Toronto Gets It’s Summer On. Hilarity Ensues


weird-al-yankovic-mandatory-funI know that Weird Al Yankovic is on tour, which presumably means he’s kind of busy, but hopefully someone’s been keeping him updated on the wacky goings on in Toronto this week. Hard to believe he wouldn’t want to opine on recent events during his July 18th Casino Rama gig.

In one day, the hashtag #DeadRaccoonTO had nearly three times the number of tweets compared to #TO2015, the official hashtag for the 2015 Pan Am Games.

Image by Steve Kearns

tumblr_Pan Am Toronto RaccoonOh, Toronto. You never cease to amaze and amuse me. On a hot Thursday morning, Jason Wagar spotted a dead raccoon lying on the curb at Yonge and Church. He immediately notified #311Toronto to report the poor creature, and with that customary diligence and alacrity we’ve come to expect from our public servants, they sprang into action … 14 hours later.

Within a few hours of Wagar’s tweet, local residents had created a makeshift memorial around Conrad the Raccoon’s body, complete with flowers, a framed photo of a raccoon, and written tributes to a life well lived. Someone even inserted a cigarette into the stilled paw.

deadraccooonTOCity Councillor Norm Kelly, perhaps hip to the negative scrutiny being given to the City’s employees, on this the day before the official opening of the Pan Am games, added his Twitter voice, requesting that there be an immediate pickup of the corpse, which had by now been lying on a major city intersection in the unrelenting heat for at least six hours.

But Kelly, an old hand on Twitter, having done his job, now began contributing to the fun, at one point even asking that residents leave their recycling bins open overnight, to honour the phenom.

normKelly raccoon tweet

The city finally responded at 11 p.m., with a blasé city employee noting, “geeze .. it’s just a dead raccoon.”

And Norm’s final word on the matter? “Damn … life’s so short.”

newscut Toronto RacoonThe story went viral, of course, with varying voices weighing in. One commentator mentioned how good Toronto had it … in Edmonton, he said, “when a corroded lamp post succumbs to age and collapses dead on the street; the city has a standard practice of at least a three day viewing which I think is a bit much given the number of lamp post deaths; really how much grief and remorse can one handle.”   

Of course, there were some who wanted to take the opportunity to rant on governance and the traditionally lackadaisical attitude of many public servants. But summer fun will out, and as the story travelled around the globe, even wilder speculating began. Who killed Conrad Raccoon?

A makeshift crime scene is set up on Church Street, where a dead raccoon was found and left for over 13 hours before being picked up by a city worker in Toronto on Friday, July 10, 2015. width=

“Is no-one going to investigate this? I mean how did he die? I feel like this should have been a mission in L.A. Noire.“ Followed by the assurance that “Investigations are ongoing.”

Really, we needed something to take the attention off the Pan Am Games, and the ridiculousness caused by bureaucrats who take themselves and their duties far too seriously.

Everyone’s weighing in on the HOV lanes, and the insanity of overtaxing an already past-capacity highway system, where the GTA’s rush hour is now all day, every day. (HOV (high occupancy vehicles) lanes are the new express lanes meant to speed athletes and officials to competitions on time, but are also open to vehicles having three or more occupants.)

peeling HOVThe lanes didn’t get off to a good start, when torrential rains in June actually began to peel away chunks of the recently placed diamond-shaped lane markers, and had to be replaced.

Although the lanes were supposed to be limited to the actual Games period, from July 10 to 26th, the city threw commuters a fast one when the new rules of the HOV road went into effect on June 29th.

HOV lanes emptyToronto police are heavily enforcing the rules for temporary (HOV) lanes, with fines of $110 for illegal HOV use on provincial highways (plus 3 demerit points,) and of $85 fines on city highways (Gardiner and Don Valley.)

Toronto police reported that “We didn’t start off on a great note. There were higher than normal collisions and we didn’t have the compliance numbers we were hoping.”

Indeed.

Some fuming commuters are saying the lanes are doubling and tripling their travel times. Former Toronto mayor Rob Ford admitted to driving alone in the lanes, breaking the law as he moves in and out of the lanes.

Rob Ford HOV“Go in and out, obviously,” Ford said. “You gotta watch the cops over your shoulder… I have to get to where I have to go.” He added that he sees a lot of other people doing the same thing, so that must make it alright, right?

