Glen Road footbridge – where MORLEY CALLAGHAN walked his dog

TORONTO has long been a city of novelists, poets, playwrights, old bookstores, writer’s fests, poetry slams and devoted readers. One of my favourite literary corners is the Glen Road wooden footbridge – its parkette and birdhouse dedicated to MORLEY CALLAGHAN (1903-1990), our country’s ‘Chekhov’.  He authored 18 novels and 100 short stories about Canadians – most of them set in the city –  and often appeared on radio and television.

MORLEY CALLAGHAN moved to Rosedale’s Dale Avenue in 1951, after living in Paris and New York City, and mixing with the literati of the day.  Almost daily, he and his wife (Loretto Dee) and faithful dog (Nikki) crossed the wooden bridge; then he crossed with just the dog; then alone until his death in 1990.

The Footbridge (B & W PHOTO BELOW – as it was in 1880-90) spans Rosedale Valley Drive, a branch of TORONTO’s ravine system.  It links posh Rosedale with not-quite-so-posh St. Jamestown.

Museum of Canadian Contemporary Art, 952 Queen Street West

The large-scale photographic mural in the background is by Scott McFarland – Corner of the Courageous, Repatriation Ceremony for Sergeant Martin Goudreault, Grenville St., Toronto, Ontario, June 9th, 2010.  McFarland creates a portrait of a repatriation ceremony for a fallen Canadian soldier returning home to Canada after being killed while on active duty in Afghanistan. A composite digital technique enables the artist to document a complete view of the scene.

St. Basil’s Church, the collegiate church of St. Michael’s College, 1856

Best known to Torontonians as the church with the noontime bells, ST. BASIL’s was built in a neighbourhood once called CLOVERHILL.  The architect was a Scotsman – WILLIAM HAY.  In 1856, this area was all open countryside, but today it’s filled with high-rise condos.  As more buildings go up, the neighbourhood has been fighting to save a small park with mature trees at the corner of St. Joseph and Bay – and they’ve succeeded.

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Michael Christian’s “I.T.” is a giant insect with a past.

“I.T.”, a 40 foot tall sculpture made from 10,000 pounds of steel, sits astride one of the entrances to the Distillery District.  It was shipped here in 2009 after an appearance at the Burning Man Festival in Black Rock City, Nevada.

At Burning Man, up to a dozen people at a time were allowed inside its head, which rotated, shooting a bright spotlight from its red oscillating eye.

Michael Christian:  “Having people in it I thought would take on a different feeling.  So it wasn’t just meant to be a giant insect, it was meant to show that people were driving the machine, they were the brains of it.  It changes the dynamic once you remove the people.”

In the Distillery District, surrounded as it is by condominiums, the eye-beam has been disconnected, and the head is off limits, but this is the “Frozen North” not Black Rock City.

BELOW – another Distillery District sculpture, “Still Dancing”, by Dennis Oppenheim, 2009.

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“How did a guy like (Mayor Rob) FORD happen to a nice place like TORONTO?”

Ex-Torontonian (now a Montrealer), TARAS GRESCOE, <PHOTO – Erin Churchill>, has written a new book, “Straphanger: Saving Our Cities and Ourselves from the Automobile”, <Harper Collins/320 pages>, bound to be a hit amongst city dwellers everywhere.

Grescoe set off on a trek around the world, exploring public transit and urban life in Canada, Japan, Europe, the US, South America and elsewhere.  If you love cities, it’s a must-read.  17 pages are devoted to TORONTO.

He makes many excellent points.  Just a few:
1.  Suburbs have failed.  Frank Lloyd Wright got it wrong.  “My parents tell me they bought the (suburban Burlington) house as a short-term investment, but if they were hoping the suburbs would be a healthier setting than the city, they seriously misjudged Southern Ontario . . . My parents lasted two years in Burlington, before giving up on the land of loops-and-lollipops and bundling my sister and me onto a westbound train.”

2.  Car-dependent suburbs are going down – fast.  Grescoe uses PHOENIX and its “slumburbs” as a worst case example.  One day “people will look at aerial photos of PHOENIX and other capitals of sprawl and see all the parking lots, strip malls and overpasses as the manifestation of a pathological addiction to cheap fossil fuels.”  (PHOENIX, Arizona is the size of the State of Delaware, encompasses more than 20 cities and towns, has built a 20 mile-long $1.4 billion lightrail and subway system).

3.  “To an outsider, it is clear that TORONTO is in the grips of a culture war, one that culminated in the election, late in 2010 of ROB FORD as mayor . . . How did a guy like Ford happen to a nice place like Toronto?  . . .  The rise of the Ford nation (actually, a myth) and the gridlock and transport paralysis that are sure to ensue, became inevitable when TORONTO’s future was handed over to its suburbs . . . That should be more widely known – if only to prevent it from ever happening again.”

4.  “TORONTO has the largest street railway system in the Americas.”  But amalgamation and “the dissolution of Metro, the rise of car-dependent fringes and the inability of transit to keep up with the spread of the megacity” explain how we got where we are.

5.  “Thanks to a decades-long tradition of regional planning and governance, metropolitan TORONTO still sprawls half as much as North American cities with comparable populations.”

6.  “TORONTO has never questioned its urban birthright.  The ‘City That Works’, as impressed visitors used to call it, has long been seen as a Mecca for urbanists, and a shining example of rational transportation planning . . . but in just over a decade, TORONTO has lost its lead as a global model for well-planned regional growth, and the Toronto Transit Commission is on its way to becoming a case study in how to quickly squander a hard-won legacy of decent transit.”

He has hope for TORONTO though, now that City Council has reined in the Ford Gang.  “TORONTO may yet get the economical light rail . . . set out in the original plans for Transit City”.  (Metrolinx has just announced that this is their way forward.)  However, a bigger worry “is the long-term damage ROB FORD is capable of inflicting on the city.”

TORONTO Star reviewer, Ken McGoogan: “Straphanger is comprehensive, insightful and well-written.  Mark my word: later this year you will see it short-listed for non-fiction awards.”

From JOMON on the GLOBE AND MAIL website:  “Nice work.  And I commend Grescoe for having the foresight to embark on this research.  Makes one wonder where the Ford brothers have stuck their heads.”