Toronto Iconic


Streetcar platform (top photo)

Aside from a brief stint above highway 401 in most-curious Lastman-land (North York, pre-amalgamation – growing hyper fast), I have always lived in downtown Toronto. I’m a walking guy – no use for a private vehicle – hands-off, that’s my art-supplies and book money!

All I need is a couple of decent bookstores, someplace to get paper and pens – add in an occasional decadent brunch and a few great independent vegetable markets and I’m pleased as punch. Lucky and I know it.

Whatever neighbourhood you call home in downtown Toronto, you always end up falling in love with the streetcar line most useful to you. Especially cozy-rescue feeling in the dead of winter. The 501 Queen – 24.8 km – from Neville Park in the east, right at the border with Scarborough, all the way to Longbranch (Brown’s line) in the west, remains one of the longest streetcar routes operating in the world. Super-cool journey it is, too – especially for three bucks and change! – (also a great walking-route – Nada and I have covered-it from Neville park to the Humber river estuary – which BTW is re-wilding fast – now cheeringly bird and butterfly-full!)

This particular platform is from the Bathurst car (the fun-run from childhood, straight downtown to the CNE fairgrounds) – and while this shape was once the standard platform all around the city, they haven’t poured one of this design in quite a few years now. Everything new is boxy and modular (ad-friendly).

I really like this design though – if you study it for just a minute, it’s logic is very clear. There is a well-lit bright-yellow impediment in the middle of the road. If you, as a driver, are so far out-of-it that you’d run over those waiting on the low-rise platform for the streetcar, then your car will instead ride up the neat little ramp on inertia and get hung-up, wheels in the air – or, with adequate (even more lethal) momentum, be flipped over altogether – either way, risk on the potential killer, pedestrians protected! Design-genius or what?

Bathurst bridge

I have an unusual fondness for this piece of old metal, going way beyond my appreciation of it’s geometry, and the lovely way it always beautifully triangulates itself, no matter how you choose to view it.

It was a frequent route for my all night waterfront walking adventures as a lonely teenager. The old abandoned Massey Ferguson (tractor-factory) buildings, were a wonderland back then – filled with industrial detritus and abandoned film sets – and the notorious 9 Hannah, to the south, once held literally acres of artists together in low-rent light-filled and spacious (and also draughty, leaky, noisy and fire-hazardous) conditions.

But even better still, this bridge was where Catherine and I ended up on our first date.

Couple of broke spiky-haired punks, nice evening stroll, fantastic conversation – all timed just-right so that we could watch the always grand Victoria day fireworks show at Ontario place, from this lovely old bridge (less rusty, in those days).

Impossible to imagine now, but this perch gave us a great view of the whole scope of the show back then! This slight rise was all we needed. The squat blockhouses of Old Fort York certainly weren’t going to obscure anything skyward.

Park in-potentia

This is the reverse-view from that same bridge – looking away from the fireworks, as it were – but the condo-tower wall at right is very much part of a near-uniform row of domestic battlements which now line the waterfront. While accepting that increased urban density is ecologically desirable (per-capita services become more efficient), and that many cities have done worse with their old industrial lands, I have yet to see any law that says they have to build quite so many thoroughly ugly ones.

Still – there are some fine and nifty exceptions, and some with appealingly weird or cool sci-fi appeal, despite their clunky lake-blocking weight (parties and shops on the seventeenth-floor connecting-bridge? Are the glow-sticks optional, or considered de rigueur?)

Most, to be fair, seem to do their best visual tricks at night – colour LED lighting systems have come a long way – and especially on a misty evening, the whole area can get rather blade-runner. We watch for when the CN tower-top gets cloud-swallowed – you can even use it as a rough measuring stick, to judge the height of the cloud ‘deck’. Always a weird chromatic show to be had – so much new light to be diffused and reflected.

There is an ambitious proposal to skin this entire scooped-out rail-yard (the very busy western run into Union Station) with a giant elevated park – the rough budget is a billion dollars (guaranteed to multiply, of course) and so nothing but fantasy for now, especially with city finances being so tight (everywhere, right?).

That being said – every new bridge they throw across the rail-lands and path through the condo-gauntlet really does improve the connection of the city to our increasingly beautiful waterfront and lake (this one is graded for bicyclists, as well as pedestrians – very cool design).

Can’t help thinking the park in the sky might actually temper that high-density wall of housing with the sort of real quality of life improvements that we’d all derive sustained benefit from (green space only seems like a luxury when you have enough of it yourself).

Provided we can also get a billion (at least) steered toward affordable-housing, that is.  Priorities, right?

Tip Top

I know I’m a fogey and a sentimentalist – but to me, this is the absolute best way to do a condo – take a lovely old industrial or commercial building, and make it into lovely new well planned living space. (This 1929 deco beauty, desiged by Roy H. Bishop had to be saved)

Restoring and integrating the sign was also a nice move – Tip Top is an iconic local brand, and this was built as their headquarters – it’s also a reminder that instead of obliterating the history they bought, they restored and featured-it. There are several notable factories on Queen St that have been re-done with similar respect for the vintage coolness of the structure (I always did want to live at Patterson’s chocolates – what kid wouldn’t?) ;o)

The extra odd bit here? I can remember visiting my mother when she worked in a corporate office here, many years ago. That funny noir vibe of a grand old commercial building with accreted layers of later tenants, each trying in vain to put their own imprint overtop of it.  Me? I always thought of Raymond Chandler.

And now? I find myself walking down here all the time for fantastic adventures with my best friend!
Life really is a big bunch of crazy circles. (Dizzying, anyhow)

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