Thursday, June 30, 2016

Antiquated businesses adapt and survive through eras

Cigars, so popular in the early part of the twentieth century, fell out of fashion in the latter years, as more people stopped smoking. Recently, there has been a resurgence in the cigar business. This one survives alongside the vapes shops that have sprung up, providing another way to take legal drugs.

The leather supplies store sign also evokes an elaspsed era. A century ago, this type of business was mainstream. After a mid-century fading, hand sewing and leatherwork had a resurgence during the sixties. Who patronizes these venerable shops on Spadina now?

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Old brick buildings on Spadina

Seen from the glass elevator of the Super 8, the warm and elegant brick buildings on the left date back to early Toronto. The ornate structure below is located at the corner of Spadina and Queen.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The view from the Muskoka chair

Writers at the Summit relax in Muskoka chairs, composing sentences as they gaze over sunny lawns at Toronto's Harbourfront Centre.

In the garden of my first house, a chair like this was abandoned. A minor repair and a coat of white paint made it usable. Drink on armrest, I spent many happy hours in that chair.

Torontonians call these Muskoka chairs, for the great Ontario hinterland. They're also known as Cape Cod chairs and Adirondack chairs, for similar reasons. Once exclusively wood, they now come in plastic and in kid sizes.


Monday, June 27, 2016

A journey into history aboard the Oriole

At Harbourfront Centre, the Oriole and the Mariposa (evocative of Stephen Leacock's zany stories) wait to show tourists some pleasing views of the Toronto Islands and Lake Ontario.

The Great Lakes cover an enormous surface (about a fifth of the total surface of the huge province of Ontario), and contain one fifth of the earth's surface freshwater. They're traversed by enormous numbers of cargo ships. "Lakers" stay within the lakes, while "salties" are oceangoing ships that travel through the St. Lawrence Seaway into the Atlantic.

I got lucky on my trip on the Oriole: there were only a handful of passengers aboard and the commentary was clear and informative. I learned how much the Toronto waterfront has been filled in; ships once docked near the Royal York Hotel. A kilometer inland from the current dock, this old Toronto landmark is now dwarfed on all sides by enormous glass towers.

Toronto Islands tranquillity

Pleasure boats ride at anchor in the three yacht basins in the Toronto Islands. Hanlon's Point  on Ward's Island has earned the designation of a Blue Flag beach, an international standard of eco-cleanliness.

The Toronto Islands were once a peninsula; they were ripped from the mainland during a massive storm in 1858.

A few minutes' ferry ride from downtown Toronto, this oasis of calm and quiet allows no cars except service vehicles.

In the past, many Torontonians built summer cottages and beautiful homes on these islands. But WWII changed Centre Island changed radically; after it, all private homes were repossessed and demolished to give way to a public park. There are still a few houses on the other islands: 262 to be exact.

Love to live on the Toronto Islands? Good luck with that. Owners know what they have, and rarely is anyone is willing to part with such a special property. For potential buyers, there's a years-long waiting list for the lottery. If your name is picked, only then can you bid on one of the very rare homes that comes up for sale.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Why does Winston Churchill have bandaged hands?

The Churchill statue is in Toronto, not London. The old boy seems to be having trouble with his hands. Perhaps he struck his metaphorical fists too hard when Britain left the European Union. If he were living, could he have rallied his countrymen against the sorry Brexit affair?

As the voting pattern shows, Scotland and Northern Ireland disagreed as usual with the south. But above all, baby boomers sold out the young cosmopolitans who will struggle with the fallout for years to come. A.A. Gill describes Brexit as "snorting a line of the most pernicious and debilitating little English drug, nostalgia." Ethnic nationalism is indeed an illusion, and that perilous pill is more than ever a nonsense in a cosmopolitan world where we must all rub along together, or else. The lesson of our era is to learn that we are all one.

As a Canadian anglais, I grieve for the Remain camp. I cast my mind back to the Quebec separatist referendum of 1995 in profound gratitude that Canada didn't break up then. The vote was just as close, but on the right side of 50%.

The oldest lighthouse on the Great Lakes is haunted

The oldest lighthouse on the Great Lakes, a stone structure at Gibraltar Point on Toronto Island was built in 1808 as a defense against US invasion. Not a crazy idea: the US did invade Canada four years later, during the War of 1812. The hexagonal tower is 52 feet high, and the limestone base, nearly two metres thick, is topped by a cage that originally held a whale-oil lantern.

This lighthouse is said to be haunted. The original keeper of the light, John Radelmuller, was a refugee from Bavaria who fled war-torn Europe to work for the British crown. Upon his arrival in Upper Canada, he started bootlegging during the Temperance years after the Revolutionary War.

One night Radelmuller vanished mysteriously. Legend holds that he was murdered in a dispute over alcohol, and buried around the lighthouse, where his ghost still walks.

