Jane’s Walk Toronto
Jane Jacobs called Toronto home, and so do we. We keep her legacy alive by walking together and making space for every person to observe, reflect, share, question, and collectively re-imagine our city.
Walk stories are chronicles of moments, ideas, insights, and images from a Jane’s Walk, curated and submitted by local participants, walk leaders, and city organizers.
April 2021 – Gargoyles and Dancers Along the Don River
City Organizer: Jane’s Walk Toronto
Walk Leader: Catherine Duff
Text by: Catherine Duff
Photographs by: Archie Tawatao, Oswald Parmar & Catherine Duff
Stop 1: Top of Riverdale Park
The Don Valley ravine borders our urban landscape – re-shaped by it over the last 150 years, yet surviving and thriving adjacent to it. It is a silent witness to city development – the construction of the Don Valley Parkway, the straightening of the lower Don River, the revitalization of ravine wetlands and the growth of surrounding neighborhoods of Riverdale and Cabbagetown. Used as a landfill in the 1920’s this site, this area hold the rich history of early settlement of our First Nations peoples and then of European settlers.
The connective thread of the ravine-urban landscape, for me, is the art and sculpture which links the two.
Stop 2: Bridgepoint Hospital
The colorful and graceful metal figures gazing out over the Don River from their perch in the Max Tannenbaum Sculpture Garden of Bridgepoint Hospital inspire movement, activity and connectivity. The grounds which hold these sculptures, by Canadian artist William Lishman, are steeped in a rich history of early healthcare, epidemics and incarceration in Toronto.
In 1860, a House of Refuge rose on this spot to provide shelter for the homeless; years later it treated people for small pox, diphtheria and scarlet fever. The Riverdale Hospital watched over the Don River until 2002 when it was re-imagined into the Bridgepoint facility now standing. The only remnants of the past are the multi-colored circular tops adjacent to the main entrance. The Don Jail, dubbed a “palace for prisoners” and built in 1858 was annexed as the administrative wing of Bridgepoint.
The irony of Lishman’s colorful sculptures is the way in which the metal medium is re-shaped to evoke fluidity, flow and grace from an artist who was color blind.
Stop 3: Pedestrian Bridges across the Don River Cross
The Riverdale Foot Bridge spans the Don River and connects the historic Cabbagetown and Riverdale neighborhoods while providing easy entry into the Don River trail. Walk north along the west side of the Don River to a smaller foot bridge. This walkway provides a stunning view of the Don River and its banks – a straightened and “channeled” waterway that accommodated early industry. As you cross the footbridge, pause and imagine the Don River that our First Nations travelled, the lush and meandering river which flowed into the Ashbridge’s Marsh prior to industrial re-shaping in the early 1900’s.
Heading north on the paved Don Valley Recreational trail, look skyward to view the Luminous Veil of the Prince Edward Viaduct, before reaching the final resting place of the gargoyles.
Stop 4: Gargoyles in Repose
Duane Linklater’s gargoyles rest haphazardly across this Don River field, a sharp contrast to their normally vigilant and watchful poses atop downtown Toronto buildings. These concrete cast replicas form the exhibit, Monsters for Beauty, Permanence and Individuality by the Omaskeko Cree artist from Moose Cree First Nation. The inaugural project for the Don River Valley Art Park Program connects and reflects the transformation of the Don River landscape by colonial settlers and their industrial projects over the last 200 years. These gargoyles sit perched atop buildings in the downtown Toronto that were destroyed by the 1904 fire and rebuilt from the clay quarried and manufactured at the Don Valley Brick Company. Can you identify the downtown Toronto buildings which host these sentinel creatures perched atop the rooftops?
Walk End: Re-trace your route back to Bridgepoint Hospital and to Broadview TTC Station for a 5km walk.
May 2015 – New Archaeology for the Leslie Street Spit
Walk Leader: Ben Watt-Meyer
Photographs by: Wendy Tao
The Leslie Street Spit is built from the earth that once filled the city’s voids. Material comes from what once was Toronto’s basements, parking garages and subways tunnels. The spit is also built out of rubble from the demolished walls of lost architectural heritage. To see this place as a burial ground provides a moment to mourn our losses. Yet, to celebrate it as the material evidence of Toronto’s dramatic post-war urban reconstruction is an opportunity to rediscover this transformation from lake into rocky landscape.
Landscape architect and artist Ben Watt-Meyer led an enthusiastic crowd of over 40 participants on an epically long, 3.5 hour and 9 kilometer journey out to the end of the Leslie Street Spit and back. During the walk, Ben proposed an alternate narrative for the spit- one that encouraged participants to search for traces of Toronto’s vibrant architectural history within the rubble.
Using maps that precisely document the chronological sequence of the lake filling, we walked across decades of material history. Beginning in the late 1950’s at the base of the spit, the rubble we walked on was likely a resting place for material that used to be part of important buildings like the Toronto Board of Trade and the University Armories. We crossed over landforms built from the excavated fill from major 1960’s infrastructure projects such as the University Subway line and the Gardiner Expressway. We picked our way over beaches created in the 1970’s and 80’s, littered with the brick, stone and broken concrete of former roads, houses, and factories. We walked over lost architectural gems. Finally, we finished our trek at the end of the eastern endikement where fill from the construction of the Skydome lies and where brick and concrete continues to be dumped into the lake.
