age.
One of the themes of the walk is memory and how we remember and forget, and what happens when we, as a collective, forget. Mass amnesia is what Jane calls it and it’s the result of a decaying society.
An example HiMY uses is a Greek temple house. There’s danger in assembling a few artifacts, recreating a Hellenic style temple, and then claiming to have an understanding of Ancient Greek culture. Culture isn’t the physical remnants of a peoples; it’s the day to day interactions and stories that are passed down through oral tradition and language.