Category Archives: Cities

Only Child views downtown Toronto

 

Sailboats on Lake Ontario at Harbourfront

Sailboats on Lake Ontario at Harbourfront

A few weeks ago my friend Carol and I were driving home from an event near Toronto’s waterfront. We drove onto Queen’s Quay coming from the west. The view in front of us showed opposites. On our right was Harbourfront Centre, which although touristy, has some calming natural areas, such as the garden and walking along the boardwalk by Lake Ontario and the boats.

The other side consisted of big high-rise condos. In front of us, more tall buildings. The road sloped down and the view came across to both of us as something from the future, something from a science fiction movie.

The other side of Harbourfront Centre on Queens Quay

The other side of Harbourfront Centre on Queens Quay

Is this what my city, my Toronto has come to? The downtown core, once filled with historic buildings (some still standing, but hard to find), is now overloaded with high futuristic buildings. Not pretty. Not aesthetically pleasing. No wonder I don’t go downtown much anymore, but just as far as mid-town, unless over by my son’s area where there are still old beautiful houses. And yes the main street near there looks a little shabby in places. But it is a damn sight better than futuristic downtown.

Where did the developers and city councillors, mayors, etc. go wrong? We have leaned too much towards progress instead of combining it gracefully with history. Sadly, this seems to be the way globally.

There is an old axiom about learning from history. Well, when I look at the futuristic high-rises in downtown Toronto, the only history lesson here is to forget any history and build build build. People want to live downtown; houses are too expensive; condos not as expensive, so build up and up and up.

Beyond the aesthetic aspect, what about the utilities? Many of the utility infrastructures are old and wearing out and if not now, but soon, at this rate of growth, will not have the capacity to take all the overbuild. What happens then? A few instances are already happening. Floods from heavy rains. One high-rise condo had re-occurring power outages in under two weeks. Broken watermains.

If that weren’t enough, some of the glass panels (and I don’t mean the windows, but the walls)  of some of these condos have fallen off, shattering when they hit the street. It is a miracle that (so far) no one has been injured.

Take a look at the photos above and below. And check out these links. This one shows a tight cluster of condo locations in downtown Toronto.  This one a photo of one part of downtown Toronto.  One historic building The Ironworks manages to rise out among the big buildings.

No wonder I tend to gravitate towards Toronto areas that are still pleasing. Not just where I live and where my son and his girlfriend live, but other older areas. Just to clarify – there are still a few colourful areas who have managed to retain their history while being vibrant and interesting, such as Kensington Market and China Town, which (no surprise here) are next to each other. And another  clarification – some older areas of Toronto are not aesthetically pleasing in any way. They are boring and just there. But they still have one thing going for them – they don’t look like something out of science fiction.

Do you think historical buildings and common sense progress are being sacrificed for big modern progress only? Not just in Toronto, but where you live?

Comments, please.

Cheers.

Sharon

Only Child Writes

Part of Habourfront Centre Music Garden

Part of Habourfront Centre Music Garden

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Old building on King St. Toronto

Old building on King St. E., Toronto

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Filed under Cities, Condo Sprawl, Healing through gardening, Music Garden, Only child, Streetscapes, Toronto

Only Child does stay vacations

Sailboats at Toronto Harbourfront Centre on Lake Ontario

Sailboats at Toronto Harbourfront Centre on Lake Ontario

When I was a child, my mom and I used to travel around Toronto by public transit (TTC) – buses, streetcars, and then the subway when the first line was opened. Some TTC galavanting was for shopping but Mom picked good and interesting areas, such as the Danforth, which had the big “dime stores” as they were called. You know Kresge’s, The Met and Woolworth’s. Yes, that’s dating me, but it was an adventure to go into all three stores before Easter to get that Easter hat. And stopping at the restaurant counters at The Met for a hot dog and ice cream was a treat. We also stopped in butcher shops and greengrocers. Sadly, the “dime stores” are all gone although Woolworth’s upgrade Wal-Mart is still around, in malls. And “dime stores” would never fly in these expensive times. Instead we have the Dollarama and Dollar Tree chains – which I actually like. They are the 21st. century’s Kresge’s and Met.

