Toronto’s public transportation system (TTC) is comprised of four subway lines, eleven streetcar routes in the downtown core and more than 140 bus routes branching into neighbouring municipalities; there is no excuse not to escape your apartment and venture out. Should one get lost along the way they can look towards the Lakeshore, using Toronto’s CN Tower as a navigational point indicating South and the central point of the harbour adjacent to Union station; it serves as a transportation hub for Thousands of visitors and Torontonians 365 days a year.
Our quick escape begins in Toronto’s Eastern Beaches
Accessing the central Beaches boardwalk via public transportation was easy, upon arriving at Woodbine subway station I took the southbound bus and arrived within minutes.
This is January, and though winter has arrived late this year standing by the water still felt chilly, especially as I had forgotten my gloves at home, as a note to the reader this was ridiculous as I planned to spend an hour or more in the area taking photographs (this not surprisingly, was cut short.) Toronto’s Eastern Beaches are swimmable from mid-July to late August proudly flying a blue flag, they are made up of three semi interrupted sand stretches.
Woodbine Beach is by far the busiest in the summer months, arguably the best spot in the city for volleyball with nets set up as far as the eye can see. On this winter day there were several visitors walking the sand with their dogs off-leash (permitted during the winter). The winter to summer contrast is shocking, the area is now serene and the waves lend to a meditative walk on a winter’s day. I would recommend visiting after a heavy snow-fall: the mixture of sand, white snow and lake water lends to a unique photo opportunity and a chance to view a bizarre landscape.
Kew Beach is shouldered by a large fenced off leash dog area (with two small sand beaches legally accessible to your pooch year ‘round). Kew accommodates the overflow and tends to be a calmer experience than the previous, it is also the closest to a keen coffee and ice-cream shop where I managed to pop in to warm up. Just look for the historical lifeguard station, though quite old and closed for the winter months it continues to be a functioning building in the summer serving as a shelter and hub for lifeguard staff; a wooden pier jets into Lake Ontario from here, I recommend this as a good photo location in the summer for the classic red and white colours of the building, and in the winter with the ice skirting the pier.
Balmy Beach is the most eastern and least frequented portion of the three, lending itself best to those seeking a quiet experience.
Having taken a handful of photographs, I turned west towards downtown Toronto travelling past the centre seam of the downtown core. I chose to take the 501 Queen Streetcar, this is the best way to experience the Queen corridor; it stretches several facets of the city. The Beaches area represented by quaint bungalows and small town feel, to the hipster area of Queen and Broadview Ave. It covers the midpoint of the city where displaced and gentrified have settled and continues past shopping and financial hubs.
The contrasting midpoint
Our Quick Escape continues at the corner of Church and Queen Streets. Lower Church has always represented the needle between the left and right arms of the scale counterbalancing East vs. west, some would argue this divide is further West at Spadina (Chinatown) I however disagree.
For many years this and the parallel Jarvis Street corridor running North to South was home (and continues to be to some extent) to some of the cities most disfranchised; a string of now (slowly) defunct pawn shops litter the area. This intersection was and continues to be the edge of a “catch-all” beginning at Moss Park and slightly to the North and South East.
This is the border of an epicenter for those displaced, marked by the bell tower of the Metropolitan United Church observing the East side, with its beach Bungalows and century old homes. It eyes the West with its Financial district, the slow gentrification made up of designer shops shouldering Queen St West from University Avenue to Ossington Street, a four Kilometer stretch creeping further still; peer further north to find Toronto’s LGBTQ community nestled in at Church and Wellesley, one which continues to be a refuge for many in Toronto now struggling against possible encroachment.
On this particular day the Metropolitan Church Park was visited by a charity group handing out winter necessities for the needy; trees had been wrapped with scarves, and hats were hung about ready to be taken by those needing warm comfort. This corner is a representation of how far this city has come marking a facet usually not observed by visitors, and how much further it has to reach towards those lost in its seams as it stretches East to West.
Nathan Philips Square
An iconic family centric landmark located west of Metropolitan Church featuring an urban plaza and skating ring draped in the background by New City Hall; it is shouldered by a classical structure to the East corner, now known as the Old City Hall or Old Courts. The new building consists of two twin semi oval towers surrounding a white disk containing the municipal chamber; Unbeknownst to most this was the site of Toronto’s Chinatown prior to construction in the 1950’s, however construction would not break ground until almost one decade later.
The plaza has been recently renovated to include seating bleachers which doubles as performance space for small acts, and a new skate rental facility with accessible rooftop. As-well an often overlooked Henry Moore sculpture is permanently installed in the space, the public is welcome to touch and interact with the priceless work.
This has become the gathering place for Toronto’s constituents during New Year’s Eve, Remembrance Day, civic protests and other important gatherings. In the winter the skating rink is open 24h hours for public access and has become a draw for families escaping the shopping mecca of Eaton Centre two blocks east. In the summer the central pool is flooded and whence Torontonians skated, they wade their feet having a quick lunch provided by surrounding chip and hot-dog trucks.
Having put my camera away I walked towards the closest subway station located on the corner of Yonge and Queen St. Making my way home.
This city is a set of contrasting personalities, as varied as its residents and neighbourhoods intersecting economical boundaries and cultures. This Quick Escape has only scratched the surface, on my next escape I will introduce you to Spadina Avenue. Our trip will begin on Bloor Street at the edge of “The Annex” meandering through the courts of University Of Toronto, stretching through Chinatown’s cuisine and Blues Culture.
Until then, go do something!
John is a urban dweller from Toronto, photographer and published poet. When he's not being an urbanite he enjoys ice-fishing, camping and mountain-biking with the Quick Escapes crew. He is yet to step foot in a canoe or ice-skate "because floating on ice is just plain wrong for a Portuguese guy". John can be found at www.poetryincubator.com