Walkablog

This is a blog about walking, rambling, hiking, trekking, and getting around. I walk, therefore I have sore feet.

It’s more of a journal than a travelog, and tells my story as I experience it walking. I hope it inspires you to get out and walk about your city.

Favourite Toronto Walks -Rosedale Rambles

Part of a series on my favourite walking trails in Toronto.

Hey Toronto, remember to practice Physical Distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic! As part of its COVID-19 strategy, the City of Toronto has closed the parks noted below. The Trail itself is open for walking, but the parks and their facilities are not.

And now on to the regular post …..

Toronto, like any city, has many neighbourhoods and all of them have some history and uniqueness to them. Some are hip and trendy, some are gritty, and some are upscale and stately. Rosedale is the latter. It’s long been known as a district of fine older homes set amongst quiet leafy streets, and that makes it a great area for a summer’s shady walk. Here’s a route that I’ve done before, and it’s equally great in the spring and autumn too.

Length: around 8 km, so about 1.5 hrs

Surface: paved (except in the parks)

Public Transit: To start, take the subway Line 1 to St. Clair Station. The finish on the route map is at Line 1 Rosedale Station, but an alternative is to finish at Line 1 Summerhill Station, both on Yonge Street.

Route:

Starting at St. Clair Station, exit the subway onto St. Clair Avenue East. Walk east on St. Clair (on the south side of the road to Inglewood Drive. Turn south and follow Inglewood as it bends to the east. Cross Mount Pleasant Road at the traffic lights and continue east on Inglewood to its end, where it bends to the right (south) and becomes Rosedale Heights Drive. Follow Rosedale Heights south and back west until you come to MacLennan Avenue. Turn left (south) and walk down the hill to the ramp on your right leading upwards – follow that onto the pedestrian bridge over the train tracks, over, and down the ramp onto Summerhill Avenue.

Pedestrian ramp over the train tracks at Summerhill

Once you are over the tracks, walk east on Summerhill to Chorley Park (a great spot for a picnic). Wander through the park and exit on the south west corner onto Roxborough Drive. Follow Roxborough west, passing Rosedale United Church and Whitney Park onto Edgar Avenue. Follow Edgar west to Rosedale Park, and turn left (south) onto MacLennnan. Follow that south to the roundabout and take the road to the south-east, Highland Avenue. Follow that southeast to Glen Road. Turn right on Glen Road and cross the bridge over the ravine.

View at the Glen Road Bridge

At South Drive, turn right (east) and follow that to Elm Avenue. Turn right (east) and follow Elm until it turns into Castlefrank Road. Follow Castlefrank east and then south as it bends. At Dale Avenue turn right (west) and follow Dale west to Glen Road. At Glen, turn right (north) and follow it to Maple Avenue, turning left (west) onto Maple and continuing to Sherbourne Street. At Sherbourne, turn right (north) and follow it to South Drive. Turn right (east) on South Drive and follow the curve around to the north, where it turns into Crescent Drive. Keep following Crescent as it curves around to the west and crosses over Mount Pleasant Road. To finish, follow Crescent west to to Rosedale Station, on Yonge Street.

Sights:

What’s lovely about this walk is that you get a combination of stately homes and parks for a rest. It’s a people-watching walk too, as there are always pedestrians out for a stroll. And it can be a fun, spot-the-flash-car walk as well – you’ll run out of fingers and toes before you run out of Porches to count, for example.

Rosedale prides itself on what it thinks of as understated elegance. This is not a bling-house neighbourhood, it’s more old money than new, more Chanel than Versace, more Mercedes than Ferrari. You walk here because it’s fun to imagine the lives behind the curtains.

While there’s no truly dramatic scenery nor any particularly impressive architecture, streets filled with large, red-brick homes dating back to the late 1800s tell a story of solidity and comfort. There is history here, in that the red bricks of the oldest homes probably came from the Don Valley Brickworks, like many of the other famous buildings in Toronto – Old City Hall, Massey Hall, and so on. And the area dates from a time when Canada and Toronto was establishing itself, post-1867 Confederation, as a prosperous, industrious part of the Empire.

While today, Toronto likes to think of itself as hip and is proud of natives like Drake promoting the 6, Rosedale still has a whiff of the Toronto-the-Good era, the so-called blue-light Toronto when nothing opened on Sundays, temperance movements tried to suppress the evils of alcohol, and good citizens meant good Protestants attending church on Sundays. Back then, non-WASPs had their own neighbourhoods, and Rosedale was a solidly white upper-class enclave. It’s more diverse today, but its still upper-class – the area is the wealthiest part of Toronto.

That wealth is visible in the homes, the cars, the land, and quiet streets. It’s also visible in the shops along Yonge, between Rosedale and Summerhill subway stations. There was a time when a strange face wandering through Rosedale would draw attention. Today, it’s less hide-bound, less class-ridden, and less uptight. But there’s a reason that one of the first LGBTQ bookstores in Toronto was called This Ain’t the Rosedale Library.

