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A Chilly, Gray Morning at Marie Curtis Park

Mouth of Etobicoke Creek

This morning I met up with naturalist Miles Hearn and his Monday group for a nature walk in Marie Curtis Park and the Arsenal Lands. This marked the last of our walks for the fall session. Miles will continue with a group of winter walks in the new year and then the fabulous spring walks. These are all administered by the Toronto District School Board.

Ring-billed Gull
Many Ring-billed Gulls on the Pier at Marie Curtis Park
Red-breasted Merganser

This late in the season there are not so many birds around in the woods and fields, but the winter ducks like mergansers and bufflehead are making an appearance.

Many Canada Geese in the bay
Black Duck
Dark-eyed Junco
What kind of ship is this?
These are from a Black Locust tree

We saw a tamarack this morning. In our area there are more larch, the tamarack’s cousin.

There is a great deal of Japanese knotweed in the park

Japanese knotweed (invasive)
Panicled Aster gone to seed
Grape vines climbing that tree
Sound Baffles in the Arsenal Lands
Sound Baffle in the Arsenal Lands
Fallen Oak
The Shagbark Hickory at Marie Curtis Park
Shagbark Hickory
Shagbark Hickory and its sister Black Cherry
Arsenal Lands
Amur Honeysuckle
One of the ponds at the Arsenal Lands
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Let’s not be so fast to wreck our Greenbelt

Our Premier got himself re-elected with ease, and can pretty much do as he pleases, and what pleases him is to open up the Greenbelt around Toronto to development, even though he promised he would not do that. His reasoning is that we need more affordable housing. That is certainly true. It’s become way too expensive to live in Toronto. It isn’t quite adding up, though. I’ve been up in areas like Richmond Hill and Vaughn and Markham and Uxbridge, where I was today, and I don’t see affordable housing being built. Mostly it’s huge homes. Is that not so?

One thing we can do today to create some affordable housing is to look at re-purposing all the empty office towers in Downtown Toronto. Sure, businesses are in many cases encouraging or compelling employees to return to the office, but what they seem to be able to achieve, at least for the foreseeable future is a return to the office 2-3 days per week. I think the pandemic has taught us that working from home can be tremendously effective for many organizations. There has been an historic shift. We’ve opened that Pandora’s box. As businesses switch to a hoteling model to cut costs, I can imagine multiple businesses sharing space in ways that can work well for everyone. What if we look at converting empty office space into affordable housing.

Imaging a 50 story office tower in which there are floors for office use, floors for living, floors for retail, a floor for a community centre, gym, church, etc. Businesses could even look at having short term suites for employees who have to travel to town for a few days. We should be asking the question, how can we make this work?

I know that changing the use of buildings from their original intent can work. When the garment industry in Toronto failed, leaving loads of empty factory and warehouse space, artists wasted little time renting up that space for live/work situations, even when the municipal government was unwilling to make it easy for that to happen.

I lived in one such space for a few years. Everyone lived and worked in the building even though it was not legal to do so. Every year or so the City would notify the owner of the building they wished to satisfy themselves that nobody lived in the building. We got really good at dealing with the charade. The inspector would make an appointment. All the beds and stoves would disappear for a day and everyone was happy. Were there problems with this model? Yes, of course there were, but these buildings happened and in some cases are still happening in the City for many years (shhh, don’t tell Mayor Tory). Eventually, the market caught up many of these buildings as they were sold as “loft” condo units. Only a few of the artists I know still have modestly-priced warehouse or converted factory space for live-work studios. The building I was in is being turned into condo towers with some of the original building preserved at the ground level.

Instead of rushing to build on the Greenbelt, I think we should do an inventory of disused space in the City and look at how to economically convert space into housing. I’d also like to ask the question, how much condo space is sitting empty in the City?

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A Blustery Morning at Ashbridges Bay

Female Red-breasted Merganser unphased by the size of the waves

I met up with naturalist Miles Hearn’s Monday morning group for a walk at Ashbridges Bay. This location is east of downtown Toronto – the entrance to the park is from Lake Shore at Coxwell. It was sunny this morning, but chilly, with gusty winds.

Ring-billed Gulls
Female Long-tailed duck

There were quite a few winter ducks around. In particular there were many female long-tailed ducks, an occasional male, as well as some buffleheads, mergansers and gadwalls.

