What a way to end a vacation

Welcome home

Imagine coming home from your March Break vacation to find this sign taped to the padlocked entrance to your apartment. Welcome back!

Update:  This isn’t my place; the sign was attached to a Danforth Ave. apartment the other day. I doubt I would have had the presence of mind to take a picture if I’d returned home to such a sight.

River watching: couch potato edition

Camera watching for traffic jams on the Don River

The appearance of yet another traffic camera in the city is hardly remarkable. But it is a little unusual when that camera is watching traffic on the Don River just south of Pottery Road. Although it was used extensively for transportation in its almost-forgotten past, the Don is not exactly known for its 21st-century traffic jams and accidents.

The camera, installed about a year ago beside a gauge house that monitors river levels and flow, is actually used by Toronto and Region Conservation (TRCA) to provide visual correlation of data from other instruments. While a gauge may indicate only that river flow is lower than normal, the camera can see an ice dam. This camera is currently the only one in TRCA’s stable, but they’re trying to identify suitable locations for more.

TRCA monitoring station map from trcagauging.caNot only can TRCA monitor the Don—indeed, all of the rivers under its purview—from its Downsview offices, but thanks to a new public web site (login with username “public” and password “public”), you can play Conservation Authority from the comfort of your parents’ basement. For more than a dozen locations, you can view real-time results from monitoring gauges, or graph water level and flow trends over time. There’s even a version of the data optimized for viewing on your Blackberry. With practice, you’ll be able to tell when the Bayview Extension is flooding or when your new bridge is in danger of being washed out. And yes, you can even see the current view from that camera pointed up the Don. What more could a budding environmentalist, river geek, or curious writer ask for? The site is still under active development and will eventually have more features and display data from more gauge stations.

Most of this is probably not terribly exciting to the majority of people, but it’s notable as one of the few online government projects that gives the public access to detailed real-time information rather than just watered-down summaries after the fact. Most effort of this variety seems to be directed towards car drivers, showing not only camera views, but also providing analysis of current driving speeds. It’s a little refreshing to see agencies applying some of the same principles and technology to other uses.

Map from trcagauging.ca. Thanks to TRCA’s Don Haley for his assistance. A version of this article originally appeared on Torontoist.

Looks like the '80s

Colour uncovered at the Ralph Day Funeral HomeThe problem with demolitions is that all of your neighbours get to see the terrible colour choices you’ve made over the years. This unfortunate combination of green, yellow, and pastel purple has been uncovered during the demolition of the former Ralph Day Funeral Home on Danforth at Ellerbeck. Having never been inside the building before, I can’t say for sure whether these rooms were part of the funeral home or an adjacent apartment. Maybe it wasn’t so bad when the walls were intact and you could only see one colour at a time.

This building is being replaced by a Shoppers Drug Mart. Oh joy.

Pottery Road: The original Toronto Bypass

Somewhat related to my previous post, Pottery Road has a little-known connection to another Toronto street: Davenport Road. The East York Library monograph Fascinating Facts About East York (and some of them really are, at least to east-end geeks like me) says that Pottery Road:

may have been a part of an old Indian trail that crossed the city along what is now Davenport Road and entered the Don Valley through the Rosedale Valley ravine. There are records of the Mississauga Indians having encamped on the Don near Pottery Road as late as 1831.

I always find it interesting that so much of our modern infrastructure follows old trails, watercourses, and terrain, even decades or centuries after after the old features have ceased to exist on any meaningful level. Technology may have brought us huge bridges across the valley and personal motorized transportation, yet there’s Pottery Road, tracing an old footpath in the Don and still used by thousands of people a day. Some things never change.

Old Pottery Road walking tour

Pottery Road

Frequent northbound travellers on the Bayview Extension have probably noticed the “Pottery Road” street sign pointing to a glorified supermarket driveway at the top of the hill, just south of Moore Avenue. Some may even have wondered how it relates to the more familiar street of the same name almost 1.5 kilometers to the south, winding up the valley wall to Broadview Avenue. The answer to this puzzle is that the two Pottery Roads used to be one, connecting Broadview and Moore Avenues, roughly following Cudmore Creek for much of its length.

Most of the road was abandoned when the Bayview Extension was constructed in the late 1950s. The section running from Broadview to Bayview was left mostly intact (and the top of it was later realigned to allow an easier climb out of the valley), as was a very short block at the northern end of the road, now flanked by parking lots for a supermarket and a bank.

What about the kilometer of the road that used to connect the two remaining sections? Unlike most abandoned roads that exist only for short stretches of their former selves, old Pottery Road is unique: its entire original route from Broadview to Moore is still open and can be hiked from beginning to end. Read on for the complete walking tour.

Read More …

Take a (snow) hike

Really big shoe

What’s the most fun you can have in the days following a big snowstorm?