Mom also took me to places like the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) and to visit family and friends.

So, recalling all the above, and for the sake of my almost empty wallet, I’ve decided I’m doing a lot of visiting local touristy sites in Toronto, the free ones. Sure, I still hope to do my annual visit to my cousins in southwestern Ontario, but there is still the rest of the summer.

Besides my once or twice a week trip down to the Danforth for groceries, I also head for some of the events there, such as Taste of the Danforth – a celebration of food (yes, I’m a foodie), not just Greek in this Greek area of Toronto, but Italian and Asian. The nearby park, Withrow Park has several weekly evening events such as a Farmer’s Market and Shakespeare in the Park.

On Sunday I headed down to Toronto Harbourfront Centre on the shores of Lake Ontario. Since the street has been made more pedestrian, cyclist and streetcar friendly, it is easier to get around and also looks better. The Car doesn’t rule here anymore as cars are confined to two lanes. In fact all the traffic – pedestrian, cyclist, streetcars and cars – have their own lanes. There is also art in two buildings, although the outdoor art seems to be missing this year, a boardwalk to walk along the lake, lots of boats and ships – some you can book rides on. If and when I can afford it I’d like to take a two-hour tour on the Tall Ships.

Each summer and early fall weekend, Harbourfront has a theme and the foods and music are tied into that. Last weekend it was Latin music. And there are craft booths, two stages, grass (the fake type, which might be a blessing in this summer’s drought-ridden Toronto), and some restaurants. One building which used to have two or three restaurants and several small shops is now down to one restaurant – a pub and grill – and the Sobey’s grocery market (now expanded) on the main floor. It looks like the rest is being renovated but gone is my favourite – Tilly’s – you know the company known for travel clothes, especially the Tilly hat. The beaches are clean of mess and overcrowding. And it is fun to sit on a bench along the boardwalk and people watch.

But  my favourite part of Harbourfront is the Toronto Music Garden. Every other Sunday at 4 p.m. and one evening a week, classical music is presented by various musicians from all over. It is relaxing to sit on the grass steps (real grass here) or benches and listen and watch. And just walking through the other parts of the garden and looking at the flowers is amazing. I spent a lot of time trying to take photos of bees landing on the echinaccea.

Perhaps the highlight of this afternoon was helping a family from Cincinnati find what they were looking for. I was walking from Union Station (where I exited the subway and I prefer to walk from there than take the streetcar – the lineups are too long) to Harbourfront and waiting for the light to change when I heard a woman from behind call out something about needing direction “Any locals?”

I turned around and went up to them and started chatting with the woman. She had her smart phone out and said there was supposed to be an LCBO Market on the corner here. After I found out from her that she wasn’t looking for a Farmer’s Market (there are lots of those around closeby), but that she meant an actual store, I explained that the LCBO is the Liquor Store outlet but there was a Sobey’s Grocery right just down the street in Harbourfront.

“I’ll walk with you as I’m going that way, too,” I said.

She introduced me to her husband and their two daughter and we all shook hands.

We asked each other questions such as how long had I lived in Toronto and how long were they here for holidays. They asked about Casa Loma and I told them how to get there and also mentioned another historical place, a house set up in the early 1900s, Spadina House, just across the street from Casa Loma. When we arrived at the corner with Sobey’s, she said, “That’s the place.”

I looked at the sign: “Sobey’s Urban Market.”

We parted ways at Sobey’s, but it was good to help someone to find their way – literally. As I did explain – I get lost too.

Afterwards I thought of so many other places they could look into and the dine Toronto  blog for restaurants that are rated.

One of those slapping your head for forgetting situations.

