Toronto…….waterscape walks

IMG_3424The best way to know a city, especially a city like Toronto with its pockets of antiquity and panache, is walking. I do not know about others but using the services of my two legs gives me a sense of permeability, of understanding a city’s past and present, the mysteries and marvels of urbanity and pastoral.

Toronto has it share of parks, green lungs of a city, and one that is making waves is Park HTO a six-acre public dry white sands beach/park along the Northern Shores of Lake Ontario.  HTstretches from Bathurst Street in the west, along Queen’s Quay with Eastern boundary on Yonge or York Street and Gardiner Expressway in the North. The omnipresent CN Tower is a spectator and a beacon and as a Torontian pointed out ‘you can never get lost if you follow the tower’ from whichever part of the city to happen to be.


We start from the eastern half or HTO Park West, the site of former Maple Leaf Mills Silos, to walk along the waterfront towards the old Peter Street Slip, once home to industrial units and commercial structures,  gingerly stepping on the white sands, the dry beach dotted with yellow umbrellas and Muskoka chairs. The beach and the concrete paths are a walkers delight with only a metal rail separating land from the water.

IMG_3429The stroll continues on the Wave Deck, reflecting the waves of Lake Ontario, past the Marina with bobbing boats, brightly painted kayaks, schooners with unfurled sails and cruise ships.


IMG_3426It is difficult to imagine that the area was once dominated by quays used by ships docking in Toronto’s Inner Harbour

IMG_3442Families and tourists take full advantage of the clear, bright summer afternoon with sun reflected in the unblemished waters of Lake Ontario, picnicking, walking, jogging, skateboarding or flocking towards Harbour Centre, a former warehouse and now converted into galleries and space for cultural events, theater and dance performances and the Jack Layton Ferry Terminal for ferry rides to Toronto Islands.


Toronto Islands walk-on: We joined the ferry queue for Ward’s Island and were lucky to manage tickets considering the rush, bikes and pets included. It was the last Summer weekend before the schedule shifted to winter timings.

View of city from the Island

Toronto Islands were continuously moving sandbars carried westwards by Lake Ontario currents and it was around 1858 that severe storms helped create the Island, completely separating it from the mainland. The Europeans referred to the main peninsula as “Island of Hiawatha’.  The Islands gained popularity as holiday and residential areas with amusement parks, hotels and shops. But around 1960s demolition of majority of construction, with cottages confined to Ward’s Island and Algonquin Island, created open spaces for recreation purposes.

The ferry deposits us, the dogs and bikes, on Ward’s Island on the easternmost part of Centre Island. We make our way towards Centre Island, situated between Ward’s Island and Hanlan’s Point Island, a leisurely 3 km walk on the Boardwalk flanking the lake. Few minutes before Centre Island is the bridge for Algonquin Island another residential area. Ward’s Island is named after the Ward family who had settled here around 1830. David Ward was a local fisherman and it was his son William who constructed the landmark Ward’s Hotel south of the ferry docks at Channel Avenue. Till 1881 the hotel and Wiman’s Bath attracted visitors but by 1922 the hotel building deteriorated to turn into a grocery store and ice-cream parlor.

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It is a pleasant, car-free residential area with side-walk streets and a brief stop at the rocky Ward’s Island beach, close to ferry-dock along Withrow Street, we were back on the Boardwalk admiring the frisky waters with bobbing yachts and boats. There is ‘clothing optional’  Hanlan’s Point Beach, a 45 mins walk from Ward’s Island, on the western side of Toronto Island. .

IMG_3618The continuous walk on the boardwalk can get monotonous and best is to stop, sit on benches, take photographs and appreciate the silence. On the left is the stretch of water and on the right the green patches, play areas, clubhouses, Victorian mansions and beach houses shaded by trees in different autumnal hues. There are paths cutting across manicured green spaces, play areas, picnic spots and we took one towards the  Centre Island and the only open food kiosk selling pizzas. There are other eating options but we preferred to relax under the domed sky, people watching.

Close by is Far Enough Farm with common farm livestock and birds, the Franklin Garden, based on the popular children’s storybook character Franklin the Turtle, and Centerville, a children’s amusement park built-in 1967 with a 1900-style turn of century theme. Toronto Islands are clearly a family fun Island with beaches, ponds, boating, restaurants, tram tours and hiking and biking options.

The vivid, sparkling Lake Ontario

The Middle Island is referred to as Centre Island and the Centre Island is called Toronto Island. Bit confusing and before we could get further confused, whether to watch the sunset and city lights from Olympic Island east of the Centre Island ferry dock or to leave. We decided to catch the return ferry from Center Island ferry point for Jack Layton Ferry Terminal and walk back to  Downtown past CN Tower and Roger’s Centre.


Best time to visit: May to September. One can spend an entire day on the Islands.


