Friday, 28 December 2012

West Humber River - Toronto

One day I dropped by the Information Desk in the rotunda of Toronto City Hall to ask if any more 'Discovery Walk' maps had been published. While chatting with the clerk I mentioned that I loved walking/hiking and exploring the city on foot. Upon hearing that she said, "Oh!" and grabbed some documents from another shelf. In that bundle of papers was a two-sided detailed map of all of the hiking and bicycle paths in the city. As this gave me many new options in planning hikes - I felt that  I had won the jackpot!

Already I was quite familiar with the hikes in the city core so I looked towards the boundaries for more ideas. Up in the northwest corner of the city is Humber College (one of numerous colleges which are strewn around the City and suburbs). It is above the valley which was carved by the West Humber River and the map showed a path extending all the way from Steeles Avenue West down to where it met the parent stream - Humber River - at Scarlett Road. That would be my next hike!

I took the subway west to Kipling Station where I transferred to the northbound Kipling Avenue bus for a long ride up to Steeles  Avenue and another transfer to that bus. After delays a bus finally arrived at Kipling and Steeles and, finally, I arrived at Humber College - only I alighted at the wrong stop and had blocks of suburbia to walk through before I finally reached the banks of the stream.

                      The West Humber River with the Steeles Avenue West bridge in the background.

I really do not like 'retracing steps' but that is what I had to do in order to hike along the river bank from top (that is - from where it crossed from York Region into the city proper) to bottom.

                                      The West Humber flowing under the Steeles Avenue bridge
                                           Looking back towards the bridge.

As you may have noted already - that is an area of natural vegetation so there were lots of wildflowers.

                                                                 More wildflowers

As many of you know, I lived in Australia for a number of years so, when I came upon this, I was quite bemused.

Well, Toronto is a multicultural city and that includes Australians!

The walk was a very pleasant one and the bicycle path wandered in and out of the forest. At one point I looked across the valley and could see some of the campus buildings.

The pathway did cross the stream from time to time and this is one of the bicycle/walking bridges. The red building that can be glimpsed over the trees and shrubs to the left is a part of the campus.

                                                            Bucolic beauty

                                                              More wildflowers.

                                                               The pathway that beckons

                                                The pathway meanders down the valley

At this spot I saw a groundhog/woodchuck but, by the time I got my camera ready, it had disappeared into its burrow under those shrubs.

                                       The river as seen through the bull rushes.

Ordinary 'spray can' graffiti leaves me cold but I am awed by the art created by folk with spray cans - and, usually, in underpasses. The next three photos are of the artwork created in the Islington Avenue underpass.

Lester B. Pearson International Airport is only a few miles west northwest of where I was so I found myself walking beneath the flight path for departing aircraft.

                       The Air Canada aircraft is about to fly past the jet trail left by another airplane.

                                                           To me - this is a beautiful vista!

I was not quite at the point which I was aiming for but I came upon a bus route so I caught the next one to the Wilson Subway Station and came home. One last view of the Humber West River.

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Memories of Christmasses Past

All of us have memories of special 'Festive' occasions in our lives. However, the dominant one is of Christmas - no matter if it is a depressing recollection or a very joyous one - we remember.

My oldest memory of Christmas is of the one when I was five years old and Alda was three. I do not remember the tree - nor the feast - but the surprising gifts that 'Santa' left under the tree. Alda received a doll buggy while I was given a little red car in which I could sit and propel by working pedals. However - I also remember how easy it was for me to bark my shins on the metal frame. Ouch! That hurt!

One other memory of that celebration that has remained with me was the supper hour radio broadcasts emanating from a department store in Vancouver - the voice of Santa accompanied by the voices of other children who were expressing their 'wish lists'. I believed - oh how I believed - that I was really hearing the voice of the magical elf.

Moving ahead three or four years to when I was eight or nine years old. We had moved to Dawes Hill in Coquitlam and the family was under financial stress on three fronts - the International Woodworkers of America (IWA) had been on strike so Dad had been without an income - Dad had had a thumb injured at work and was on Workmen's Compensation - and I had undergone the first of the three or four operations on my disfigured face.

There was no money - and then, on Christmas Eve, two checks were in the mailbox. One was a payout from the Workmen's Compensation Board (WCB) and the second was a belated Income Tax Refund. Dad took off for New Westminster to scour the stores for suitable presents. What he found for me was the one gift that I received during my childhood that I appreciated the most of all the gifts which I got during those years of growing up.   It was a box with the cardboard cutout of a castle and miniature knights and horses made of metal. I played with that gift over and over again for more than a year by which time the cardboard castle had become rather frayed.

During that space of time Mom and Dad celebrated their tenth wedding anniversary and Dad commissioned a neighbor lady (Albertine Poirier - later to become Alda's mother-in-law - and a woman who was very adept at embroidery and crocheting) to manufacture a beautiful table cloth as his gift to Mom. The basis of the cloth was white sheeting with embroidery and white crochet stitching along the edge and at the corners .That cloth graced our table until all of we children had left home and now it is in the possession of Alda - that was the tablecloth which graced her table when Ric and I visited over Christmas in 2005.

