Category Archives: Toronto

Thoughts About 100,000 Nails

Metropolis by David Partridge

This is a mural called Metropolis which I photographed on a visit to Toronto’s City Hall. Created by artist David Partridge it contains 100,000 nails.

Metropolis is composed of nails of many different shapes and sizes to illustrate that cities are made up of very diverse kinds of people. It makes me think about the rich and interesting diversity of human beings that make up Canada with its approximately 38 million people and our world with its 7.5 billion people .

At the centre of the mural which represents the heart of the city the nails are very close together. There are many places in our country and our world where people live in close proximity. Downtown Vancouver is the most densely populated area in Canada. When I lived in Hong Kong I often went shopping in the Mong Kok district which is the most densely populated place on earth.

As you move out from the centre of the mural the nails are further apart since they are representing the suburbs of the city. In Canada, many people live in smaller communities. Both my husband Dave and I grew up in a small Canadian community and so did our parents.

On bicycle trips I have taken in China and Croatia and Germany and on drives in rural Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Portugal and Australia and other places, I have come to realize just how many marvellous and infinitely diverse small towns and villages provide homes to the people of the world.

The furthest edges of the mural represent the area just outside the city where the metropolis gives way to rural living. Although fewer and fewer people in Canada and the world live in isolated and sparsely populated regions there are still some. I think about an isolated bed and breakfast we stayed at once that literally hugged the rugged shore of Newfoundland or the house we rented in rural Iceland where there were no other homes for miles around.

A really interesting thing about the Metropolis mural is that if you drop a coin anywhere near the top of it that coin will make its way through the maze of nails down to the bottom and create a beautiful musical sound as it travels. The day we visited the mural we saw a large group of tourists lined up along the wall and they all let their coins go at the same time and it made this grand and lovely symphony of sound.

For me, the mural of 100,000 nails can represent the unique populations of Canada and the amazingly diverse populations of our world living in different places in different ways. Wouldn’t it be great if we could all come together in one gigantic mural of sight and sound where everyone creates a cohesive whole but at the same time everyone is seen and heard?

Other posts…….

A House with a View and So Much More

House With a View in Newfoundland


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Fire Trucks At the Wedding

We attended a wedding in Toronto on Saturday.  The groom Jon was a former student of Dave’s and was also a member of the highschool basketball team Dave coached in Hong Kong. Jon was one of the student participants in a school trip to Israel I chaperoned.  

Having lunch in Toronto with Jon on one of our visits to the city

During previous visits to Toronto, we have caught up with Jon over lunch or at a Jays game.

Dave with Jon and another former student Ivan at a Blue Jays game

Jon is off to Berkley University in California this fall to get a Ph.D. in ethnomusicology.

Cool photos of the bride and groom decorated the wedding reception venue

We had met Jon’s bride Marijke the last time we saw Jon in Toronto.

Timothy Eaton Church in Toronto where the wedding was held. 

We were delighted to be invited to Jon and Marijke’s  wedding in the historic Timothy Eaton Memorial Church. The church was built over a hundred years ago. The wedding was lovely and after the service, we were invited to enjoy some ice cream from one of the ice cream trucks parked outside. Then we took a cab over to a unique gallery-style event site for the reception.

The bride poses with some friends who helped usher us outside when the fire alarm went off

During the cocktail hour, while we were enjoying some amazing appetizers, the fire alarm went off. Dave and I were chatting with an interesting couple our age who were former Hong Kong residents and now worked as bankers in Toronto. Like the other guests, at first we just ignored the alarm, but then members of the wedding party urged us to head outside. As we sat on the curbs and hung around in the parking lot three fire trucks pulled up sirens blaring.  The firefighters headed into the building and after a few minutes came back out telling us it was safe to return to the reception.  Apparently, someone had been smoking on the premises and that had set off the alarms.  Dave was pleased Jon the groom came over for a chat. He thanked us for coming to the wedding.

This lovely watercolor of the bride and groom was on the front of the thank you postcards each guest received at their table. They informed us that the couple had donated money in our name to an association in Toronto that promotes health and happiness for members of the LGBTQ2S community and to another association in Hong Kong that teaches children about Cantonese opera

We didn’t know anyone at the wedding except for the bride and groom but had interesting conversations with our tablemates at the reception.  Dave sat beside a professor who is writing a book about the American novelist Flannery O’Connor and I sat beside a British Columbia lawyer whose son just happens to be married to the daughter of a British Columbia lawyer who was a college classmate of ours.

