Challenge: Unexpected (Part 3)

Marking the end of my Candid Camera Challenge is the third and final segment of “Something Unexpected”, a theme suggested by Samantha – and it’s a doozy!

Driving around a quiet, tree-lined residential neighbourhood, peering nosily – as one does – into yards and gardens, one would not expect to see a large, hand-carved tree house for gnomes, complete with arched doorway, lace-lined windows, functioning lantern and mailbox! And one could not be faulted for registering surprise upon encountering a trail of foot-high fairy doors lining the boulevard in the same area. But when one discovers not a fairy house but a veritable castle in a garden a few streets away, one would most certainly agree that this is entirely unexpected!

The garden in question is located on a corner lot of a modest 1920 bungalow with both Edwardian and American Arts & Crafts (also known as Craftsman) features. I have to admit that I have no photographs of this heritage-designated house. The reason is simple: whilst the home has architectural and historical merit, it’s what graces its garden that holds the most fascination! May I present:

In 1961, then-owner Joseph Kodors was inspired to build this fairytale castle for the amusement of his children. How very lucky they were for such an imagination-stirring gift! The story goes that Mr. Kodors modelled the structure after castles he typically would have seen in his native Poland. The castle, which is highly visible from the street, has mortared fieldstone walls, wood shingles, dormers and glass windows, copper-capped turrets with finials, a bell tower and an inlaid date stone. The “miniature” castle is far from small; with the tower spires it probably stands nearly the height of an adult.

The castle became so popular with the community that the property became known as Kodors House. Look closely! Can you spot the clock, an owl, the evil queen and her gnomish minions who seem to be imprisoning an innocent fairy? I long to see what’s on the other side, but once again I’d be trespassing. I shall have to be content with the thought that all aspects of this fairytale are equally enchanting!

Thank you to those who sent me themes for my May photo challenge. Whilst interpreting your suggestions, I had fun, learned a lot and made some wonderful discoveries!


Challenge: Unexpected (Part 2)

As my Candid Camera Challenge continues, I’m once again responding to Samantha’s prompt to photograph “Something Unexpected”. This second part is subtitled Fairy Trails.

I mentioned in my previous post my ongoing mission to photograph heritage buildings. One such foray led to the happy discovery of Haywoods Hollow, a fanciful gnomely affair. Another outing a few days later – to photograph this 1856 house built in the Regency Ontario Cottage style – yielded yet another unlooked-for discovery!

Before I even had a chance to snap a few pictures of the cottage, what did I spy at the base of a tree on the lawn but a little fairy door! Although it’s roughly half the size of the one at Haywoods Hollow, the bright red paint, brass knob and gnarled branch frame pay homage to its much larger cousin, and I’m wondering if the homeowners Wee Folk had that in mind when they erected it!

Of course I had to determine whether the door opens. Alas, it is shut fast, but I’m not surprised. I have heard tell that the Fae enter this realm – and allow humans a rare glimpse of theirs – only at their own capricious whim, not ours.

My journey of discovery then took me farther down the street, to find yet more interesting buildings, such as this Craftsman-style home built in 1914. And wouldn’t you know it – I swear the Little People are playing games with me now – another fairy door – and then another, and another – appeared, all nestled quite cozily at the feet of the trees lining the boulevard. In addition to the first, I spotted seven of them in a row, but I’ve no doubt there are more!

Just as I’m trying to learn the many types of architecture employed in the neighbourhood, I believe I’ve successfully determined the distinct styles used for these enchanting fairy portals. They are:

Artsy-Craftsy: Similar to that seen in early twentieth-century Human homes, this style is dominated by smooth, natural surfaces punctuated with rough-hewn wooden beams.

Cathedral: Soaring lancet arches typify this medieval Gothic form.

Pagan Revival: Elements such as feminine curves and subtle lunar symbols identify this bewitching cottage style.

Hampton Court: Also known as Early Cromwellian, architecture of this style is typified by leaded glazing, buckle-silver embellishment and a penchant for puritanical black.

