Still Walking in an Epidemic

When I wrote about taking walks during the COVID-19 epidemic a couple of weeks ago, I knew that social changes were coming, but even so I didn’t that things would change as quickly as they have.

Just 3 weeks ago, COVID-19 was serious but still something that impacted someone else, somewhere else. Now it’s here, in Toronto, and very much hitting home. The city and the province have declared states of emergency. Neighbours and acquaintances are in self-isolation. At least one relative has tested positive for COVID-19. Our parents are tucked up at home and sitting tight. Stores and shops are closed or only offering delivery. Our son is home and is probably done school for the year (thankfully he received early acceptance from Dalhousie University so we don’t have to worry about marks).

It seems that plans are being adjusted and changed day to day. And that’s just the precautionary impact. So far, we don’t actually know anyone who’s been seriously ill, but it feels as if it’s only a matter of time.

So there’s a carpe diem feeling in the air to some extent, which is reinforced by spring fever when the sun comes out and then tamped down and mixed a feeling of uncertainty and doubt, especially when it is gloomy and rainy. You want to keep living and enjoy life, because it appears to be just a matter of time before a full-on city-wide lockdown is declared, or worse, you contract it yourself. At the same time, you know more is coming and that we’re still on the bad side of the curve.

Walking is a distraction in times like these, and of course we’re all feeling cooped up and in need of exercise. For the first time in weeks, I’ve actually gotten out 6 days out of 7 this week. I try to keep my distance from others, so I weave from one side of the street to the other as people approach, or walk in the roadway. There are lots of people still out walking dogs, especially as the off-leash dog parks are now closed, so there are still more than a few people out on the streets, and anyone with young kids at home is trying to keep them active. All of it means that in some ways it’s actually harder to find peace and quiet on a walk, even though vehicle traffic is lighter.

One thing I’ve noticed is that, in addition to the usual flotsam left behind by the receding snow tide, there is a new line of jetsam – latex and plastic gloves. 1000 years from now, will archeologists puzzle over this clue?

It’s quieter though – you can hear the birds, the chuckle of squirrels and the rustle of the breeze in the trees. The air is cleaner too, I have to admit that. Turns out that taking cars off the road makes it easier to breath – who knew! It’s ironic that with petrol cheaper than it’s been in almost 20 years and with light traffic about, now is the time for a road trip, but no one wants to be far from home and meeting strangers.

Will that shrink our horizons? Just a few weeks ago, people thought little of jumping on a plane or in the car and buzzing off to New York or Montreal for a weekend. Now we hunker down within a 1-2 km radius – New York is the other side of the moon right now, and in full lockdown even if we could get there.

So I keep walking, even if it’s just in our flat. I can do 5-10 minutes at a time, pacing back and forth across the living room and doing stair climbs as well, and can get it up to 4,000 or 5,000 steps in a day that way. Mostly I try to go out and walk the neighbourhood, careful to touch nothing on the way in or out (I’m getting good at using my elbow to turn the door handle and my foot to push it open). Our son has put a big sign on the powder room door as you enter the flat, to remind us all to WASH HANDS.

Sign of the times.

Walk Journal – May 19, 2019

Where: Chaplin Estates, Belt Line, Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Moore Ravine, the Brickworks, Pottery Road and Pape Village to the Danforth, then back along the Danforth over the Bloor Street Viaduct and then through Castlefrank and Rosedale to Summerhill & Yonge and up Yonge to Deer Park and back through Chaplin Estates to home.

Duration: about 3.5 hours walking, and around 17 km

Weather: Spring! 18 C and sunny enough for a sunburn

My walking regime this year so far has been patchy at best. I’ve put back on some weight that I’d lost, and I’ve been feeling flabby and out of shape. My weekly target of 60 minutes of walking 5 days out of 7 has mostly gone by the wayside, and the weather has been chilly and teasing – the calendar might say spring but the temperatures don’t.

On a holiday weekend, you never know what you’re going to get. Last year on Victoria Day we had a great walk through High Park and then up the Humber River. This year we decided to walk east, and visit the Danforth and Toronto’s Greektown neighbourhood, and the weather forecast was promising.

