18 October 2015
The hotel restaurant had barely opened when we went down for breakfast but, with the marathon starting at eight forty five, far earlier than most, we had to eat early. The only other diners were also runners. Back in the hotel room Commando put on his shorts and Itchen Spitfires running shirt and checked his bum bag one last time. Outside the window a row of blue and yellow portaloos had appeared overnight and I could see the start line a little way up University Avenue. We stood in front of the window, using the view as a backdrop for a pre race photo of each of us and then tried to watch some TV to take our minds off the day ahead. Most of it was about the Blue Jays second loss in the series. I hoped this wasn’t an omen for the race.
At ten past eight I looked out at University Avenue again. The clouds were still flushed with dawn. Hundreds of little ant like people were milling about, marshals in orange jackets, runners and spectators. Start pens had been set up and barriers lined the street. Both of us were too nervous to wait any longer so, with one final check that we had everything, we headed down for the foyer. A big red and white sign said Welcome Runners and the place was teaming with people in running gear. Commando posed for a rather nervous looking photo and we chatted about anything but the race. I’d have quite liked a coffee but it seemed a bit cruel when Commando couldn’t have one.
Just after half past eight we went out into the cold morning air. Even with my hat, gloves, padded coat, several layers of t-shirts, jumpers, leggings, thick socks and boots it made me suck in my breath. Poor Commando only had a fleece over his running kit to keep him warm. The sign on the corner of the street said it was one degree Celsius. If anything it felt colder. Music was playing over the public address system, A Hard Days Night. It made me smile despite the cold. Looking around most of the other runners were wearing long sleeved tops and their legs were covered, some were even wearing thin jackets. I couldn’t help thinking Commando should have worn his long leggings and a long sleeved running top or worrying how the cold would affect his pace. Of course I kept these thoughts to myself.
Commando’s pen was right outside the hotel. Starbucks was directly behind me as I stood behind the barrier talking to him and I longed for something warm to drink. Just before eight forty five he took off his fleece and handed it to me over the barrier. Looking at him was making me shiver. Goodness knows how he felt but he looked freezing. The runners shuffled forward as the first pen set off and I had to move up the street, dodging between crowds of spectators trying to keep one eye on Commando as he disappeared amongst the masses. I found him again at a break in the barriers near the crossing at Richmond Street and he gave me a grin but it looked as if his teeth were chattering. Perhaps he should have kept his fleece on a little longer.
This process was repeated as the next pen set off and I finally lost him in the crowd somewhere near Queen Street a few minutes before nine. His group would be the next to go but the pavements near the start line were packed tight with spectators and I didn’t have a hope of getting anywhere near, never mind finding him again so, clutching his red fleece to my chest and feeling slightly tearful, I dashed back to the hotel. From the window I had a fantastic view of the proceedings and I knew he was there somewhere amongst all the little dots of runners streaming under the red and white arch. I watched, still clutching the fleece, until his pen had set off and then went back outside.
My first thought was to get a coffee in the Starbucks next to the hotel but it was filled to overflowing with spectators whose runners had probably set off so I turned away. Race volunteers were collecting up all the discarded clothing in the now empty pen. I’d read it would be taken to goodwill and thought of the homeless man we’d seen the night before. Perhaps he’d benefit from it. Maybe I’d have better luck at the Starbucks in Adelaide Street? When that too was bursting at the seams I gave up on the idea of coffee and carried on along the route I’d planned out.
On the corner of Church Street I finally found an emptyish Starbucks and got my coffee. As it was so cold I sat inside to drink and took advantage of the free wifi to go over my route on Google maps. The coffee shop was on the corner so if I turned right I could follow it to Front Street, which was where I wanted to be. Handily, this would also take me past something I wanted to see, St James’ Cathedral Church. In fact I could just see the tip of the spire over the top of the building opposite.