Ontario Outhouse: Small ventilation windows serve as the sole adornment for this utilitarian style, seen mostly in rural outbuildings.

Woodland: Characterized mainly by earthy elements such as gnarled tree branch or driftwood framing and colours taken from nature such as apple red or forest green.

Dungeon Vernacular: Low, rounded arches reinforced with stout beams and heavy ironwork are typical features of this style, also known as Neo-Grimm.

Stickly: Sprouting from the Artsy-Craftsy movement, this bare-branches style is easily recognizable by its use of slender, straight twigs.

The best is yet to come … stay tuned for Part 3 of Challenge: Unexpected!

Challenge: Unexpected (Part 1)

A fascination with architecture and history has always prompted me to photograph old buildings, especially if they feature rare or quaint details or have a story to tell. As far as I’m concerned, a centuries-old moss-covered cottage would do very nicely to live in, especially if there are casement windows and a dusty attic and curlicue ironwork on the old wooden door. And how marvelous it would be to go to work each day in a building with a hundred years of history or more! I’m still working on the cottage, but last year I was fortunate to land a job at a heritage-designated church dating from 1880. It’s a beautiful, imposing structure with its original features and all the creaks and quirks (and possibly a ghost) associated with them!

On my daily route to and from work, I’ve noticed a few picturesque houses in old downtown Brampton that I’ve been meaning to document. Apparently, though, I’ve been missing out on so many more! There are dozens of heritage buildings lining the city’s 19th century streets, and I’ve finally started taking the time to explore the neighbourhood properly, armed with a guidebook and an official designation list. I’ll be posting about some of these adventures soon.

But first, allow me to continue my Candid Camera Challenge, in which readers suggest a subject (a scene, building, people, objects, etc.) they’d like to see on this blog during the month of May. Today’s challenge, something Unexpected, was issued by Samantha of CrystalCats. I’d already had a couple of ideas for this theme, but my recent search for historic buildings gave rise to three perfectly serendipitous – and completely unexpected – discoveries! This is the first one.

One day after photographing an 1867 estate house, I headed down the street, following a route I’d never taken before. As I rounded a corner, I found myself exclaiming in delight – and slamming on the brakes – when I spotted an unusual sight in one front yard: a curious fairytale creation named “Haywoods Hollow”.

This large, hand-carved house is by no means your average store-bought fairy door nailed to the base of a tree! Haywoods Hollow, which sits on the property line facing the sidewalk so it’s accessible to all, was carved by the homeowner from a large silver maple stump. About 12 years before, the talented “architect” had carved a face into one side of the living tree; he modelled it after one of the city’s founding pioneers, a Mr. Dale. Years later when the partially rotted-out maple was damaged in an ice storm and had to be removed, he asked the arborists to leave the seven-foot-high stump, partly to save “Dale” and partly to do more carving. The completed fairy house so delighted neighbours and passers-by that a contest was held to give it a name – and so Haywoods Hollow was born!

I had to examine the house for a while to take in all the details; there are even more at the back, but I didn’t want to trespass onto private property. Its main features are a bright red door with a fancy knocker (the door is sealed shut to prevent children from crawling inside), a shingled roof with chimney, and two lit, lace-trimmed windows. A metal lantern, a welcoming beacon for all nearby gnomes, glows day and night. If you look very, very closely, you’ll discover other whimsies such as tiny carved faces amongst the gnarled driftwood door frame (one is made from a peach pit). And, in order for the wee folk to receive their “tree-mail”, there’s even a little mailbox with its own street number: 17 ½. I’ll have to check to see whether it opens!

Judging from the colourful bits and bobs adorning the house (gnome ornaments, plastic flowers, etc.), it seems to be “the thing” for visitors to leave an offering for the wee folk. Naturally, next time I stop by, I’ll be sure to bring a little gift, too!

Challenge: Street Food

The theme for today’s Candid Camera Challenge was suggested by Cathy at nanacathydotcom. Thank you, Cathy!

Mmmmm … street food. Toronto, being so multicultural, offers an abundance of restaurants; so many, in fact, that if you dined at a different establishment every night, it would take a staggering 45 years to eat your way through the city!