But, I’ll be going to some of the places I wanted to tell this Cincinnati family about.

Cheers.

Sharon

Only Child Writes

Part of the Toronto Music Garden including some echinaccea

Part of the Toronto Music Garden including some Black-eyed Susans and Lavender

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Filed under 1950s, Cities, Getting lost, Helping Others, Holiday Travel, Holidays, Mother and Child, Only child, Public Transportation, The Danforth

Only Child finds a little joy in horrid world

Busy city street - sign of current times

Busy city street – sign of current times

Yesterday a friend and I were talking about the world today, the world we live in. We both agreed that is is a horrid world – too digital, too hurried, extreme weather, the terrorism, etc. I said it all got going into this state when we entered the new millennium and she agreed, with the addition that back in the 70s there was the Vietnam War. I added that back then there wasn’t so much of everything.

I don’t think it is because we are both seniors (albeit at the lower end of the seniors age bracket).

Truth is we are inundated with too much crappy stuff these days.

It is hard to find a little peace, a little joy. But we need to. The only other option seems to be to “get the hell out of Dodge.”

Last night while hurrying along a Toronto street to do some grocery shopping, I realized – hey, the weather in Toronto is warmer than usual for this time of year. No actual winter weather. True we’ve been getting a lot of fog and clouds and rain is coming later this week. I think something my ex said in an email earlier yesterday also was somewhere in my mind. He and his wife live out west and while they are getting a lot of rain he likes it because it is warmer then.

So, I did a momentary mind pause, slowed down my walking, and stopped cursing the Food Basics store for having one cooked ham on sale left (and it was awful looking – too much fat and a small string curled up in it – you know the “ick” factor).

I actually started to enjoy the evening, thinking it wasn’t bad weather-wise, still warmish.

How do you find a little peace and joy in your life?

Cheers.

Sharon

Only Child Writes

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Filed under Carpe Diem, Cities, Extreme Weather, Family and Friends, Friends, Happiness, Seniors, Sign of the Times, Winter Weather

Only Child says “NO” to Toronto transit cuts

Streetcar among the condos in Toronto, Ontario, Canada

They’re taking away parts of my beloved public transit in Toronto. I feel like I’m losing some of my close friends. When I was a kid, it was an adventure to ride with Mom on  Toronto’s buses, streetcars and subways. Now, some routes are on the proverbial chopping block and some bus  services in Toronto have already had hours reduced.  It’s all in the name of cost-cutting from Mayor Rob Ford and his executive council cronies to eliminate Toronto’s $774 million budget short. Mr. Ford commissioned an outside study to find services to cut and they’ve come up with a list of possibilities to the off-key tune of $740 M. Nothing is sacred. When he gets done, Toronto will not be recognizable. I am saddened.

One of the bus lines recently cut back in hours is the Broadview 8 bus – one that I took with my Mom and Dad as a child. We lived a skip and a run (depending on where the bus was when you were trying to catch it) from a couple of bus stops. Today, I can take that bus as part of my route home from wherever or if I’m visiting friends in my old stomping ground, when the bus is actually running.

I’m someone who not only depends on the TTC to get around,  but I actually enjoy riding on a bus, streetcar and subway. The scenery is interesting and varied: outside, all those condos springing up, parks, gardens and quaint old shops along the streetcar routes in particular; inside, that lady next to me texting madly or the fellow swaying to the sound (dare I say “noise?”) emanating from those buds in his ears. There is also the nostalgia factor – not just personal, but the TTC history.  TTC stands for Toronto Transit Commission but way back before even my time, Toronto’s transit wasn’t all one big service – it was several, and some were private. Do we want to go that route (pun intended) again? That’s something else being considered.

