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October 2013

The Great Toronto Peanut Walk

October 23, 2013 | Shawn Micallef | Comments (0)

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Last week as part of our Writer in Residence Toronto walks a nice group met up at the Fairview branch for a walk around the Toronto Peanut (come along on our next walk this Saturday starting at the Bendale branch). Few cities have their own peanut, and ours is quite big, but perhaps not what you think if you're unfamilair with North York.


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Our peanut was formed when Don Mills road was split, not unlike how University Avenue turns into Queens Park. Instead of a legislature inside there's a few schools, community centre, a church, and the Peanut Plaza. It's as modern an environment as Toronto gets, and from the era where it was thought it was best to separated uses in the city, with residential, institutional, and commercial all grouped in separate places. It all makes for a sometimes strange walk, as you can see from the picture above where we came to the very bottom of the peanut on a sliver of concerete in the middle of Don Mills Road.

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The peanut is made for cars, but as with so many car-oriented Toronto neighbourhoods, many people traverse it on foot. Here we are rounding one of the bottom edges of the peanut. There are only 4 places to cross with traffic lights around its circumference. With such a great size, we saw lots of mid-block crossings. While not illegal to so so safely under the Ontario Highway Traffic Act (it isn't, in fact, "jay walking") the speed of the cars, road-width, and curves make it difficult.



The peanut has a ring of apartment buildings around it with single family homes behind.

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At the top of the peanut is the Peanut Plaza, an indoor-outdoor commercial area very different from Fairview Mall a kilometre south of here. Instead of chain stores, the plaza has many independent retailers and services who likely could never afford the rents at Fairview. As one of the people on our walk said, "you can buy the stuff you need at the plaza". (Picture taken a few days before on a daytime trip).

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The plaza even houses nearby Seneca College's student pub. Those sure are cheap pitchers. They've carved out a cute little patio in the parking lot.

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Some nice mid-century design elements remain inside the plaza.

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A large Tone Tai supermarket moved in to the old IGA space. Stripmalls and places like the Peanut Plaza tend to reflect the surrounding population more than the big regional malls do (if they do at all). Another man on our walk said he's being going to the barbershop down the hall for 30 years, still owned by a now-80-something Italian man who has a few new apprentices helping out.


Most unexpectedly we visited a community garden next to the church at the bottom of the peanut. We would not have noticed it had a woman on our walk not pointed it out, due to both darkness and a landscape that, even when walking, is seen with a fast moving eye as the space is vast, as if speeding along in a car.




Photos by Cynthia Fisher & Shawn Micalllef

Thorncliffe Park in the dark

October 16, 2013 | Shawn Micallef | Comments (0)


We had a fine warm night for last week's walk in Thorncliffe Park. Night walks are great to see another side of the city and walking in a group gives people who might not be completely comfortable walking at night some liberty. There is  another tonight (Oct 16) around The Peanut begining at the Fairview branch of the TPL. The downside is pictures are harder to come by at night. Above is the old Coca Cola headquarters, a modernist gem whose future is uncertain, but it's one that might include a CostCo store.

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We began at the Thorncliffe library branch. Recently renovated (as many branches have been) here Islamic-inspired carpets were put in to reflect the surrounding population. When Thorncliffe was designed in the 1950s on the site of the Thorncliffe Park Raceway horse track it was expected to house around 15,000 people but now double that live here. One of Toronto's densest apartment neighbourhoods, that figure makes looking up at the lights different, knowing there are more people than average in all those apartments. There's always people on the street in Thorncliffe as a result. The buses are packed bringing people into and out of the neighbourhood.

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The mall at centre of Thorncliffe is the commercial heart of the neighbourhood, but, being a mall, it's still a private space, so the public spaces are incredibly valuable here. Enter Sabina Ali, chair of the Thorncliffe Park Women's Committee. She met our group to tell us about some of the work she's doing in the area, like the brand new tandoor oven (in a metal box behind her in the picture above) that was inspired by Dufferin Grove Park's pizza oven. It's at the centre of a whole lot of cultural and economic activity in and around the park.

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In the park Sabina and her collegues organize markets throughout the warmer months where people who make things in their apartments can sell them. In traditional economic & immigration models, somebody who knew how to do something (say, hat making) would creat a storefront on their house if they were on a main street. This is why formerly residential streets across Toronto became commercial, like Church, Dundas, College, parts of Bathurst, Weston Rd, The Danforth into Scarborough, and on and on. Since that's impossible in an apartment, the markets play an important role for the local economy and personal entrepreneurship. These aren't hobbyists, and most certainly some of the stalls you'd find during one of the markets will be become mini-Toronto empires in time (or not so mini). There's an incredible amount of capacity in Toronto neighbourhoods like this waiting to be unleashed — think of them as hundreds of vertical cottage industries stacked and spread across the city — and markets like this help give these economies some oxygen.