But this is about those vendors – food trucks, stands, kiosks and carts – encountered whilst bustling along city streets, exploring ethnic delights at cultural festivals, and looking for a snack at exhibitions and fairs.

Bygone Days
In simpler times, street food consisted of a few basic choices – hamburgers, hotdogs and French fries – available from “chip trucks”. You could get sandwiches, too, especially from the vehicles catering to the lunchtime crowd at a plant or factory. There was one that came regularly to my husband’s workplace. Due to the sometimes iffy offerings (bad coffee and who-knows-how-old egg salad), it earned a variety of nicknames – the Gut Wagon, Gastric Distress Express, Botulism Buggy and Ptomaine Truck amongst them.

Once when I was about ten, my parents took me to the Binder Twine Festival, a harvest celebration held in Kleinburg, Ontario every September since 1967. The festival, named for the twine used to secure wheat sheaves, still features old-time farming and crafting exhibits, contests, and traditional 1800s homestead food. I still remember the taste of the sarsaparilla my mother bought me from one of the booths. Originally marketed as a health tonic, this drink tastes (from what I recall) like a combination of spicy, bitter ginger ale crossed with root beer. It was odd and delicious, and I’ve only ever had a chance to try it that once. Perhaps I should go the 2018 festival!

I remember an old street peddlar who operated a chestnut cart back in the ’80s when I commuted downtown each day to university. He always parked the cart, which was painted red and gold, at my subway stop outside the Royal Ontario Museum. Although I never sampled his wares, the aroma of hot roasted chestnuts was so enticing, especially on a frosty winter day. He’s long gone, but my sister – who frequents downtown far more often than I do – reports that those carts, while rare, can still be found. Nice to know the tradition continues.

My sister and I went to an Afro-Caribbean festival down by the lake one summer. There were vendors offering tie-dyed cotton clothing, wood sculptures and beaded jewellery, and food such as kebobs, pitas and grilled corn-on-the-cob sprinkled with bright red chili powder. I chose to sample a fresh coconut which the vendor hacked open with a cleaver before sticking in a straw. I was surprised that the water and meat weren’t sweet at all; I’m all about the sweet stuff, so I was rather unimpressed with this street food experience.

Food Truck Frenzy
For years when I was growing up, we made an annual family pilgrimage to the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE, or The Ex) during its two-week run in late August. We’d plead with our parents to let us have cotton candy or – my favourite – candy (caramel) apples from the kiosks in the Midway, where all the games and rides were. The Food Building presented an array of meal choices, and you could get coupons for freebies at many of the booths. We’d hoard them and our spending money with care as we strategically planned our snack attack. Pizza, burgers and fries were our usual choices, but a Beaver Tail (deep-fried pastry dusted with cinnamon sugar) was a must. I couldn’t handle the outrageous novelty fare offered these days, such as Strawberry Shortsteak (steak sandwich topped with provolone cheese, strawberry sauce and icing sugar), deep fried chicken feet, Canadian bacon pickle balls, spaghetti doughnuts drizzled with chocolate ganache, butter coffee, or the infamous Cronut Burger, a beef patty between two croissant-doughnut pastries topped with maple-bacon jam – a confection which caused 150 cases of food poisoning at the 2013 fair.

Suburban Street Food
Because my home and work keep me in the suburbs, I hardly ever encounter the more unusual or exotic types of street food – or entire street food festivals – found downtown. Suburbanites like me do still have some choices, however. There are the ubiquitous ice cream trucks, those white vans splashed with enticing images of popsicles, cones and triple-decker banana splits. Whilst I have given them my custom on more than one occasion, I take umbrage at these trucks because of their signature songs broadcast loudly and incessantly to attract business. Does anyone else despise “Turkey in the Straw” as much as I do?

