Wayfinding in the Don Valley

A wayfinding sign in the Don Valley points the (wrong) way

I noticed this beautiful new wayfinding sign in E.T. Seton Park today, just behind the Ontario Science Centre. It’s everything you could want in a sign: bright and easy to read with clear directions. Unfortunately, it’s backwards. The “south” arrow is pointing north, and the “north” arrow is pointing south. Oops. It was probably meant to be mounted on the other side of this post or on one of the still-signless posts nearby. I guess it was a long day for the sign-installing crew.

An older wayfinding sign in the Don Valley points the (wrong) way

The older sign above, just metres away from the first, doesn’t fare much better. It points the way to Don Mills Road, but directs lost souls up a pathway that was removed and barricaded after being replaced by a nearby link.

Path closed

Scarborough's Tower

Many cities around the world have their own versions of the CN Tower. Seattle has the graceful Space Needle, Calgary has the creatively-named Calgary Tower, Rotterdam has the squat Euromast, and even Niagara Falls has the Skylon. Yet despite the best efforts of all of the imitators, several of which are such fierce competitors that they copied our own CN Tower years before it was even conceived, none of them are quite as towery as the original.

But I didn’t realize until I rode by the other day that Scarborough also has its own version of the CN Tower near Lawrence & Galloway:

Scarborough Tower

It’s not quite as grand as the others and it lacks a revolving restaurant, but it makes up for those shortcomings with a healthy coating of rust and a certain suburban je ne sais quois.

I frequently see antennae of various descriptions perched atop water towers, but this is by far the largest such specimen that I’ve encountered.

Two things you don't see every day

1) Canoeists on the Don River:

Paddling the Don, May 2007

2) A cyclist crossing the DVP (and not getting killed in the process):

Cyclist crossing the DVP

Both of these pictures were taken at about the same time, looking north from the Queen Street bridge. The first was made possible by the annual Paddle the Don event. The second came courtesy of the weekend closure of the Parkway. This guy had actually been riding northbound (in the southbound lanes!) but was chased  over the barrier and off the highway by a works crew that passed him a few seconds before I took his picture. Hey dude! The Ride for Heart is next month.

Offroad streetcar

An old PCC in Pickering

I always hear about old streetcars sitting out in farmers’ fields or doing duty as storage sheds in the middle of nowhere, but I’d never seen one for myself until this past weekend. This one is on Finch Ave in Pickering, just east of Scarborough-Pickering Town Line.

I would have gotten in closer for some pictures, but the place was plastered with ‘no trespassing’ signs and there was no one around for me to ask about it. I assume that they’re tired of having transit and photo geeks crawling all over their property, but what do they expect with a rusting old PCC sitting in their front yard?

The original monster house

Back in the mid-70s, there was big controversy on Brooke Avenue in North York. The owners of 196 Brooke, just east of Avenue Road, wanted to add a second storey to the house to create room for their growing family. It was quite the scandal in this suburban neighbourhood dominated by bungalows.

Petitions circulated in protest and several residents declared that it would mark the end of the neighbourhood as they knew it.

The proposal didn’t even include a full second storey addition: the roof peak was only moving up by about six inches. In fact, it was closer to a shed dormer than a second storey, effectively a protrusion from the side of the attic that changed the shape of the roofline but had virtually no impact otherwise.

The original monster house

Granted, it’s not the prettiest addition ever to grace a house, but it’s hard to see what the uproar was about, especially considering that the street already hosted a handful of modest two-storey homes.

My great-grandparents lived a few doors up the street and were virtually alone in their non-opposition to the planned abomination. I remember listening from the kitchen one day when my great-grandmother told one of the petition-toting neighbours that it was none of her business if the family wanted to add to their house. It didn’t affect her one way or another and she didn’t understand why any of the other neighbours were so pig-headed. Even though the entire neighbourhood seemed to be against the development, North York council allowed the construction anyway.

Thirty years later, Brooke is one of those streets overrun by monster houses. In the block between Avenue Road and Elm Road, only 4 bungalows remain on the north side, surrounded by monster homes built within the last 20 years. A few more bungalows survive on the south side. The original monster house (on the left in the picture below) that caused the uproar 30 years ago now looks tiny compared to the true monsters that line the street.

The original monster house and its new neighbour

But wait, there’s a bonus to this tale: one of the few bungalows left on the block is the one where my great-grandparents lived. The house of the only people who didn’t oppose development is among the small handful that haven’t since been developed. You can’t buy irony that good.