Albertine's third oldest son was Alex and he dropped by for a drink on that Christmas day. He had had a bit to drink before he arrived so he was somewhat clumsy - and knocked over the glass of red wine which Dad had offered him. There - on this pristine white tablecloth - was a large red stain. Not to worry - as the main piece of cloth in the creation was white sheeting, the stain washed right out while the colored embroidery stitches remained unharmed.

I received gifts every year but none were as memorable as that pedal car and the cardboard castle complete with knights. Also, when I began traveling and working for a church, I did not have the opportunity of spending Christmases with the family.

Family Christmas dinner in 1958 or '59. Naming from left to right, my kid brother Dan, Mom (nearly not in the photo at all!) an old family friend (George Hunt), me, Dad, Alda holding her first born son (Mark), Grandma, my niece (Donna) and my kid sister, Babs. The wag sitting next to me as I write this asked "Where's the turkey?" It is in front of Dad waiting to be carved!

And - Yes! - that is the tablecloth which Albertine Poirier  created as Dad's gift to Mom on their tenth wedding anniversary.

Here the church that I attend is the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto.  For the past 22 years the congregation has rented the city's largest concert hall (Roy Thompson Hall) for the Christmas Eve celebration. I was one of the volunteers - as I have every Christmas Eve when I have been in town - in that huge hall on the night before last. There are more than 2800 seats and  all but 100 or so were occupied.  An organ, wind instruments and a choir of nearly 100 voices - WOW!

                                        Christmas Eve at Roy Thompson Hall in Toronto

A belated Merry Christmas to all of you!!!

Friday, 21 December 2012

Beliefs and Practices

As many of you know, I am a regular attendee at a Memoir Writing Group which meets at a branch library here in Toronto every Monday afternoon (except on holidays). Over the past two years many people have come and gone and one of them is Michael. He had lived in Alberta for a while and then returned there. He publishes a blog (titled "The Kananaskis Traveler") quite regularly. As I am on his mailing list I am notified each time that a new blog is published so I read them - and am challenged.

By this prologue I am 'setting the stage' - so to speak - for what I plan to cover here.

I do not come from a 'religious' family and yet my religious beliefs are very important in my life. My knowledge about what was important - or not - to those who have gone before  has given me much food for thought.

Dad was French Canadian. He was born in the Ottawa, Ontario suburb of Billings Bridge and was the youngest child. Cancer claimed his father when Dad was about seven years old so his Mom packed up the family (an older brother and twin girls in between them in age) and moved them to Montreal where she had lived before she married Charles Lacasse. As it so happened, a Roman Catholic boys' orphanage needed a housekeeper and she was hired. The boys went there with her while the twin sisters were placed in the nearby Grey Nuns Convent. Thus all four of the children were raised in the atmosphere of a strong Roman Catholic environment.

Grandmere died when Dad was around twelve years old and, having attained that age, he was allowed to leave the orphanage in order to go and work for a market gardener. In recent years we have heard of horrible abuses committed against children in church run orphanages but Dad never mentioned this. However, he did mention his resentment at having to be Altar Boy at masses between daybreak and noon and having to go all those hours without anything to eat.

As an adult, Dad was not religious and never went to Mass - however, he encouraged his children to attend Sunday School which my oldest sister and I did.

As far as I know, Mom never had any religious instruction as a girl and young woman. To explain, I will now relate the story of my maternal grandmother.

Queechee ('Queenie') Leah De Lacey/Hollis - Brown was one of the older children in a large Irish/English/French/Jewish family (the 'Jewish' part was through her mother). By anecdotes that we kids were told,  we came to understand that our maternal great-grandfather was a very urbane man. Grandma was fond of telling the story of her Dad taking her to a religious service in London (Westminster Abbey? St Paul's?) and then to a theatrical performance after which he told her, "Take your pick - they are all make believe!" 

My grandmother's first husband - Mom's dad - was accidentally killed before Mom was born. The man whom I knew as Granddad was Ernie Brown - a Canadian soldier from Saskatchewan. I would describe him as a 'Deist' and not an adherent of any denomination. However, his mother was a devout Methodist and two of his three sisters were Glad Tidings Pentecostal and Baptist respectively. The third sister graduated as a nurse and moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I saw her only once in my life and have no idea as to her religious beliefs.

The youngest of Granddad's sisters was Great Aunt Edith Robinson. She, her husband and two children lived in the large commodious house on East 18th Street in North Vancouver, B.C. That was where we stayed when we had to be in Vancouver and, therefore, we were subject to the religious tenets of Aunt Edith. As a child, I found her to be very intimidating and somewhat frightening so, therefore, there was no appeal for me in her religious community. However, when she became an elderly widow she mellowed and was quite sweet.