Unlike many winter sports, snowshoeing is relatively inexpensive and requires little in the way of specialized equipment. Other than the snowshoes themselves—a decent pair costs less than a good pair of skates—you need only some warm layers of clothing, a sense of adventure, and as much time as your legs can stand.

It really couldn’t be any easier to learn, either: just strap on your snowshoes and start walking your way to an energizing workout. Or take a slower pace and explore corners of the park where you wouldn’t normally go.

With terrain varying from wide open fields to challenging forested hiking trails, Toronto’s Rouge, Don, and Humber Valleys (not to mention dozens of smaller ravines and parks around the city) offer prime snowshoeing opportunities without requiring travel outside the city. If you live or work close to a suitable park, snowshoeing is hard to beat as a lunchtime fitness activity. It’s mind-clearing and relaxing, and leaves you ready to tackle whatever boredom awaits you at the office in the afternoon.

The only real barrier to snowshoeing in the city is Toronto’s wimpy weather: with frequent thaw cycles throughout the winter, ideal snowshoeing conditions usually only last for a few days after a big storm before all the snow starts melting away into slush.

If you feel the need to go farther afield and escape the city, check out the offerings of a local organization like the Toronto Bruce Trail Club or Outing Club of East York for group snowshoe hikes through conservation areas or resorts outside the city. From the base of frozen Webster’s Falls to the top of Rattlesnake Point, there’s no shortage of snowshoeing challenges in and around the GTA. Sites outside Toronto usually hang onto their snow longer than we do in the city, but you should always check conditions at your destination before heading out.

What if you don’t have snowshoes and don’t want to buy them? You can always rent from the MEC or one of many winter resorts in southern Ontario. For those inclined to frugality or craftiness, there are do-it-yourself instructions available online for several different varieties of snowshoes. You have no excuse not to try it.

So what’s the most fun you can have in the days following a big snowstorm? Tobogganing, of course. Snowshoeing doesn’t even come close, but it’s still fun in its own way.

A version of this article originally appeared on Torontoist.

Rink in the raw

Natural ice rink in E.T. Seton Park

There’s something about the sight of a natural skating rink that warms the heart. I noticed on Monday that someone had cleared a good-sized rink on the marsh in E.T. Seton Park. The marsh was pretty completely frozen over last week and I wondered how suitable it would be for skating. I guess someone found out.

Natural ice rink in E.T. Seton Park, gone until the next freeze

Of course, by Wednesday, the party poopers at the City had put up new “Ice Unsafe” and “No Skating” signs and melted all of the ice. Those fun-hating bastages. I don’t mind the signs so much, but they could have left the rink intact.

Despite the relative deep freeze of the last couple of weeks, I think it was still a little early to be heading out on natural ice. The ice looked solid even on Monday, but I wasn’t going anywhere near it. Call me paranoid, but I can wait until a proper January freeze.

The “No Skating” signs include a hand-lettered reference to Chapter 608 of the Toronto Municipal Code, section 21B of which states that, “No person shall access or skate on a natural ice surface in a park where it is posted to prohibit it.” Are there any natural ice surfaces in Toronto that don’t get “No Skating” signs posted every winter? Last I heard, even Grenadier Pond gets this treatment. Signs also line the banks of the Don River, and I can’t remember ever seeing that chemical soup frozen over. I did snowshoe across Taylor Creek once a few years ago, but only because I knew the river was about three inches deep below the ice.

Walking in a winter wonderland

Snow-dusted pine tree

Ah, the first snowfall of the year. This is one of my favourite times to walk in the Don Valley. This stretch of E.T. Seton Park is normally quite well used, even during the constant rain of the last few weeks. But I only saw one other set of bootprints along the snow-covered path today, and a single lonely bicycle track heading south. There were more deer tracks (3) than car tire tracks (none) in the two parking lots I passed.

Snow-dusted picnic table

I usually take my daily lunchtime constitutional in this section of the park (those familiar with the area may have noticed that many of my posts originate in E.T. Seton Park and environs), which is quite well shielded from the worst of the weather that rages outside the valley walls, allowing a nice relaxing walk on all but the most blustery of days. The walking choices in this single area vary from a forested hiking trail to scenic trails around a marsh to a paved level path traversing the length of the park. I took the easy route today. Though I was never more than a couple of hundred metres away from the traffic and slush above, I couldn’t hear a sound other than the crunching of my boots in the fresh snow. That’s what winter’s all about.

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.

Who did Jesus's 'do?

Jesus is the answer

This barber is located on Finch Ave. between Weston Rd. and Islington Ave. If the question is, “Who’s going to cut my hair?” I’m pretty sure the answer is wrong. If the question is, “Who’s upstairs at the ‘aroma massage’ place?” I’ll give 50-50 odds.