A boy and his dog

For this assignment, I chose to feature the everyday hotdog stand. There’s a nationwide chain of hardware stores that always seems to have one of these trucks operating in their parking lot. This week, I stopped by one and, after a token soft drink purchase, sweet-talked the operator into letting me take some photos. As I was doing so, along came a mother and grandmother to buy a treat for their young boy. The mom graciously allowed me to snap some photos and laughed when I remarked the boy needn’t worry about eating carefully – his dressed ’dog matched his shirt! Although he was more interested in his meal, his family seemed pleased with all the attention, and I was happy to get a few shots for this challenge.

Postscript: As I wrote this piece, an ice cream truck blaring Turkey in the Straw set up shop down the road…

Challenge: The Tower

This is the first installment of my Candid Camera Challenge, in which readers submit suggestions of subjects they’d like to see photographed for this blog. Photos can be new or from my archives. Thank you to those who have already responded.

Today’s challenge comes from Samantha of CrystalCats, who suggested I capture “something that typifies where you live … like Robin Hood is the first thing associated with Nottingham.” I’m a proud Toronto girl, so I was happy to tackle this one!

The Toronto skyline viewed from Algonquin Island during Earth Hour 2008, the first anniversary of the international event. The “lights out” didn’t seem terribly impressive, but the CN Tower (left) and other buildings in the downtown core did go dark at the appointed time.

Historic Toronto
The City of Toronto is situated on land originally inhabited by native Iroquois and Huron peoples. From its establishment in 1750 as a French trading post, Fort Toronto, it became a British/Canadian garrison, Fort York, in 1793. The defended settlement was renamed York for King George III’s son, the Duke of York, until it was incorporated as a city in 1834 and given back its original name. As the city grew, it became Metropolitan Toronto, and when several municipalities amalgamated in 1998, Toronto achieved “megacity” status.

With a population of almost 3 million (the Greater Toronto Area has 6 million), my hometown is the largest city in Canada, the fourth-largest by population in North America and one of the most multicultural, welcoming and inclusive cities in the world, with over 200 ethnicities and 160 languages represented. Just about every week somewhere in the city, a different festival is held. In June, for example, Toronto will once again celebrate Pride Week, one of the world’s largest LGBTQ festivals. On the whole, this city is friendly, clean and safe, living up to its moniker as “Toronto the Good”, which is one of the many reasons I love it so much.

What’s in a name?
The word Toronto means “plenty” in the Huron language and “trees standing in the water” in Mohawk. “No place in Canada has as many sobriquets as Toronto,” writes geographer Alan Rayburn in his book Naming Canada: Stories about Canadian Place Names. Amongst its many nicknames are:

  • Muddy York, dirty Little York and nasty Little York, all from the settlement’s earliest days of unpaved roads and lack of drains and sewers
  • Hogtown, possibly from the Anglo-Saxon word for York, Eoforwic, meaning “wild boar village” or, more likely, for Toronto’s once-abundant livestock processing plants
  • Toronto the Good, coined by a 19th century Toronto mayor for the city’s supposedly high Victorian morals
  • Queen City, used mostly by French Canadians
  • The Big Smoke, a name shared with London, England and several other world cities
  • The Six (also The 6 or The 6ix), a term coined by Toronto musicians – used most recently by Drake – from the city’s six former municipalities and its 416 area code
  • T.O., for Toronto or Toronto, Ontario; articulated TEE OH
  • Hollywood/Broadway North, for its thriving film, theatre and music industry

The CN Tower as seen from our seats in the Skydome (since renamed the Rogers Centre) during a Toronto Blue Jays baseball game • May 2005

The Tower
Whilst perhaps no one individual is notoriously associated with this city, like Robin Hood is with Nottingham, by far Toronto’s most iconic landmark is the CN Tower. Aside from Niagara Falls, the CN Tower is undoubtedly the most popular tourist attraction in Ontario.

When it was completed in 1976, the 553.3 metre (1,815.3 foot) communications / observation tower was the tallest freestanding structure in the world, a record it held for 32 years. The “pod” near the top houses three observation decks, one of which has a glass floor, and a 360° revolving restaurant. One of the high-speed elevators running up its side has glass panels in its floor, making the ascent quite stomach-dropping, and the EdgeWalk (installed in 2011) offers visitors a chance to walk, whilst tethered, outside on the roof of the pod.

