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Hard Day’s . . . Night

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The Night Sky by  Blake Nancarrow

The Night Sky by Blake Nancarrow

Legend has it that after a particularly long recording session, Ringo Starr left Abbey Road muttering something like “That was a hard day’s…” when he looked up, realized the time and said, “…night.”

True or not, I’m sure you’ve shared that experience: a long work day during which you rarely look up and made worse if you don’t leave the office or have a window. The concept of time that was once gauged by the sun is now dictated by the clock. How many times in the winter have you looked up at 5 p.m. and said, “It looks like nine o’clock at night!” Yes, but who said what nine o’clock looks like?

Indeed the appearance of time, day and night, has changed since the invention (and popularity) of gas then electric light. Compounded with the popularlity of “smart” devices, we are inundated with light to the point that we can’t sleep. And if we can’t sleep then, well, shouldn’t we be productive?

We haven’t always slept through the night. In the distant past, we used to go to bed “early,” dog tired after a labourious day, wake up later in the night or early morning, do stuff in the dark, fall asleep again, and wake up with rooster. Some people still do this, only they write, as Karen Emslie tells us in her Aeon piece, “Broken Sleep.”

Unfortunately this schedule doen’t work for many people. Perhaps we’ve been programmed. Regardless, light affects our melatonin which affects our sleep which affects our mood which determines our mental and physical health. Sure there are pills and exercises and sex and yoga and mantras, but let’s to go to the source: light. Humans cannot cope in a world without darkness, says Rebecca Boyle in her article “The End of Night,” published in Aeon. Not only does it rob us of biological needs but it compels us to produce, to be “on” all the time. We’re surrounded by (very rich) role models, leading us to believe if Highly Successful Person can be highly successful with only four hours’ sleep, then so can I because I’m efficient, not a slacker like other people! For the record, I count myself among the “other people.” You really don’t want to around me when I’ve only had four hours’ sleep. In fact, I think that says something about Highly Successful Person too.

The idea that we must be productive most of the time makes me wonder about the definition of productive. From my North American perspective, it appears to mean making something tangible. Thinking isn’t seen as productive. Oh, you’ll hear lots of discussion about “creatives” and “knowledge workers” “innovating” in “collaborative work environments,” but I think that’s all marketing spin. As I sit alone in my home office by my window looking out onto a tree and a neighbouring building, I wonder what a boss would think, all buttoned up in a dark blue wool suit. He or she would likely scold me for daydreaming then request a status report on something, probably the very thing I was “daydreaming” about.

One thing I do daydream/think about is space. It gives us perspective. Once upon a time I witnessed the northern lights. Recently, my Facebook feed was filled with other people’s photos of the glorious phenomenon. I’d like to see the northern lights again as well as the other celestial shows, but judging from Toronto’s light-polluted night sky, I’ll have to drive pretty far north to do so. Having lived in a city for most of my life, I used to shrug this off. Then I saw the wonderful doc The City Dark and I realized I’m missing something–something important.

It’s a hard day’s night, indeed.


The Mystery at Yonge and Grenville: First Steps

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Last week I began “The Mystery at Yonge and Grenville” when I noticed condo construction had revealed some windows at this downtown intersection. This past Sunday, Kevin Plummer, who writes for the Historicist section of Torontoist, replied to my email:

I’m not sure what those windows are from. At first I thought it might be related to the Yonge subway, but from checking on google maps, the photos are facing across Grenville, not Yonge. It might still be access for city works under the street. I really don’t know.

Looking in the City Directories to see what was, over the decades, located where the condos are being built to see if that offers any hints.

Let me know if your trip to the Archives uncovers any clues….

In lieu of a physical trip to the Toronto Archives, I took a virtual one and found some cool stuff. (Archives and libraries are lovely, musty rabbit holes, aren’t they?) Apparently, Grenville Street is named from Richard Temple Grenville, the first Duke of Buckingham. Aside from that, I learned that while I may cast my magnifying glass around for clues, I need to register and get copyright permission to use photos for my blog. Fair enough. Cool stuff will have to wait.

Next stop: the archives.

The Mystery at Yonge and Grenville

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Condos are sprouting up all over Toronto. Workers dug a whacking great hole at the corner of Yonge and Grenville, a block north of College Street on the west side. They removed the hoarding boards to reveal some of what was excavated, which is mainly rubble. But not all. Just below Grenville is a brick wall complete with windows, none of which appear to be broken.

