December 28th, 2013

One Day in Toronto

Posted in Canada by Christopher DeWolf

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It was so cold in Toronto this week that groundwater under the city froze solid, causing a rare “frost quake” — and earthquake-like boom following by trembling earth. But that was only a sideshow to the main event: a debilitating ice storm that cut power and pruned the city’s tree canopy by 20 percent. So maybe, just by way of diversion, it’s worth looking back to a gentler time of year. Last August, I was in Toronto for a weekend wedding. I made good use of the short time I had to roam the city. Here’s what I saw.

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September 18th, 2013

Food Trucks in Five Cities

Posted in Canada, Food, Public Space, Society and Culture, United States by Christopher DeWolf

It was one of my most memorable meals in Canada: fried, profoundly sweet local beets; a spicy stir-fried mélange of brussel sprouts and cauliflower; and British Columbia haddock served with naan and rice in a coconut curry. And it all came from a truck — actually, two trucks, to be precise, Le Tigre and Vij’s Railway Express, both of which were parked in a vacant lot just off Vancouver’s False Creek, where around 20 food stalls assemble each Sunday for the Food Cart Fest.

It was one of those impossibly clear, sunny days that make BC summers so spectacular, and as I sat on a curb, plastic fork plunging into styrofoam container, I thought about how improbable these trucks really were. Like most Canadian cities, street food in Vancouver was for years limited to precooked sausages reheated on a barbecue. Serviceable enough, but this was food to fill your belly, not stimulate your appetite, the unfortunate byproduct of health regulations that saw sodium-packed, industrially-processed cylinders of beef as somehow safer than freshly-prepared meats and vegetables. Then came the first sign of innovation, in 2007, when recent Japanese transplant Noriki Tamura began serving seaweed-laden hot dogs at his Burrard Street stall, Japadog. At the time, Vancouver had 120 street food carts, all of which were restricted to selling hot dogs, ice cream and soft drinks. Japadog pushed the limits of that regime as far as they would go. In 2010, they finally gave way. Following in the footsteps of the gourmet food truck boom in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Portland, Vancouver opened its streets to a panoply of delights normally reserved for bricks-and-mortar restaurants: Taiwanese pork belly sliders, fresh Pacific seafood, Australian meat pies.

I spent most of the past month in Canada, travelling not quite from coast to coast, but at least from the Georgia Strait to the shores of the St. Lawrence. (“What are you, on a fucking grand tour of Canada?” asked Steve Welch when I walked into his bookstore last week.) Food trucks followed me wherever I went. In Parksville, a small beach town on Vancouver Island, I passed by a wood-fired pizza truck. I got a milkshake from the dubiously-named Mr. Soft and Delight in downtown Toronto. And I scouted out the new fleet of food trucks that are cruising the streets of Montreal, the first time in 66 years that street food has been allowed in the city.

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July 22nd, 2012

Lofty Skies from Yonge and Bloor

Posted in Canada by Karl Leung

Toronto, November 2011
December 21st, 2011

Ma Yansong’s Organic Architecture

Mississauga was as close to a blank slate as Beijing-based architect Ma Yansong could hope for. For more than twenty years, the sprawling city in the suburbs of Toronto has been searching fruitlessly for an identity. Its first attempt came in 1987, when a national design competition produced a post-modern City Hall that resembled a mutant farmstead. But it wasn’t enough to counter the effect of the featureless apartment towers, shopping malls and low-density subdivisions that spread over the young city’s flat landscape.

So when Mississauga tried its hand at creating another civic landmark, the Absolute Towers, a pair of 56-storey and 50-storey apartment buildings that would anchor a privately-built housing complex, it opened the field internationally. Ma submitted a proposal for an improbably nebulous structure with no vertical lines. Each floor seemed piled on top of one another like an unwieldy stack of papers. For all the novelty of its form, however, the tower was memorably beautiful, with a curve that brought to mind the hourglass figure of Marilyn Monroe — which is exactly what Mississauga locals began calling the building after it won the competition.