May 2015 – Green Walls at U of T
Walk Leader: Jonathan Silver
Text by: Sienna A. Faustino, Kieran Murphy-White, Kaya Gombu, Sanaa Kohlman Sawa, Lilly Chakra, Jasmin, Clara Oliver, Keats Tannis, grade 3-4 students at the da Vinci Public School in downtown Toronto.
Sienna, grade 4:
Did you know that green walls air-condition your home? When da Vinci Oak Class went on a Jane’s Walk on May 1st 2015 they got to see rooftop gardens in downtown Toronto at the University of Toronto.
There are hundreds of Jane’s Walks all over the globe. Our walk showed that when we take away green space in order to build a condo you can still have a nice and green environment by planting gardens on the tops of roofs and growing vines on the outside walls.
Jonathan Silver our tour guide walked us through many different places in the university with the green walls, roof top gardens and even indoor forests! When we entered the indoor garden there were dirt paths leading to a platform where you can look up and watch the clouds or the rain.
If you get a chance to see a Jane’s walk, do it! It is an unforgettable experience. And make sure you go on the U of T green walls walk.
Kieran, Grade 4:
Did you know that because of all the pollution in the world, some places in Toronto have something called a green wall? On May 1st da Vinci’s Oak Class went on a Jane’s Walk to see some very eco-friendly places! A Jane’s walk is when a group of people (like Oak Class) get together and wait to be escorted into several buildings that are very eco-friendly. The idea of a Jane’s walk was thought up by a community who had a very powerful woman named Jane Jacobs. She made sure that the Spadina Expressway that was going to be built was not. If it were built, I would not be a student at this school.
Oak Class visited three different buildings with very peaceful green walls, green roofs and green forests inside other buildings. They heard rushing water watering one of the green walls in a building, put there to calm the stressed students. They learned a lot of facts from their trusty leader, Jonathan Silver. There were many varieties of different plants in one of the green walls they visited.
Kaya, Grade 3:
On May 1st, 2015 Oak Class from da Vinci went on a Jane’s walk guided by Jonathan Silver. Jane Jacobs was a person who stopped the Spadina Expressway in Toronto so that it wouldn’t ruin neighbourhoods. The first stop was a green roof. Students found it interesting that so many plants could grow in the city. Next Oak Class visited a building that was almost entirely covered in vines. They also visited a building with an indoor forest. Next they visited the exam centre. It had a green wall. The green wall had lots of leaves and it felt cool.
Sanaa, Grade 4:
Did you know that in the University of Toronto there is a beautiful green wall with a waterfall in the back?
It makes a wonderful trickling sound that does not just sound beautiful: it also helps the students at U of T. When they are going to have a big test and they can’t concentrate, after they take in a few minutes at the green wall, they are calm and focused.
On May 1, 2015 Oak Class from da Vinci Public School went on a Jane’s walk led by Jonathan Silver. They learned a lot about green walls and roof top gardens. And don’t forget about the vines that wrap around buildings. They make it look a lot more happy and green.
Lilly, Grade 3:
Did you know that green walls grow inside? On May 1st Oak Class headed to the UofT exam centre and learned this during a Jane’s Walk led by Jonathan Silver. They heard the sound of flowing water and saw bright green plants to calm the stressed out students. There are other green walls outside on buildings. The green walls keep the buildings cool and benefit it in many ways.
Jasmin, Grade 3:
The leaves on the green walls were soft and the water was quiet. The bees were buzzing. The vines were green with pretty leaves. The flowers smelled like roses. Oak Class went to the U of T campus with the tour leader, Jonathan Silver. Inside was the green wall. When people are stressed, the water calms them down. Oak Class also went to the rooftop garden where they saw plants on top. Oak Class also visited an indoor forest.
Clara, Grade 3
Did you know that in the University of Toronto exam center they have a green wall with water running down the back? This running water calms the stressed students. Oak Class learned this on Friday May 1st, 2015 when they went on a Jane’s walk to the U of T campus led by Jonathan Silver. A Jane’s walk represents Jane Jacobs. She helped stop the Spadina expressway in Toronto. So now by doing the Jane’s Walks we let everyone know that she was a special person.
Keats, Grade 3
You may think there is no way we can clear the pollution in Toronto. But on Friday May 1st da Vinci’s Oak Class found a cure.
They went to the University of Toronto as part of the Jane’s Walk and they saw some amazing things. There were vines hanging on sides of the walls, a lot of the plants in a building that cleaned the air, plants grown on roofs called “sedum” and a lot of bamboo. Well, you can see that was a fun trip with a lot of walking but Oak Class learned a lot.
May 2015 – Night Walks – Secret Staircases
Walk Leader: Oona Fraser
Text by: John Simpson
Photographs by: John Simpson
My favourite and most surreal experience during the Jane’s Walk Festival was participating in the two Nightwalking and Secret Staircases walks lead by Oona Fraser. A wide variety of people that attended both walks, ranging from young to old. Everyone seemed very friendly and there was a sense of camaraderie during the walk, even more so than any other walk I’d been on.
Both of these walks by Oona had the same concept but a different route each night. I had signed up as a volunteer photographer on the second walk, so I decided to check out the first one as well. There wasn’t much talking during the walk because one of the purposes was to have the experience of silence at night, but there was an introduction at the beginning by Oona. She explained that her aim was to simulate the therapeutic, and yet socially mistrusted, act of wandering alone at night. Oona also talked about how night walkers have been viewed as socially deviant and with mistrust by the public throughout history. In the past, it has been illegal in England and Canada to the extent that jails were constructed especially to hold night walkers. She brought up the idea that when people see someone walking alone at night there is often an assumed criminal intent attached to the walker by the viewers, but the act of night walking can actually be used as therapy to have space to think.
