Archives for posts with tag: winter

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Though I’ve visited Toronto Islands since I was a child, my adult relationship with them began last year, when I began a 3-month work exchange/residency at Artscape Gibraltar Point, an artist studio and event space. I now work for AGP, and during the quieter winter months, am subletting a studio for my own work.

It’s been a year since I first lived on the Island, and I’ve experienced a full cycle of the seasons. After the peace and tranquility of last year’s deep winter, the Island launched into its routine Spring and Summer of hot weather, beach parties and crowded beaches and ferry terminals.

Pier at Gibraltar Beach

Pier at Gibraltar Beach

As the leaves changed and began to fall, things certainly slowed down. But now we’re back to winter, and I can confirm that this is indeed my favourite season on Toronto Island. It’s quiet. It feels hundreds of kilometres from downtown Toronto even though it’s just across the bay. And the ice! The landscape changes daily with the freeze-thaw cycles. The beach, the bay and the trees are covered with sculptural icy forms. It makes the artists who spend time at Gibraltar Point think, “why do we even try?”

Icy tree over Gibraltar Beach

Icy tree over Gibraltar Beach

Please enjoy this selection of the best of my photos of Toronto’s winter island. The winter isle is spectacularly beautiful, but I’ll let the photos do the talking. And try and make it here yourself! The ferry runs every hour, the crowds are minimal and the beauty is at its peak.

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This post originally appeared on Spacing Toronto 

For most Torontonians, Spring couldn’t come any sooner. The icy cold that has gripped the city since December has let up on only a few occasions, and we’re in for a few more frigid days before the thaw.

It’s not that this city hates winter. Hiking through snowy ravines, tobogganing down icy slopes, and enjoying a hot chocolate after skating one of the many rinks spread throughout the city are cornerstones of the Torontonian winter experience. But this city is a long way from fully embracing its cold months.

We could learn a thing or two from cities down the road in Quebec, where they wear their winter well. Along with Quebec City’s Carnival, and Igloofest(an outdoor, neon snow suit filled raved in Montreal’s Old Port), a common urban Quebec scene involves squares transformed into wonderful winter gathering spaces — bonfires, bands, beer and all.

Winter revelers in Montreal gather at Parc Compagnons-de-St-Laurent for a bonfire, beer, and music. Image courtesy of Tourisme Montreal.

Winter revelers in Montreal gather at Parc Compagnons-de-St-Laurent for a bonfire, beer, and music. Image courtesy of Tourisme Montreal.

Toronto definitely prefers its winter to be a little more indoors. It’s no surprise this city boasts one of the largest underground walking networks in the world. Using the PATH system, you can get from Dundas & Bay to well south of Front Street without ever getting your ears cold.

The other day, I was walking through Regent Park on a frigid day. Feeling the semi-publicness of the building, I ducked into Artscape’s Daniels Spectrum to warm up my fingers and toes. I immediately felt comfortable in the space, noticing that others were taking refuge from the cold in the sunny lobby. Though the adjoining Paintbox Bistro has a small take out coffee bar fronting the space, I didn’t feel any pressure to buy anything to stay. I took a seat on one of the many sofas, enjoying the views of the street from the floor to ceiling windows, while warming myself up in the bright, airy space.

People gather inside at the Artscape Lounge at Daniels Spectrum. Image by Garrison McArthur Photographers.

People gather inside at the Artscape Lounge at Daniels Spectrum. Image by Garrison McArthur Photographers.

The Artscape Lounge at Daniels Spectrum is an excellent example of accessible indoor space — a real asset for a city that likes its winter inside. The lounge is a third kind of place. Not an overly programmed or regulated public space like a library or community centre, or a fancy cafe where you have to buy something to stay, Daniels Spectrum offers free, accessible and indoor space with a pleasant atmosphere.

Regent Park has its Daniels Spectrum, but this is a model that could be applied in neighbourhoods across the city. Where are other accessible, indoor spaces in Toronto that have been keeping you warm this winter?