In the meantime, Great Aunt Emma lived in the caretaker's suite in the Glad Tidings Tabernacle  (Pentecostal) in downtown Vancouver. She had been married but was divorced. We had one interest in common - stamp collecting. Occasionally I would take my stamp albums into Vancouver on a Saturday afternoon, have dinner with her - and then look at stamps. At no time did Aunt Emma proselytize.

As I mentioned previously, Ruskin, B.C. was a community with no churches so the West Coast Children's Mission (based in the agricultural community of Yarrow which is between Chilliwack and Abbotsford) - and Mennonite - came to our Community Hall and opened a Sunday School. As there was no Protestant community - that we knew of - in Coquitlam, Mom invited the Mennonite group to come to our new neighbourhood and start another Sunday School. That school existed for at least 15 years.

                                    Sunday School at the Schmidt home

When I was in my teens my high school buddy invited me to attend the Evening Service and the Young Peoples' Group at Como Lake United Church in Coquitlam. This led me to become involved in that denomination and, eventuallly, to attend seminary and be ordained.

While living in Australia I attended church when I lived in communities where there was one near by - and my greatest exposure was to the Methodist Church. At the same time I was exposed to evangelical folk and found tenets of their faith attractive while other tenets were intimidating.

In the 1970s I was a United Church of Canada clergyman on Bell island, Newfoundland and then Westboro United Church in Ottawa. At the same time the Charismatic Movement was fairly strong and I became involved. I believed in the laying on of hands and in healings but I was very confused when it came to my sexuality. Could I be a Christian and Gay at the same time? Eventually the answer sunk in - YES!!!

God made all people - Lesbian, Gay, Transgendered, Transsexual. Bisexual, Queer and Questioning - and the good news is that I am still exploring, questioning and learning. At the same time, I have reason to believe that I HAVE touched the lives of people in a positive way - and will continue to do so until the end of my earthly life.   


Sunday, 9 December 2012

Allen Gardens, Toronto

Early in the history of Toronto a horticulturist - Mr Allen - talked the City Fathers into leaving a good-sized block of land undeveloped so that he could create a park. That park still exists as a large rectangular piece of land bounded on all four sides by busy commuter streets - Jarvis, Carlton, Sherbourne and Gerrard.  Midway between Carlton and Gerrard - but closer to Jarvis than to Sherbourne  - he had a huge greenhouse erected. That structure still exists and is named 'Allen Gardens'.

It is now Christmas 2012 in Toronto and - although there is no snow as yet - it is cold. One respite from the bitterness of the air is a visit to those gardens. As we are now near Christmas, there will be many poinsettia plants on display in there - as well as other 'season appropriate' flowers and shrubs.

I have visited those gardens during the Christmas season as well as at Easter. The photos that I am showing here were taken during a visit on Good Friday a few years ago. For this blog - again this is more of a photo album than a dissertation.

Upon entering the greenhouses, one finds oneself in a large atrium which is circular and around which is a pathway as well as two paths crossing from north to south and from east to west. The north/south route connects with doors leading into glassed in rooms where the temperatures are kept at a constant sub-tropical level. Taking the south path the adjacent room is humid and in there one sees orchids and other tropical plants. The room reached by the north path is more temperate - although another 'wing' is kept arid and features many cacti.

The photos are a collage of beautiful flowers from temperate, tropical and desert zones. The above photo - taken on the Good Friday visit - is of tulips.


                                               It isn't Spring without daffodils!

I do not know the name of these plants which bordered the walkway. No doubt at least one of the readers will be able to identify them.

                                                   I love the vividness of these colors.

I do not know the name of this flowering plant - nor the names of many others.

One can almost smell the perfume emanating from this blossom.

                                                               Isn't this a type of lily?

                                                               Beatiful colours!

                                              A yellow nasturtium?

When I was four or five years old we lived next to an elderly English couple who had a beautiful flower garden. Included in that garden were flowers like the ones shown above which they said were 'Sweet Williams'. Are these flowers so named?

These photos were taken in the room on the southside of the greenhouse - and many of these blossoms appear to be lilies.

                                                     More lilies.
Both the south and the north wings of the greenhouses slope downwards so there are ponds at the bottom end.
In the south wing there is a 'statue' of a goddess as well as gold fish (carp) in the pond

                   I have no idea as to the name of these flowers but they look tropical to me.

                                                         It looked lonely all by itself

                                                    Some purple flowers amidst the daisies.

                                                         An explosion of colours

I find these blossoms (the red and white ones) to be quite intriguing.

                                                                 Another lone lily

Although of different hues, all of the above seem to belong to the same plant family.

                                 I have no idea as to what plant these blossoms belong - cacti?

                                  A photo of an unnamed plant and a closeup of the blossom.

                                                Found in the more arid part of the gardens.

                                              To close - a yellow (folowed by a red) hibiscus

Through a comment that I overheard, I looked up towards the ceiling as I was exiting the rotunda. Sure enough, I was standing beneath a banana plant and, Yes, Virginia! bananas really grow in Toronto!!!!