My neighbourhood’s horror


Not to cast a pall over my birthday today, which I’ve already kept low-key-to-dull, but I wanted to share this item from the Toronto Star which summarizes what has transpired in my Cabbagetown neighbourhood since Tuesday morning.

I awoke to the sound of two distinct, non-verbal screams. Now I’m on the fifth floor and at the opposite end of a lane which intersects with the driveway near the corner of Winchester and Ontario Streets. It was on that driveway that Nighisti Semret met her tragic and senseless fate.

If you live in the area, please look again at our security video embedded in the Star’s story. It’s the biggest clue that police have released thus far.

Also, keep your ears peeled for ways you could help the family if Ms. Semret. I understand the Delta Chelsea Hotel, her employer, as well as members of the Eritrean community in Toronto, might be fundraising.

Cathedral Bluffs, Scarborough (Toronto), sunrise, June 27


Hopped up on sugar and caffeine early this morning I had the bright idea of seeing if I could get to the Scarborough Bluffs in time for some sunrise photos.  I won’t disclose how I got there other than to say that it involved the kindness of neither stranger nor friend!

I’ll let the pictures speak as to how well I walked!  I note that Mother Nature has made very critical, unfortunate structural changes to the Abbey since I first saw it about forty years ago (another ice age intervened, I grant you!)

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Nine years older nine years later


It’s been so long I had to look up what SARS stood for (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome).

That was part of the underlying score as I spent five weeks in two hospitals starting nine years ago early this morning.

Why was I laid up?

Well an item from Montréal in this morning’s news brought it all back, except that I wasn’t in an argument when I was hit.

Some of the details I remember quite clearly, as I recalled in my story, but the twenty-four-to-forty-eight hours following my mishap have been wiped from my memory – calling my friend Karen, Karen calling my Mom, Mom calling me. I had perked up a little by the time my sisters and Craig called. My down-and-out time was spent in surgery and recovering from it – repairing my right femur and radius by “internal fixation” one at a time, mind you, but under the same anesthetic (these x-rays are roughly what mine looked like when all was done.)

From the moment the first fire-truck arrived until my last day at the rehab hospital on June 6 SARS, and the necessary but de-humanizing preventive measures against it, was a constant fact of life in Toronto. The TV movie made about it wasn’t far off the mark at all.

So nine years later, there’s been a lot of water under the bridge, but I still see the places on my leg and arm where the incisions were made and on days when my body aches those two spots tend to lead off.

Once upon a time living to see 2003 seemed an unrealistic dream, and that spring was quite a nightmare, but I remember lying on my hospital bed “bargaining” to hopefully walk again, use a cane for the rest of my life even, and, while I thought I had to do so for some time, that is no longer the case.

This mishap was the catalyst for a lot of therapy – and not just of the physical variety.  I became familiar with the idea that significant trauma can re-awaken (or rouse for the first time) past trauma.  I’ve done a lot of work in nine years, if I do say so myself.

So there’s my shot of gratitude for the day!

Another long spring walk in Toronto


Bleecker Street Housing Co-Operative

Wellesley-Magill Park

Wellesley-Magill Park

Steam Plant Lofts (part of the former Wellesley-Princess Margaret Hospitals)

Verve condominiums at Wellesley and Homewood

Public art on a utility box near Jarvis and Gloucester Streets (one of many in the area)

One of the former Gooderham residences, this one at Jarvis and Cawhtra Square

Magnolias on Cawthra Square

Toronto AIDS Memorial at Cawthra Square Park, behind the 519 Church Street Community Centre

519 Church Street Community Centre (“The 519″)

Former Oddfellows Hall (1891) at College and Yonge Streets

College Park, the former Eaton’s Store at Yonge and College Streets

A notorious Bay Street dive emerging as a boutique hotel

Walking the labyrinth at Bell Trinity Square

Osgoode Hall, Law Society of Upper Canada

Canada Life

Campbell House, the oldest remaining home from the original site of the Town of York, was built by Upper Canada Chief Justice Sir William Campbell and his wife Hannah in 1822.

OCAD University’s (Ontario College of Art and Design) Sharp Centre for Design, Will Alsop, archt. with Robbie/Young + Wright Architects Inc., is a box four storeys above ground supported by colourful pillars; it is often described as a tabletop.

The spire of St. George the Martyr Anglican Church near The Grange

The Grange (1817) behind the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) and now part of it, was built for D’Arcy Boulton (1785–1846).

Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO)

Victoria University, University of Toronto

“Crucified Woman” (1976) by Almuth Lutkenhaus at Emmanuel College, University of Toronto

Victoria University reflected in the Isabel Bader Theatre

Church of the Redeemer (Anglican)

The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM)

The Royal Conservatory of Music

Queen Alexandra Gateway, at the Bloor Street end of Philosopher’s Walk, next to the Royal Conservatory of Music, was built “To commemorate the visit of TRH the Duke & Duchess of Cornwall & York Oct. 10th 1901.” The Duke and Duchess later became King George V & Queen Mary.