One Word Photo Challenge – Appliance

Head-Smashed-in Buffalo Jump Heritage Site Museum, Alberta.  The Buffalo Jump, located on the foothills of Rocky Mountains 18 km from Fort Macleod, Alberta, was used nearly 5,500 years by the indigenous people to kill buffalo. The buffalo were driven from their grazing area in the Porcupine Hills towards a 36 foot high cliff from where they fell to their death. Their carcass, bones, skin had multi-purpose use…tools, clothing, dwelling etc. appliances for daily sustenance.


Pots and Pans, cooking appliances, at Kingston Flea Market, Ottawa, Canada


Old whisky making appliances at the Distillery District, Toronto, a National Historic Site with an incredibly rich history. The District represents the largest and best ‘preserved collection of Victorian Industrial architecture in North America’. Today, it is one of Toronto’s top tourist attractions.



An old coffee grinding machine at St. Lawrence Market, Toronto…..still working.



IMG_3422Downtown Toronto’s concrete cityscape is no deterrent to strolling its vibrant neighbourhoods packed with their own eccentricities, sounds and smells.

We are staying on King St. and John St. intersection in the dynamic Entertainment area with defunct industrial and distillery units masquerading as newly constructed condo towers, hotels and pubs and art galleries.

IMG_3387The Entertainment District and King West Village is Toronto’s fastest developing neighbourhoods, compared with New York’s Soho area, and popular with young professionals and even their elders for the entertainment and eating options.

On a cool afternoon we set out towards King St. W and Spadina Avenue intersection past constructions (another on going feature of this city) and bypass the omnipresent CN Tower, the tallest telecommunications and tourism hub till pipped by Burj Khalifa (Dubai) in 1976. I still have to venture up, not actually acrophobic, but watching the lifts slide up and down makes me change my mind every time I find myself looking skywards.

It is easy to get sidetracked with the distinctive suburban flavour of antiquity and stop at Princess of Wales Theater, inaugurated by Princess Diana in 1993, to admire the 929 sq. m mural created by Frank Stella. Across the street is another Downtown landmark, Tiff Bell Lightbox, the official venue of the ongoing Tiff40 screenings and red carpet appearances. I had joined star-struck teenagers for a glimpse of an expected actor vip, but gave up after forty minutes.  Prefer watching them on-screen.

IMG_3388From here  (King St. W) it was past cafes, pizza places, lounges and stores, including Bulk Barn, a must visit for variety of nuts, chocolates etc., till we reach King/Spadina intersection. Though distance is walkable,  the Streetcar station was the rescue I needed for my  lagging legs.  The Street Car and the slow motion ride, as it trundled along Spadina Avenue towards Spadina station, reminded me of Hong Kong trams.

The ride is through a cornucopia of migrant lifestyles showcased in eateries, gift shops, boutiques and cinema. The Kensington Market area and Spadina Avenue was mainly Jewish centric (1930s) and hub of textile industry. The shop clusters, delis, tailoring units, bookstores along the Avenue still bear their stamp. By the 1950s and 60s, the Chinese nudged out the Jews to North Bathurst Street and established their unique cluster in what is referred to China town. Soon it was their turn to move out towards Dundas and Spadina, a few remained, when the New City Hall and Nathan Philips Square were constructed. We had a glimpse of Spadina Crescent, previously known as Knox College, an academic building of the University of Toronto situated in the centre of a roundabout of Spadina Avenue and north of College Street.

IMG_3478The station exit is on Spadina and Bloor and as we walk towards Bloor St. the mid-19th century bay-and-gable structures of Old Toronto turns our amble into medieval England caper. Toronto still lingers onto its British-ness and if it were not for the glass and steel modern architecture and the continuing influx of tourists and immigrants bringing in freshness it would be a time-wraped city.

IMG_3486Spadina Avenue is a long distance runner passing through shifting demographics from working, middle and upper class neighborhoods. North of Bloor Street it transforms into Spadina Road passing through the upper middle class neighborhood, The Annex, and morphing into different avatars, the Davenport Hill, the Baldwin Steps and a walkway in Spadina Park.  From here it spins off towards Toronto’s castle, Casa Loma, a rich man’s mansion designed like a castle, and continues north towards the wealthy neighborhood of Forest Hill.

IMG_3481Our walking journey from Spadina station had terminated at The Annex, along the high energy Bloor Street that at intervals branches into tree-lined residential reminders of British sensibilities of tall narrow houses. The Annex is a vibrant hotspot of history, culture, fashion, food and personal aggrandizement as well as a reflection of the diversity and complexity of Toronto, a city painted in migrant brushstrokes. If someone asks me ‘what is Canadian’, apart from the national symbols of maple syrup etc., I would have to search for an appropriate answer. We walk past a slurping selection of eateries and restaurants, shops and outlets offering multi layered fashion, books, music, giftware, arts and craft activities along with commercial, legal, medical, financial, travel, internet services. The quaintness is alluring and by late evening the area transforms into a revelry hub, reverberating to the music and chatter from its many pubs, clubs and restaurants.