Wet and snowy, dark and creepy Yonge and Grenville

My finding prompted a flurry of interest on my Facebook page. Cathy from Allison remarked that it revealed, “A city built on top of a city.”

“I envisioned a prison.” I replied. “Bet if I stood there long enough, creepy bony hands would have reached up to bars and . . .”

“The walking dead,” she concurred.

Dave from Larry’s River dubbed it a “Bro cave!” Hmm. What would a Victorian “bro” put in his “cave”?

Because great minds think alike, Rita from Scarborough wondered “if there are any artifacts inside?”

I attempted to look up Yonge and Grenville on the Toronto Archives website as Ruth wondered if old Toronto had an “underground city, like in Seattle?”

My meagre search rendered nothing so I emailed the Historicist writer for Torontoist. I haven’t received an answer.

Undeterred, I googled something like “old Toronto maps” and posted my results: “According to this map, there was a broom factory on the corner of Yonge and College. However, the section I saw yesterday is precisely delineated by a blank square on this map.”

“Fascinating,” Phil from Toronto commented. “I noticed this a few days ago as well but failed to take photos. The glass in the windows does not even appear to be broken. Attached is a portion of one of your photos brightened up a bit.”

Lightened, but still creepy.

Lightened, but still creepy.

If I hear from Torontoist, I’ll post the response. Meanwhile, I’ll channel my inner Nancy Drew and see what else I dig up.

Not me, alas.

Not me, alas.

Rubber Hits the. . . Sidewalk

I attended the preliminary meeting of Walk Toronto led by Spacing writer Dylan Reid. As you can see, the attendance was good and the discussion (which you can’t see) was lively. The issues raised ranged from clearing snow to “pedestrianism,” which amounts to a walking culture. That sounds odd, but to me it’s s simple as a culture where more people walk around in their communities, get to know their neighbours, see folks walking their dogs, chatting about the weather. I grew up in a suburban neighbourhood that has become quite bleak. There is nothing to do, nowhere to go, no real parks where you can just sit and read or people watch; just a few malls (enclosed and strip) that offer nothing but consumerism and stale air. This isn’t conducive to growth, engagement, or even feeling safe. I think walking will help contribute to improving our city. Because everyone is a pedestrian.

Walk Toronto

At a meeting at Metro Hall on the evening of Feb. 13, over 80 participants gathered in order to launch our new group devoted to pedestrian advocacy in Toronto.  At the end of the meeting, attendees took part in a vote in order to determine the official name of the organization, and the winning choice was “Walk Toronto”. For the time being our web presence will continue at , but soon the group’s new web address will be: .

The meeting began with the organizers outlining the need for a group to advocate walking in Toronto. As part of the visioning process, participants  discussed walking issues which they considered most important. These will be used as the basis for shaping the direction that Walk Toronto’s advocacy will take.  The meeting concluded with the formation of a circle of active volunteers who will perform various roles on an ongoing basis.

We thank…

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Putting the NO in Casino

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The city of Toronto and the province of Ontario are currently embroiled in a debate about casinos; indeed, as I write this I’m listening to CBC Radio’s Kathleen Petty host the mid-day call-in show Ontario Today. Today they’re featuring Rod Phillips, president of the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG). The callers are raising some great issues and the OLG is responding with typical bureaucratic rhetoric. Typically my blood is boiling.*

I’ve visited casinos on two occasions and played lotteries a few times, and without exception I’ve felt ripped off, as if I’ve spent $5 on a piece of paper that simply goes in the bin. No fun. No novelty. No gain. In fact, the one time I did win money on the slots ($12), I shoved it back into the machine only to lose $7. Imagine if I bet more. Imagine if I used my credit card.

What else was strange about the casino experience was the creepy feeling of being watched and intimidated. I literally huddled with my friends so I didn’t stand out. Does this make me a chicken, a wuss, a lightweight? If it does, so be it.

What’s creepier, however, is the line we are being fed by the OLG’s TV ads; that lottery and gaming money helps community centres and hospitals, implying that without the money you gamble away small towns will suffer. Let’s examine this: You have, say, $1,000 cash in your pocket. You go to a casino, gamble, and ultimately lose it all. The casino gets most of it and the OLG gets the remainder to distribute among various charitable groups.