The entrance to the Royal Conservatory of Music’s Koerner Hall

Somei-Yoshino Sakura Blossom Festival at Toronto’s High Park


Last year I went in the evening. Today I went at dawn. I learned the other day that the cherry trees in High Park—2,000 Somei-Yoshino Sakuras, a gift from Tokyo bestowed by the Japanese ambassador in 1959, were hitting their peak Saturday. The blossoms only last about a week, usually in late April or early May. This year’s mild weather means they’ve come out early.
Enjoy!

The Winchester – from draft beer to coffee since before Confederation


I did a short double-take walking up Parliament Street today, approaching the former Winchester Hotel. At the sreet-level entrance to what are now apartments upstairs – to the south of Tim Horton’s - a sign says something to the effect “Winchester Gardens – since 1861″.

 

 

 

That would be the landlord’s way of putting a time-stamp on the building, I suspect, whose main floor has undergone more than one transformation over the years.  When I first moved into the neighbourhood nineteen years ago it was still the Winchester Hotel, in its original incarnation, run-down and seedy, a tavern with rooms upstairs.  (They may even have called themselves apartments by then.)

The second photo shows the Winchester Street side which, as I recall, was once the “ladies and escorts entrance” – an archaic designation, commonly seen at watering-holes across Ontario, mandated by liquor control authorities of past generations.

The tavern, modernized with a kitchen serving finger foods, continued to try to make a go of it until relatively recently – my last visit there being a Michael Shapcott election campaign celebration.

Things changed, however, when the building’s fine brick-work had the beejeezus sand-blasted out of it a few years ago in preparation for its current main floor tenant, a Tim Horton’s coffee shop.

Neighbours will remember the fight Tim’s had to wage to claim its place on the corner as heritage preservationists rightly demanded that the franchise adapt its typically cookie-cutter plans to befit the historic Victorian architecture of the Winchester.  Even skeptics would be hard-pressed to argue that they haven’t done a good job with the thick brick interior walls accented with framed pictures of the hotel and Parliament Street.

Like any Tim’s location in Canada it is a busy spot, even without the customary drive-thru window, and is a meeting place in Cabbagetown for people of all ages – men, women, escorts and children!

Final tributes to Jack Layton in pictures


It was an emotion-packed, life-affirming day.

A letter to Canadians from the Honourable Jack Layton


August 20, 2011
Toronto, Ontario

Dear Friends,

Tens of thousands of Canadians have written to me in recent weeks to wish me well. I want to thank each and every one of you for your thoughtful, inspiring and often beautiful notes, cards and gifts. Your spirit and love have lit up my home, my spirit, and my determination.

Unfortunately my treatment has not worked out as I hoped. So I am giving this letter to my partner Olivia to share with you in the circumstance in which I cannot continue.

I recommend that Hull-Aylmer MP Nycole Turmel continue her work as our interim leader until a permanent successor is elected.

I recommend the party hold a leadership vote as early as possible in the New Year, on approximately the same timelines as in 2003, so that our new leader has ample time to reconsolidate our team, renew our party and our program, and move forward towards the next election.

A few additional thoughts:

To other Canadians who are on journeys to defeat cancer and to live their lives, I say this: please don’t be discouraged that my own journey hasn’t gone as well as I had hoped. You must not lose your own hope. Treatments and therapies have never been better in the face of this disease. You have every reason to be optimistic, determined, and focused on the future. My only other advice is to cherish every moment with those you love at every stage of your journey, as I have done this summer.

To the members of my party: we’ve done remarkable things together in the past eight years. It has been a privilege to lead the New Democratic Party and I am most grateful for your confidence, your support, and the endless hours of volunteer commitment you have devoted to our cause. There will be those who will try to persuade you to give up our cause. But that cause is much bigger than any one leader. Answer them by recommitting with energy and determination to our work. Remember our proud history of social justice, universal health care, public pensions and making sure no one is left behind. Let’s continue to move forward. Let’s demonstrate in everything we do in the four years before us that we are ready to serve our beloved Canada as its next government.

To the members of our parliamentary caucus: I have been privileged to work with each and every one of you. Our caucus meetings were always the highlight of my week. It has been my role to ask a great deal from you. And now I am going to do so again. Canadians will be closely watching you in the months to come. Colleagues, I know you will make the tens of thousands of members of our party proud of you by demonstrating the same seamless teamwork and solidarity that has earned us the confidence of millions of Canadians in the recent election.

To my fellow Quebecers: On May 2nd, you made an historic decision. You decided that the way to replace Canada’s Conservative federal government with something better was by working together in partnership with progressive-minded Canadians across the country. You made the right decision then; it is still the right decision today; and it will be the right decision right through to the next election, when we will succeed, together. You have elected a superb team of New Democrats to Parliament. They are going to be doing remarkable things in the years to come to make this country better for us all.