The most direct yet still interesting route took us through familiar streets to the Beltline Trail and then east along that into Mount Pleasant Cemetery. From there we followed the Trail into Moore Ravine and down into the Don Valley into the trails of the Brickworks. On a nice holiday weekend day, there were hordes of walkers, families, dogs, bikes, runners, and self-snapping young couples. We took our time going through the Brickworks trails, and then crossed Bayview to the Lower Don Trail to head back north up to Pottery Road. Walking along that brought back memories as we passed Fantasy Farm – back in the 1980’s when I was at Glendon College we’d had several formal banquets there at which I had let down my student hair in epic fashion – and then it was the grinding climb up the hill to Broadview.

From there we meandered through back streets to arrive at the Danforth at Carlaw. The sun was out and the outdoor tables were packed. We found a spot at the Alexander the Great Parkette and grabbed takeout gyros from Alexandros to eat in the sun.

After that tasty pitstop, it was a stroll along the Danforth to Broadview, where my wife decided to hop on the subway home, while I kept walking. My route took me south on Broadview to Riverdale Park and down to one of the trails. I was trying to connect to the Lower Don Trail, but I guessed wrong and didn’t find the connector trail over the Don Valley Parkway – instead I ended up heading north and back up to Danforth at the Bloor Street Viaduct, so I decided to cross the bridge (since I’d come to it!) and cut through Rosedale to head home.

Walking through the neighbourhood, I thought about the essay my son is currently working on, on the subject of sustainability and how that is manifested in Toronto. One of his study areas is Rosedale. On paper this neighbourhood doesn’t have a large amount of green space, at least when defined in terms of public parks. And yet, the trees coming leaf and the ample yards and gardens of the large houses certainly gave a strong impression of verdancy, and the wealth displayed by the luxury cars parked in front of every house contrasted with the TTC bus stops scattered along the side streets. Does it count as sustainable if that neighbourhood has a higher percentage of Tesla’s than other areas of the city?

At the same time, there’s no question that it’s a lovely place to live. It’s always quiet and charming walking through Rosedale and it was no different on this walk. I know my way through there by now, having walked it many times, and I meandered along back streets between Castle Frank and Summerhill where I connected with Yonge Street.

Interesting fact – on Castle Frank Road, the Netherlands consulate owns a house, marked by the large Dutch flag out front. There is also a commemorative plaque beside a tree, planted in honour of the many thousands of Canadian troops who helped to liberate the Netherlands during the Second World War.

At Summerhill, Yonge Street led me up the hill to St. Clair and into the Deer Park neighbourhood, and onwards to Oriole Park. I passed a baseball game in progress that brought back memories of my son at 7 playing there. I kept going through the Chaplin Estates back to Eglinton and up Oriole Parkway to reach home footsore and sunburned.

In the end I’d done more walking in one day than I’d done in several weeks over the past few months. It felt good to be tired, like I’d worked out and deserved to sit for awhile and watch a baseball game.

It was a great spring walk, on our first really proper sunny spring day of the year, and now I need to build on that and get back into my routines. Stretching out your strides with the rhythm of walking feels good at anytime, but it’s especially sweet when it’s the first time all year you can finally go out in shorts and a T shirt.

Walking Toronto’s Neighbourhoods

The City of Toronto currently lists, as of Jan 2019, about 140 individually named neighbourhoods, from Agincourt to Yorkdale (there’s no official neighbourhood name starting with a Z so there’s a marketing opportunity waiting).

I was thinking about that the other day, when my mind was wandering as I walked. Why was my mind wandering? Because I was in familiar territory, only about a km from my home. Why was it familiar? Because it was “my neighbourhood”. That got me thinking about neighbourhoods, and what they represent. There’s a personal sense of neighbourhood, the comfort you feel in familiar surroundings. There’s also a more civic sense of neighbourhood, of enabling a group of people who live in an area to have a sense of pride in that place. “I’m from the Beaches” someone will say, and you’ll know where that is.

Colourful map of Toronto neighbourhoods

All those neighbourhoods are also a challenge. As I noodled on neighbourhoods I thought, how many have I walked through, at least in part? If I credit myself for “visiting” a neighbourhood if I walked at least one block there, then what’s my score?