“I was a little bit surprised about Marilyn Monroe, but I was very happy,” says Ma from his office in Beijing, where I spoke with him by phone earlier this year. “I went to the press conference and was asked, ‘Why is this building so sexy?’ I didn’t try to make it a sexy building, but what I like is a natural shape.”

The tower is human in its function as well as its form. Each floor has a different layout and is framed by a wraparound balcony, so “there will be a lot of people on the balconies,” says Ma. “You can see them and they can see each other. That’s my vision of urban life, a lot of people integrated with one another.”

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November 16th, 2011

Occupy Toronto: One Month Later

Posted in Canada, Politics, Public Space by Karl Leung

On the morning of November 15th, governments in many cities around the world launched a coordinated crackdown on local Occupy movements, serving up eviction notices with plans to forcibly remove protesters from public spaces. If you haven’t already seen the herculean 17 hour livestream of the eviction of New York’s Occupy Wall Street by citizen journalist Tim Pool, click here.

Thankfully, rather than relive the horrors of the G20 protests last year, a Toronto judge has ruled in favour of Occupy, allowing them till Wednesday to vacate the park peacefully.

Today, at Occupy Toronto’s encampment in St. James Park, a woman held space with a book, and her thoughts. Meanwhile, further along King Street, financiers gather to rub shoulders and continue discussing what their event page called “careers with unlimited revenue potential”.

November 14th, 2011

Saturday Morning Flying Machines

Posted in Canada by Karl Leung

Sunny skies made for perfect flying weather this Saturday in downtown Toronto. As pictured in the background, a large HVAC unit as long as the 18-wheeler it’s seated on was being ferried up to the rooftops via helicopter. With many roads along University Avenue closed for the afternoon, passersby gathered happily to watch the work and wander the deserted streets.

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May 5th, 2011

Elected by Ethnoburbia

Posted in Canada, Maps, Politics, Society and Culture by Christopher DeWolf

Election results in Toronto in 2008 (top) and 2011 (bottom)
Red is Liberal, blue is Conservative, orange is NDP

Canada held its 41st federal election on Monday and the results have unleashed a seismic shift in the country’s political landscape. After two consecutive minority governments, the Conservatives have now won a majority. The left-wing NDP, a marginal party for much of its existence (it ran fifth for most of the 1990s), is now the Official Opposition.

Much attention is being paid to the massive surge of support for the NDP, especially in Quebec, where two decades of dominance by the Bloc fell victim to the “Orange Crush.” But Quebec is prone to political mood swings, and even as an NDP supporter, I’m sceptical that they will be able to maintain their current level of support until the next election. What I find especially remarkable about this election is the near-collapse of the Liberal Party — and the political rise of the ethnoburbs.

Take a look at electoral map of Greater Toronto. Red has given way to blue in virtually all of its fast-growing, immigrant-dominated, ethnically-diverse suburban areas. Losing these ridings is what pushed the Liberals to the edge of oblivion. “Of the 18 seats they gained in that region, 14 are more than 45 per cent immigrant, and most would not long ago have been considered un-winnable for the Conservatives,” notes the Globe and Mail.

In other words, the Canadian election was fought and won in ethnoburbia, the suburban immigrant enclaves first identified in 1997 by the geographer Wei Li. Ethnoburbs are socially and culturally self-contained, but unlike the urban ethnic enclaves of decades past, they are also prosperous and extensively connected to transnational networks. Their affluence and influence have given them enormous political leverage.

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January 10th, 2011

Fragments of Memory

Posted in Canada, Video by Christopher DeWolf

How do you document the passage of time, the experience of place? Millefiores Clarkes, a filmmaker from Prince Edward Island, found her answer in the fragments of memory that linger long after something has passed.

