Saturday, May 31, 2003

random notes

Went for my first walk around town since coming back from Montreal. Stumbled upon the celebrations for the official opening of Toronto's latest attraction, Dundas Square (see here for local newspaper coverage). The new landmark has been the source of endless debate in the local media for the past few months, from those trying to defend its future potential to the majority who see it as an ugly concrete slab that fails to live up to the hype (this being Toronto, the centre of the universe, everything has to be world-class).

I wandered over after loading up on Japanese food on the Danforth, wandering down through Cabbagetown to walk off the excessive amount of sashimi I'd downed. Lesson learned on the way: if the call of nature strikes hard, and you're scrambling to find a men's room on the Ryerson campus, good luck! Noticed the chess tables by Sam the Record Man have been replaced by a sidewalk cafe, as part of that landmark's ongoing modernization. It'll feel weird not seeing all the chess hustlers hanging there another spot that all of that stuff was moved to? The Times Square-ization of Yonge Street continues...

Wandered by the square in time for fireworks, which weren't spectacular except for some fire pots shooting off the top of Atrium on Bay and an orchestra set of whizzers going off each level of the circular billboard tower at the northwest corner (which needs to be updated, since Daredevil is still the advertised movie).

Wednesday, May 28, 2003

things noticed while in ottawa

1) Sunday is the ideal time to drive into downtown Ottawa - it's dead.
2) As in Toronto, the American embassy appears to have cramped traffic, blocked off by concrete, a forlorn-looking guard protecting the compound. I later saw an elderly man walking back and forth yelling out (with a pitch that bore an uncanny resemblance to a megaphone) that Dubya was a mass murderer.
3) It's nice to have old friends in far-off places. Had dinner with a couple I hadn't seen for a few years. Time has been kind to both of them. Had a great roast chicken dinner, plus got to see the wedding pix.
4) When I walked into the hotel lobby, I had a familiar feeling. I think I stayed at the Crowne Plaza before, under a different hotel name, on a grade 9 field trip to the nation's capital. Main memory - my room slept through an early morning fire alarm. Also seem to recall somebody making a real ass of themself at a sugar shack in Rigaud by pretending to be very swishy in front of American tourists - think it was the same person later responsible for making a person wear rancid tuna on their body during a "slave day". I discovered that maple syrup makes a great flavouring agent in pea soup.
5) The hotel pool towels just aren't large enough.
6) Driving through Hull is disorienting at first, espcially coming off a freeway - roads going every-which-direction.
7) I may have caught a glimpse of the Little Guy from Shawinigan. After checking out, I walked down along Wellington St (alongside Parliament Hill) to go to the National Gallery. As I reached the main entrance to the Hill, a three-car motorcade with a police escort whizzed about. I stared into the cars, to make out who was in them. I figured it might have been the PM or GG. It stopped a few blocks down, at the future Canada History Centre. Sure enough, I later heard on the radio that Chretien had gone down there to announce the establishment of the new museum.
8) The crowds still huddle around the National Gallery's most controversial purchase, Voice of Fire.
9) Nothing says artery-cloggin' goodness than a lunch of sausage, kraut and perogies from a deli in Byward Market. The last indulgence before lighter eating habits begin (once the current nuclear stockpile of food at the Warehouse is gone).
10) Ottawa is not a mecca for record stores - went into 5 downtown, nothing was an eyegrabber.
11) Montreal-style bagels here are also excellent.

things noticed while in montreal

A mixture of the good, the bad and the ugly

1) The traffic - as snarled, if not more so, than Toronto. I've always managed to get stuck on the Metropolitan. Even surface streets on a Sunday afternoon are terrible (Jean-Talon and Cote-des-Neiges...arrgh!)
2) The turn signal does not exist. You're putting along, maybe 10 km/h at most, when unexpectedly somebody darts in front of you.
3) Maps lie. Sure, it looks easy to get from point A to point B. The mapmakers never factored in that on many routes, it's impossible to turn anywhere. A 5-minute jaunt turns into a 20-minute quest. Heaven forbid if you miss the correct turn...
4) Stopping on a red light at the top of a steep hill downtown is cause for anxiety...especially when being tailgated.
5) Franglais works!
6) Useful feature inside the subway cars - each has a pixelboard that not only shows the next station, but the connecting bus routes.
7) The panhandlers are more animated than in other locales.
8) Main fashion accessory for teens - metal spikes and lots of them, especially plastered on hooded sweatshirts (patterns along the edges of the hood, down the middle of the hood like a mohawk, in the middle of one's face, etc).
9) Medieval stuff also prevalent, and not just in specialty stores. Wandered into one department store (Simons) and noticed a large display of Robin Hood-like lace-up shirts on sale. Too bad I hadn't seen this when pondering a Robin Hood/Jack Frost costume last Hallowe'en.
10) Driving on unknown bridges at night that twist in every direction is disorienting (especially the Victoria Bridge). Somehow I wound up in the casino parking lot (but now know where the Habitat complex is).
11) Smoked meat is a gift of the gods.
12) The stretch of Mont-Royal (the street, not the town or hill) east of Saint-Denis has terriffic CD stores, one after another.