It turns out that as of Jan 2019, I think it’s about 60. I walk a fair amount, averaging 60 km a week, but Toronto is pretty big (about 800 sq km) and like most people I have my favourite walking routes, so unless I set out to visit a particular neighbourhood I’m not likely to travel through it when just out for a walk (sorry West Humber-Clairville).

Still, that got me thinking that it’s not even half of the official neighbourhoods of Toronto. That’s a challenge. How long will it take me to get to 70? To 100? To all 140? Will the city add/define more before I get there?

Over the next year or 2 I’m going to see how many I can cross off my list, and I’ll come back and update this post. In the meantime, I’m going to continue enjoying my neighbourhood, and the comforting feeling of belonging.

5 things I like about walking in Toronto

There are many things I like about walking in Toronto. Of course since I live here you could say I have no choice, but even if I didn’t live here I’d find these things fascinating were I to visit and wander. Here’s just a few of the many things that make walking Toronto so much fun.

1.¬†Sidewalk dates. Within the city, it’s been the practice for many years to stamp the concrete used for the sidewalks with the year they were laid. Thus you get a time capsule view of the age of the neighbourhood you’re wandering through. Also, when sidewalks are repaired the new stretches have new dates, so you can see a history of renovation in the neighbourhood by comparing the dates almost house by house – sidewalks are often pulled up to put in new drains or driveways when homes are renovated – so without knowing anything else you can see the evolution of the houses. When I walk, I like to look out for the oldest sidewalk dates I can find, and especially look for those older than I am. I was born in 1963, and the oldest I’ve seen thus far is from 1958 (Avenue Road and Hillcrest), in the Lytton Park neighbourhood. Considering our winters and the amount of salt tossed about, that’s pretty impressive.

2. Ravines. Toronto’s park system is one of the city’s crown jewels, and some of my favourite city walks have made extensive use of the trails through the ravines that cross the city. The Moore Park ravine, the Cedarvale Ravine, the Don Valley, the Humber Valley, and Taylor Creek are just some of the trail systems I’ve explored. Use them, enjoy them, respect them, and protect them.

3. Neighbourhoods. Toronto, like any city, has a diverse set of communities, but what sets Toronto apart is that these are formed by the many people who have come to Toronto from around the world. The city is one of the most diverse in the world, and that diversity is a massive strength and a source of endless inspiration. A random 10k walk across just about any part of the city will take you through a dozen “countries” where you can sample foods, hear languages, and people watch with endless fascination.

4. Seasons. Ok, all places are subject to seasonality. Still, Toronto’s latitude means that we get the full effects of 4 distinct seasons. Wags will point out there are only two seasons on the roads (construction and winter) and only two seasons recreationally (summer and hockey). Ignore them and focus on what you see when you walk. Spring takes you from cold rains in March through April showers and May flowers. Summer sees parks in full bloom starting in June and into the heat and humidity of July and then the dryer heat of August. Autumn starts warm in September and leads to the rich colours of October and the grey skies in November. Winter’s greyer days and short nights in December lead to cold clear days in January and February. Every month is distinct in its weather and that is played out in everything you see on your walks – the trees, the rivers and creeks, the parks, the people. You can walk the same path 12 times over the year and get 12 very different experiences just because of the seasons. Don’t get me wrong, when it’s -20C or +30C the walk can be a slog, but it’s never boring.

5. Dogs. I have to confess that while I like dogs (and children), that goes more for my dog (and child) than than yours. My dog (and child) is perfectly behaved, it goes without saying. Yours, on the other hand – let’s just say that while you may not be able to judge a book by its cover, I suggest that you can judge a person by the behaviour and appearance of their dog. Nevertheless, watching dogs and even more so watching dog owners is an endless source of fun. Why do people put dogs in clothes? Why do they put them in strollers!?! Why do people have multiple dogs? Why do people with big cars have small dogs and vice-versa? Who puts blingy jewelled collars on dogs? What self-respecting dog lets them? Why does the dog-to-people ratio increase with the value of the houses in a given neighbourhood, and what does it say about that neighbourhood? Has anyone ever measured the relationship between the number of Starbucks in a neighbourhood and the number of dogs? So many questions ….