Food & Refreshment:

Food and refreshments on this walk are mostly around the start and finish – there are many cafes, coffee houses, restaurants, and food shops along Yonge near St. Clair, Rosedale, or Summerhill stations. In the heart of Rosedale, on Summerhill Avenue just over the train tracks, there is the Summerhill Market, Rosedale’s version of a corner store (and a fab gourmet stop on it’s own). All this gives many options to load up for a picnic, and Chorley Park is the perfect spot for that.

There are water fountains at Chorley and Rosedale Parks, available between about May-October, and there are public toilets at Rosedale Park as well. There are also public washrooms at St. Clair in the shopping mall at the north end of the station. Finally, there are washrooms, a great cafe, and water at the Brickworks if you divert from this walk (see below).

Diversions:

  1. An alternative route is to turn north once you cross Mount Pleasant Road on Crescent Road, onto Wrentham Place. Follow that north to Roxborough Street and turn left (west), then north on Chestnut Park. Wind through these little streets and find Cluny Drive, turn north, and find Rowanwood Ave. Follow that around to the east onto Thornwood and then north and around to Pricefield Road. Take Pricefield west all the way past the Pricefield Playground and into Scrivener Square by the old Summerhill train station that is now the Summerhill LCBO at Yonge Street. Turn right and walk under the train tracks to Summerhill Avenue to the Summerhill Station on Line 1. This diversion takes you through more quiet, charming back streets and lets you end by the gourmet shops at Scrivener Square.
  2. Another fun diversion is to cut through Chorley Park and join the connector trail that descends into the Moore Park Ravine – this will put you opposite the Don Valley Brickworks, and you can pop in there for a potty stop or food/water/coffee. The Chorley Park connector trail also puts you onto the Beltline Trail, and you can follow that south and around past the Brickworks. The Beltline continues north up through David Balfour Park, under St. Clair Avenue, and on into Mount Pleasant Cemetery to finish near Davisville Station on Line 1 subway. Or you can climb out of the trail just before you get to St. Clair, and walk back along that road to finish back at St. Clair Station.
  3. You can also take the Chorley Park connector, follow the Beltline around, and then take Milkman’s Lane to climb out of the Yellow Creek Ravine and into Rosedale. This will put you onto South Drive by Glen Road, where you can rejoin the main route described above.

TO Places – Moore Ravine and the Brickworks

Part of a series on my favourite places to go for a walk in Toronto

Hey Toronto, remember to practice Physical Distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic! Restrictions placed by either the Province of Ontario or the City of Toronto may limit what you can do on this walk. Check the links for the latest info.

And now on to the regular post …..

The Don Valley Brickworks Park is one of the best little walking parks in Toronto, and getting there by walking down the Moore Ravine trail just adds to the fun. Please note that as of this post (July 2020), the City of Toronto is doing extensive work on the Ravine that will continue through the summer of 2020. You can still walk it, though there is a lot of dust and noise at the north end of the ravine trail Mon-Fri. Weekends are quiet but still dusty.

All that said, it would be a shame to skip the Moore Ravine just because of work to make it even better. Once you get past the first several hundred meters, you the path is (literally) clear to walk and enjoy the shady tunnel beside burbling Mud Creek.

Location: Moore Ravine starts at Moore Avenue, just east of Mount Pleasant Road. It follows Mud Creek down into the Don Valley, and the northern entrance to the Brickworks Park is at the south end of the Ravine trail. The Brickworks can also be reached from the south, off of Bayview Avenue. It lies just to the west of the Don River.

Public Transit: If you are starting at the top of the Moore Ravine, then take the 74 bus from St. Clair station on Line 1. You can also walk from St. Clair station in about 20 minutes. If you are starting from the south, take the 28 bus from Davisville Station on Line 1.

Why I like it:

Pure and simple, it’s just a fun place to walk. The Moore Ravine trail is wide and well shaded, and for most of its length runs beside Mud Creek. On a peaceful mid-week day, I’ve been the only person on the trail and able to hear the birds, the water, the swish of a breeze in the trees, and the crackle of leaves underfoot. Then when you get to the Brickworks, you leave a forested, mostly natural setting and enter a man-made setting that’s slowly reverting to nature. The old clay pits are slowly being reclaimed by grasses, shrubs, marsh ponds, and trees, and the paths meander so that you can cover a few km in a small area.

I love these connected parks in any season. In spring I’ve seen turtles basking on logs, and heard frogs grunting amorously. In summer cool shade of the ravine is a blessing, and there’s usually a breeze in the Brickworks to make the tall grasses sway. Autumn is the best, to me at least, with the leaves exploding in colour, and in winter there’s a different kind of peacefulness on a cold blue-sky snow-crunching day.