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Today, your Urban Geographer was featured in a photograph on the front page of the Globe & Mail’s Toronto section!

Above, Kevin Van Paasen captured me in deep contemplative thought as the ferry crossed Toronto Bay. The photo reveals my simultaneous vibing on the city’s complexity as it slowly reveals itself, along with the mesmerizing bobbing of pieces of ice as the ferry cut its way through the frigid waters.

The article gets into depth about the beauty of winter-time on the Toronto Islands, something I certainly have been experiencing these few days. Some Islanders lament that fact that not enough Torontonians come to the Islands to experience the joys of winter (including wild-skating, or “skating the wild ice”, as it’s referred to in the article). I’m more inclined to leave the winter-Island the way it is now — isolated and perfectly quiet.

Now that positive temperatures have brought on a deep melt of the ice, reading the article makes me feel nostalgic. Here’s hoping for more ice and snow this winter.

This winter I’ve been incredibly perceptive of Montreal’s incredible snow removal capabilities. As soon as there is a dumping of snow, armies of trucks of a myriad of shapes and sizes immediately unleash themselves onto the street, prowling every block until the snow is sufficiently dealt with.

There is a certain order to the way the removal teams approach the snow. First, a regular plow clears paths through the streets, two paths for two lane streets and so on. By doing this, however, a very large ridge is made that divides the street, making crossing it very dangerous. A second team deals with this: the first vehicle shoots the snow on the street into a humongous truck, who then eventually dumps the snow into the St Lawrence river (the environmental aspects of this are pretty questionable, I bet).

This is followed by an additional team, who artfully plow the remainder of the snow, and clear paths on the sidewalks. Normally, large banks are left on the side of the road, cutting the sidewalk off from the street. Here, the natural path phenomenon emerges in one of it’s most excellent and least predictable states: random paths between the road and the sidewalk, that some brave souls had the initiative to first establish.

Every now and then, however, Montreal’s snow removal crews annihilate these snow barriers that emerge between the street and the sidewalk. It’s always amazing to walk on the streets once this has been done – one feels liberated! Again able to cross the street at one’s own whim.

My roommate, Zoe, returned from Southern Ontario yesterday, confusedly reporting that there was much more snow in London and Toronto than in Montreal. Montreal is notorious for being a much snowier city, explaining her surprise.

I owe this to Montreal’s excellent snow removal service. It’s incredible how modern technologies have been applied to overcoming the harsh weather in this city ( – I often comment on how odd, and brilliant it is that people carry out their business despite these never-ending arctic storms). This city is too good at snow removal to just leave the snow on the street.

But then my thoughts wandered. What if Montreal did leave the snow on the street? There would surely be enormous snow banks on every street corner – piles of snow that would act as structures characterizing a streetscape for an entire season – mountains of snow that would impede vision at every distance – places where people would break through the snow banks and impromptu ‘doorways’ would emerge, dwarfing the natural paths that emerge from the current state of affairs.

If the snowbanks weren’t cleared, I imagine that often, natural paths through the snow would be replaced by ones that went over the snow. Ephemeral staircases emerging here, a slide, improved with each use there. Some residents would proudly maintain their snow structures, adding architectural elements on sunnier days with packing snow. Others would neglect the snow structures outside their homes, leading to dangerous and forboding entrances and exits through the mountain-banks.

I owe the theory of “seasonal snow structures” to my brother, who has reported their existence in the less snow-removal-able Halifax. And Ted,   helped imagine the snowy structures that would exist if Montreal wasn’t so capable at dealing with the snow.

When I sit in my living room and watch the street, I am amazed by the leagues of municipal snow removers, working “quietly” in the night so that the people of Montreal can enjoy their city the next day, unhindered. The yellow and black trucks and plows that patrol the streets are another instance where one can contemplate the odd nature of the urban –  an intense concentration of human activity; so many interests and motivations and reasons for why Montreal is here, and why I am here in Montreal; the weather patterns that bring in squalls and storms; the architecture and behaviour that has emerged because of them – this is the city – the complex urban.