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The Niagara St Two-Step

Niagara St.jpg

The title of this painting refers to Niagara St in Toronto. I rented a studio in a building located where Niagara and Tecumseth meet, which was known as the casket factory because once upon a time that’s what it was. This painting, from the early 90s, was done with oils on canvas. It’s 24 X 54 inches.

It was not legal for artists to live in industrial studio space in Toronto at the time, and every year or two the City would notify the landlord that they wished to inspect the building to ensure nobody was contravening the zoning by-laws. The landlord sent a notice out to the tenants saying the City would be looking for beds and stoves and they were confident the inspector would not find anything like that. Of course, the inspector never found anything.

There used to be a wonderful annual building party there, which I believe was called “A Zone of our Own”. The building surrounded a courtyard parking lot on 3 sides with the rail lands on the south. A stage would appear, and bbqs and a pickup truck full of sweet corn, and kebabs from Quality Meat Packers across the street. Several bands with members in the buildings would play and the parking lot became a party space.

The building was a fascinating community, populated by loads of artists and musicians, along with a woodworker, a guy who was making plastic trees, someone in the fireworks business and much more. I liked it, even if the casket factory was not without its issues.

One Christmas morning, with tremendously insensitive timing, the landlord slipped a rent increase notice under my door. My father was experiencing some health struggles at the time and needed help, so I decided this was a good time to go stay with him. I told the landlord he would have to lower my rent if he wanted me to say, even though my mind had already been made up. As much as I liked living in this area in a community of artists, it’s a decision I’m so glad I made because I was able to spend a lot of quality time with my dad, and even when he was struggling, each day with him was a gift. He was always good to me and I was happy to take him to appointments, make sure he was eating well, and keep him company for as long as I was able to care for him.


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