The fast pace, silence, unknown route and darkness seemed to blend the back alleys, side streets, winding staircases and wooded ravines together in my mind. I felt as if I had been transported into a strange, unknown world despite living next to the same neighbourhood for over ten years. We saw hidden walkways and staircases in between residential areas or parks that you would never have thought would be there. It gave me an interesting sense of not knowing where I was despite being next to a neighborhood that I know very well.
When the walk was finished around 1:30 a.m., I came out of the experience with a sense of accomplishment and mental tranquility. I felt as though I had formed a bond with my fellow silent nightwalkers with whom I shared an almost unexplainable experience.
May 2015 – Queer and Fabulous
Walk Leader: Mathew McClean
Text by: Rob Saunders
Photographs by: Rob Saunders
Our walk begins at Wellesley subway station. Mathew McClean, our Jane’s Walk Leader, is easily identified wearing a Moose Hat. Around 30 diverse participants begin a short walk through the village, the first stop being Glad Day Bookstore.
As independent bookstores close one by one, it’s peculiar to step into the oldest LGBT bookstore in the world in the heart of Toronto. Glad Day, the city’s first gay-centric bookstore was established in 1970, and has evolved into a cultural icon. With the closure of the Oscar Wilde Bookstore in New York City in 2009, the 35 year old Glad Day is the oldest surviving of the genre and the oldest bookstore of any kind in Toronto given the demise of the industry.
On the way to Pride House we pass Isabella Street, the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives, and a sculptured garden with a memorial to those who lost their lives to AIDS. Names are scribed on a metal plaque denoting each year of the pandemic.
We discuss Operation Soap, the February 1981 police raid on four gay bathhouses in Toronto where 286 people were arrested. In contrast The War Measures Act, invoked by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau in October 1970, brought down the FLQ with 497 arrests. This arrest record held for over three decades until the Edmonton Oilers clinched the Western Conference in the 2006 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Oilers lost the Series, but the bawdy-house raids evolved one of the largest Pride festivals in the world celebrating its 35th year in 2015.
Our walk ended on Church Street, but not before sharing some thoughts:
In 2001 Ontario became the third jurisdiction after Holland and Belgium to formalise same sex marriage. Canada emerged in 2005 as the fourth country in the world, first in the western hemisphere to legalise same sex marriage.
Shortly after our Jane’s Walk, Ireland hosted a referendum on same sex marriage which has profoundly altered the landscape. In a resounding YES vote, a “new country” was created. Ireland is a game changer. This historic vote has rekindled equality rights around the globe. Still, there are places where this is unthinkable today, as was the case in Dublin or Toronto not so long ago. Entire continents, a hundred countries, thousands of cities, and billions of inhabitants will in time ask the question, “Why empathise for the ‘minority’ in a society?” The late American actor, director, author and poet Leonard Nimoy has the last word as Spock, the alien Vulcan in Star Trek, proving that we can go where no one has gone before “because the needs of the few outweigh the needs of the many.”
May 2014 – Access in the City
Since 2011, the Anne Johnston Health Station’s Barrier Free Consumer Advisory Committee (BFCAC) has organized a Jane’s Walk to highlight the importance of making public spaces accessible and inclusive for all.
The reasons for participating are varied. Spaces that are inaccessible have negative consequences for our social and emotional well-being. Anu, a young woman who uses a power chair for mobility, shared that she hoped to “gain first-hand experience of the difference I could make. I wanted to see if I could open people’s minds in regards to accessibility.” Anu, like many young women her age, loves her tattoos but explained the barriers that prevent her from going to many tattoo parlours in Toronto.
Until very recently, people with disabilities were living in institutions, inaccessible homes, or at group homes. Advances have given us better access to education, employment and recreational activities. However, this history of being left out of the community has created gaps for the general public in understanding and recognizing what accessibility means ands looks like, a disconnect that organizers aimed to rectify.
Jennifer shared: “The day of, I experienced a feeling of pride. I’ve always felt that I’m an advocate, and today I was going to get to educate a lot of people all at once. Sure, we got stares and some rude comments one I heard, ‘what are those people complaining about now?’ And sure, I wanted to stop and say something. I wanted badly to explain to them that we were not complaining, that we were educating. But I think, on the whole, it was truly an amazing experience. I’ll bet we got some people thinking, and maybe on next year’s Jane’s walk, we’ll have more.”
Two million people in the province of Ontario, one in seven, live with a disability and numbers are increasing. Persons with disabilities have struggled for acceptance, independence, dignity, and equality for centuries. The struggle against prejudice, discrimination, and injustice is relevant to everyone, as we are all likely to experience a disability in our lifetime.
Shortly after the first Paralympic Games in Rome (1960), Ontario ushered in its Human Rights Code notably omitting protection for persons with disabilities. After Toronto’s Paralympics (1976), Ontario introduced a Handicapped Persons Rights Act (1979) instead of amending the Code. At the national level, Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms was enacted in 1982. The Charter’s equality rights constitutionalized disability protection, the first of its kind in the world, and Ontario scrapped its separate Act in favour of amending the province’s Human Rights Code.
Advocacy was in vogue, court challenges were tackled with two new legal tools, and discriminatory laws were repealed. The UN International Year of Disabled Persons began in 1981 and the federal government enacted the Employment Equity Act (1986) to cover disability as one of four groups. Grassroots advocacy through the 1990’s brought the Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2001 into the 21st Century. Though not fully delivering on its aims, there was sufficient momentum to strengthen it.