Like other world landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower, the colour-changing LED lights on the CN Tower are often used to celebrate special events or holidays or to mark international solidarity and days of mourning following a tragedy or the death of a public figure. The lights can also be turned off completely, as happens during the annual observance of Earth Hour, and to reduce bird mortality during spring and autumn migration.

Looking southwest from the observation deck of the CN Tower, several landmarks are visible: Fort York, the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) grounds, Ontario Place, Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport, heritage sites such as the 1928 Canada Malting Company silos, and the first wind turbine ever installed in a major North American urban centre • April 2008

I’ve visited the Tower as a tourist as well as a cheerleader for a workplace team who participated in the World Wildlife Fund’s annual CN Tower Climb fundraiser. Note how I said I was a cheerleader … nothing could have persuaded me to climb all 1,776 steps (144 storeys) myself! Average climbers take about 30 minutes to make the ascent; the fastest climb on record, in 1989, clocked in at 7 minutes 52 seconds. Holy Inhaler, Batman!

T.O. Trivia
By the way, you might be wondering how to pronounce Toronto. Just as it’s spelled, with the emphasis on the second syllable – if you’re not from around here. However, if you’re a born-and-raised native like me, it’s TRAWN uh.

Viewed from the west at Colonel Samuel Smith Park, the Toronto core rises like a ghostly apparition through the haze of a warm spring day • May 2010

Candid Camera Challenge

Little Free Librar

The Little Free Library, a community drop-off, pick-up box open to anyone who loves to read and promote reading. Located in front of the old Central Public School (built 1916) in downtown Brampton, Ontario – known locally as “Flowertown”.

Happy Beltane … or May Day … or Now It’s Finally Spring Day! After more than a month of foul, non-springlike weather, today bloomed bright, sunny and mild. I’d awakened on this first day of May sometime before dawn to see Mistress Moon smiling benevolently upon us. A little later, I heard my first White-throated Sparrow of the season; I like to think these birds are extremely patriotic with their “Oh, sweet Canada, Canada, Canada!” anthem, declaring how happy they are to be back after winter vacation. Then, during my lunch break (when the temperature had skyrocketed to 27° C), I heard my first-of-the-year warbler. These tiny, jewel-like songbirds remind me of the most colourful tree decorations, bobbing from branch to branch, snapping up the season’s first juicy insects while they utter their “Hey baby, I’m HERE!” territorial/matrimonial songs. I couldn’t catch which warbler it was, but it was so nice to hear. As I went about an errand, I was elated to finally see flashes of colour on folks’ lawns: bright blue scilla here, golden daffodils there, and even a few patches of purple violets, those tiny ones that smell like a grandmother’s carefully-folded lace handkerchief.

And so, even though this is one of my longest work days when I won’t get home until well after 11:00 p.m., I’m happy to celebrate this hallowed ancient day with sunshine, birdsong, bright colours and scented flowers. How are you spending your May Day?

I had no specific theme for this month’s posts until I was driving around the neighbourhood on my lunch break. Job number one is situated in an historic city full of Victorian and Edwardian-era buildings. (One day, I’ll take a walking tour and do some architectural photography.) For months now, I’ve been meaning to stop and take a photo of a curious and charming feature that sits outside the local pubic school just up the street. Today was the day: I had a bit of extra time, and the brilliant blue sky made a glorious backdrop!

As I snapped a couple of pics, the theme came to me. What if any of my readers were to submit a suggestion for a photograph they’d like to see on this blog? It could be anything that one might expect to be able to capture in a typical day or week, any time during May: a city scene, a garden or flower, a building, architectural feature or artwork, an animal, an everyday object, etc. Nothing outrageous or naughty, please — in other words, keep it reasonable and keep it clean!

We could call this the Candid Camera Challenge. Keep in mind this is a challenge you, dear readers, set for me, by sending me your suggestions. You don’t need to do anything more than that, and I’ll try my best to get out there this month (or dig through my archives) and interpret your suggestions in as artful a way as I can.