13) The St. Viateur and Fairmount bagels live up to their illustrious reputation (wolfed down 5 or 6 while I was there).
14) Women wear stockings usually seen only on naughty 50s pinup models...especially if they're changing their clothes in the middle of a rainstorm [OK, gotta explain this one - it rained most of the weekend. I was wandering down Prince Arthur near the Main, when I passed a attractive twentysomething woman changing in the rain (with an older guy holding an umbrella). Underneath her clothes was a two-piece blue bikini (the type you'd wear to the beach) and 50s style black stockings. Every guy on the street, including me, stood there dumbstruck, trying not to stare but unable to help ourselves from tossing glances at her before she slowly tossed on a beige dress. We all stared at each other in disbelief and amusement, while she didn't appear bothered at all, smiling away. I thought there might have been a photo shoot, except no cameras were in evidence. Given the rain, maybe the bikini was a better bet].
15) After a jumbo smoked meat sandwich for lunch, the way to go for dinner is vegetarian.
16) Museum Day drew crowds, despite the rain. On Sunday, many museums opened for free. This was the weekend for free events, considering the Doors Open programs in Toronto and Ottawa. Had enough time to quickly dash through three: the McCord Museum (Montreal history, where the big exhibit was on Montreal in the winter), the Redpath Museum (a tiny natural museum on the McGill campus, would have worked for me if I was 7, not 27) and the Museum of Contempory Art (one I'd go back to again - the main show was a large display of Nan Goldin photography).
17) Stop at the giant orange - Gibeau Orange Julep, home of a great Orange Julius-like drink (possibly better, since I detected orange pulp). You can't miss it coming down the Decarie...
18) Any kind of meat can be made into creton. Not daring enough to try it.
19) Very strange cheap booze to be found in grocery stores. Stubby bottles of wine. Jugs of sangria. Wine with strange names and stranger labels. Triple-fermented beer.
20) Beware horn-happy drivers from New Jersey.
21) Montreal...gotta go there at least once a year.

Thursday, May 22, 2003

printed matter

...or works of mine that escaped the digital world and found a home in print.

The Ontarion (1997-1999)
The University of Guelph's newspaper. Began contributing during the summer before my final year of university, a year where I wound up spending a lot of time on the second floor of the University Centre. Mostly wrote arts-related pieces, plus a weekly archives column. After graduation, I served as Arts and Culture Editor during 1998-1999, a year which could best be described as a black comedy (and likely left me with a massive case of post-traumatic stress disorder). May write a lengthy account of that time someday. After moving to Toronto, I continued to write the paper's crossword puzzle until 2001. Current editions are found on the paper's website.

The Edible City (Coach House, 2009)
Contributed a chapter on bread in Toronto, focusing on battling bakers at the turn of the 20th century and modern artisanal producers.

Spacing (Fall 2010 issue).
An article on the Golden Mile strip in Scarborough. Magazine website.

The Grid
From November 2012, my Ghost City column pops up in print when you least expect it...

Toronto Star
Also when least expected, some of my work for The Grid has been reprinted in the Toronto Star. Working on making more regular appearances if I can bedazzle them with pitches.

Tuesday, May 20, 2003

toledo daydreamin'

Where was I before conking out the other night...on the way back to Amherstburg. Got back for dinner Friday night, then rested out for the family weekend roadtrip to Toledo...

Started off with the first of many nods during the day to past trips. On a whim, we went over to Grosse Ile (the chunk of the States directly across the river from my hometown) to check if the bakery we used to get great sugar cookies and pudding cakes from was still there. Went 2 for 3 - the bakery was there, as were the cookies (bought the last half-dozen - polished the last one off tonight), but no pudding cakes this day.