Rather than litigate every instance, individuals accomplished improvements in broad areas, including automatic bank services, announcing transit stops, restaurant menus, elevator access, among others. The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act 2005 (AODA) is now Ontario law, its twenty year mandate is to make Ontario barrier-free through guidelines for customer service, information, communication, transportation and the design of public spaces.
It was time to take a look under the hood, and create a context of understanding. The Law Commission of Ontario has created a framework to increase access to the law, policy and practice as they relate to persons with disabilities.
It makes sense giving all citizens an opportunity to participate in the commonwealth of Ontario’s communities and economy. Will Ontario be barrier-free by 2025?
May 2014 – Convenience Stores
Walk Leaders: Stina Dios, Maya DasGupta, and Lindsay Eve
Text by: Stina Dios, Maya DasGupta, and Lindsay Eve
Photographs by: Jeremy Kai
Everyone is connected to a convenience store. You may know it as a “dépanneur”, “corner store/shop”, “variety store”, “mini-mart”, “bodega”, or even a “five and dime”, but no matter where you live, it’s likely a vital part of your neighborhood. These are the places we grew up, earned our first independence, spent our first earnings and sometimes had our first taste of rebellion. As we grow, the meaning of these places may change to us, but they always hold an important place in our hearts.
People frequently referred to their local store as “my” store. This highlights a sense of ownership and connection that is felt towards convenience stores which we wanted to explore. Jane’s Walk presented a perfect opportunity to delve deeper into the importance of these places by placing people directly in front of stores and exploring how each one speaks so specifically to it’s surrounding community.
Beginning at The Gladstone Hotel in Toronto and ending in Kensington Market (with stops at stores along the way), participants were encouraged to share their experiences with convenience stores. Many walkers were initially shy until we provoked them to share the names of their local stores; they then progressed to describing the little quirks that made their stores unique and from there the conversation blossomed. One lady used to have drinks after hours with the owner of her store, while a few participants regularly left spare keys with the shop clerks. Another person had stolen a chocolate bar as a child and was dragged back by their parent to apologize and return the candy. Stories told ranged from coming of age, integration and rebellion, to tales of trust and hope.
As the walk progressed, the storytelling shifted to discussion of acceptance, appreciation and celebration of these independent stores, recognizing not only their ability to meet our immediate needs, but also to act as a social, political and economic barometers of our neighbourhoods, and creators of vibrant street dynamics and safer communities.
Many participants left the walk with a new perspective on convenience stores, celebrating them as integral parts of neighbourhoods and communities, proving that even the simplest story has a memorable and significant impact.
May 2014 – Drag Kings
Walk Leaders: Jasmine Frolick, Robyn Visheau, Trevor Wood, Titus Androgynous and Flare
Text by: Jasmine Frolick
Photographs by: Aidan Loweth
The three drags kings were uncertain about leading a Jane’s Walk. “What will we talk about? Who will listen to us? Why will they show up?” they asked. They agreed to speak on the walk, but insisted that Robyn and I be the leaders.
“The drag king community,” said Robyn to the over 75 people who showed up, “welcomed me with open arms when I came out last year. Jane’s Walk is my opportunity to show them the love they showed me!”
Trevor Wood, Titus Androgynous, and Flare – despite their initial reservations about leading the walk – then took over and showed us how gender is a performance. “You can be a cis-woman, that is, a woman who identifies with the female gender she was assigned at birth,” said Titus, “and still go in drag as a woman. It’s about exaggerating and performing a gender.”
The three drag kings who led the Jane’s Walk are women, who live their daily lives as women, but enjoy performing as men. The group laughed uproariously as Flare switched between a real life Romeo and an effeminate gay man with the switch of a hat. The group delighted over the drag king trading cards that Titus handed out to honor the historical drag kings. And they applauded wildly when Trevor Wood put on a show-stopping performance in Zippers-Cellblock, a venue where the kings perform almost every Wednesday night.
“Watching a drag king show with my parents has been the highlight of my weekend,” said one teenager. A trio of three elder ladies agreed that this walk had opened their eyes to a new understanding of the meaning of masculinity and femininity. The drag kings continued chatting, delighted to find that the strange evening walk that they had been asked to lead had been transformative not only for strangers’ understandings of gender but also for themselves. Jane’s Walk is a platform that provides a safe space to learn, ask questions, and do things that are out of the ordinary!
May 2014 – Graffiti Alley
Walk Leader: Michael Eddendon
Text by: Michael Eddendon
The line at Tim Hortons was moving slowly.
“We did a Jane’s Walks on the weekend,” and knowing Jim added, “They’re free.”
“Oh. They’re tours, lectures on Toronto?”
“It was on Graffiti, on the lane where Rick Mercer does his Rants—”
“No!” said Jim, “It’s a set, they built it for him!”
“No, the lane’s real. Graffiti covers entire buildings,” I said slightly exaggerating.
“They allow that here!?”
“Blocks and blocks.”
Next!” shouted the cashier, looking directly at us.
The Walk started at the HUG Me tree on Queen Street, and ended a kilometre later at an
unmarked entrance to an obscure back lane. To an involved minority, this was “Graffiti Alley”, three blocks of graffiti. Officially and to everyone else, it was the prosaic Rush Lane. Like all graffiti artists, it was incognito.