Set in a pretty little park the white brick and Ohio sandstone cathedral has a chequered history. Although the parish was established in 1797, making it the oldest congregation in Toronto, the first wooden church wasn’t built for ten years. Within two years it had been damaged and robbed by American troops while it was being used as a hospital uuring the war of 1812. By 1833 it had been rebuilt in stone. The bell tower doubled as a town fire bell, so it was an irony that the new church burned down in early 1839. When it reopened later that year it became a cathedral. Unfortunately, just ten years later it burned down again.
The final gothic style incarnation with its beautiful verdigris covered copper roofs, was designed by Frederick William Cumberland and opened in 1853. At the time it was one of the largest buildings in the city and when the tower and spire were completed in 1874 it became the tallest structure in Canada. It remained so for twenty five years when it was topped by Old City Hall and, later, the CN Tower. Even so, the three hundred and five foot spire has remained the tallest in Canada and the second tallest in North America, second only to St Patrick’s Cathedral in New York.
When I planned my route I’d thought there might be interesting grave stones to peruse but there were none. It turns out the parish cemetery was moved to the Chapel of St James-the-less on Parliament Street about a mile and a half away. Apparently there are still unmarked graves under the modern cathedral car park which seems slightly disrespectful to me. I’m not sure I’d feel good about parking my car there.
By this time I was beginning to wonder how Commando was getting on. There was a handy tool on the race website that gave an idea of where people would be on the course at a given time based on their expected finish time. I’d taken a few notes before I left the hotel and as I walked I checked them. It was just after ten, he’d been running a little over an hour so, if he was on target, he should be somewhere near Lake Shore Boulevard by this time. Of course that was miles away and I had no way of knowing if he was there or not.
When I came to Front Street I turned left, still following my plan. The buildings here were lower, many of brick construction which made a change from all the glass towers. There was a fire engine outside the fire station, its front wheels curiously raised off the ground.behind it I spotted a police car, also on the fire station forecourt. This had all four wheels on the ground.
Just beyond this I noticed a tall chimney and wondered what it was. Signs above some of the doors as I passed told me the Canadian Opera and something called the Imperial Oil Opera Theatre occupied the buildings but I was pretty sure this wasn’t their original use. The end of the building, facing onto Berkley Street, had a beautiful stepped gable and rows of tall, bricked up arched windows. Later I discovered this was the old gas works built in the late 1800’s. Once upon a time it provided gas for the lights of the city. It closed in 1954 when the demand for gas waned.
It seemed I’d hit a vein of interesting architecture when I came to another long brick building on the next block. The long arched windows with tiny circular ones at the crest of the arch reminded me a little of a church. There were scrolled pediments above the doors and the crest on the doors told me this was a police station. Once this was also part of the gasworks and was used as a purification building. Surprisingly Toronto Police Service 51 Division is one of the most modern in the city. This doesn’t mean all the police stations in Toronto are very old. Cleverly, they restored the old building and built new, state of the art, facilities in the shell.
Right after I’d passed the police station I spotted the sign for Trinity Street which was where I needed to turn off for the Distillery District, my aim for the walk. In the planning stages I’d looked at all the interesting things in Toronto and how they interacted with the marathon route. Originally, I’d planned a much more ambitious walk, taking in several other attractions. Then I remembered London and my panicked dash through crowds to get to the finish on time and decided I needed to pare things down considerably. It was still bitterly cold and I wondered again how Commando was doing.
Pretty soon I was standing outside the Distillery District’s spiked metal gates surrounded by old industrial buildings. Trinity Street is the widest of the lovely brick paved thoroughfares and I stood for a moment just taking in the atmosphere and trying to imagine it as it had been. It began in 1831 when James Worts came from England to Canada planning to make his fortune by building a wind powered flour mill. In partnership with his brother in law William Gooderham he built a windmill at the mouth of the Don River. Sadly, Wort’s wife died in childbirth three years later and, inconsolable, he drowned himself in the mill’s well. Gooderham carried on and, in 1837, expanded into alcohol production. By the 1860’s it was the largest distillery in the world.