Sights:

Turtle sunbathing on a May warm day

There are lots of things to see, both man-made and natural. Just south of the Brick Works Park is the Evergreen Brickworks, which occupies the old industrial buildings of the original Don Valley Brickworks company. This complex has become an environmentally friendly showcase for sustainable development and the reclamation of industrial sites.

There are always interesting things going on here, including festivals, weekend farmer’s markets, winter markets and winter activities like skating, and lots of kid and family friendly activities. To be honest, sometimes the kids get a little over the top for me, so I usually try to go during the week when it’s quieter.

The walks around the park and the ravine are the stars of the show for me. If you are a bird watcher, you’ll probably spot dozens of species, and if you are an amateur entomologist you will have a lot of fun spotting beetles, butterflies, and various hopping insects. Those more interested in flora than fauna are also in for a treat, because of the mixture of Carolinian forest, grasslands, and marshy ponds. There are wildflowers, blossoming shrubs and trees, and aquatic plants to explore, so if that’s your thing I guess spring and summer are your seasons.

And if you just want to wander, try climbing the hill on the east side of the Brick Works Park. From the top, you get a great view south over bowl of the park with the Toronto downtown skyline on the horizon.

Food & Refreshment:

Depending on when you go, there might be a festival on, or the weekend farmer’s market, and that means food trucks and food vendors. I’ve been there when there was a Latin American festival going, and besides the music, there were lots of empanadas, burritos, tacos, and more than I could possibly try. In winter there’s often a hot choco vendor, and in summer there might be ice cream.

And everyday that the Evergreen Brickworks is open (which is almost 365 days a year), there is Cafe Belong. It’s a full-service sit down restaurant that also does takeout, and they have a full bar too along with a gorgeous patio space that’s perfect on a summer day. The food is tasty, organic, and ethically sourced for guilt-free indulging.

Diversions:

  1. The Brickworks is one of my standard stops if I am walking the Don Valley Trail from Corktown Common to Wilket Creek Park. You can use the Brickworks as a great jumping off point too, starting there and walking the Trail south to Corktown to end up at the Distillery District.
  2. There are other connector trails too – if you start down the Moore Ravine, you can exit to the west of the Brickworks and take the Chorley Park connector trail up out of the valley and into Rosedale. From there you can walk through one of the most beautiful neighbourhoods in Toronto to end up back at Yonge Street.
  3. The Brickworks is also about half-way on the Kay Gardiner Beltline Trail. Walking down Moore Ravine, you’re actually on a section of the Beltline. It continues north of the Moore Ravine, cutting through Mount Pleasant Cemetery (worth exploring all by itself) and continuing all the way west to Bathurst Street. Or from the south end of the Brickworks, the Beltline curves back north and west through David Balfour Park and then Mount Pleasant Cemetery where it completes its loop.
  4. One other route I’ve done is to start at Ramsden Park on Yonge Street (opposite Rosedale Station on Line 1), and walk south-east down Rosedale Valley Drive to Bayview where I turn north and follow the Don Valley Trail back up to the Brickworks. From there I usually keep going up Moore Ravine, through Mount Pleasant Cemetery and onto the Beltline which takes me more or less home. Going in this direction I get lots of uphill walking.

Gear – Tilley T3 Hat

Over the past couple of years of walking I’ve gone through a fair amount of gear, so I thought I would share some feedback for stuff that’s tried and trusted. Hope it helps.

What is it?: Tilley T3 Cotton Duck hat. It’s Canada Day, so let’s talk about Canadian icons!

How much?: I bought it in Sydney Australia in 2007 and now I can’t remember what I paid. Today you can buy it from Tilley for $85 CAD + tax.

Where, when, how do I use it?: This is my go-to summer hat. As I said, I bought it in Australia. I was posted there on a work assignment in January 2007, at the height of summer, and quickly learned how fierce the Aussie sun can be. We lived in a flat near Circular Quay, and close to that is an area known as the Rocks. This cluster of renovated old stone buildings is today a buzzing little shopping district, amongst which was a hat shop. I popped in on Australia Day (Jan 26) when we were out in the crowds enjoying the celebrations and I was getting scorched.

At the time, I was just looking for a basic hat, but when I saw the Tilley I immediately knew I had to buy this iconic Canadian classic and uphold my maple-leafness downunder. I wore it most days as we explored the countryside, and it’s been a summer staple since.

It’s getting a little battered and sweat-stained, but 13 years later it’s still going strong. I wash it occasionally, taking care to stretch out the band while it’s still damp so that it doesn’t shrink. Otherwise, since I started my walks in 2016, it just gets folded up and carted around and stuffed in knapsacks and worn in the sun. It has one job, and it does it really well.

I can’t think if any real issues with it. The light colour is reflective, it breathes pretty well through the vent holes, the absorbent brim keeps sweat out of my eyes, there are proper chin ties in case it gets really windy, and it floats if it falls in the water. You can even stuff an emergency $20 into the secret pocket in the top.

Inside, there’s information on how to get a replacement if it ever breaks down. Alex Tilley, who designed, says it’s the finest hat in the world. I’m not going to argue.