No, I’m not talking about the kind of inspiration you get from Successories.

A post on the Spacing Wire last week pointed to a short film called Drum 13 (requires QuickTime 7) by Tony Round. The description read, “a banjo and a massive abandoned Cherry Beach oil drum really do belong together.” Drum 13 was filmed in February 2005. It turns out that in April 2006, I had visited the same location and taken these pictures, among many others, of that oil tank:

Industrial Blossom


While I was there, I was struck by how this big old boring piece of industrial detritus could be so compelling a subject and offer so many interesting studies in light and form. I’ve always enjoyed taking pictures of industrial ruins, but this place was special. I couldn’t believe that I’d ridden my bike past it for so many years without once venturing onto the site and vowed to come back as the seasons changed throughout the year.

But by June 2006, the site had been leveled, and you never would have known that the empty field had ever held anything more substantial. It is currently being developed into the transitional sports fields in the port lands. The experience underscored the importance of timing: if you have a chance to take a picture, take it — the scene may not exist an hour from now, never mind next week or next month.

I lamented the loss of the picturesque location, but didn’t know that anyone else had appreciated its interesting features before I saw Drum 13 posted online last week. I wondered if anyone else had been artistically inspired by this storage tank. Some quick Googling found that at least a few other photographers and some musical experimenters have documented the location over the years. It’s good to know that I wasn’t the only fan of this abandoned piece of the city.

Rink Review: City of Toronto

We’re barely half a week into March and already it’s the last day of operation for 42 of the 49 city-run outdoor artificial ice rinks. When I was growing up, the local rink was always open through March Break, but cutbacks have put an end to that. It’s a shame that our elected representatives can no longer bring themselves to properly fund so many of the little things that make living in the city worthwhile.

A smattering of rinks will remain open for another two weeks, but getting on the subway or into the car to go skating is just not the same as walking 10 minutes to the neighbourhood rink and lacing up for a mid-afternoon workout. Most city rinks will melt away over the next couple of weeks and be transformed back into tennis courts, basketball courts, or fountains come the spring and summer. After another productive summer of serving active citizens, they’ll freeze over again in mid-December and I’ll be visiting as many of them as I can.

Changes in the port lands

I went for a short bike ride through the port lands yesterday, the first time I’ve been down there since the autumn. Unlike most winters, there’s quite a bit of work going on. It’s also a little more challenging than usual to get into the area, as two of the three access roads are closed for bridge repairs.

Unwin Ave Bridge is closed for the seasonThe single-lane Unwin Ave bridge just west of Leslie is closed to traffic, though pedestrians and cyclists on skinny bikes can still use the narrow pedestrian walkway. The walkway is also just one lane wide, so you better hope that you don’t need to pass someone in the middle. Fortunately, it’s not usually a problem at this time of year. Or any time of year, really.

Cofferdam on the Hearn/PEC discharge channelThe decking on one section of the bridge roadway has been pulled up and piled to one side as if the reason for pulling up the deck was more to prevent passage than to make repairs. The channel that the bridge spans was recently blocked off from the lake by a cofferdam and is being drained so that it can be dredged and repaired. It used to be the discharge channel for the Hearn generating station, and will be reused as the discharge channel for the Portlands Engergy Centre. This maintenance should be complete by the end of May. Great White North dragon boats ususally launch from this channel for practices in the Outer Harbour. If all goes according to schedule, they won’t have to portage around the dry channel and the dam.

Transitional sports fields under constructionFarther west on Unwin, construction of the transitional sports fields is underway. Unlike many people who frequent the area, I actually like the idea of having sports fields on Unwin. I think the Toronto Waterfront Revitalization Corporation missed an opportunity in constructing these as artificial-turf fields. Natural grass fields would speak a lot more to the environment and sustainability, even if that would have required more site remediation than the TWRC was willing to do. This would be especially significant because these are intended to be temporary fields, lasting about 10 years before being relocated to some permanent location in the port lands. I’m betting that the “temporary” aspect gets lost somewhere between now and then. Otherwise, we’ll have an awful lot of poured concrete to dispose of in a decade.

Natural ice rink in front of St. Jamestown Sailing ClubI also stopped in at my (shuttered for the season) sailing club for to see the winter scenery and noticed that someone at the club next door had cleared out a natural rink on the harbour. Unfortunately, it looked a little melty in the sun, so I didn’t risk a review. But it definitely would have scored a 10 for ambiance.