Our guides explained graffiti’s technical slang but Throw-ups, Bombs, Pieces, and Tags became a hopelessly exotic tangle in my mind. But the issues stuck. The guide pointed to a Throw-up above the street, half-hidden by a billboard ad. Both screamed for attention, one legally and for money, one not. What is vandalism or art—in a city?
This helped but didn’t prepare me for Graffiti Alley. At first, graffiti didn’t extend much above
doorways, but as the buildings gained height, the graffiti grew upwards, two, then three storeys, swirling around windows like vines, to rooftops wherever they could. Styles and colours varied wildly, exuberant and chaotic.
Paradoxically, it felt like an art gallery, or perhaps a parody of one. There were no cars; our group toured on foot as in any aisle in a formal gallery. We listened quietly to the guides, stood about impressed by the skill on display and wondered what it all meant.
It never entered my head that it might be vandalism.
Today it’s impossible to define Art, but the popular notion that it’s supposed to be above the
quotidian needs of business, or demands of ideology, is hard to shake in the public’s mind. It’s not supposed to be correct, just honest. Maybe fun, even cartoon fun. And unauthorized, like this neglected back lane. It certainly felt that way standing between the Alley’s big painted walls: a very public art gallery of the City, eleven football fields long, of graffiti.
May 2014 – How Healthy is this place?
Walk Leader: Sharon Vanderkaay
Text by: Sharon Vanderkaay
This walk was really an experiment because nearly all of the conversation content came from participants. I wanted everyone to practice analyzing different settings, so I took a chance on changing my role as leader to that of asking only two basic questions: “How do you feel in this space?” and “What elements do you think are affecting how you feel?”
I encouraged people to “think out loud” during this walk as we shared our observations. This approach worked better than my greatest expectations.
Jane Jacobs wanted us to be more observant about what is actually happening on our streets, to notice the effect of elements in our environment. My route was selected based on the variety of types of spaces it offered—from high end shopping to chain stores to bohemian student hangouts. Together we analyzed such therapeutic visual elements as vitality, variety, nature, legacy and cultural connections. We talked about how different places affect our state of mind and ultimately our state of health.
The conversation was lively and insightful throughout the walk. I had created an informal diagnostic scorecard to help us get started. Participants built on their revelations so that by the final stop (near the street where Jane had lived most of her life) people were really attuned to a wide range of elements.
Some participants commented on the importance of supporting small businesses because they add so much to the interest of a street compared with banks or chain stores. Several people told me that they now saw the street they so often travelled with fresh eyes.
Critiques of architecture and public places tend to be about style and density, likes and dislikes. Rarely do people analyze how places make them feel. I believe more critical eyes on the street can raise public expectations for design that makes us feel better.
May 2014 – Retracing Stop Spadina – Part 1: Expressways
Walk Leader: HiMY SYeD
Text by: HiMY SYeD
When I first heard about the concept of a “Walk” as the Legacy Project in memory of Jane Jacobs, “Re-Tracing Stop Spadina” instantly popped into my mind.
Stop Spadina was the grassroots movement in Toronto opposing construction of a network of Expressways slated to carve up mid-and-downtown Toronto. “Spadina” was the working name of one Expressway already under construction. It had fierce neighbourhood level opposition, yet strong suburban support.
Shortly after arriving in Toronto, Jane Jacobs joined Stop Spadina. It became an epic city defining battle against a well funded Go Spadina Campaign. Yet they would eventually prevail, saving many walkable neighbourhoods. Thereafter, Jane was always associated with Stopping the Spadina Expressway.
During the inaugural year of Jane’s Walk, unlike in recent years, there was no formal nor even informal submission process for unsolicited walks. None of the organizers imagined anyone else would want to lead a walk. A bit of lobbying was in order. With that done, and walk eventually approved, I lead my first Jane’s Walk that first year.
We walked the length of what would have been the Spadina Expressway route had it been completed, weaving our way through parks, past landmarks, eventually arriving at 69 Albany Avenue, Jane Jacobs home address.
In Jane’s Walk second year, CBC Toronto Television documented Re-Tracing Stop Spadina for their evening news broadcast. Ironic was the fact the news crew drove their minivan along much of the route while filming. A route celebrating the lack of an expressway was itself driven and not walked!
Each year new facts and personal anecdotes from walk participants emerge. What began as an already lengthy walk of 3 hours plus change, grew to a 5 hour walk with so much more oral history added over the years.
To keep the walk manageable, it was split into two parts. The first half focused on Expressways, the second on Neighbourhoods.
Re-Tracing Stop Spadina has remained popular enough to be requested and recommended again and again. Consequently, I have lead the same walk each year, including a version of it while in San Francisco in May of 2013.
May 2014 – The River I Step In Is Not the River I Stand In
Walk Leader: Adrian Lightstone
Text by: Rob Saunders
Photographs by: Rob Saunders
Leave it to Heraclitus (535-475) BC to unwittingly twin Toronto’s authentic urban neighbourhood Riverdale, with his community, the Greek city of Ephesus. Renowned for his riddles the philosopher embraced the unity of opposites in the nature of the cosmos. His insistence on ubiquitous change is reflected in the saying “No man ever steps in the same river twice”.
The Jilly’s Strip Club* sign on the ground floor in Riverdale’s iconic landmark building says it’s “The Best Party in Town”. It’s not a masquerade ball for the upper floor residents, many of whom rely on social assistance at the New Broadview Hotel; such is the wisdom of Heraclitus’ notion of opposite entities coming into accordance with reason.