Would I buy it again?: If I ever lost it, then yes absolutely, though I won’t have to because it’s insured against loss (you get that when you buy it). But barring that, I can’t see how I’ll ever wear it out. You buy a Tilley hat once. I like that.


Disclaimer: This is not a “review”. I don’t go around sampling things, instead this is a summary of my own experience with a product I have used a lot. All opinions contained in this post are my own. I offer no warranties or assurances for your experiences with the same product. I bought the gear with my own money and have not received any form of compensation from the manufacturer. Take my feedback as given – caveat emptor.

TONotL – Ideas for a Visit

The other day, I was describing my Niagara-on-the-Lake to Toronto journey to someone, and lamenting how COVID-19 is cutting into my ability to do something similar this year. It seems like it was a million years ago that I did that walk, yet it was only last autumn.

Since we are (fingers crossed) slowly moving towards easing of COVID-19 restrictions in Ontario, and part of that recent easing includes the re-opening of some Niagara-area wineries for tastings, I thought it would be helpful to jot down where I stayed on my journey and where I had meals. If you are able to get out of Toronto, you might want to check out these places yourself.

Accommodations

If I were younger, I might have considered camping for at least some of my walk, in particular along the Bruce. If I had done that, I’d have had to stealth camp, because there’s no official overnight camping allowed in the various parks and conservation areas that the Bruce and Waterfront Trails cross.

Stealth camping means walking till dusk, setting up your tent and crawling in, and then waking at dawn to strike camp and get going before anyone comes along. Lots of Bruce Trail through hikers do it, and as long as you are discrete and respectful of private property, you can usually get through unmolested. Still, doing so would have meant carrying a tent, sleeping bag, etc. and that would have added 2-3 kg to my pack, plus extra food, and it would also have meant walking for longer days, dawn to dusk. I wanted the trip to be challenging, but I just couldn’t take the thought of it being that challenging.

Instead I opted for comfort. My muscles would be aching after a long day, so the thought of a nice hot shower each evening outweighed the thought of seeing if I could rough it. I picked all of these spots based on proximity to my route, more than anything else, but that said all of them were great.

An excellent micro-brew IPA from Bench Brewery
  • Shaw Club, Niagara-on-the-Lake
    • Great little place, a little bit off the main touristing stretch of Picton Street and yet only a few minutes walk away, and more importantly for me, just a few hundred meters from Fort George where I started my journey
  • Stone Mill Inn, St. Catherines
    • A converted warehouse property only a few hundred meters off the Bruce Trail, with welcoming staff, quiet, well-appointed rooms, and for me, HOT SHOWERS!
  • Jordan House, Jordan
    • One of the oldest taverns in Jordan, now with several rooms as well that are managed by the Inn on the Twenty. Simple yet close to the Bruce Trail and the bonus of a fab breakfast at the Inn
  • Crown Ridge B&B, Grimsby
    • A comfy B&B on the outskirts of Grimsby and literally across the road from the Bruce, where I had a large room with a balcony deck – it was great going to sleep to the sounds of crickets
  • Waterfront Hotel, Burlington
    • A clean, modern, mid-range hotel right on the Waterfront Trail by Spencer Smith Park in downtown Burlington
  • Waterside Inn, Port Credit
    • Another clean, modern, mid-range hotel right on the Waterfront Trail, this time beside the harbour in Port Credit
Breakfast at the Inn on the Twenty in Jordan Station

Meals

My basic plan, since I was staying at hotels, was to eat a hearty, healthy breakfast each day and a good dinner at night. That way, during the day on the Trail I could munch on snacks like dried sausages, dried fruit, an apple or orange, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, and energy bars. When I’m working hard I don’t want a big meal anyway, and this meant I could have a snack at each rest break and keep my energy levels up.

The breakfast part worked out as I had planned, though the Inn on the Twenty where I ate after staying at Jordan House only served breakfast at 0800, so I lost a bit of trail time. Other than that, I really appreciated being able to fuel up in comfort each morning – instant coffee and oatmeal on the trail can’t compare to fresh fruit and a good strong cup of morning brew.

Similarly, being able to have a hot meal at the end of the day, and also I confess a good glass of wine, was a reward to myself. If you can’t earn your comforts and enjoy them, well, what’s the point? A good burger versus freeze-dried chili – what choice is that?