Riding on the buses, streetcars and subway with my mom was a lot of fun. As I write in my memoir:

The bus stop closest to 139 was just around the corner on O’Connor Drive – that is if you walked left and the TTC hadn’t moved its trademark red and white sign to the far side of Don Mills Road. If we saw the bus coming, we had to decide quickly if we could reach the stop before the bus or if racing to the next stop, one and a half blocks west, was a better choice. We were playing transit roulette, with the streetlights at Don Mills and the driver’s whim to wait for us or to continue on to the next stop.

Once we boarded the bus, we continued with the rest of our travels. Long languid rides on streetcars out to Long Branch in Toronto’s west end. Short hops on buses to shop on the Danforth. Streetcars jam-packed with sugar-fuelled kids and yawning parents returning from a day at the CNE. Swallowing hard on a long bus ride to the orthodontist. Or doing the freezing changeover from subway to streetcar inside the makeshift wood shelter in the middle of Bloor St. east of Yonge St. All before the Bloor subway line opened in 1966.

(Excerpted from You Can Go Home: Deconstructing the Demons, copyright 2011 Sharon Crawford)

However, not all rides were fun back then, as I write:

When I was 10 and 11, I wore braces on my teeth. The orthodontist had an office on Eglinton Avenue just east of Yonge St. Perhaps if we had travelled by subway, the journey might have been different, but Mom insisted on taking the more direct route.

We are sitting on the Leaside bus, this time going in the opposite direction from the Danforth. As it clips across the Leaside Bridge and then diverts through the factory area on Brentcliffe, my mind and soul are elsewhere, clamped in the dentist’s chair. The dentist is tugging at my braces and picking at my teeth; my mouth is wide open and I want to retch. The bus sharp turns back onto Laird Drive. I jerk up and the contents of my stomach start to follow as far as my throat. I must look whiter than the fat in the bacon because Mom opens a window.

“It’s okay. We’re almost there. We’ll be off the bus in a few minutes.”

I swallow hard, clutch my stomach and wish I were in never never-never land. The bus halts at the stop before Yonge St. I jump off, with Mom right behind me. She steers me towards an alley by one of the buildings and I lurch forward, open my mouth and pour out breakfast, lunch and snack. Mom hands me a tissue, and while I wipe my mouth and sniffle back vomit, she murmurs calming words.

(Excerpted from You Can Go Home: Deconstructing the Demons, copyright 2011 Sharon Crawford)

And that about describes how I feel about these proposed service cuts. I’m even feeling sicker about the proposed cuts to the public libraries but that’s fodder for another post or we’ll be here till Christmas 2012 (not a typo).

If you want to read more about the proposed cuts to Toronto’s service, go to http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/story/2011/07/21/toronto-service-cuts-report326.html. I’d prefer to have a bit more of a hike in our property taxes than the 3 per cent we’re getting next year and a TTC fare increase. We received no property tax increase or TTC fare hike for this year and one revenue resource – the vehicle registration tax – was given the boot. Duh. Note to Mayor Ford and cronies…potential revenue down the drain.

Cheers (I think)

Sharon

Only Child Writes

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Filed under Cities, Mayor Rob Ford, Only child, Only child memoir, Public Transportation, Toronto, Toronto public transit, Toronto service cuts

Only Child on getting lost

One of the places in North Toronto Only Child was trying to find

Lately I keep getting lost when I venture somewhere in the northern parts of Toronto. Before I leave, I make sure I have the address, check it out on Google and Mapquest and even ask for directions from the person I’m going to see. I might as well be wearing a blindfold. Is there some reason I’m not supposed to be travelling “up north in Toronto?” Or is there some other deeper reason, like maybe I’m feeling lost in some part of my life?

Perhaps these current electronic guides  just don’t cut it like my late Mom did. Mom and I would travel around Toronto together and I don’t remember us ever getting lost. As I write in my memoir You Can Go Home – Deconstructing the Demons

To get around in life you need guides, signs and a healthy dose of paying attention – on all levels.  As Dad was to riding the rails, Mom was to city transit. Travelling by the feat of my public transit savvy really began when Mom and I trekked around on Toronto’s buses, streetcars and subway. She was my guide. I just didn’t realize then how much of a guide.

