‘sup? Just hangin’.

The rigging is checked twice by each of two different people. The harness is double-checked by each of three different people. Even your shoes are checked twice to make sure they’re on tight. You have to pass a breathalyzer test, get frisked with a metal detector, remove all jewellery and personal items, and be swabbed for explosives and narcotics. By the time you step outside onto the 1,168-foot-high walkway, you’d probably be in more imminent danger if you were swaying in a hammock reading a book. Yet casually leaning over the edge of the CN Tower requires your still-unconvinced brain to override your body’s instinctive resistance in order to push your centre of gravity out beyond the relative comfort of the walkway. After all, the next step down the staircase is a ten-second freefall away. By the time you’ve done it forwards and backwards and get around to posing for pictures, it’s almost second nature. Almost.

Right to left: Felicity, Val, and four other people with nothing to do on a Thursday afternoon.

So Felicity and I went on the CN Tower EdgeWalk last week. The walk itself takes about 30 minutes to circumnavigate the Tower on a 150-metre-long track, with nothing between you and your view of the city but the weather. The whole experience starts about 30-45 minutes before you step outside with the signing of the waiver, the donning of the red jumpsuit, and undergoing the aforementioned security and safety checks. Most of these preparations take place in a glassed-in room just off the gift shop at the base of the Tower, allowing a disbelieving public to watch six people calmly preparing for a short urban stroll. When the harnessed and jumpsuited walkers stride out of the prep room toward the elevator, staff and onlookers applaud and cheer. You can’t help but feel like a dorktastic version of the Mercury 7 strutting down the passage to the admiration of all and expectation of glory to come.

In addition to just walking around the deck and seeing the sights, the guide takes everyone through a series of exercises: stepping your toes over the edge, leaning backward, and leaning forward over the abyss. Then it’s picture time and you’re back inside almost before you know it. The funniest thing about it is that walking on the outside of the Tower quickly comes to seem so normal that all of the locals start doing what they usually do whenever they go up to the observation deck with out-of-town friends: they trace streets and scope landmarks, trying to pinpoint their houses somewhere below. I got as close as an apartment building on my street. The EdgeWalk is an expensive way to spend the afternoon, but it’s worth every loonie. I highly recommend it unless you’re completely jaded. And then I’d recommend it just to restore your sense of fun.

The family that recycles together…

This is a recycling community sign

A happy family carries their blue box out to the curb together in this rather idyllic representation of recycling.

As the person who has set the household recycling out for collection since the inception of the blue box program, I can assure the makers of this sign that it’s a solitary, thankless task, frequently undertaken in darkness of night or rainness of morning while cleaning up the mess made by raccoons attracted by the fragrant jars and cans. Never once has anyone held my hand and merrily skipped to the curb with me. I’ve yet to experience the communal joy of recycling with my family as we carry the bin like the Ark of the Covenant to the curb, where Belloq will ritually examine its contents. I’ve never seen mother and daughter in floor-length dresses solemnly accompanying the bin to its final resting place beside the road.

Indeed, when I look up and down the street every Wednesday morning, I see mostly solitary men and women in pymaja pants or nightgowns, flip-flops or boots (depending on the season), and all as bleary-eyed and bored as me, dragging their bins out from under the veranda at some hour so wee it barely qualifies as a time.

But I still think that this is a great sign.

(Seen in Cobourg, which would have you believe that it’s a family-oriented recycling community.)

Pedestrian crossing

Pedestrian crossing in a field

Surely my eyes deceive me, but is that a signed and signalled pedestrian crossing in the middle of an overgrown farmer’s field? I’ve got to check this out.


Pedestrian crossing in a field

Maybe I’m not so blind after all. That really does seem to be a pedestrian signal. I must get closer.


Pedestrian crossing in a field

Yep, that’s definitely one of Mr. Stickman’s genteel cousins showing me the way across. But across what? What the hell is he doing out standing in this field in the middle of nowhere?

Pedestrian crossing in a field

Sheesh. I know I often complain about bad pedestrian infrastructure, but this is ridiculous.

Still, I’d love to see simple signals like this across tracks in Toronto instead of huge pedestrian overpasses that turn a 10-second crossing into a 3-minute climb.



Christmas in June

Here’s something you don’t expect to see on the curb beside Rosedale Valley Road in June:

Nativity pyramid abandoned on Rosedale Valley Road

A three-tier nativity pyramid? It was in pretty rough shape and there are no homes around here where it might have come from. It could be another case of a freecycler using someone else’s curb instead of his own. I’m not sure that June on Rosedale Valley Road is the best time or place to recycle something like this, but it was gone by the time I came back the next day.

I don’t have a lot of exposure to items like this, so I had to rely on some creative Googling which not only let me decipher the scene depicted here (baby JHC in the manger looked more like a loaf of bread to my untrained eyes, and the magi appeared to be early 20th-century women clutching their purses while shopping), but also uncovered someone selling this exact model in better condition on eBay. For a surprise bonus, I am happy to present to you the most memorable movie scene ever to involve one of these things:

Keep your own damn garbage!

Sign on a chair left at the curb

Sign #1: FREE! Sign #2: If you left this here, please remove! Leave it in front of your own property, not other people's!