To young Canadians: All my life I have worked to make things better. Hope and optimism have defined my political career, and I continue to be hopeful and optimistic about Canada. Young people have been a great source of inspiration for me. I have met and talked with so many of you about your dreams, your frustrations, and your ideas for change. More and more, you are engaging in politics because you want to change things for the better. Many of you have placed your trust in our party. As my time in political life draws to a close I want to share with you my belief in your power to change this country and this world. There are great challenges before you, from the overwhelming nature of climate change to the unfairness of an economy that excludes so many from our collective wealth, and the changes necessary to build a more inclusive and generous Canada. I believe in you. Your energy, your vision, your passion for justice are exactly what this country needs today. You need to be at the heart of our economy, our political life, and our plans for the present and the future.

And finally, to all Canadians: Canada is a great country, one of the hopes of the world. We can be a better one – a country of greater equality, justice, and opportunity. We can build a prosperous economy and a society that shares its benefits more fairly. We can look after our seniors. We can offer better futures for our children. We can do our part to save the world’s environment. We can restore our good name in the world. We can do all of these things because we finally have a party system at the national level where there are real choices; where your vote matters; where working for change can actually bring about change. In the months and years to come, New Democrats will put a compelling new alternative to you. My colleagues in our party are an impressive, committed team. Give them a careful hearing; consider the alternatives; and consider that we can be a better, fairer, more equal country by working together. Don’t let them tell you it can’t be done.

My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.

All my very best,

Jack Layton

Over 400 “Friends for Life” to thank as they cycle the shores of my gene pond, river, and canals!


There is some hope that this near-historic hot weather will return to “normal hot” by Sunday.  I have no doubt that this will be a great relief to all involved in the annual Friends for Life Bike Rally which leaves Toronto that morning on a six-day, six hundred kilometre ride to Montréal.

It was ten years ago that I completed the 5-kilometre Pride and Remembrance Run in Toronto, something of a mountain-moving feat given my health, which I approached with more than a little trepidation. The spirit alone of this bike rally pulls me in as a voyeur via Facebook, YouTube and Twitter each year.

Aside from the wonderful cause, Toronto People with AIDS Foundation (part of my life since even before I tested positive for HIV twenty-two years ago in 1989), the route has particular meaning to me as it traces – sometimes backwards, sometimes forwards – the emigration of generations of ancestors, mostly from the British Isles and Ireland but also France and Québec, to villages, towns and cities along the St. Lawrence River, the Lachine and Soulanges Canals, Lac St-Francois and Lake Ontario. (This does not include places in inland counties which they eventually helped clear and farm.) These historic ties are top-of-mind as I’ve been working hard on my family tree, particularly this year.  Ancestral hubs, those along the route at least, include Brockville (where new arrivals disembarked and went overland to the north and west), and many points on the route east to Lancaster (where the Dairy Queen at which rally participants will be indulging is a stone’s throw from a cemetery containing the remains of many Scottish immigrant and United Empire Loyalist relatives of mine).

Now, see, if I was along how interesting my yammering would be? Like endless slide-shows or home movies from your childhood!

Heading across the border into Québec signs soon give directions to Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, a small island city where Lac St-Francois squeezes back into the aforementioned Soulanges Canal and St. Lawrence River. It’s an almost completely French-speaking place which, practically from birth,  gave me such an appreciation for the French fact in our country.  From here to Montréal, along the Soulanges, Lac St-Louis and Lachine Canals, are communities with my own memories and the histories of people I never knew but who weaved their France-formed branches into mine via marriages long ago.

Two views from the cycling paths along the Lachine Canal

Once downtown the riders and crews will head to Place Emelie-Gamelin where they will most certainly be warmly welcomed to the annual Divers/Cité celebrations well underway.

This journey is such an inspiration to me.  Many participants are HIV-positive themselves.  I know what it took to run 5 km.  I don’t know what it would be like to even wake up and get going every day, as early as these folks, even if my only duty was cleaning up our camp-sites and riding in a school bus for 600 km!

Some time, maybe.  I’ll leave it on my bucket list.

Toronto’s Distillery District a destination unto itself


I had occasion to attend a meeting today at the former Gooderham & Worts distillery complex, not having visited “The Distillery District” since shortly after it opened as a pedestrian attraction of shops, art galleries, outdoor sculptures and condos.  It’s close enough that I’m almost certain to spend more time there after today’s experience!

Sakura Hanami welcomes spring in Toronto’s High Park


Spring arrives with a flourish in High Park with the centuries-old Japanese tradition of Sakura Hanami or cherry blossom flower viewing. The Japanese flowering cherry trees form the back-drop (and over-hang) of what can just as easily be a social or a meditative experience. What had begun as an afternoon outing with a friend, (only to discover that I had forgotten to pack my camera!), ended with this return trip in the evening and a stroll by Grenadier Pond closer to the approach of dusk.

Click on the smaller version of the first image below for the entire collection.

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by kenngc