(Excerpted from You Can Go Home – Deconstructing the Demons, copyright 2011 Sharon Crawford)

In the here and now, I had quite the “merry” journey trying to find my new opthamologist’s office. Armed with the online map printed out and the knowledge that I visited that medical building seven years before, I headed “up north.” When I stepped off the TTC bus and started walking towards the specific street I didn’t recognize the area – more tall buildings had sprung up. Okay. But I saw no street sign; however did turn and walk along that street  until I decided I was in the wrong place, so headed back for the bus stop, boarded the bus back to where the medical centre street crosses the bus line. When I got off I had to take stairs down to this street and had no clue where to go from there. This street crisscrossed many other roads and street numbers didn’t help. I started asking others. An older lady going for a walk had to literally show me the winding way. Yup. You guessed it. I had been on the right nameless road before – if I had continued another block and a half I would have found the medical building. I arrived late.

A couple weeks later when I headed to my new lawyer’s office – again in North Toronto – I had no trouble finding the building with its number big and bold on the side, which I saw once I could figure out how to exit the subway station. However, getting to the actual building proved a big problem as I came to  an overpass but I stayed on the same street because that was the building’s address. As I neared the building I couldn’t see how to get from the sidewalk to the actual building as there was a slight hill with trees and grass up from the sidewalk to the building and no way in. I kept walking and finally found an entrance on a  side street. I arrived late.

Yesterday I had to interview an optometrist for a story I’m writing for a magazine. After lunch with my son and his girlfriend, they dropped me  at a subway station before they headed up further north to visit Martin’s dad. This “getting lost” must be family-contagious because Martin took the wrong entrance to  the subway drop off — yet he had been there many times before and said he always got the entrance wrong.

Continuing in this vein, when I exited the subway, I started walking in the wrong direction. Because  I was early I had decided to surface a stop before and check out a small shopping mall. I finally found it but when I wanted to go back on the subway I couldn’t find the passenger entrance to the subway, just the bus entry. I walked north a block and found the subway station’s back entrance. Because entry was automatic, I had to use my pass electronically and it didn’t seem to work – another passenger had to slide it through and, of course, the revolving door magically opened then.

The optometrists’s office? No problem finding it or the mall it is in.  I arrived 15 minutes early.

I’m beginning to see a pattern here. As an only adult-child. out of necessity, I’ve become used to manouvering my way around alone. Obviouusly I need a guide like my late mom. The question is who? Sure, I did get lucky in a couple of the above instances and with the third (the lawyer’s office building) my own persistence paid off.  Maybe the lesson here is to be open to help from unexpected resources. Certainly many of the expected ones don’t pan out. I ask my friends for help and sometimes I receive a no. True, they have their own lives to lead and unless they break promises made to me I can’t hold it against them.

Or maybe the answer is to tap deeper into my own instinct and not panic. Especially as on my way to and from grocery shopping later yesterday my intuition was bang on about when buses arrived – including one showing up three minutes early.

Or I could stay out of North Toronto.

Cheers.

Sharon

Only Child Writes

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Filed under Cities, Direction, Getting lost, Only child, Only child memoir, Public Transportation, Toronto, Trust

Only Child looks at city changes

Streetcar and highrise in Toronto circa 2005

A  recent comment by mystery writer Maureen Jennings (Murdock Mysteries)  juxtaposed with yesterday’s book launch by outgoing Toronto mayor David Miller got me thinking. How much change should cities go through? How much of the past should they keep?

Anyone like me who grew up in a city or town during the gray ages (195os, 1960s) can probably remember “how it was” back then compared to “how it is” right now. Do we like the changes we see? Was the past really better? What do you think?

