19 October 2015
After a three course lunch at the top of the CN Tower there was a need to walk some of it off so we set off along Front Street trying to decide where to go. Commando fancied having a look at the local football stadium in Liberty Village while I thought it would be nice to check out Garrison Common and Fort York. In the end we decided to split up at the smelly bridge and meet later by the exhibition centre where’d we’d picked up Commando’s race pack on our first day in Toronto. As it turned out, neither of our missions was particularly successful.
Turning off Bathurst Street I walked down a kind of slipway along the side of the park towards what I hoped was the entrance. The Virginia creeper lined path took me under the Gardiner Expressway where workmen were doing some extensive and rather noisy repair work. The wind whipped along the street almost taking me off my feet and, when I finally reached the entrance to the park, there was a charge to get in. If I hadn’t promised to meet Commando again in three quarters of an hour I might have paid up and gone for a wander but it seemed a bit silly in the circumstances. In the end the park and the nineteenth century fort, built by the British Army and Canadian militia as defence against the newly independent United States, would have to remain unexplored.
This left me with a bit of a dilemma. I had no real idea where to go next or what to do. In the end I decided to walk towards the lake shore and see what was there. After all, I’d been in Toronto for three days and I hadn’t been near Lake Ontario yet. The walk took me past the beautiful Beaux Arts style arched gate that led to the exhibition centre and I stopped for a moment to have a closer look. Called Princes’ Gates, they were originally going to be called The Diamond Jubilee Confederation Gates to celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of Canadian Confederation. As Princes Edward (later Edward VIII) and George were touring Canada in 1927 and agreed to officially open them the name was changed. A parade of fifteen thousand veterans were the first to pass through in the annual Warriors Day Parade. Beyond the gates is Exhibition Place, filled with exhibition, trade and banquet centres, theatre buildings, monuments, parks and sorting facilities. There are, I later found out, some wonderfuly historic buildings, but if I’d gone for a look I’d never have seen the lake.
With difficulty, I crossed all six lanes of Lake Shore Boulevard and pretty soon the lake was in sight through the trees of Coronation Park. Apparently, there’s a Royal Oak planted somewhere in the park to commemorate the coronation of King George VI and a Word War II memorial but I saw neither. What I did see was a lot of maples, all planted in honour of Canadian War Veterans, and hundreds of black squirrels. The place was literally crawling with the bushy tailed teases. It felt as if a dozen eyes watched me from every tree but, of course, as soon as I raised my phone to take a picture they all disappeared like lightning.
Once I was out of the shelter of the trees on the banks of the lake the wind was vicious. It tore at my hood and hat and nipped at my ears. For a while I hunkered down on a bench and looked out across the lake that was doing a pretty good job of pretending to be a sea. Beyond the breakwater of the small harbour was all white water with waves, probably fifteen or more feet high, crashing against the shore of the island. At this rate they’d surely have to close the airport before a plane was engulfed.
Within the calmer waters of the harbour small sailboats bobbed on the choppy lake while the waves pounded against the breakwater until I thought it would surely give way. It was hard to look out at that huge expanse of water and see it as a lake, it felt so much like a sea to me but, although it covers more than seven thousand three hundred square midea, Ontario is most certainly a lake, one of the five Great Lakes of North America. On the other side somewhere was New York State but I couldn’t see it. This is the last in the Great Lakes chain, draining into the Atlantic through the St Lawrnce River but the water is fresh not salt. Apparently there is a monster in there somewhere too, a little like the one in Loch Ness (allegedly) green with a long neck. Suffice to say I didn’t see it although I did see some hulking great tankers sailing past.
When the wind got too much to bear I walked away from the shore line towards a large inukshuk I’d spotted a little way off. This I later discovered was Inukshuk Park and the inukshuk, standing on top of a hill overlooking the lake, is a legacy project built in 2002 to commemorate World Youth Day. Standing thirty feet tall with an arm span of fifteen feet, this is the largest inukshuk in North America and was made of about fifty tonnes of mountain rose granite by artist Kellypalik Qimirpik from Cape Dorset, Nunavut. It really was an impressive piece and I stood for a wile admiring it from different angles. From beneath, it almost had a look of Stonhenge about it and I wondered for a moment if the aboriginal Canadians and the ancient Britons had been in cahoots.
It was time to think about getting back to meet Commando so, leaving the wild turmoil of the lake behind I set off towards Lake Shore Boulevard again. In the distance a wind turbine was making the most of the stormy weather and, as I stopped to look at it, I saw Commando heading towards me in the distance. At least it saved me battling with the road again.
We walked back across the parks together comparing notes on our disappointments. While I’d been deciding not to pay to visit the fort, Commando had discovered that the football stadium was closed. As they say, the best laid plans… At least we both got to stand on the shores of Lake Ontario.
The wind was biting too hard to stand there very long so we took ourselves off to the Starbucks on the corner of Bathurst Street and Lake Shore Boulevard to warm up with a coffee. We looked out over an interesting old warehouse building that seemed as if it was being renovated. Later I found out this was the Loblaw Groceterias building, opened in 1928 and said to be the most modern warehouse building in Toronto at the time. The stone trim on the piers at first floor level and on the roof have lovely geometric details you wouldn’t expect to see on what was, basically, a giant grocery store, although those on the roof are crumbling. The renovations are going to be extensive but in about three years the old building will be in use again as shops, offices and apartments. I’m glad they’re going to all that trouble rather than just demolish and build something new as is all too often the case.
By this time it was almost half past four and we had big plans for the morning so an early night was in order. We made our way back across the smelly bridge, which still had a bit of a whiff about it, towards our hotel. Why the bridge should have such a persistent pong was a mystery I never did solve, although extensive Googling revealed that a lot of local residents have noticed and commented on it. The bridge is actually called the Bathurst Street Bridge and was built in 1903 to carry a steam railway over the Humber River. In 1916 it was dismantled, moved and converted for road traffic and has since been realigned for the tram service. This could explain why it looks so incongruous. Repurposing seems to be a bit of a thing in Toronto and I like that approach although I’m not so keen on the stench.
It felt like we’d packed a lot into one day and it was a relief to get back to our view over the city as the sun began to go down, even if it couldn’t quite compete with our lunchtime perspective.