Go visit whenever you can and buy things Made In Thorncliffe Park.


Walking the City: The many faces of Alderwood

October 9, 2013 | Shawn Micallef | Comments (1)

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On Saturday we walked Alderwood, one of the walks we're doing this fall as part of the Writer in Residency, designed to get people thinking, talking, and hopefully, writing about their city. I had only a rough route in mind and hoped people would contribute their thoughts along the way. They did. Here at our first stop people remembered a bar and convienence store in a currently vacant building, things that otherwise tend to go unrecorded. In just about 1.5 hours, we saw some varied landscapes. All photos by Phyllis Jacklin

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Deeper into the neighbourhood we passed by Alderwood's variety of housing types, most built in the couple decades after the war, including many wartime houses like this one above.

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Part of what makes Alderwood interesting is how much industry is there. Here tractor trailers unload just across from houses. It's a mix that cities used to have all over, but now we separate these things with greater distances. Here people working in a factory can actually walk to work.

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There are also some modern gems in the neighbourhood, and many houses that have multiple apartments inside.

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Good neighbourhoods have good pedestrian passageways and are permeable, making what might be longer distances in a car much shorter on foot.

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Lots of modern design elements in Alderwood, including this church.

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Like so many stripmalls around Toronto's inner suburbs, this one at the top of Brown's Line is filled with independent stores of all sort.

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Neat. An old farm house made from river stone, likely from nearby Etobicoke Creek.

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We all went down into the creek, a great linear park, partially forested, with fine views of Mississauga just across the water. Walking the few blocks to the park probably traced the steps of that farm family.

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After a day of rain, the creek was still draining the watershed and was running quite fast.

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Before heading back up out of the floodplain we walked underneath the QEW overpass to see the original 1932 concrete arches of the original bridge. When designed, the QEW was much more of a parkway than the expressway it is today.

We want you walking, talking, and writing Toronto this fall

October 2, 2013 | Shawn Micallef | Comments (0)

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Sometime it seems like not much is written about Toronto, that it doesn't exist in print and in our imaginations the way, say, New York does for New Yorkers or London does for Londoners. The opposite is true though, there's been an incredible amount of writing done about this city, both in fiction and non-fiction. This is, after all, a city of writers, and some of them even write about the city they live in. In Amy Lavender Harris's book, Imagining Toronto, she compiles hundreds of pages of Toronto mentions found in literature, and in this town full of smart people with a bunch of universities (particularly ones with Canadian History and Urban Planning departments), the local history and analysis shelves at the library at filled with books.

And yet we think nobody writes about Toronto.

Part of the reason is we've been trained to not get too excited about this place, but with my writer in residency I hope we get change that, a little bit, and turn more people into Toronto writers, especially ones writing about the parts of the city we don't hear too much about. Much of the Toronto writing that does exist involves the old City of Toronto, while the former cities and burroughs tend to go unexplored (though there are numours exceptions).

We've planned a bunch of walks starting from Toronto Public Library branches across the city over the next two months, and I hope both locals and people that just want to explore a new neighbourhood come out. I'm certainly not an expert on any of the neighbourhoods we'll walk through, but I do like to wander, so I hope you'll come and walk and talk about the neighbourhoods we pass through, sharing your own thoughts, memories, or ideas and asking questions. The idea is to get a little excited about the places we live.

Walking often leads to writing, being in the place gets us thinking. It's how I usually write about a place; I'll go for a long walk through it first that might seem aimless, but ideas always come. I hope participants on the walk will feel compelled to write about their neighbourhoods (either the one we walked through or another) or share their existing non-fiction writing with me. Let's chat about it, and we'll even be posting some of it here on this blog until December. We will be accepting manuscripts until the end of November.

I'll also be posting snippets of research items I gather in the stacks and other thoughts here. Perhaps some of that will inspire you to write too. Happy, sad, criticial, or celebratory, Toronto needs it all.

The more voices in the city, the better we'll know ourselves and each other.

Picture taken at Albion Road and Islington Avenue.

There are a 1000 stories in the naked city, as the saying goes, and you should be writing some of them. Writer in Residence Shawn Micallef will be encouraging people to write about their city. Follow along here on city explorations and journeys into the library stacks. Shawn will also be posting some of the city-writing that he receives from people like you.

Your comments, posts, messages and creative content are welcome, provided they encourage a respectful dialogue and comply with the Library's mission, values and policies.
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