My regular readers know that I love a good sign, especially when there’s some well-deserved snark involved. And this snark is wholly deserved. Oh sure, leaving a chair at the curb for a garbage picker is the best kind of recycling, but I’ve got to agree with this homeowner who wrote this sign: keep your freecycling at your own curb, people. Now if I could just find someone to nail a turd bag to this chair and someone else to pronounce it fit for dog pee, you’d have the best of my neighbourhood signs in a single location.

Bargain Harold’s ghost letters

People of a certain age will remember Bargain Harold’s department stores, which went bankrupt in 1991. More than twenty years later, the name still appears on the façade of the West Rouge Plaza at the corner of Island Road and Friendship Avenue (no kidding) in Scarborough:

Bargain Harold's ghost letters

I didn’t have a Bargain Harold’s in my neighbourhood when I was growing up, but we did have Kresge and Woolworth, along with Bi-Way and Consumers Distributing not too far away. Zellers arrived later, replacing the local Eaton’s. Here are some random discoveries you make on the first page of a Google search for “Bargain Harold’s”: the founder, Harold Kamin, died two years ago; the Urban Dictionary says that a Bargain Harold is, well, pretty similar to every other definition in the Urban Dictionary; and this commercial:

Fresh baked pies

Painted lettering on the hydro poles lining the quiet country road whets your appetite as you approach: “Pies / Butter tarts” and an arrow pointing to deliciousness ahead.

Hydro poles point the way to pies and butter tarts

A little farther along, a whirligig-topped sign advertises “Fresh Baked Pies” and “Just Tarts Tuesdays” with another arrow pointing across the street.

Sign across the street from Glenn's pie stand

Turning across the street, you see the pie shop beside the road in all its grandeur:

Glenn's pie stand

To a downtowner, life seems a little different in the rural belt surrounding the city. Roads are quiet (and sometimes not even paved), vistas are grand, and payment is on the honour system. But you don’t have to travel far to get a taste of the country. You don’t even have to leave the city: this pie stand sits in front of a home on the Toronto side of Scarborough-Pickering Townline, which separates Toronto from Durham Region north of Finch Avenue.

Glenn started the pie stand about six years ago as a sideline when he began taking care of his mother, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, at the house. She couldn’t be left alone and he was restless at the house all day long, so decided to start baking one day. Glenn bakes all of the pies and tarts himself but mostly uses his mother’s original recipes. The stand was named Mary’s Pies in her honour and started as just a table and sign in front of the house.  “I can still remember the first one I sold.” And yes, that first customer still buys pies. Glenn built the stand later and keeps it open from “12:30–dark” 7 days a week.

Money jar at the pie standThere’s no staff and the counter is self-serve. You’ll find an assortment of fresh pies or tarts inside the stand on any given day, along with a simple payment jar to drop off $9 for each pie or $5 for a half-dozen tarts.

The honour payment system works out well. “People just freak out about the honour system,” but Glenn says that he’s never lost money from the jar. “Sometimes people come and, you know, they’re short a little bit and you find a little note in the jar there with some money and it says, ‘I was short such and such the other day and here’s the money.'” He adds, “People like to be trusted.” Still, some people won’t leave money in the jar and bring it up to the front door of the house instead. He does lose the occasional pie to kids but he shrugs it off, recalling his own youth. “We used to do it too, eh?”

Glenn sells up to 80 pies a week in his summer peak season along with a couple of dozen 6-packs of butter tarts on Just Tarts Tuesdays. He’ll bake to order and takes requests.

Can he see himself doing it for another six years? “I dunno, man,” he chuckles. “It is a lot of work. I’ll keep it going for a while…”

The top of Toronto

The view from the top of Toronto

At only about 180 metres of elevation, the peak of the hill at the former Beare Road Landfill isn’t even close to being the highest point in Toronto (that honour goes to the intersection of Keele & Steeles at 209 metres), but it is one of very few places in the city that offers an uninterrupted 360° panorama of the surroundings. The peak is in the far northeastern corner of the city but it’s not at all hard to get to: a few minutes’ walk from the Toronto Zoo parking lot or a few minutes’ bike ride from the end of the Gatineau hydro corridor trail will get you to the base with energy to spare for the quick climb up.

There’s an easier way to the top than the trail below, but I made it about halfway up this path before running out of steam and dismounting to carry my bike up the rest of the way:

Trail up to the top of Toronto

This coyote was reading a big sign about habitat restoration in Rouge Park:

Coyote at the Beare Road Landfill

It was too hazy to see the 27 km-distant CN Tower (it would be on the horizon somewhere to the left of the road in the top picture), but the Pickering nuclear plant and wind turbine are just 7.5 km to the southeast and visible as the lumps on the horizon near the right side of this picture:

Looking toward Pickering from the top of Toronto

Dog pee post

Dog Pee Post

Now this is a twist: in a world of property owners who admonish dogs for using their lawns as toilets, here’s someone encouraging dogs to pee on this stump. Mind you, maybe the motive isn’t entirely altruistic: the pee post is on a sidewalk boulevard on Cambridge Ave and far from any homeowner’s lawn. I smell misdirection. My money’s on this guy.