The bride and groom having their first dance together as a married couple

We had never been at a wedding with fire trucks before although the experience did remind us of our niece Hannah’s September long weekend wedding many years ago when emergency responders showed up after a tornado hit the tent where the reception was being held. Those kinds of surprises may not be what married couples plan for at their weddings but they certainly do make them memorable. bride and groom

Other posts………..

A Wedding That Was A Little Too Exciting

Wedding with Hong Kong Friends in Colorado

Wedding with Hong Kong Friends in Minneapolis

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Filed under Hong Kong, Toronto

Painting Her Own Portrait


The Artist’s Room by Mary Anne Alabaster- 1830

This painting caught my eye on my recent visit to the Art Gallery of Ontario because it reminded me so much of a similar painting by Norman Rockwell, where he is creating a portrait of himself just like Mary Anne Alabaster is in her 1830 work. I saw Rockwell’s portrait when I first started working at the Winnipeg Art Gallery and they were featuring an exhibition of Rockwell’s work. 

I decided I wanted to know more about the woman who had created her portrait in a style another famous artist would use more than one hundred and thirty years later.  

Mary Anne Alabaster Criddle – National Portrait Gallery London

Mary Ann Rebecca Alabaster was a British woman born in 1805 who loved to paint from the time she was a child.  While her father Charles was encouraging of her art, her mother Mary forbid her from pursuing a career as a painter, so after her father died Mary Ann would get up early in the morning to paint before her mother was awake.   Eventually her dedication won her mother over and she allowed Mary Anne to take art lessons and became a full time artist.  Mary Anne married Harry Criddle in 1836. She continued to paint even after she assumed care for her brother’s three sons after he and his wife both died in 1840. Mary had a son Percy in 1844 and was left to care for him and her nephews on her own after her husband died in 1857.  Interestingly Mary’s son Percy emigrated to Manitoba where he became a successful farmer. Mary Anne’s sight was negatively effected by oil paint so she ended up switching to water colors.  She became an honorary member of the British Society of Painters in Water Colors but she and the other three  female members were forbidden from sharing in any financial profits from the society. Her work was widely shown at exhibitions in the England and America. 

In an interesting video on the Art Gallery of Ontario website curtor Caroline Shields points out intriguing details in Mary Anne’s self- portrait.  The shawl Mary Anne is wearing wrapped around her shoulders in the portrait is wrapped around the back of her chair and she is not holding the staff in her hand in the painting.  The portraits on the wall behind her were done by famous Spanish artists. There is evidence of Mary Anne’s interest in other art forms- the sculpture on the floor, the open literature books on the table, the musical instrument-a guitar propped in the right corner and Mary’s water color portfolio open on the floor. Mary Anne also appeals to our senses- smell with the flowers on the table- touch with the rich texture of her skirt, hearing with the guitar- and sight- with all the details in the room. 

If I hadn’t been familiar with Norman Rockwell’s unique self-portrait I might not have taken note of Mary Anne’s  and photographed it as I walked through the vast collection on display at the AGO. When I am in a place like the Art Gallery of Ontario which is literally LOADED with more wonderful art than you could explore in a month, it is always interesting for me to think about why certain works catch my eye, make me stop for a second look, prompt me to take a photo and when I get home find out more about the artwork. 

I am curious about what artworks Mary Anne’s self -portrait will inspire me to take a closer look at, in future visits to other art galleries. 

Other posts……..

A Tale of Two Portraits

Thirties Prairie Portraits

Portraits in Hope


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What would you recommend?  When we went to Toronto last weekend  one of the reasons we had a good time is because we used the recommendations of others to plan our visit there.  On the recommendation of one of my writing friends Suzanne I attended a conference for children’s writers and illustrators.  I enjoyed it throughly.  

The Carisma restaurant recommended by our friends had moved to a new location but the food and service was still excellent

On the recommendation of our friends Terry and Audrey we went to an Italian restaurant called Carisma for dinner and the food and service were fantastic.  On the recommendation of a young woman named Sane who I gave a tour of the Winnipeg Art Gallery in summer I visited the Type book store and bought a biography I’ve been wanting to read and a Frida Kahlo calendar for a friend who likes her artwork.