Downtown Toledo is one of those city centres where the city planner had a malicious sense of humour. Every street is one way and never goes the way you want it to. We missed most of the confusion this time around, as the freeway leading into downtown (I-280, notorious for its traffic jams) was closed for construction. The exit we took led us directly to our destination, the Libbey Glass Outlet. Turned out to be a profitable stop, as a Mexican-style dining set I liked last time I was there was on sale for $20. Suspect this was due to a old design for the box. Should make the next dinner party more festive...

Next stop was Perrysburg, where we used to vacation. Once or twice a year, we'd go down to the French Quarter Holiday Inn, which had a deluxe pool, indoor mini-putt, one of the first video arcades I remember and free popcorn while you watched classic Tom and Jerry. I wandered in the last time I was in the area, finding that except for a beer garden in place of the mini-putt and a paint job throughout, it looked the same. The area around the hotel is becoming your typical big box zone, where we spent a couple of hours.

We went to another old haunt, the former TG&Y store south of downtown Perrysburg, where my father used to pick up notebooks. Now it's a Big Lots, a closeout chain always full of surprises. Mom finally found the oddball sized Kleenex boxes she likes for the car, confirming her suspicions that it was no longer in production. Several years worth of Kleenex were thrown in the trunk.

Drove up US 20 to see what had changed. Buildings looked the same as they did years ago, though tenants had changed. Thought about Dad several times and how much he would have enjoyed the trip. This sidetrip killed just enough time so that we'd hit our dinner destination in Monroe, MI just before the Saturday rush.

One problem - nobody remembered exactly where it was. Mom had a good idea, but I kept sending us the wrong way, since I thought it was on the opposite side of town. After 15 minutes of frustration, we finally found Quatro's. Worth the frustration, from the endless surprises my sister found in her tortellini (huge chunks of beef mixed in with the sauce) to the large cookie-like pie we split for dessert.

soda jerk

Chateau Cola
Availability - mid-to-late 80s, SW Ontario A&Ps

My father used to bring this stuff home from the local A&P - he really enjoyed it, probably due to an uber-sugar rush. Chateau was an anachronism, being the only pop I remember that had to be opened with a can opener. No tabs or push buttons for the Chateau folks. This was appropriate, since it had the viscosity of motor oil. The can itself had a vague drawing of a castle, with a generic font for the flavour name.

The taste was sickly sweet, close to pure syrup. It was the kind of stuff that could give a kid a psychedelic experience, like that episode of the Simpsons where Bart and Millhouse go for the pure syrup Squishy. There were other flavours - the ginger ale was watery but OK. There may have been orange and grape flavours.

But Dad liked it, and it was cheap, so we drank it.

Attempts to find any information on the web for Chateau have turned up nothing. Anybody know who made it or how long the company was around? If anybody knows, or remembers drinking it, drop me a line at

contact sheet, halloween 1995

Contact Sheet, October 1995
(full size version)

A selection of photos taken around Arts House circa 1995.

Saturday, May 17, 2003

an uptown matrix

Waited with the gang in the drizzle last night to see the Matrix Reloaded at the Uptown. The theatre took awhile to fill up, as it was still half-empty minutes before showtime. The Uptown will be a loss when it closes in the next year, the last of the old major chain palaces. Signs have gone up indicating it's future as, what else, condos. Its demise was sealed when Famous Players decided to close it rather than comply with a legal request to provide handicapped access, along with the Plaza and the Eglinton. The ideal way for the theatre to go, and take advantage of its ample space, would be to show a classic silent with a live orchestra. Gone...the last theatre not to show advertising slides and star puzzles before the movie.

The movie itself? A mixed bag - the second half, with the freeway chase, worked better than the first, unless you're a fan of bump n' grind hippie dance sequences. The theatre helped, as the acoustics in the Uptown allow you the feel each kick, each explosion. Design and ideas good, dialogue dodgy. Weird points for comic relief. Interesting twists at the end that allow several months of pondering until movie numero trois comes out.

Drove back home to Amherstburg today, for a weekend of R&R away from the city. More about A'burg at a later time, as I'm going to fall asleep any second no....CLUNK!

Thursday, May 15, 2003

torontoist posts

listing of posts in progress...

Historicist, written on alternating weeks by Jamie Bradburn and Kevin Plummer, looks back at the events, places, and characters—good and bad—that have shaped Toronto into the city we know today. The column has received two nominations for Heritage Toronto awards.