And indeed, much later, a human jawbone was found on the site. However, no murder charges were ever laid.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Eliza Robertson -- from UVic to the University of East Anglia

At the Canadian Authors Awards luncheon in Toronto, Eliza Robertson read from her short- listed story collection Wallflowers. The event was part of the Canadian Writers' Summit.

After graduating from UVic, this talented former Vancouverite completed her Master's in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia. Fellow UEA writing grads include literary giants Ian McEwan, Margaret Drabble and Rose Tremain. One of the program's founders was the great post-war comic novelist Angus Wilson, once of Bletchley Park.

Eliza Robertson lives and writes in Norwich now. Handy to London, she enjoys having plenty of opportunities to meet publishers and network with fellow authors.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Anne and Nicholas Giardini illuminate the writing process of Carol Shields

At the Writers' Summit in Toronto, Nicholas Giardini shared a panel with his with his mother, SFU Chancellor Anne Giardini, the Shields daughter who also writes.

After discussing their recent book Startle and Illuminate, mother and son pose with their editor, Amanda Lewis. Below, audience members Patricia Sandberg and Robert Shipley chat with the Giardinis about the book.



Thursday, June 23, 2016

Lawrence Hill and Mohamed Fahmy at recent CWS

At the recent Canadian Writers' Summit in Toronto, Keynote Lawrence Hill spoke eloquently about his life as a writer. After his talk he signed books. I took this picture, and he signed my copy of his award-winning novel The Illegal.


After spending a year imprisoned in his native Egypt, Canadian and world citizen Mohamed Fahmy knows the value of free speech at first hand. CWS Conference attendees spontaneously applauded Fahmy's eloquent acceptance speech of the Right to Read award. Founder of the Fahmy Foundation for a Free Press, this writer continues to champion the rights of the reading and writing public worldwide. 

Oddly, we happened to be at the airport when he arrived in Vancouver shortly after his release last autumn. Of course, the (free) press was there to greet him.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Men in Stripes -- Canadian Writers' Summit at Harbourfront

Last week in Toronto, three networking buddies find they're wearing similar shirts. Left is writer-broadcaster Scott Overton of Sudbury, next is fiction and non-fiction writer Matt Bin of Metro Toronto. Novelist Bob Mackay of White Rock is on the right.

All three look happy to be meeting their word-loving friends before the Book Summit kicked off the Canadian Writers' Summit last week at Harbourfront Centre. All belong to Canadian Authors. A group with the practical motto "Writers helping writers," we're proud to claim the hilarious Stephen Leacock as a founding member. Established in 1921, the Association is approaching its hundredth birthday.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Canadian Authors guest Wayde Compton delves into the mysterious calling of the writer

On Wednesday, June 8, Wayde Compton was the featured speaker for Canadian Authors Vancouver. A poet and essayist who runs the Creative Writing programs for Continuing Studies at Simon Fraser University Continuing Studies, he won the 2015 City of Vancouver book award for his collection of linked short stories, The Outer Harbour.

Wayde read to us, then talked about his work, riveting the audience with his comments on the mysterious nature of writing, in all its disparate phases. Whether a work is small or large, he says, the writer must face a rupture somewhere in the midst of the process.

The initial certainty is "a fortress," but a good writer stays open to what mysteriously shows up to change that vision. This raises the work from the specific story experience to a general human experience, giving it broader appeal.

A writer's journey is to realize what Keats called this "negative capability." We must work through the immobilizing fear and apparent failure that characterize the point of rupture. We need faith to write through the unwelcome discovery that the project is far from what we originally envisioned.

During Wayde's reading, I suffered with Fletcher, who "never met any of his blood relatives." I was also struck by the images of "dirt, from ground floor to glass ceiling," and diaspores, seeds that drift to new places and take root. Finally, I felt an unsettling thrill as I pictured the "black ship of hindsight, gold nails in its seams," skimming across the sea with the wind "in charge."

The evening of satisfying writerly wisdom and conversation was the last before Vancouver branch's July summer break.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Drawer time

Every draft of a manuscript needs drawer time. Now I have the drawer handy and organized.

It's all part of the great office cleanup, which is progressing happily.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Filling it slowly

The desk and chair are in, but the bookcases are still empty. When I get done organizing my redecorated office, I'll know where everything is. Also, there'll be a lot less paper stored in here. Binders of writings from past years will be gone. They're all organized and backed up on my computer, so no need to hang onto the paper versions. It looks and feels so spacious now. Clears my head just sitting here, looking through the windows into the garden.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

The joy of an empty room

My husband just finished painting my home office, and it looks fabulous. Now that the new carpet is in, we're ready to start re-introducing the furniture.

A small couch will go in first, right beside the telephone table. Against the beautifully painted brick wall, the big bookcase will stand where the desk used to be. My new position will provide a better view of the garden.

Much of the former content, most of it paper, will not be returning. At the door, I've set up a customs post to control what will be kept in the new room. Each returning object has to have an interview to justify its re-entry.

The most important feature of my refurbished office is going to be a glorious amount of open space. Air and energy flow are top priorities.