At the Royal Alexandra Theatre to see Come From Away

On the recommendation of our friend Rudy we attended the play Come From Away and enjoyed it as much as he did. 

Thanks for the recommendations everyone.  We had a great time!

Other posts……..

The Caplansky Experience

Fun Evening in Toronto

Red Bows For Michael’s Geese?  Think Again. 


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Old Sun and Emily Carr

Old Sun by Adrian Stinson – Art Gallery of Ontario

I was intrigued by this artwork in the center of a large round room at the Art Gallery of Ontario.  Our guide told us the piece was called Old Sun and was by Blackfoot artist Adrian Stinson.  Old Sun was a relative of Mr. Stinson’s and a revered medicine man, warrior and leader among the Blackfoot. He refused to sign Treaty 7 with the Canadian government and thought it would be better to fight and die to preserve the Blackfoot way of life.  

Old Sun Residential School

Ironically Anglican missionaries named a residential school built on Blackfoot land after Old Sun. If you look carefully at the artwork you can see it is made out of bison fur which represents the Blackfoot ties to the land but the light above casts an image of the Union Jack on the fur- a symbol of colonization. Old Sun is displayed in a room full of works by artists from the Group of Seven who were painting at the same time as residential schools like Old Sun, the one on the Blackfoot nation, were in operation and at a time when indigenous artists would not have received recognition for their work nor would they have been invited to display it in publicly funded galleries as Mr. Stinson is doing today. 

Church in Yuquot Village by Emily Carr

Also included in the room is an artwork by Emily Carr which she painted on Vancouver Island in 1929. It shows a church on the Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nation.  Emily called her artwork Indian Church but in May of 2018 the Art Gallery of Ontario decided to rename it Church in Yuquot Village because they felt it was a less discriminatory title. The church is still standing but has been decommissioned by the Catholic hierarchy and now serves as a community centre in Yuquot. 

The renaming of the Emily Carr painting, the inclusion of indigenous art in almost every room of the gallery, as well as didactic panels in First Nations languages, are some of the changes towards indigenization I noticed since my last visit to the AGO two years ago. 

Other posts……..

Art That Makes You Feel Sick


Life Symbols

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It Depends How You Look At It

I spent last weekend in Toronto with my husband Dave.  I had planned the weekend as my 65th birthday celebration.  I would attend a children’s writers conference, we would go and see the musical Come From Away, we’d visit the art gallery, a book store, and have meals in some good restaurants. Looking back on our weekend I am reminded of the blog post I did about Daniel Kahneman who says we can choose how we will remember an experience. If I choose to remember the things that went wrong during our time in Toronto I will think of our holiday as a negative experience. If however I choose to remember the positive things we will have had a successful holiday. 

Not everything went right during our weekend in Toronto as my husband’s face demonstrates

So I will choose not to think about the fact that ………..

it was freezing cold and pouring rain when we arrived in Toronto. My husband’s navigating skills went a little awry so we took a wrong bus and ended up walking several kilometers with our luggage in the freezing conditions to our bed and breakfast. I was completely soaked and my fingers were icicles by the time we arrived. 

 I got the times wrong for the movie we wanted to see one afternoon and when we arrived at the theatre the movie was half over. 

We walked by an art gallery featuring the work of Robert Wiens who my husband knew as a teenager. Robert’s show had just closed the previous day. 

We missed an art show by a friend of my husbands’ by one day. 

The  private consultation I had arranged for with a children’s book editor about a manuscript of mine was disappointing. He told me while my book was  funny and well written, there simply wouldn’t be a big enough market for it because of its content.

So I will choose to remember the fact that……….

The conference I attended had one great speaker after another and I met so many interesting people who were all children’s writers. 

The musical Come From Away was simply marvelous and engaged my full attention from start to finish. 

There were lots of great things to see at the Art Gallery of Ontario

There were so many new and fascinating things to see at the Art Gallery of Ontario. 

We discovered a marvelous new little coffee shop called The Library.

My birthday weekend in Toronto was a success.  That’s how I will choose to remember it!