A tiny Niagara estate that makes a fantastic Pinot Noir
  • Treadwell, Niagara-on-the-Lake
    • A farm-to-table restaurant, they work with local Niagara-area farmers and producers to make memorable meals. Their sommelier is excellent and their selection of local wines means you can try stuff you’d never find on your own. It was a great way to get ready for my big walk.
  • Zees Grill, Niagara-on-the-Lake
    • We had breakfast there, as it’s attached to the Shaw Club Hotel. We were served outside on the veranda, and it was a lovely soft first-day-of-autumn morning.
  • Jonny Rocco’s Italian Grill, St. Catherines
    • This restaurant is attached to the Stone Mill Inn, which was just as well since my feet were tired and stiff after day 1 on the Trail. It’s a casual place with homemade Italian dishes, and their make-your-own-pasta was really tasty. I had penne, marinara sauce, fresh spinach, and flor di latte cheese. That’s how you carb-load for another day on the trail.
  • Cora’s, St. Catherines
    • This breakfast chain has a franchise on Tremont Road, where the Bruce climbs the escarpment, so you’re just meters from the Trail. I ate there the morning of Day 2, and got a big plate of eggs, toast, and fried potatoes with coffee for under $10. There are many locations around Canada and they’re a great option if you’re tired of Tim Hortons.
  • Jordan House Tavern, Jordan
    • It’s a pub, and it’s got all the pub good things you’d expect. The food is fresh and prepared in-house, so the burger and salad I had were made from high quality local ingredients, and the beer was a local micro-brew called Bench IPA.
  • The Martini House, Burlington
    • I took my parents there since we’d connected for the evening as I was passing through Burlington. This restaurant is a favourite of my in-laws, though I guess it’s quieter when they go there for lunch than it was in the evening. The food’s pretty good – I had a fab vegetarian dish and the wine list is simple with some good value wines.
  • Tim Hortons
    • If you don’t know what a Tim’s is, then where have you been? While they are predictable, they’re everywhere, convenient, clean, and good value. Plus you get the bonus of listening in on the regulars that seem to congregate in every Tims I’ve ever been in.
The courtyard outside Treadwell in Niagara-on-the-Lake

Let’s hope that COVID-19 stays under control. Please do your part by respecting the advice of public health authorities. Together we’ll get through this, and back to normal.

Gear – New Balance 1450 Walking Shoes

Over the past couple of years of walking I’ve gone through a fair amount of gear, so I thought I would share some feedback for stuff that’s tried and trusted. Hope it helps.

What is it?: New Balance MW1450WK walking shoes.

How much?: about $180 CAD + tax

Where, when, how do I use them?: I bought these in August 2019 after I had worn out my New Balance 990 running shoes. I knew I was going to be doing a long 200km walk from Niagara-on-the-Lake to Toronto in a few weeks, and since it was partly Bruce Trail offroad hiking and partly Waterfront Trail paved trails, I wanted something that could handle both. Basically, I wanted something heavier than a running shoe but lighter than a hiking boot. These fit the bill.

They have GoreTex uppers so they’re pretty water resistant. I have worn them through my share of puddles and small streams and as long as it wasn’t above ankle height, they have kept my feet dry. In fact, I wore them in the late autumn and early spring shoulder seasons so they’ve seen their share of slush, sleet, and light snow as well as mud and puddles.

At this point they probably have around 500 km on them, and judging by the soles, I can get a bit more before I completely wear them out. I have had to have the local shoe repair guy put some soft leather into the back of the heels where I wore out the lining, but other than that they’ve held up well.

Since I wear custom orthotics, I got an extra wide pair which has proven to be a wise choice – there’s lots of room for both the orthotics and thicker socks. I did have some blisters early on as I was breaking them in, but I put that down to the wrong choice of socks. Since then, they’ve worked pretty well.

One thing to consider is that, if you aren’t carrying heavy loads, you can probably get away with these even on backpacking offroad trails. The high ankle style gives a good amount of support, and the soles and footbeds are solid too. I still wouldn’t say they are a true substitute for full-on hiking boots, but they can work. It might just boil down to your own preferences – since they are lighter than full hiking boots, that might mean the difference between a 25km day and a 30km day.

Would I buy them again?: I think so, if I still need a “between” boot/shoe. I like the NB 990 running shoes for roads and paved trails, and I like my Zamberlan hiking boots for off-road stuff. If in future it looks like I’m going to be in one of those betwixt and between situations where I can only take one pair of something, I think I’d look at these again.


Disclaimer: This is not a “review”. I don’t go around sampling things, instead this is a summary of my own experience with a product I have used a lot. All opinions contained in this post are my own. I offer no warranties or assurances for your experiences with the same product. I bought the gear with my own money and have not received any form of compensation from the manufacturer. Take my feedback as given – caveat emptor.

Neighbourhood History

You are probably getting bored with me starting off a post by saying, “I was out for a walk in my neighbourhood” and I am getting tired of going out for a walk in my neighbourhood, but given COVID-19 is still hanging about I’m trying to do my part by sticking close to home.

At any rate, a recent walk took me I past an older home that I’ve always assumed had a story behind it, but I didn’t know what it was. Right now, there’s this sign out front, as they do work on the house.

As I learned, it’s known as the Snider House after the original owners, and it dates back to 1820, one of the oldest houses in Toronto.

this is it in 1923 – Toronto Public Library archives photo

I had seen that it had sold a year or 2 ago, and then in the past few weeks the dreaded construction hoarding went up. Too many times, this is a cue for imminent destruction. Fortunately, it’s a designated Heritage property which avoids:

I see these signs all over our neighbourhood. On one street nearby, in a 100m stretch there were 3 houses that have been demolished with new infill underway.

