Toronto: 4 days walking around, street art and more

By Lovebot, favorite finding in Toronto

By Lovebot, favorite finding in Toronto

The 23th of February I learned via my brother that Beardyman was on tour in North America: with no show planned in Montreal and the European tour already over, going to Toronto would be the only opportunity to see him before a long time. I spent a week pondering it, and booked my ticket when I realized that this would be the best way to enjoy my week off. Followed hesitations about how to get there (megabus), where to stay (1h to choose my hostel, 6h to get a couchsurfing host) and finally what to do (6+ hours, spent mainly on r/toronto). I found one museum and one scheduled thing to do everyday, and decided to figure out the rest on the spot.

I boarded at dawn for a long (6h) ride, but was nicely surprised to get a seat with a table, perfect to get some work done; I slept for most of the trip. There were not much to see on the way, flat landscape and really ugly industrial areas as you would expect around a driveway, but the 30 last minutes were surprising: first, some really big blocks of flat, 25, 30-story, appeared on the side of the road, the kind of buildings you would see in the French suburbs but much more spaced here, and some of them much bigger; and second, Toronto’s skyline.
Of course the CN tower catches the eye, but it’s the width more than the height of the city that surprised me: Montreal’s skyline is impressive, but from the top of Mont Royal you can see pretty much all of it; impossible with Toronto. Even more than in Montreal, entering downtown by bus gave me this”New York” feeling: looking high, right and left, to try to see the top of the buildings, which is impossible given the narrowness of the road. Always enjoyed.

I spent the first minutes out of the bus station trying to find my way, flooded by this novelty I had to make sense of, then I reached my first destination, Ryerson University Image center. Nice people, but boring exhibition, so I headed straight to my hostel, 30 minutes away: I had first look at Toronto University, and its nice >20 strikers in front of an entrance, walking in circle like in the movies. The place I stayed in was quite simple: with the reception, the TV room, and the kitchen all in the same place, the Planet Traveler is a nice space for exchange, plus the great cooking facilities and the well-furnished breakfast. The bathroom of my 6-bed room was really nice, frequently cleaned, but the room itself was missing closets, personal light and proper curtains: one would be fine if equipped with a night mask and a clipped lamp, but I was impressed to meet someone on his 5th week here.

The first place my prospects lead me to was the nearby Kensington Market: I’m not much into buying things nor special food, but going down Augusta Av. was a great way to have a first glimpse to the amazing Toronto street-art scene.  More than the quality is the diversity of shapes and medias that delighted me, plus my first encounter with Shepard Fairey’s work.

I didn’t linger too long though, as the setting sun would soon bring the present -7°C even lower: after encountering my first sticker-poem and an original “Andre the Giant Has a Posse”, I reached my destination, Rush Lane/Graffiti Alley. All the walls and almost every surface of this >300m backstreet are covered with various works, mostly graffiti that didn’t really meet my appreciation, although some of the big works are nice. But it was an occasion to see Uber5000 for the first time, a really good realization of this rabbit that can be seen in many other places, a huge collection of stickers and some really disturbing media.

Reaching the end of Graffiti Alley was disappointing, and not knowing where to go to see more I went back to my hostel: I went through Chinatown (those wide streets make it look much better than Montreal’s Chinatown), got some Diafuku and a few more stickers.

After eating at the hostel I was back on the streets toward Beardyman’s venue, Coda. The concert was good: to see Beardyman perform on its Beardytron_5000 is a surprising experience, a lot of power in the hands of this insane man with which he mainly built DnB and techno beats, with a pinch of didgeridoo. He doesn’t ask suggestions to the audience anymore so his act lost the funny side I used to cherish, and the 6$+tip water bottle left me bitter; maybe I should try to catch him at a more comedy-focused place next time.

The following day would pass much more quickly, though the ride between downtown and York University wasn’t that absorbing: Toronto’s token system is quite exotic and the subway cars are infinite, but I still struggled to get down at the good bus stop, same as in Montreal. One day maybe.

Not much to say about the campus of York, except that it’s huge and seems to be separated from the city by a no-man’s land where 80% of the space is under construction. I’m glad I made the full loop between University of York and York University. Coming back to the center would lead me to the Royal Ontario Museum: I spent most of the afternoon in the very informative (though slightly confusing) gallery dedicated to the First Peoples of Canada. Along with discovering the diversity of the native groups (of which I was completely ignorant before) I had a strange feeling that just a small fraction of what could have been said was presented. I spent 2 other hours in the rest of the Museum: the Gallery of Canada has interesting painting both which criticized for the mis-representation of Indians and the appearance of profusion of the land directed to potential settlers in Europe; and I had a great time on the second floor, with dinosaurs and ancient mammals along an interesting chronological presentation, and finally a very colorful gallery of biodiversity (with live axolotls). My day ended at the ScotiaBank Theatre, where the Reel World festival was presenting a selection of very human short movies: 2h of screening and a Q&A with directors for 5$, very enjoyable.

Because I left the house of Julia, my couchsurfing host, late and was far from town (north part of North York), the next day started around 1 when I was back Downtown to visit the Art Gallery of Ontario. It cost me 16$ to get in Jean-Pierre Basquiat exhibition which was my main focus, but the place deserves more than the 3h I was able to spend in it: regular collections, 6-7 exhibitions and many dedicated spaces such as a special room for The Massacre of the innocents of Rubens, the collection of ship models or “Art as Therapy”, titled from Alain de Botton’s book, with a very disturbing piece of sculpture (in real life the effect is increased a 100-fold). I had to leave early to be in time at the second Reel World festival shorts screening, and was lucky to find many new stickers on my way there. Taking back alleys can sometimes be rewarding.

On the bottom right one, a regular looking bin sign is covered by a sticker representing a landfill, the smartest piece I have seen in Canada so far. Compared to France, Canadian streets offer many more playgrounds for artists: post boxes and newspaper dispensers add up to the regular poles and road signs you can find in Lyon, and such prolific and creative artists as TIMEANDDESIRE or the “neighbourhood watch” defacer are yet to come in France, and even in Montreal.

Even with the street art chasing, I didn’t enjoy the outdoors as much as I wish I had, because of the cold: during the tour Julia took me on on my last day, she showed me a frozen beach along which was going the 56km long Martin Godman trail; and a snowy park, part of a big network of green spaces yet to be explored.

Toronto is a huge city, with all the entertainment, skyscrapers and facilities that come with it, but when I come back in May I want to spend time discovering its human wonders: my CS host, the 4 strangers I met at the Read Out Loud meetup and Reg Hartt who I met before a Kid Dracula screening (I should be staying at his place for a month) made me feel that people are what really deserves my attention in this city.


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