IMG_3488 The best way to map the high energy Bloor Street is by bike, available on rent, as it is one of the friendliest Toronto migrant neighbourhoods. We came across a few homeless, one did ask for money, otherwise it was a hassle free walk. In Vancouver, I am forgetting name of street, I was threatened ‘you could be killed’ when I refused to give money. South of Bloor are the Latino and Portuguese neighbourhoods but we stopped opposite the colorfully blatant and intimidating Honest Ed’s, a gigantic discount department store at corner of Bloor and Bathurst. It covers an entire block in length and at night turns into a theatre marquee using 23,000 light bulbs.

IMG_3490We left KoreaTown, on Bloor and Bathurst St., along with the Bata Shoe Museum (327 Bloor St W) said to resemble an opening shoe box; Casa Loma on 1 Austin Terrace between Spadina and Walmer; The Spadina House museum on 285 Spadina Road for authentic Canada history; Royal Ontario Museum (100 Queens Park at Bloor) and the centenarian Bloor Street Cinema for another day.

From Honest Eds, did not step inside, turned towards Bathurst subway station for a ride back to our starting point, to CN Tower.

A day well walked. Did not clock the distance.


Urban Walks….Toronto…TIFF 40

IMG_3401 (1)Toronto in summer is a perfect antidote for eclipsing life’s turmoil and troubles. We landed on the sunny extended weekend (Labor Day) and the opening of Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) 2015. The city was in perfect order, with ‘best foot forward’, and days began with usual touristy activities, lakeside stroll along the Harbor front, the exhilarating ride up CN tower, Ripley’s Aquarium and other outdoorsy activities cheered on by the brouhaha of TIFF.

IMG_3417We are staying on intersection of John and King West (Streets), the heart of Downtown and Entertainment district, and this is where all the action is. The balcony view of red carpet appearances had me glued to the deck chair as stream of black cars deposited stars on red carpets of Princess of Wales and Tiff Bell Lightbox theaters.

IMG_3418The crescendo of screams welcoming George Clooney, Sandra Bullock, Johnny Depp (BLACK MASS) for their premiers (the ones I am familiar with as there were other famous ones) matched with street music and chatter of strolling crowds and rush hour queues for last-minute tickets. I too joined in the ‘fan’ line and waited at the backdoor exit of Lightbox but 30 minutes on and I walked off.IMG_3465

IMG_3416Evenings the cordoned streets reverberated to music, chatter, excitement of the waiting crowds, the rush hour queues drawing IMG_3415one into the fray.

I did manage to see one film Thank You For Bombing directed by Austrian filmmaker Barbara Eder. The unique title and story is what made me select this film from among a bunch of interesting movies. The film chronicles (fictional look) three international television war correspondents on assignment in Afghanistan, the frenzied attempts to get that one ‘popularity rating’ personal and public. The tension of being in forefront, on delivering, filters through the scenes and Afghanistan war front comes closer home.

In the Question Answer session at end of screening someone put this question about the title and Director’s answer was her personal experience with war correspondents and how they wait for the one moment of ‘glory’. (These are not exact words but my interpretation).

Thank You For Bombing pieces together the action and experiences  of three correspondents sent to Kabul, Afghanistan, to cover the aftermath of burning of Koran by two American soldiers. The correspondents are: the middle –aged Austrian reporter Ewald whose assignment s cut short at departure point (Vienna Airport) when he recognizes someone from his past coverage and his attempts to get the person arrested; Lana (Manon Kahle) introduced trying to release her frustrations in the Zumba class. Her angst is not being assigned ‘action news’ along with her male colleagues and the third correspondent, a couple of floors above at station headquarters, is Cal (Raphael von Bargen) a burnt out reporter desperate to get one story that will resurrect his flagging career. The scene where he forces an ‘innocent’ boy to throw stones and shout ’death to Americans’  conveys the level of  desperation.

This triptych of stories is a powerful portrayal of frailties and strengths, of situational conscious sacrifices for truth and justice and the whimpering end to their efforts. The three pay the prize of their mole like persistence and their refusal to gel with their work environment.  Finally, the denouement, when the actual bombs start to fall, and the stoic reaction of Kal and Lana. The frenzied scramble to the rooftop, the placing of cameras and mikes and bloody street scenes is a reality of being another job.

For me the movie is a flash back to my days as a news reporter in a small city in India and my attempts to cover important city events only to be sidelined by fellow journalists in search of freebies. It was nothing spectacular as being on the battlefront but the contents are similar.

IMG_3405IMG_3419TIFF movie screenings continue, the roadblocks removed, crowds thinned out… except for the quirky extras, the Muskoka  chairs, the glittering heeled shoes outside the theater showing  The Kinky Boots, the trickle queues of movie aficionados and evening strollers on King and John st.