I’m happy that Snider House is being restored. It’s beautiful example of Victorian architecture and it’s a reminder that Toronto actually has a history, something we keep trying to erase every time we tear down a perfectly good though older home to replace it with something new.

I get it, on one level. In our case, we spent several years and hundreds of thousands renovating our last house, a 1920’s detached 3-bedroom in mid-Toronto, and in the end we still had a detached 3-bedroom home. Had we knocked it down, for not much more than we ending up spending on renovations, we could have had a larger 4-bedroom that would have been worth at least 25% more than what we eventually sold at. If you want all the latest modern wiring, heating, plumbing, bathrooms, kitchens, energy efficiency, and comforts it’s often cheaper to start with a blank slate.

And yet, when that happens up and down a street the character starts to change. Many mid-town Toronto neighbourhoods date from the 1920-1940 period, and were originally quite uniform with a mix of detached and semi-detached 3-bedroom 2-story homes along with some 2-bedroom bungalows. That characteristic look lasted for the 1st and 2nd generations of owners, into the 1970’s and 1980’s, but by the time the 3rd and 4th generation came along, the urge to modernize and extend became too strong to resist.

And so we have today’s streets, where many of the original homes, to my eye charming red-brick well-proportioned places, have been replaced by larger boxy stucco-sided 4-bedroom houses that loom over their neighbours. There are now so many that that they’ve started to blend together, but even so, to me the proportions of the homes have lost something. They are more spacious, more open, more energy-efficient, and just more. But do we need more? Can’t we renovate and improve without replacing?

Near the street with the 3 new houses, there’s another home that’s undergone extensive reno’s and is now just about finished. I’m sure it was pricy to renovate instead of tearing down, but I’m glad that they resisted the temptation to tear down a perfectly charming, functional place that just needed to evolve into the 21st century.

Reduce, reuse, and recycle are supposed to be our environmentalist mantra. Use less, use it longer, and then hand it on for other uses. On my way home from my walk, I passed a toddler toilet seat that had been outgrown (proudly I bet) and left out for someone to claim and use for a new toddler. It seemed an apt metaphor – poop happens. Learn from it.

Gear – Zamberlan Boots

Over the past couple of years of walking I’ve gone through a fair amount of gear, so I thought I would share some feedback for stuff that’s tried and trusted. Hope it helps.

What are they?: Zamberlan Sequoia GTX hiking boots. I don’t believe this particular model is on the market anymore, at least not in Canada. I bought them at Mountain Equipment Co-op in 2017 and when I checked their site in 2020, there was a similar but updated model available, the Zamberlan Vioz GT Gore-Tex hiking boot.

How much?: About $300 CAD, before tax.

Where, when, and how I use them: The boots in the picture have well over 1000 km on them, in fact I think it’s closer to 1500 km. They are nicely broken in, as they say, and I think they have another 500 km in them at least. The soles and lugs are still solid and grippy, the interior lining is barely worn, and the leather uppers are supple but still supportive.

I’ve worn them on a number of long walks, mostly around Toronto though as it happens, I bought them in 2017 because we were going to Ireland and I wanted a proper pair of boots for bog-hopping and climbing. This pair has climbed hills, splashed through many puddles, streams, and bogs, and trudged through snow, slush, and mud.

In addition to hiking, they’ve become my day to day winter boots as well. I keep them rubbed and conditioned with dubbin, and that keeps the salt from eating the leather. They are GoreTex lined so they keep my feet dry, and they have Vibram soles which give good grip on icy surfaces.

I did think about wearing them on my 200 km TONotL walk, but in the end decided on a different set of footwear. While I think they would have worked really well on the first 3 days covering the Bruce Trail portion of that walk, I was also doing 3 days of walking on paved trails and I thought that heavy running shoes would have more cushioning for that. I couldn’t take 2 pairs of footwear, so I went with the running shoes.

I am planning on doing some more of the Bruce in future, and for that I think I’ll use these. It’s what they’re made for – backpacking and hiking on off road terrain.

Would I buy them again?: I like them and when I wear out this pair I will probably get another set. They look good with a pair of jeans or a pair of hiking shorts. They are indestructible, at least so far, and have worked well for more kms than any other footwear I’ve used.

That said, they are not the lightest things out there, having leather uppers and a lot of structure to them. The Goretex lining also means that they don’t breathe as well as some lighter materials might, so your feet get warm which can lead to excess sweating which can lead to blisters.

That said, they are exactly what you’d think they are just looking at them – tough, hard-wearing, and comfortable once you break them in. I recommend using merino wool socks with these, and if I am doing really long walks I’ll use Vaseline on my feet too.