But Toronto … you’ll never be as wacky as Montreal. Here’s how they handle their summer commuting difficulties … MontrealSuperSlide

http://www.mtlblog.com/2015/07/its-official-montreal-will-be-transformed-into-a-1000-foot-slip-n-slide-this-summer/#

And then there’s our official Pan Am Games internet site, toronto2015.org, which seems to have failed to understood exactly how the Internet works, stating ,

“Links to this Site are not permitted except with the written consent of TO2015™. If you wish to link to the Site, you must submit a written request to TO2015™ to do so. Requests for written consent can be sent to branduse@toronto2015.org. TO2015™ reserves the right to withhold its consent to link, such right to be exercised in its sole and unfettered discretion.”

Pan Am pachiticketsThe website’s terms of use, written in incomprehensible gibberish by the Pan Am Games lawyers, has not used any technical method to stop search engines from indexing and linking to the site, so they are effectively forcing search engines such as Google to break their rules.

The Register (theregister.co.uk) sent the following message to the site.

We would like to seek permission to link to your website for a story we are writing about how ludicrous it is that you are requesting people to ask permission to link to your site. It is only fair that we warn you the article is likely to be critical of yourselves and contain a good degree of mockery.

We should also note that we will link to your site regardless of your response. But all the same, it’s nice to have permission. And before you ask: there’s no need to ask us for permission to link to the story when it’s up. It happens all the time.

The response to their email perfectly summed up the situation:

Delivery to the following recipient failed permanently: branduse@toronto2015.org. Technical details of permanent failure…

And we haven’t even hit the dog days of summer yet … I can’t wait to see what happens next!

pug swimming

(first published at Bob Segarini’s Don’t Believe A Word I Say, July 12/2015)

The Mondrian on Coxwell Avenue


Coxwell 157 2012A few years ago I was walking down Coxwell Avenue, below Gerrard, and saw an amazing house. Snuggled between two very ordinary residences, 157 Coxwell was a jewel shining amidst trash, an exotic bird in four story flight. I stopped dead in my tracks to contemplate how this beauty came about in a city more known for uniformity than individuality.

And of course, I had neither my camera nor my phone with me to capture the sight. So I carried on my way, but often found myself thinking about the house. Mondrian with a hint of Mandelbrot, I thought.

fractal-mondrianI’m not one of those who search out architecture. The grandeur of most contemporary mansions featured in glossy magazines only prompts a sigh for the waste of money and the egotism of those who build shrines to their own wealth and positions. But I do appreciate individualism, and that’s something we sorely lack in Ontario.

Our older homes tend to reflect our British backgrounds. Our colour palettes generally run to beiges and greys with the occasional red brick. On the plus side, that same craving for “over ‘ome” means that we rely heavily on gardens, trees and legally protected parklands, often the only bit of colour to be found for miles.

Cut to yesterday, when I once again found myself at the corner of Coxwell and Gerrard. The bus was taking forever, it was a lovely day, and I was wearing my favourite sneakers. So I decided to walk towards Queen, and once again have a look at that extraordinary house.

Coxwell 157 May 2015As I approached, I saw two men excitedly talking and gesturing towards the structure, which seemed to have undergone some reconstructuring. The back of the house had been extended, and there were eight new foundational supports visible. Plywood covered some of the colour blocks.

Coxwell 157 May 2015 fullThis time, I had my camera ready. I snapped a shot of the side addition, and then moved to get a full shot of the front, smiling and nodding at the two men. They asked me why I wanted photos of the construction, and I told them of my interest in the house’s appearance.  

As I explained, one of the men laughed, and introduced himself as  Rohan Walters, the original architect. His friend was another prominent architect, Daniel Karpinski. They were there to see what changes were being made to the structure, as it had been sold, and the new owner wanted to put her own stamp on her residence. Changes included an elevator installation, and of course, a great deal of additional floor space.