Russian Olive
Jackpine cones
Not all sailboats have been removed for the winter – some are wrapped for cold-weather use
Sea Buckthorn

There are several examples of Sea Buckthorn at Ashbridges Bay. These berries are edible. I tasted a few. They are tart and citrus-like but not unpleasant. They would be good in baking or made into a condiment similar to what you might do with cranberries. There are plenty of recipes on the internet.

Sea Buckthorn
Sea Buckthorn

Don’t confuse Sea Buckthorn with Buckthorn, which has black berries. Whatever you do, avoid consuming Buckthorn berries. The Latin name for Buckthorn is Rhamnus cathartica, and eating those black Buckthorn berries would be a cathartic experience indeed.

Lake Ontario was showing off its power this morning.

We have one more walk in this session – next week at Marie Curtis Park and the Arsenal Lands. For braver souls, there is also an upcoming winter session. I’ve done the winter walks in the past and really enjoyed them, but these days – since I ripped my quad tendon off my knee cap after slipping on ice a couple years back, I’ve been doing my best to avoid slipping opportunities. I’ll sign up again for the spring walks, which are spectacular for all the migrating songbirds.

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Bye bye Twitter

I’ve had a Twitter account for a long time, though I haven’t Tweeted much in years. I have been cross-posting blog posts from this space to Twitter, but to be honest I don’t think I received much if any traffic because of that. Mostly, what I find Twitter good for is during breaking news, when I want to get an up-to-date synopsis of what is happening. Beyond that it seems to be mostly noise.

When Mr. Musk bought Twitter, I asked myself if the platform was really important to me. I’ve been chewing on that question and my conclusion is that I really have no use for it at this time. I have few interactions on Twitter. I won’t miss posting or even having a presence there.

I deactivated my Twitter account before typing out this blog post.

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Karine Giboulo: Housewarming

Montreal artist Karine Giboulo makes fascinating miniature dioramas in clay. Currently at the Gardiner Museum, she has created a fantastically creative reimagining of her home.

From the museum website:
Housewarming is Giboulo’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic that began in 2020, and the waves of confinement and isolation that followed. It is a sculpted documentary of individual and collective experiences grounded in current events. With the pandemic as a constant presence, the colourful dioramas furnishing each room prompt reflection about the challenges we face as a society. Their stories amplify themes pertaining to connectedness and isolation, aging and care, labour and consumerism, the climate crisis, food insecurity, and housing instability. This intimate journey also unveils a personal narrative of self-acceptance and identity and transports us to the world of childhood, a critical period in the development of consciousness about the world.

There are some 500 miniature figures in the exhibition, so little people figure prominently, as they did in the Monkman exhibition I wrote about earlier. I would also call this exhibition social realism as the artist presents opportunities to see oneself in the scenerios she depicts.

This is a very ambitious exhibition with dioramas cleverly built into the various rooms of the home. There are many opportunities here to tell her stories. I think some are more successful than others, but the whole exhibition is thoughtful and beautifully put together.


Filed under: Art
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Being Legendary

Yesterday we visited the ROM (Royal Ontario Museum) to see the exhibition Kent Monkman: Being Legendary (included with General Admission to the museum). This remarkable exhibition presents an extensive group of Monkman’s social realist paintings juxtaposed with some artifacts from the museum’s collection.

Interpreted by Monkman’s shape-shifting, time-travelling, gender-fluid alter ego, the legendary being Miss Chief Eagle Testickle, the exhibition depicts how deeply Indigenous knowledge is embedded in the lands of Turtle Island. Cree and other Indigenous peoples have carried this knowledge in stories, songs, and artworks since time immemorial.

Museums tell us about our history in a way that is presented as objective, but Monkman, a Cree artist, asks us to consider a different view of history, and he does so with a tremendously emotional group of works. Take your time in the exhibition. These paintings offer up much detail and many surprises. We went through, doubled back and went through again. There is a lot to take in here and I plan to return to experience it again. Fortunately Being Legendary continues through March 19.

Miss Chief Eagle Testicle has long been Monkman’s alter-ego, a character who tries to correct colonial views of Indigenous history. Recurring through the works are the legendary Cree mîmîkwîsiwak, or little people and it seems many of the images are rooted in traditional storytelling.

Highly recommended!

Filed under: Art