Category Archives: The Danforth

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 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