It is here, at Queen Street East and Broadview Avenue, where this Romanesque Revival building has stood for 120 years, erected in 1893 designed in the same vein as Toronto’s Old City Hall. Today it is the most dominant structure in the area far less the corner, at the gateway to the East End. Repurposed as a hotel in 1907, it provided a base for masses of industrial workers setting up home in the burgeoning suburbs on the way to making Toronto one of most cosmopolitan and migrant magnet cities. To out the Jones’, Riverdale hosted the first baseball park in the City and is a treasure chest for architectural buffs with the finest examples of ‘the workman’s cottage’ and symbolic period pieces sitting across from new concepts as the East End becomes gentrified at breakneck speed.
Mere days after local resident Adrian Lightstone presented Jane’s Walk “This River I Step in is Not The River I Stand In” a condo developer acquired the Victorian building. In a Heraclitian minute the music died and 40 residents face eviction. Time to repurpose Riverdale’s jewel: bring new life to the strip. A mural was once earmarked for this strategic building, but the silhouette of an exotic dancer alongside it was the deal breaker. This corner has lost its notoriety, no one misses the Best Party in Town and the Lower Don River just keeps rolling on.
*NB: Today in 2017 this building is the Broadview Hotel.
May 2014 – The Walls Are Filled With The Sound of Mad People
Walk Leaders: The Friendly Spike Theatre Band
Text by: Rob Saunders
Photographs by: Rob Saunders
TORONTO 1886: If you stayed at the Asylum for the Insane, your mail was sent to 999 Queen Street; such is the stigma to being incarcerated in a mental hospital. Once you checked in, you never left, society labelled and forgot about you, and the state offered ‘moral therapies’ which confined you to prison-like conditions.
The Friendly Spike Theatre Band, a theatre group of self-described psychiatric survivors presented The Walls Are Filled With The Sound Of Mad People, stories of patients past in a compelling dramatization on historic site of Toronto’s insane asylum. In 1997, the City of Toronto designated the remaining walls (c. 1860) ‘historic structures’, under the Ontario Heritage Act.
Although architect George Howard did not include a perimeter wall in his design for the first mental health care facility in Upper Canada, a wooden wall was constructed in 1852, to be torn down and replaced by a brick wall in 1860. Under the guise of “leisure and unpaid labour activities”, patients built a brick wall over a 27 acre site. This and every imaginable other type of unpaid servitude was prescribed to patients, essential to the operations of the Asylum.
The intention may have been well meaning to provide patients with meaningful, engaging activities, in some cases providing skill sets which would be useful upon discharge. The reality was a state sponsored exploitation of the vulnerable and defenseless.
In a society where custodians and learned professionals flounder, so too do values, laws and good governance; until a new era of enlightenment. By the 1960’s the unpaid labour practice ended and the symbolic 999 address changed to 1001 (1979) to disengage with the disgrace of the past. The surviving walls are a symbol to the exploited patients who worked, lived and died on these grounds, and their loss of dignity and freedom.
Nine memorial plaques were dedicated on September 25, 2010 surrounding the Heritage psychiatric patient built wall at what is now known as the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH). They tell the varied stories of unpaid patient labour. Every silver lining has a cloud.
May 2014 – Walking with Refugees in the West Bend
Walk Leaders: Caitlin Leach and Salvator Cusimano, both of Romero House
Photographs by Jennifer Setters
I know only one Toronto: the one I’ve lived and loved for two years. This is the Toronto of the refugees that try to make their home here, and of the people that spend their lives trying to make this a city in which refugees are welcome and can build their lives in safety.
When I planned ‘Walking with Refugees in the West Bend’ I hoped to give a glimpse of this city to a handful of people by taking them to local refugee-serving organizations. I had not dreamed that sixty people would fill our small community centre at the start of the walk, that they would follow us in brilliant sunshine as we talked about this city: a city of and for refugees.
Mostly, I had not imagined the impact that would be made by inviting one refugee, at the last minute, to speak to the crowd. I’ve worked with Winnie since she arrived in Canada. I have watched her, and her beautiful son, Eli, born in January 2014, settle into their lives in Toronto. Winnie lives at Romero House, the transitional housing and settlement agency that I work for, in the West Bend neighbourhood of Toronto.
When we stopped at our local Community Health Center, Winnie held up Eli as an example of the work they do – the Community Health system provided her with pre-natal care within days of her arrival in Canada, at a time when she lacked medical insurance. Later in the walk, she sang a song that she wrote for her son. She sang about the uncertainty of a life where the threat of deportation lingers on the horizon, and about the knowledge that her life is in God’s hands.
Winnie made real for the crowd an existence marked by repeated displacement, and the threat of future upheaval, but shaped by a strength that few can fathom. She made this city her own by showing it to others. By speaking for the refugees of Toronto, she claimed it as her city, and as their city.
May 2014 – West Don Lands & Pan- /Parapan Am Athlete’s Village
Walk Leaders Andrew Tenyenhuis and Scott Loudon
Text by: Rob Saunders
Photographs by: Rob Saunders
The summer of all summers is on the horizon. Toronto hosts the XVII Pan/Parapan American Games. The Summer Games of 2015, the most expensive in its history wield a significant footprint on the Greater Toronto Area. The show plays out in the Golden Horseshoe region, from St. Catherine’s, to Oshawa and north to Barrie, with Toronto as the epicentre.