Tourism Tips, 1867 (Jun 11/11)
How Do You Solve a Problem Like Casa Loma? (May 29/11)
Elephant Escapades (May 14/11)
How Not to Run a Liberal Election Rally (Apr 30/11)

Vintage Toronto Ads:
Since 2007, taking a look at Toronto's past through advertising...or making it up.

Miracle on Yonge Street (Jun 7/11)
Dr. Cassell's Great Remedy (May 31/11)
An Epicurean Delight (May 24/11)
Re-Discover Old Dutch Cleanser! (May 17/11)
Furs on the Cheap (May 10/11)
Hypnotized by the Power of Super Fitness! (May 3/11)

Other Postings:
Non-column musings and reports.

Planning Toronto's Heritage (Jun 9/11)
Dispatching the Police Radio (May 30/11)
So Long Caribana, Hello Scotiabank Caribbean Carnival Toronto (May 25/11)
Privatizing Toronto's Garbage, '90s Edition (May 18/11)
Good Grief Charlie Brown! (May 13/11)
On The Grid (May 12/11)
Spotted: Flowers for a King (May 6/11)
Bixi Toronto is Here (May 4/11)
Election Results, 1930s Style (Apr 29/11)
Preserving Parkdale (Apr 28/11)

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

trying to think of something to say...

...and not succeeding at it :) Maybe because it's the lull before a busy week-and-a-half here. Going to see Matrix 2 with friends Thursday night, going back home to Amherstburg Friday afternoon, down to Toledo on Saturday, back to T.O. Monday, company discount sale next Wednesday, then a weekend vacation split between Montreal and Ottawa. And only a few months until the Great American Roadtrip.

I'm one of those people (probably looked at as crazy by the likes of the National Post) who's happy to see a higher loonie, if only for a cheaper vacation this summer and better deals cross-border shopping. It's one of those habits people look puzzled about when I mentioned, like I'm some sort of nut. Having grown up close to the border, I'm used to crossing it to pick up things I can't get in the Great White North, like Pepsi One, Rice and Beans mixes, cocoa rice-krispie type cereals and decent baked beans. Back at the height of cross-border shopping in the late 80s-early 90s, my family never went for the products you could get over here (unless the price was too good to refuse), just the different variety.

Happier to be on this side of the border. Not that we're immune to electing dolts - just look at Toronto's city government. Wonder if there's a pool out there, like a hockey or death pool (a future link of the week) to predict what Mayor Mel's final blunder in office will be. It's hard to top mysterious kidnappings, calling in the army to shovel snow, wistfully thinking of the savages and their cooking pots in Africa, threatening tv reporters or looking like a fool on CNN (OK, maybe the last one's easy for anybody to do...). There's a fine line between colourful and pathetic.

So short rants on local politics are the way out of having nothing to say...

Sidenote: One thing I've noticed in the wake of the SARS scare - I've eaten more Chinese food than usual. Still finishing off the last bits of the shopping trip in the Pacific Mall area last week. Had several meals in eerily empty restaurants and noodle joints in Chinatown. I never succumbed to the fear - half the city would have dropped dead before I started feeling concerned.

The funniest sight was on the subway Easter weekend. My sister and I were headed downtown on the Yonge line, when we noticed a kid across from us (dressed in comically huge, floppy clothing he could have gotten lost in) was waving a rolled-up hankie back and forth from his mouth. We think his mommy made him take it into the big bad city.

Sunday, May 11, 2003

in the beginning...

OK, so I wound up here by accident in the midst of my web-surfing adventures...but a web blog sounded like a neat idea, perhaps a way to finally let those pent-up creative impulses go somewhere...or bore people to death. :)

What'll be here? Whatever strikes the old noggin. Rants, raves and the odd inspiration. A chance to finally follow through on things friends have suggested. Blah blah blah.

Welcome to the Warehouse and Curio Emporium. We hope you'll be a repeat customer.

In my teens, my sister and I got hooked on SCTV reruns. One recurring bit was "Tex & Edna Boil's Prairie Warehouse and Curio Emporium" featuring Dave Thomas and Andrea Martin as a bizarre pair of piano salespeople who rambled on about odd things. Something about the name stuck with me...a few years later, I landed a spot DJing on CFRU at the University of Guelph. It took awhile to figure out a name for my show, which I usually described as "playing everything including the kitchen sink", then I watched an old episode of SCTV and this seemed like a great fit (though the "Prairie" mutated into "Musical").