Last month, when she visited friends and family in Toronto, Clarkes documented her trip with an entry-level Canon DSLR. She pieced together her material in a way that is dreamlike, nightmarish even, with jump cuts, reverse action and a creepily disjointed soundtrack. It’s vaguely unsettling, like when you try to remember something that happened a year or two ago, catching only half the words, textures and smells you know were there.

It’s these puzzle pieces that I enjoy most about this video: the bits of conversation recalled from a walk down the street with a friend, the sound of a taxi dispatcher’s voice crackling on the radio, a fuzzy glimpse of fellow passengers on the subway. It reminds me of the way memories of past travels come back to me at unexpected moments, like when I catch a whiff of the Boston T’s distinctive musk, or the smell of Beijing heating coal, or the crunch of snow beneath feet.

December 7th, 2010

Sleepy West End Afternoons

Posted in Canada by Christopher DeWolf

Sometimes Toronto impresses with the precocious energy of a metropolis on the make. Sometimes, if you walk down the right streets at the right time of day, it’s just a sleepy old town in Southern Ontario.

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June 10th, 2010

Locals vs. Tourists

Montreal

We’ve always known there is a gulf between the city as experienced by tourists and the city lived in by locals. Now we have a fun visual representation of that divide. Using various types of data from Flickr, one user of the photo-sharing website, Eric Fisher, has created maps that indicate the spots photographed by tourists and those shot by locals. Local photographs are blue, tourist photos red and undetermined photos yellow.

There are some problems in the methodology. Whether a Flickr user is a local or a tourist is determined by whether they photograph a given location over a long period of time (like a local would) or in just a few days (like a tourist would). That seems fair enough, but not everyone geotags their photos, which could possibly skew the results one way or another. One person who obsessive geotags all of his or her photos could have a disproportionately large representation on the map. You can see this in Vancouver, where one person’s geotagged cycle routes are prominently displayed.

Still, just by looking at the maps you get a strong intuitive sense that they are close to reality. In the Montreal map, tourists overwhelmingly stick to Old Montreal, St. Joseph’s Oratory and the Olympic Stadium while locals take photos throughout downtown and the Plateau, with an especially notable cluster of local shots around Lafontaine Park, Maisonneuve Park and the Botanical Gardens (which, interestingly enough, are right across the street from the Olympic tourist hub).

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April 23rd, 2010

Morning Coffee: Toronto’s Café Aesthetic

Posted in Canada by Christopher DeWolf

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I was looking forward to spending three days in Toronto last year: good food, fun times with friends I hadn’t seen in a long time, aimless autumnal wandering. Instead I was waylaid by a terrible cold I developed on the train from Montreal. I spent much of my time drowning my miseries in the city’s cafés — about five over the course of the weekend, if I recall correctly.

It turns out that drinking lots of milky, caffeinated beverages is the last thing you want to do when you have a horrible respiratory infection. (Also a no-no: hanging out in public places and spreading your germs.) Even if it didn’t make me feel better, though, I appreciated Toronto’s café aesthetic, which seems to lead towards messy spaces with rickety furniture, limited signage and casual, almost indifferent service.

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February 18th, 2010

Aero Diptych

Posted in Canada, Interior Space by Karl Leung

Photographed a couple years ago while en route to Calgary from Pearson International Airport in Toronto. I love how the pilot’s silhouette is so well defined and yet the idea of multiple existences in time and space is very much alive. If you’re viewing with a calibrated display you’ll enjoy subtleties like aqua pastel tones.

February 14th, 2010

‘Round the Side Entrance

Posted in Canada by Karl Leung

Theatre patrons, Toronto, 2004

February 11th, 2010

Relative Stillness

Posted in Canada by Karl Leung

After a long hiatus from photography, today I dove into the vault to share some moments from 2004.

Queen and Spadina is a pedestrian hub abuzz with shoppers and wanderers, delighting in everything from mainstream shopping, the fashion district, and good eats and affordable everything in Chinatown.

At night the bars fill up, cars scoot around, and clusters of smokers can be spotted as readily as the lineups for street meat. Ce soir, we note relative stillness.

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