Toronto is getting ready with the warmest of welcomes. Close to half of its 2.7m citizens are immigrants, tracing their origins from someplace else. The world is their city. The 41 nations of the Americas will compete on familiar turf, where cultural and community bonds befit the motto: “United We Play”.
Home away from home is the newly minted Athletes Village a neighbourhood now taking shape in the West Don Lands district. The centre with room for 10,000 visiting athletes and officials, is part of a novel new urban environment set within the Toronto waterfront makeover.
The West Don Lands, an 80 acre post-industrial heap is one of three precincts of the Toronto waterfront renewal, the largest urban transformation project in North America. This plan will enrich Toronto’s capacity for life, work and recreation by creating interconnecting spaces of parks with sustainable mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly urban zones.
True to this vision is Underpass Park, a Toronto first: a once derelict eyesore in the armpit of the Gardiner Expressway moulded into exciting recreational space. The possibilities of an urban oasis rising from the City seem limitless.
The Athletes Village, a vestige of the Summer Games is one facet in the master plan in the revitalization of Toronto’s waterfront. After the games, the Village will transform to a multipurpose venue. This energy efficient LEED certified complex will convert into affordable and market housing, George Brown College’s first student residence, and a YMCA recreational facility.
Indeed all the Games infrastructure projects, stadia and amenities, like the Pan Am Path (a system connecting 80km of Toronto’s walking trails) will form a heritage legacy. The living cultural and economic assets of summer of 2015 with continue to rebound long after the medals have been awarded.
May 2013 – A Working Habitat
Led by: Howard Tam and Jon Woodside
Text: Howard Tam
Photos: Howard Tam
In Toronto, we have seen a rise in the number of micro-enterprise start-ups. However, these entrepreneurs face financial barriers – one of which is rent. Traditional storefronts in Toronto are expensive, and many spaces are not geared for super-small businesses looking to try out a new concept. We designed our walk to explore some of the ways in which innovative landlords and community groups have begun to challenge this.
We gathered outside the Centre for Social Innovation (CSI) Spadina, which is located in the beautifully restored Robertson Building. CSI offers shared workspace and office equipment for small non-profits, entrepreneurs and consultants. This principle of sharing and reducing costs is also effective in retail, as we would see.
Next, we ventured up to Chinatown, where a small kebab stand and phone card vendor were operating in, literally, two holes in the wall. The kebab stand is physically sandwiched in a gap between two buildings where there was just enough space for a stall, while the phone card stand operates out of a former stairwell. Along the way, we discussed the importance of local economic development, challenges faced by small vendors, and how micro-enterprise can help to enliven streets and “dead zones.”
At El Gordo in Kensington Market, shared facilities – kitchen equipment – help lower costs. Participants were amazing at how businesses could operate in such small spaces. A visit to Whippersnapper, Toronto’s smallest art gallery, showed that you can display art in less than 200 square feet!
Our final destination was Market 707 at Scadding Court Community Centre, where shipping containers provide cheaper infrastructure, helping to lower costs. We had lunch and talked about the potential for more micro-enterprise markets in Toronto. Ideally, there would be many small, affordable incubation markets around the city that could help small businesses launch and develop a customer base. That would be truly innovative and would make our city a vibrant working habitat!
May 2013 – Davenport Perth’s Chalk Walk
Led by: Mike, Sandi, Anthony, Flori, Michael & Victoria
Text: Nico Koenig
Photos: Nico Koenig
Mike and Sandi, volunteers at drop-in programs in Toronto’s Davenport-Perth neighbourhood, were trying to figure out what to talk about on their first Jane’s Walk. They took me with them on a practice walk to plan the route, and we noticed that we kept walking past storefronts that were empty. Someone asked Mike and Sandi what kinds of businesses they would like to see in these storefronts, if they could have anything. “A nice family restaurant, where I could meet friends,” Sandi suggested, as an example. “Can we help make that happen somehow?” I asked.
What we decided was to create the first-ever Davenport-Perth Chalk Walk. During our walk, everyone was handed chalk with which to draw what they wanted to see along the streets and in the shops. “A bank! Affordable housing! Good food!” After an hour of walking and chalking, the sidewalks and corner parking lots were filled with community members’ visions, dreams, and wishes for their neighbourhood.
May 2013 – Forever Fierce Queer Newcomer Youth Does Jane’s Walk!
Led by: Julian A. Perez-Duerto, Xavier Browne, and other members of Express, Supporting Our Youth (SOY)’s group for queer newcomer youth, and the Queer App Project
Text by: Xavier Browne and Kelly Danielle Ockhuizen
Photographs by: Isaac Trae
Kelly: The walk took off at the AIDS Memorial and ended at the Sherbourne Health Centre. It followed a route through places where, as queer newcomers, we felt welcomed and accepted for who we are. All the SOY participants who took part in the walk were interviewed; each of us had a certain place where we agreed to stop during the walk and share our experiences.
I chose to speak and be interviewed at the Sherborne Health Centre. We had decided it should be the final destination because it’s where our weekly SOY meetings take place. It’s our home – where we meet make new friends and family; where we feel welcome and appreciated. It’s the place where I first felt like I was a part of a community that understood me and didn’t judge me based on my sexual orientation. It felt good to open up and be heard and seen by all those who chose to join us. It is an experience I will never forget, because in Botswana I would never, ever have opened up like I did.
Xavier: I’d only been in Toronto for a month before I led a Jane’s Walk. I was the ultimate newcomer. One of our first stops was the Toronto AIDS memorial. At first I didn’t know it was a memorial. I thought it was just a park. I was kind of amused that there was an AIDS memorial right in the heart of downtown. Anything to do with the subject would have been hidden away back home.
