Into the wild


The next time you’re exploring the wooded trails near the marsh in E.T. Seton Park, you may stumble upon a weathered sign overlooking a wet meadow. Still barely legible, it reads:

Trees in this area
were planted by the
Outing Club of East York
in honour of
Charles Sauriol
who was instrumental
in the preservation of
this valley
August 1980

The Outing Club of East York‘s Diane Vieira told me that in its early years, OCEY was very active in planting trees in and around Toronto, including at this location and others in the Don Valley. Unfortunately, they had to stop planting a number of years ago when they could no longer obtain trees from the Ministry of Natural Resources.

Charles Sauriol is best known to Torontonians—especially east enders and naturalists—as the man who spent virtually his entire life fighting to preserve and enhance the Valley’s natural heritage. His half-dozen books, including Remembering the Don, Tales of the Don, and Pioneers of the Don, together form the closest thing we have to a definitive cultural history of the Don Valley.

Named a member of the Order of Canada in 1989, Sauriol’s contributions have been recognized in parkettes, conservation areas, and even an annual fundraising dinner all named in his honour. I can’t help but think that of everything bearing his name, Sauriol would be most proud of the little sign that gets a little more lost in the budding wilderness of the Don each year.

Related: Joe Cooper wrote about OCEY in last week’s East York-Riverdale Mirror.

A version of this article originally appeared on Torontoist.

A mystery no more

Meter on a stick

A few weeks ago, I wondered about the presence of electricity meters placed randomly around the city, measuring power consumption for, well, something or other. After noticing more and more of these as I rode and walked the city this spring and summer, I felt compelled to ask Toronto Hydro for more information.

They finally responded to my query earlier this week, going well beyond what I expected by sending a supervisor out to examine one of the mystery locations. He reported back that the meter on Overlea Boulevard near Don Mills Road (pictured above) is for the City’s Works department, and is most likely hooked up to a sump pump in a chamber below street level. The same is probably true of another meter at Kingston Road & Celeste Drive that I’d asked about. This kind of installation is rather common.

Another mystery solved. I still think that my curiosity will eventually earn me a visit from some Men in Black, but I seem to have escaped that fate so far.

A version of this article originally appeared on Torontoist.

The metered city

A medley of meters standing watch over…something or other.

Our modern urban infrastructure is so pervasive that most of it goes virtually unnoticed. But every once in a while, something appears just out of place enough to make you stop and wonder what it’s doing there. For example, an electricity meter strapped to a light pole directly above a pedestrian “push to cross” button, its familiar flat disk spinning slowly and recording usage of, um, what exactly? Surely it’s not metering the little light that glows after you press the button.

Since first puzzling over that meter at Kingston Road & Celeste Drive earlier this year, I’ve been noticing a lot more of them in odd locations. Some of the places deemed to require monitoring include the edge of a forested park, a hydro pole with big fat conduits leading to a small grey box, and a lamp post with no obvious connection to anything (all pictured above). Unlike meters at cellular or broadcast transmission towers, these don’t seem to be associated with any particular structure or electricity consumer. So what are they measuring, and for whom? It’s a bit of a mystery.

Sadly, Toronto Hydro hasn’t yet responded to my week-old query about the purpose of these seemingly random meters. Whenever I call or email someone to ask for an explanation or clarification about some obscure piece of infrastructure, I feel like I’m more likely to be put on a terrorist watch list than I am to get an answer. I wonder if The Fixer and Urban Decoder ever feel that way.

A version of this article originally appeared on Torontoist.

Things not to do in the back of a dump truck

Why not?

From the “Who knew it was such a rampant problem?” department comes the warning painted inside this dump truck, which probably makes more sense when the dumper is horizontal and the truck is in a quiet parking lot at the end of a long day of work.

I’m guessing that whoever got tired of cleaning the urine-soaked asphalt out of the corner of the truck didn’t realize that his painted message would be visible to the entire world when the truck body was tilted up. Chalk up another curiosity surrounding truckers and urine.

A version of this article originally appeared on Torontoist.

Memories of the monorail

The Toronto Zoo monorail’s abandoned Canadian Domain station

For people of a certain age, memories of the Toronto Zoo begin with riding the old monorail. Only it wasn’t the old monorail back then—it was the super-futuristic monorail. The line was abandoned following a 1994 accident that injured about 30 people, and the train’s power supply rails and portions of the guideway were removed a few years later. But if you know where to look, most of the route remains visible as it snakes through the grounds of the zoo.

The abandoned station above is in the Canadian Domain, midway between the grizzlies and the enormous bison enclosure. The guideway remains intact under all that foliage at the edge of the platform even though the vegetation gains ground every year. Other sections are still in pristine condition, almost as if the next train is only minutes away. Watching the monorail be consumed by nature is a small preview of what the world would be like without us.

The Toronto Zoo monorail guideway disappears into the woods

Take a Google Maps tour of the monorail starting here. The train ran on the track in the center of the map curving down to the right. You can trace the remnants of the route three-quarters of the way around the zoo before it finally peters out, passing by two abandoned but still-standing stations along the way. A third remains in service near the main entrance, used for the monorail’s rather pedestrian replacement, the Zoomobile.

The really surprising thing about following the train’s route in Google Maps is just how much of it goes through what are still completely undeveloped parts of the zoo in the southern portion of the grounds. It’s easy to forget just how enormous the zoo is—at 710 acres, it’s seven times the size of the San Diego Zoo. The monorail used to be the only way to see to the bison, which are kept in an enclosure that itself is probably larger than many zoos.

In addition to visiting the Canadian Domain station in person, you can catch a glimpse of the other lost station if you take the Zoomobile ride: look down and to the right as you cross over a bridge after the Americas Zoomobile stop. Pay attention transit fans, this is what the Sheppard subway could look like after sitting unused for a few years.

Oh, and of course, an abandoned monorail isn’t the only thing to see at the zoo; the animals are worth a trip too.

A version of this article appeared on Torontoist.

Toronto's only suspension bridge

Sewells Road suspension bridge in Scarborough

Tucked into the northeast corner of Scarborough near the Zoo, Toronto’s only vehicle-carrying suspension bridge straddles the Rouge River. A small handful of other suspension bridges dot the city, but carry only pedestrians and cyclists. Transportation Services was taken by surprise upon my first inquiry and couldn’t immediately confirm that this was a true suspension bridge. But John Bryson, Structures and Expressways Manager for the city, verified that it is indeed a “suspension bridge with the side trusses as stabilizers for the deck.”

Sewells Road suspension bridge in Scarborough

Built in 1912 and one of fewer than 15 bridges listed in Toronto’s inventory of heritage properties, the bridge can be seen by traveling through the Scarborough countryside on Sewells Road north from Old Finch or south from Steeles. Transportation Services also told me that the bridge is due for rehabilitation in the near future and that it may need to be altered from its current form. Best get thee to Scarborough to see it before the bean counters and Leon’s get their mitts on it.

The local scenery in this corner of the city will make you forget that you’re still in Toronto. Unfortunately, the illegally-dumped trash and auto wrecker up the street will remind you that you’re still in Scarborough.

Sewells Road suspension bridge in Scarborough

A version of this article originally appeared on Torontoist.

You are caught

You are caught thinking about killing anyone you want

This little plaque on the facade of 778 King Street West, just west of Tecumseth, has intrigued me for years. Either it’s wrong, or there are a lot of angry people walking along King Street.

It seems that this is the work of an American artist named Jenny Holzer, as part of a collection of works called Survival. That said, I don’t know if this is an original installation, a reproduction, or merely an homage.