Speaking personally, I liked the more intimate closeness of a smaller Toronto but I also like the multi-cultural aspect of its now diverse population. When I was growing up, Mom and I would get around on the Toronto transit system. Before the subway was built, that meant long rides on buses and streetcars and freezing our tushes while waiting for them in winter. (I still do that now.) Mom and I used to go shopping on the Danforth part of Toronto – then populated by greengrocers and butchers and those dime stores called Kresge’s, Woolworth’s and Metropolitan. It was awesome for a little girl but sometimes intimidating…

I look up Pape but the bus still isn’t visible at the turn in the road. When it finally arrives, we climb on board and ride the rest of the short trip to one block north of the Danforth. The bus loops into a dead-ended Lipton St. with a two-foot high stonewall at the end…

…Like today, the Danforth proliferated with green grocers selling fresh vegetables and fruit and a butcher’s shop, although unlike today, the owners of the former were Italian, not Asian. Mom would buy a basket of peaches or plums.

But the butcher’s shop captures my curiosity. Mom opens the door to a clanging bell; we step in, and my feet feel as if they’re traipsing through Grandpa Charlie’s barn. I look down at…

“Sawdust,” Mom says. “That’s so the butcher can sweep the floors easier.”

I stare down at the floor, but don’t see any pieces of meat there. As Mom grabs a number and waits her turn I look up at the shoulder-high counters. Behind glass barriers lie slabs of meat in various hues of red and pink. I recognize only bacon, as I’ve seen its striped pink and white fat curling in the fry pan for Sunday breakfasts at home. My nostrils flinch at an unfamiliar odour mixed in with the sawdust, but this is not like the smell of the chickens bawking around in Grandpa’s chicken room. This smell is more animal, more immediate and ripe, and I’m not sure that I like it.

“A pound of medium ground,” Mom says.

The butcher, wearing a blood-stained apron that one day was probably white, picks up stringy medium-red worms. I want to gag.

“For hamburger,” the butcher says, with a big grin. I frown. I need to get out now.

Of course, I eat hamburgers, as a kid, as a teenager, as an adult, including at McDonalds. They always have to be cooked, almost burned. When I am 50, I give up eating red meat for five years because it bothers my digestive system and I give up ground beef forever. And I never get over the squeamishness of handling raw meat.

(Excerpted from You Can Go Home Part 1 – Deconstruct,  copyright 2010 Sharon Crawford)

Some things don’t change completely – they just transform. The new “dime stores” are the Dollar and Dollar plus stores, thanks to inflation. Most are small and cramped but if you look hard enough you can find some bargains, but usually over a dollar. Butchers no longer sprinkle sawdust on their shop floors. The subway now runs along the Danforth and the particular strip of the Danforth I go to is called Greektown, but has many different ethnic restaurants. That is one benefit of a multi-cultural city, but then I often lead with my stomach cravings.

So what did Maureen Jennings say? It was at the Bloody Words conference in June where we were talking about the TV series (Murdock Mysteries) based on her Murdock mystery books. She said  the show is taped in various southern Ontario cities and towns, not just the series’ and books’ setting of Toronto. Why? Because Toronto is such a mixture of old and new buildings that it is hard to get a scene with just old buildings.

And maybe Maureen hit the cusp of the answer to my earlier question. Perhaps it is better to combine old with new, but at the same time being careful what is knocked down and what is put up. Sometimes upgrading old buildings for new uses is a better answer.

Last evening while on the bus, I thought these newer buses with their wide street-level exits that can be lowered and places for wheelchairs and scooters are better for everybody. I mean, I no longer fall out the back door when leaving – something I used to do on the old buses with their steep narrow stairs and the door closing on my back.

And no, I wasn’t drunk – just klutzy.

Cheers.

Sharon

Only Child Writes

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Filed under Book launch, Cities, Cities and towns, Murdock Mysteries, Only child, Only child memoir, Public Transportation, Streetscapes, The Danforth, Toronto