There were lots of stops like that. We showed people the Steamworks Bathhouse and the Stag Shop for sex toys. Many people judge you if you walk into a place like that, but I tried to highlight the positives on our walk. The staff are educated in same-sex partnerships, which is important in our community, Toronto’s Gay Village. They provide information about how things work, about how to safely use their products and which ones to stay away from. They go over safe sex practices. That information is so essential for people like me.
When we passed the local theatre, the group talked about the need for having spaces like it for LGBTQ performers. A younger teen who was on the walk asked us lots of questions. He asked, “How do you feel as newcomers? Do you feel like you belong?” I answered that one. I said that we do feel like we belong, but Toronto could be more open. I said that I feel safe here, safe enough to go to the police if I needed. Back home you can’t do that.
The walk gave me momentum. I think it’s easy to say we live in Toronto, but do we really live in Toronto? Often, we don’t pay attention to what’s around us. Things I think are familiar, aren’t really. There is so much more to see: an ice cream shop, a restaurant. If you pay attention, you see more. I want to thank Jane Jacobs for inspiring people to pay attention to what’s going around them. The walk helped me get a different feel for my community, and it helped me appreciate this place where I can be openly gay, be who I am, and be comfortable in my own skin.
May 2013 – Idea Gardening in the Mabelle Park
Led by: MABELLEarts (participating artists: Leah Houston, Sonja Rainey, Juliet Palmer, Michael Burtt and Alex Samaras)
Text: Leah Houston
Photo: Jeremy Kai
Jane’s Walk has become an informal start to our season of adventure in the Mabelle Park. Our first event of the spring, it heralds the summer to come, with all its community parties, art workshops, gardening and building projects, and performances. It’s so good to see everyone after a month or two of quiet and cold, and it’s wonderful to be in the park again, to feel the sun on our faces and the ground under our feet.
Every year, we work with Jane’s Walk staff and volunteers to get the word out about our walk, because we see it as an amazing opportunity to tell the city we love about Mabelle, a place where people – staff, artists, community leaders and participants – are building a vibrant and art-filled gathering place out of a once-neglected thoroughfare. So we gather at Islington Station and prepare to welcome visitors from across the greater Toronto area – strangers whom we hope will become friends.
It’s Paul, a youth community leader living at Mabelle, who said it best:
“I loved the walk from Islington Station. I have lived here for seven years and it was the first time I welcomed someone into my community. I never thought I would do that. It was kind of neat.”
It’s a good feeling, to proudly welcome a guest into one’s home.
This year’s walk helped us welcome two people who are bringing a wealth of experience and skill to the Mabelle Park: Netami Stuart and Amy Turner, two landscape architects who are helping us plan park renovations. We set up a kind of receiving line for Mabelle community members to formally welcome our Jane’s Walk attendees. It was a silly and fun way to say hello and express a sense of hospitality – something we’re passionate about at MABELLEarts. This photo shows Amy shaking hands with Jabeen as she arrives.
May 2013 – Jane’s Walk in Long Branch
Led by: Jaan Pill and Mike James
Text: Jaan Pill
Photos: Gay Chisholm
The first Jane’s Walk in Long Branch, in 2012, attracted over 80 people. It took longer than we’d expected, and we were glad we’d brought along a portable sound system. The week before the walk, we learned details about a local park that we hadn’t known about before – especially about a road that used to extend along the shoreline of Lake Ontario, when the area was a thriving cottage community in the 1930s. The walkers were delighted to hear about this. “Wow, I never knew that!” was a typical response.
This year, our neighbourhood had two Jane’s Walks. We rehearsed and edited the routes for each event, to ensure they would not take more than 90 minutes. As before, we made a point of turning each walk into a conversation, not a top-down lecture. The walk leaders picked up as much new information as everybody else.
Again, we conducted advance research. We spoke with long-time residents who knew the area as children in the 1930s; some even provided us with photos and several hand-drawn maps, which we brought along to show the walkers. Though few of our interview subjects had the stamina to join us for a walk, they were delighted that they could share this valuable information. We also posted relevant images and details on my website about local history and events, PreservedStories.com.
The historic building shown in the photo is in New Toronto, a community just east of Long Branch. Now part of a skating facility at Colonel Samuel Smith Park, the building was formerly part of the Lakeshore Hospital Grounds, a psychiatric hospital which was closed down in 1979.
May 2008 – From Ashbridges Bay to Little India
Walk Leader: Susan Fletcher
Text by: Susan Applegrove
When I heard about the first Jane’s Walks in 2007, I decided to lead one to highlight the Ashbridges Neighbourhood. But since residents knew much more about local history than I did, I
recruited local volunteers to bring their perspectives.
I hoped that 15 people would participate, so the speakers would feel their time had been worthwhile. When I counted 50, with more arriving, I felt overwhelmed.
Before we began, I asked participants to introduce themselves, where in the city they lived, and why they came to our walk. There were neighbourhood residents, folks who had gone on morning walks, a couple on their first date, and history buffs.
Gene Domagala led us from the Duke of Connaught School past the Ashbridge House and the ghost church. Near Greenwood Park, Cynthia Brouse told us the story of Jeffrey Baldwin. At the corner of Gerrard and Ashdale, library staff shared their building. Finally, the Gerrard-India Bazaar BIA treated us to samosas to end the walk.
Did you participate in a Jane’s Walk in this city?