My question is this: if that $1,000 is supposed to benefit charities, then why not give it directly to them? If not through taxes then by donation so you’d get a tax receipt)? These organizations are supposed to be supported by our tax dollars anyway; why are desperate people targeted to fund this scheme? We are fed a dream of winning the lottery, but so few do. The odds of winning are ridiculously low; indeed, I’d wager they’re in favour of the house. Yet people still bite in a bid for financial freedom and security. Ironically, they are likely the same people who are swimming in debt and bereft of savings. Why not take that $5, $10, $1,000 that you were going gamble and stick it in a high-interest savings account? Even at 1 per cent interest, you’ll be more ahead than you’d be at the roulette wheel.
Fun? Only if you own the joint.

*I actually wrote this on Wednesay, January 23, 2012, but I was listening to the show. Honest. Deadlines, appointments and falling asleep . . . well, you get the idea.

Accessibility Walk

Blocking the sidewalk in front of Meat on the Beach.

I went on a great walk today organized by Mary-Margaret McMahon, the councillor representing ward 32 here in Toronto. Our group included residents with visual impairments and those who use wheelchairs, as well as Adam Smith from the Beaches BIA, Edward Bimbaum and Laurie Smith from McMahon’s office. Along the route (from Brookmount along Queen to Lee) we pointed out the various obstables in our path, such as a fire hydrant in the middle of the sidewalk, poorly made concrete patches, and tree stumps.

The valve is raised above the cement, which makes it a tripping hazard.

We also discussed the need for ramps to businesses. The event was sparked by Joanne Smith, a resident (and, as I learned, my former Seneca classmate) who uses a wheelchair and cannot access the Starbucks at Queen and Brookmount. The cafe installed a ramp at her behest, but the city ordered it removed citing some regulation or other. The issue of ramps and the accessibility in general highlights how cutting corners cuts off people (i.e., taxpayers) and why it’s important that creative and innovating thinking must prevail when it comes to urban planning; not just in the broad scheme of things but also in day-to-day access.

Why can’t patches be corrected when they are installed rather than have to fix them later?

Walking the Walk

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I’ve been using a walking stick since February to prevent falls, stop traffic, and get seats on the streetcar. It’s worked a charm. Indeed, it’s worked in ways I never imagined. Remember the childhood rhyme, “Step on a crack, break your mother’s back”? Well, I owe her a million apologies.

When I walk, I pay very close attention to my surroundings, particularly the ground. Curbs, cracks, uneven sidewalks, potholes, wet sewer covers: all of these threaten my stability. It’s remarkable how much stuff is in our way and yet we manage to avoid the hazards.

The pain of my knee “shifting” and the embarrassment of falling made me quite paranoid for a while. I tend to walk on the right-hand side of the sidewalk with an ear open for the sounds of skateboards, bikes (a subject of another post altogether), and scooters, among other things. And I’m relatively young. Imagine if I were elderly. Yes, most people are respectful of their elders (holding doors, letting folk pass, and so on), but your thought process of venturing forth when you are unsure of your footing makes you rethink leaving the house.

I could join the chorus of voices advocating for seniors, but that’s redundant. Besides, I’ve learned that retirees are pretty good at advocating for themselves as they have a lot of time on their hands, and now that their numbers are swelling, I’ll leave them to their own devices. They’ve seen and done a lot more than I have thus far. They don’t need my help.

But let’s consider the broader picture. Eighteen or eighty, we are all one misstep from being temporarily disabled. One false foot placement on a crumbling curb and you can find yourself in emergency with a broken leg. Sure eight weeks in a cast and you’re on the mend, but you still need to get around. If you live on your own, as a growing number of us are, you need to navigate the city. Suddenly the state of sidewalk repair becomes a priority.

Pedestrians are often forgotten in the so-called war on cars by cycling enthusiasts. Indeed, walking seems to be seen as recreational as opposed to a means of transport; as through real commuters drive or cycle. Even if you live in the downtown core, you stroll to work, leisurely without a care in the world, lazily sucking back a fluffy coffee. As if.
People take this behaviour to heart—stopping to gawp at shop windows, to chat to neighbours, to indulge their child—right in the middle of the already narrow sidewalk, which is already considered fair game for hawking merchandise and parking bikes. I expect that on an average day the useable width of a sidewalk on a main street is about two feet—for two-way traffic. No wonder we apologize so damn much.

This is why Toronto needs to widen its sidewalks and invest money in their maintenance. Not to cut down on the beg your pardons, but rather to prepare for the future. Despite Google’s invention of driverless cars, I think we’ll all be walking. In fact, walkability is now a crucial factor in housing prices. Being able to stroll to work, to stores, to cafes, and see your neighbours helps to define quality of life and therefore safe communities. Don’t believe me? Search for “walkability real estate.” Walking is cool.



as I walk Toronto

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