Rohan WaltersI asked Rohan if it was hard for him to see changes made to his design. He admitted that he was worried about changes to the overall composition of the building. He’d spent a great deal of time in first imagining how the original structure would look. Here’s some of his thought process:

Then it happened. I’m sitting amongst ‘The Group of Seven’ paintings. Being amongst paintings, particularly these paintings are healing for me. With my face in my hands, I looked broken. I raised my eyes to the paintings and then it hit me: the colours of the sky, the flora and fauna. The various hues, depths, tones, intensities and responses over the day and seasons. That is what I had been missing. True colour is never alone; it is a tapestry of ever changing and yet knowable themes.”

st johns newf housesDaniel, Rohan and I continued to chat about the importance of colour in residential construction. We agreed that Toronto tended to conform to neutral palettes, with rare exceptions, and that other cities, like those in St. John’s, Newfoundland had a more joyous and welcoming appearance. In fact, St. John’s is amongst the eight most colourful cities in the world.

http://enpundit.com/8-most-colorful-cities-on-earth/

We continued to talk about the importance of an infusion of colour into cities. Daniel told me that the citizens of the Soviet held East Berlin were so depressed by the grey, bleak architecture of the time that they would covertly throw hollowed eggs filled with paint at the buildings. A colourless city is a joyless place.

coxwell-kitchenI was sorry to have to leave the conversation, but Rohan gave me his contact info, (SpacesBy Rohan.com) and sent me a package of interior and exterior photos of his creation.

At home, I researched the history of the project, and found several informative articles, including a four part blog Rohan wrote for “Reading Toronto,” in 2005. Some of the innovations Rohan brought to the construction, begun in 2002, seem tremendously rational, but had not been previously considered in construction codes.

“This Coxwell house is, arguably, the first house built since the 1997 edition of the OBC not requiring a heat recovery ventilation system. I pitched the head mechanical engineer at the city. I showed him my calculations for the house’s natural air infiltration and ex-filtration in concordance with non-combusting appliances such as the ‘direct vent’ furnace, condensing dryer, warm floors and single air volume that did not combust any internal air. As such the air exchange rate met the facts and intent of the code. “

His own home, “Triangle House,” possibly the smallest triangular building lot in the city of Toronto at the time, was built in 2005 for himself and his children, and carried on the colour blocking theme, and utilized such nuances as

Triangle House night“A combined heating and domestic hot water system, orchestrated electrical and plumbing designed with baseboard and pilasters, comparing the vibrations and sound of this frame home with that of a masonry home because of the concrete topping on top of the joists and limiting the building footprint with pier construction, the concrete positioned to act as a ‘thermo mass’ assisting in heating and cooling depending on season, and so on…. a teaching tool for myself: the possible from the improbable.”

I thought about our unlikely and stimulating conversation as I continued to walk towards Queen Street, cutting through parks and side streets. The Beaches has always been a desirable area, not only for the beach access, but for the sense of community and family nurtured by the residents.

lakehouse buildingIn pursuit of well-heeled buyers who want to piggyback on that charm, a lot of the older homes and buildings are being torn down, and replaced with cookie-cutter townhouses and condos. Where once a three or four story building was considered an eyesore and impedance to lake views, new constructions feature heights that will effectively distance the long-time residents from the nouveau.

montreal winter outdoor-staircases-Cities have a life of their own, which derives from the cultures they encompass. Consider the square greyness of the uptight and politically choke-held Ottawa, the slightly askew streets and impractical outside staircases of Montreal, or the exuberance of Calgary’s newest buildings, which appear overnight from the ashes of the Cowtown’s foundations.

ethnic enclave TorontoToronto, once so proudly W.A.S.P., now teems with diversity. The areas where new immigrants congregate to create ethnic enclaves may not be to your taste, but display individuality in the face of the conformity seemingly endlessly churned out in bland suburbia.

We need more visionaries re-imagining urban Toronto. Duly and safely freshening your beige home exterior is a bore. This year, try pink. Or turquoise. Or emerald green. You never liked your neighbours anyway.

Snu


Can’t complain – the weather was worse in November than December. I didn’t miss the snow at all on Christmas. And the first thing I did on New Year’s Day was look out the window, and cry out for joy at the lack of whiteness.

But all good things must come to an end, and today, alas … there is a smattering, a dusting even, of powder. New Snow. Snu.    light snowI lived in Alberta as a child, and 12 foot drifts of snow were not uncommon. I trotted off to school in below zero weather wearing knee socks. It was a ‘dry cold,” they said.Neige_Montreal

As a mini skirted teen in Montreal, my thighs were perpetually red and chapped from the damp snow and winds. We slogged thru the slush and dug our toys and pets and cars out of the billowy white blanket of snow, snow and more snow.