In the late twentieth century the distilling business wound down and for a while the area was derelict. These were the best preserved Victorian industrial streets in North America though and pretty soon the film makers moved in. Over eight hundred films and TV shows have been filmed here. Maybe I’ve even watched some of them. In 2001 Cityscape Holdings, seeing the potential, bought the site and began transforming it into an historic and retail site using only small independent businesses.
To my right was the smoke house with its odd top knot, the malt house and coopers yard, some of the oldest buildings, dating from the mid 1800’s. What really caught my eye though was the Brick Street Bakery in the old pump house. For a moment I condisered going inside and checking out the wares but a look at the time told me I’d better get a move on. It was getting on for half past ten, just half an hour to go to Commando’s half way point and I wanted to be at the viewing area by then.
Regretfully, I gave the cakes a miss and turned down Tank House Lane, presumably once full of tanks of whiskey. A lovely installation, excuse the pun, in the shape of a heart and the word LOVE filled with love locks, made me wish Commando was with me. Thinking of him made me hurry along and far too soon I was back on Trinity Street looking at another installation. I’d seen Dennis Oppenheim’s Still Dancing from the gate and wondered what it was. To me it looked a lot like a giant pacifier. Close up its distillery roots were obvious with coils and a strange copper funnel affair.
Beyond was the Stone Distillery, the largest and oldest building. Designed by David Roberts it was built of limestone shipped from Kingston and stands out as the only non brick building. Interestingly, during World War II, distilling was halted and it was put to use producing explosives. These days it’s a wine bar and restaurant. There was certainly no time for wine or food so I hurried along to Distillery Lane where a wonderful old truck made me think of Commando again. He’d have loved it.
Most of the buildings here are filled with small art galleries, boutiques, studios and, one that caught my eye, a shop selling hand made jewellery. In the window I saw some beautiful glass beads that looked like they’d fit on my bracelet. When I went inside though the shop was shut. I did wander around for a bit looking in the inner windows of other studios and shops but, being Sunday, everything was closed. What a shame.
Back outside I realised I’d better start heading for the viewing point if I wanted to see Commando mid marathon. The distant CN Tower set me in the right direction and I hurried past the Mill Street Brew Pub towards Trinity Street again. Turning onto Gristmill Lane a black squirrel dashed across the path in front of me and scurried up a drainpipe where he gave a pretty good impression of a tightrope walker by scampering along a thick cable. I snapped away, hoping to capture the action but he was moving too fast for a clear shot. Those squirrels are peskily illusive.
At this point I knew I should have been hurrying but I couldnt resist stopping for another old truck. Then I was back amongst the modern buildings but there was one last intriguing sculpture to stop me in my tracks. It reminded me of one of the aliens from War of the Worlds which turns out to be exactly what creator Michael Christian says it’s based on. Apparently it’s called I.T. and it has an eye beam that lights up at night and moves about. Call me lily livered if you like but I think I’d probably run and hide if I stumbled upon something like that, especially if I’d been in the Mill Street Brewery first.
The cheer area I was heading for was at East Bay Front and I knew as I set off along Parliament Street that I’d be cutting it very fine if I wanted to spot Commando. Logically, with so many runners I’d be lucky to spot him if I did get there in time but I had to try so I was almost running as I went under the railway bridge. When I came out the other side I realised there was no way I was ever going to get to East Bay Front even if I’d had another hour because I’d have to pass under the Gardener Expressway and the race was between me and the other side. How on earth hadn’t I noticed that before?
Still, I figured I could stand right there under the expressway at the side of the race track and see if Commando went past. At least the field seemed to be quite thin with runners coming past in sporadic groups. If he hadn’t already gone past I might just have a chance of spotting him. It was almost eleven o’clock, he’d be hitting the half way point at any moment if he was still on track and nothing bad had happened. How far the half way point was from me was the problem. I had no idea. It was possible he’d already gone past. I told myself I’d wait for fifteen minutes and if I didn’t see him I’d give up.