One caveat is that I wear custom orthotics, which are fairly thick. Finding boots that work well with these has always been a challenge. That means I don’t know how they would feel using the regular supplied insoles.


Disclaimer: This is not a “review”. I don’t go around sampling things, instead this is a summary of my own experience with a product I have used a lot. All opinions contained in this post are my own. I offer no warranties or assurances for your experiences with the same product. I bought the gear with my own money and have not received any form of compensation from the manufacturer. Take my feedback as given – caveat emptor.

TO Places – St. Lawrence Market

Part of a series on my favourite places to go for a walk in Toronto

Hey Toronto, remember to practice Physical Distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic! Restrictions placed by either the Province of Ontario or the City of Toronto may limit what you can do. Check the links for the latest info.

And now on to the regular post …..

The area around St. Lawrence Market includes nearby Corktown and the Distillery District, and it’s a fantastic intro to Toronto – downtown, close to hotels, shops, and transit, full of history, and even more full of good things to eat. If you have just one day in TO, then come here.

Location: St. Lawrence Market itself is at the corner of Front and Jarvis Streets. My personal definition of the more general Market neighbourhood is the area between Church Street in the west to Cherry Street in the east, and King Street to the north down to the Esplanade in the south.

Public Transit: The nearest subway is King Station, on Line 1. The St. Lawrence Market is about a 5-7 minute walk from there. You can also take the 503 or 504 Streetcar east from King Station and get off at Jarvis Street – the Market is just a block south from there.

Why I like it:

First of all, there are a lot of memories for me here. When I met my soon-to-become wife in 1987, she was living in the area, just off the Esplanade. Since she had a much nicer apartment than my basement bedsit, I moved in with her and we lived there for the 1st year or so of our marriage. We also lived just north of here in the early 2000’s and spent many hours walking the neighbourhood pushing a stroller to get our son to sleep.

When we were young and, let’s call it non-affluent, we would hit the market at the end of the day, when vendors were selling off their unsellables. As our budgets expanded, and as we travelled, we starting looking for things we’d tasted in Europe – the cheese, the olives, the fish, the meats. Then when we became parents, a Saturday at the Market became an easy way to keep young one entertained and fed with interesting snacks. And always, it’s been a place to take visitors to the city, who never fail to be wowed by the scents, the sights, and the sounds.

Over the 30+ years since we lived nearby, we’ve always made a point of visiting the Market whenever we can, regardless of where we’ve lived in the City (or elsewhere – we would always try to squeeze in a visit when we came home while we were living in London). There is so much to see and do any time of the year, and if we’re feeling a bit bored by food-shopping we can always explore the rest of the area, especially east over through Corktown and the Distillery District.

There are actually 2 markets, the red brick South Market which is open 5 days a week, and the now-temporarily-in-a-tent-for-the-next-few-years-and-confusingly-named North Market, which is currently located south of the South Market. The North Market, which used to be on the north side of Front Street across from the South Market, is open on Saturdays as a farmers market and on Sundays as an antique market. The City is building a new structure to house it, and it will eventually return to its rightful North Market location.

Sights:

Since this area is one of the oldest in Toronto (at least, what passes for old in the sense of European settlement), there are many historical sites and features. But for me, the starting and ending point is the Market itself. I always get a tingle of anticipation whenever I visit, thinking of what I’ll find and what I’ll cook and, most importantly, what I’ll be tempted to eat while I’m there.

It’s also one of the great all-season places in Toronto. Spring is about new flowers and days just warm enough to sit out at a picnic table. Summer overflows with vendors on the sidewalks, with fruits and veggies from all around Toronto. Autumn is my favourite, when the harvest season brings those crisp blue-sky days that make wondering so much fun. And winter is great too, especially around the holidays, when the market is bursting with shoppers and carollers and cheer.

Outside the Market, the shops along King and Front Streets are interesting too. It’s become a bit of a furniture/design destination. There’s also George Brown College just east on King, so there’s a student vibe that’s fun. And of course, over at the Distillery District, there are tons of shops and funky laneways to wander and browse.

Holiday Market at the Distillery District

If you need some green space, there’s that too. The park next to St. James Cathedral is always green and welcoming. There are also a series of parks along the Esplanade (including one that’s in the opening shots of Kim’s Convenience), and at the east end of Corktown there’s the fabulous Corktown Common.

Winter at St. James is beautiful too

There are probably other things in Toronto that some might find more fun, but for me, spending the morning shopping at the Market, then picking up a picnic lunch and going for a walk through the neighbourhood to end up at the Common where I can sit on the grass and eat my feast, all followed by a coffee at Balzac’s in the Distillery – that’s a perfect day.

Summer at the market includes flowers

Food & Refreshment:

There are just too many to choose from – if you want to sample the multi-cultural variety of Toronto, you can start here and cover a lot. There’s down-home Canadian (Paddington’s Pump’s famous back bacon sandwiches!), pizza and pasta, souvlaki, sushi, chow mien, crepes, cheeses, smoothies, sausages, pates, pickles, breads, pretzels, sweets, fruits, veggies, spices, salts, herbs, oils, flavourings, and so much more, and that’s just in the Market itself.