One of the draws that brought me to Toronto in 1976 was the fabled meagre toronto snow1976snowfall. It seemed every photo of Toronto in winter featured a parade of jacketless men and women delicately high stepping through barely an inch of the white stuff. Could it be? Did people in Toronto not even own snow boots? Lured by that promise, I started a new life in the Big Smoke.

shorts in Toronto winter

And for a decade or two, it did seem that Toronto was the Promised Land for a winter hater like myself. Proportionately, there was definitely less snow than in Quebec, and the people pretended politely that the snow was of no consequence. Many fellows affected long shorts throughout the year, whatever the temperature. Toronto snubbed its nose at winter; if you pretended it wasn’t happening, maybe it would go away.

But, alas – all good things come to an end. The late 90’s and early 2000’s held a wintry nip in the air, and in 2013, we had an Ice Sicestorm 2013torm of epic proportions that brought the city to its knees for nearly a week. It had begun. My winter days in Toronto were numbered. Climate change will chase me out of Ontario.

Where to next? How far can this delicate flower run to escape the winter blues? I’m waiting for a gentle breeze to waft me away from this land of snu … Bermuda beach

Soul Train Line Dance … You Wish!


Never been a trained dancer. On reflection, never been one who toes the line, learns the rules. That’s just me. But man, oh man, did I want to be a dancer. My mum was apparently legendary. She never wanted for a dance partner, was always in demand for parties. Yet she made it all the way to the age of 25, and a virgin, without marrying, and that was pretty good in her day. Lots of proposals, she just hadn’t met the right partner.

Most of the other ‘babes’ were snapped up way before mum. But she, no she, was going to find a proper Romeo. Not for her the ordinary, work a day guys. No, she wanted a husband who could trip the light fantastic with her. So what did she do? She married her brother’s chum, a loose cannon from her brother’s regiment in the Van Doos, a troop that would become known world over as a ‘never say die’ group of guys. (Unfortunately, that same troop would also become one of the first known survivors of a judicious dusting of Agent Orange, but that’s a story for another time.)

She met my dad in January, married him in March, and I was born in December. Cutting it close! The clock must have been ticking, because she even let him off the dancing hook. Neither of them knew what hit them –it was love at first sight at its most violent. The best dad could do was set her up with an apartment in Quebec City, with a puppy, and tell her “I’ll be back” a la Schwarzenegger. By the time she was showing, dad was stationed in the Arctic, and mum was back with her own family in Montreal, awaiting my birth.

But I digress. Mum was a dancer. I have always been a stick figure, with arms and legs completely disproportionate to my body. However, like all young girls who grew up in the 60’s, I really thought I could dance. I didn’t need any instruction … by the age of five I was doing the twist on Montreal’s Beaver Lake mountain side café for CFCF TV! And by the time I was a teen, it was ‘let it all hang out.’ What a great time to be a completely uncoordinated stick figure!

Then DISCO hit. The 70s threw all of the wanna be hippies for a loop, since we were suddenly expected to do line dances, and throw interesting figures into the mix. Ok – stop – maybe that was a Montreal thing. I’m sure there are tons of places in North America who didn’t expect the entire population to suddenly become disco fluent. But I lived in Montreal, and my chosen environment, Crescent Street, had a strict code. Either you stood off to the side, looking too cool to EVER dance, or you got into the mix, and let your backbone slide. For me, this was great. I had a gymnastics background, I was a stick figure… it all worked for me.

But if you had access to ‘Soul Train’… oh my my… you knew you didn’t even have the first idea of where the bump started and ended. My sister and I were aficionados, we studied, but we could never get anywhere near the pelvic thrusts that both the male and female dancers had down pat.

We were Soul Train rejects. Didn’t stop us from having some seriously cool times, but we knew, oh, we knew, we could never even come close to the teenage dancers who scooted the line with flair and panache. It is my shame, and yet … how I love to watch those long ago dancers show me what for.

Please google or youtube “Soul Train Line Dance” to see what I’m talking about.