Breakfast at Paddington’s Pump

When it comes to food, you have options. You can view it as a giant, full-on grocery store and pick up the ingredients for a feast. You can look at it as a great take-out place, from any of a dozen or so places that range from avocado toast to zaatar-spiced treats. Or you can sit down in a more restaurant-like setting (across the street at Market Lane) and enjoy a meal and a glass of wine at one of the places there. And of course, you can do all 3 the same day, as we often do.

Along King there are many more restaurants and bars, and if you time it well you can try some budding chef’s talents at the Chef’s House restaurant run by the George Brown College catering school.

Finally, the Distillery District has its share of wine and dine options, along with coffee, tea, and chocolate treats.

Come hungry and you’ll be fine.

Diversions:

  1. I’ve used the Market in the past as my jumping off place for long walks. To the east at the Common, you can pick up the Lower Don Valley Trail. To the south, you can join the Martin Goodman Trail. Either way, fuelling up at Paddington’s Pump is a great way to start a long walk.
  2. Just west of the St. Lawrence area, at Yonge and Front Streets, there is the Hockey Hall of Fame – what could be more Canadian, eh?
  3. While this isn’t the official Theatre District, you can find your share of the arts here. There’s the Meridian Hall (formerly the Hummingbird Centre for the Arts), the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts, Young People’s Theatre, and the Canadian Opera Company’s St. Lawrence space, all within a few blocks of St. Lawrence Market.
  4. Throughout the year, there’s live music and festivals galore, everything from buskers and Buskerfest to BBQ fests to Toronto’s own Holiday Market. Check sites like Toronto.com or BlogTO to see what’s happening.

Gear – New Balance 990 running shoes

Over the past couple of years of walking I’ve gone through a fair amount of gear, so I thought I would share some feedback for stuff that’s tried and trusted. Hope it helps.

What is it?: New Balance 990 v5 running shoes.

How much?: about $250 CAD including tax

Where, when, how do I use them?: The ones in the picture are a brand new pair, my 2nd. I just got them and am in the process of breaking them in. I wore out the first pair over around 350 km – 400km of road, sidewalk, and trail walking around Toronto (and Bermuda).

I wear them for probably 8-9 months of the year, switching to boots in the winter. Otherwise they are my go-to everyday footwear. Since I’m now mostly retired, I don’t need to wear anything fancier most days, and they’re comfortable enough to wear all day long.

I got the first pair on the recommendation of my podiatrist. The 990 model has a pretty defined/stiff structure for a running shoe, and I need that given that I wear custom orthotics. At the same time, they have a lot of cushiony give in the sole, which makes walking on pavements much more comfortable.

Would I buy them again?: Yes – like I said, this is my 2nd pair. I wish they would last more than 500km but then everything wears out eventually. They’re comfy, they fit really well with my orthotics, they breathe well so they’re cool in summer, and when worn with good socks I haven’t had any blister issues.

I can’t think of any cons, other than they are expensive compared to some other models and brands of running shoes. If you don’t need all the structure and you’re looking for lightweight and low cost, then you can definitely find something for less. That said, you get what you pay for, and the bottom line for me is that they work and they’re comfy.


Disclaimer: This is not a “review”. I don’t go around sampling things, instead this is a summary of my own experience with a product I have used a lot. All opinions contained in this post are my own. I offer no warranties or assurances for your experiences with the same product. I bought the gear with my own money and have not received any form of compensation from the manufacturer. Take my feedback as given – caveat emptor.

A Walk to a Beginning

On Thursday this past week, our son turned 18, and on Friday he graduated from high school. It prompted a different kind of walk, memories instead of miles.

My wife was pregnant and fighting bouts of nausea that we thought were food poisoning before we learned it was morning sickness, on the morning of September 11, 2001. And now, at the other bookend of his 18 years, our son is graduating into COVID-19.

Both events have changed the world, and it only begs the question about what the next 18 years of his life will bring. We had been planning to head to Halifax in the autumn to deliver him into the arms of university life at Dalhousie University. Now, that’s on hold – he will still start classes in the fall, but online, with dorm life at the residence of Mom and Dad. Not what he or we had expected, but the new normal for his fellow graduates.

So what do you do with these kinds of situations? You learn from them, I think. In many ways, his journey through life till now has had more emotive and socially-changing events in it than I remember experiencing at his age, and I can only see more on the horizon.

It also means that the plans my wife and I had are changing too. We won’t get to walk the Gaff Point Trail this autumn, as we had planned, but we’re hoping we can do it next year. Maybe he can start in residence in Halifax in January. Maybe it will be September 2021. But in the meantime, we learn and we grow and we move on. All roads come to a fork sooner or later.

Happy Birthday Rowan. And congratulations. Now comes the fun part.