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Writers All Around

At the Packaging Your Imagination conference I attended in Toronto for children’s book writers and illustrators I met so many interesting people, all eager to talk about their writing projects.  It was just great! Inspired by the drawing of one of presenters Ruth Ohi and emboldened by several books I’ve read recently about how everyone can be an artist, I decided to do some quick sketches of ten of the writers I chatted with to give you an idea of the variety of folks I met.   

 A television weather reporter who has an idea for a non-fiction book explaining weather to children.  A young mother working on a book inspired by her kids about a loaf of pumpernickel bread and a pickle.  An accountant who has finished a book about friendship he wrote for his two sons. A woman who loves the north and has written a book about grizzly bears.  Her husband is a nature photographer who took the pictures for the book.  A former garment industry executive who has finished a book about a raccoon that lived on the streets of Toronto. An auntie who has attended the conference several times before and writes poems for her nieces and nephews. The mother of an employee at a major publishing house who has written a historical fiction novel that involves time travel. A woman who wishes she were Italian but isn’t and has published two books for children- one about hoarding and another about food intolerance. The owner of a Newfoundland dog who has published a book about how autistic children deal with sensory overload. 

The mother of two film producers who has written a middle grade novel about a girl who has to move to France where she doesn’t speak the language and doesn’t know anyone. 

And that’s just a sample of the intriguing writers  I met. Although the speakers at the conference were great – chatting with the interesting people who are also working on children’s books was just as fascinating. 

Other posts……..

The World is Full of Interesting People

A Fascinating Conversation in a Tiny Wine Shop in Lisbon

Our Guides in Asia

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Come From Away- A Musical For Our Time

At a bar called The Batch discussing Come From Away after the show.

After we saw the musical Come From Away at the Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto my husband and I went to a nearby pub to talk about it.  We both loved the instrumentalists whose Celtic music accompanied the show. We thought the story telling was superb.  Sometimes in a musical all the singing detracts from the story.  In Come From Away it certainly does not.  For those of my readers who aren’t familiar with the story of Come From Away it is based on the true experiences of the residents of Gander Newfoundland and what happened when some 7000 airplane passengers were stranded in their town during the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001.  

The people of that small community literally opened their homes and hearts and public spaces to all these strangers from around the world feeding them, entertaining them, caring for them and building relationships with them. The musical shows us what a diverse group of people emerged from the 38 planes stranded in Gander.  There were folks from many different countries, who spoke many different languages, followed many different religions and were of different races.  There were people from different social classes and different income levels and different sexual orientations.  Somehow they all managed to become friends and care for one another and support each other in a time of crisis. 

We are at a point in history when the ruling political party in the United States wants to build a wall and shut their doors to people who are in a desperate situation, when racial discrimination and anti-Semitism seem to be rearing their ugly heads once again, when the American president issues edicts to ban Muslims from his country and stop transexual people from serving in the military.  At a time like that it is refreshing and inspiring to see a musical where differences between people are celebrated and seen as strengths, where doors are opened and not closed to those in need.

Waiting for the play to start at the Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto

There’s a scene near the end of a play when a woman from New York and a woman from Gander who have become friends are talking on the phone.  They like to share jokes.  The woman from Gander says…… “Want to hear a Newfie joke?”  The woman from New York familiar with the routine says,  “Knock, knock” and the woman from Newfoundland says “Come on in. The door’s open.”    

That’s the essence of the play.  All these strangers in need knocked on the door in Gander and the local people there said, “Come on in.”  Wouldn’t it be great if our world worked like that?

The musical Come From Away sells out wherever it is staged in Toronto, New York, Winnipeg and in 2019 its going to be in Dublin, London and Sydney. I bought our tickets four months ago and there were only a few seats still available  that long before the performance.

My husband and I decided a big reason why Come From Away has become so popular is because even though the events in the drama happened nearly two decades ago they provide a message of hope for our time and inspire kindness.  It portrays our world the way so many of us wish it could be. 

Other posts………

A Musical Mural in Toronto

Marc Chagall and Fiddler on the Roof

Jersey Boys

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Here is a fossil of a giant sea scorpion found in North American waters millions of years ago.

Here is indigenous artist Norval Morrisseau’s painting of the water panther god Misshipehu. It moved through the same waters as the ancient sea scorpion.
The two items are displayed near each other at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Can you see any resemblance?

Other posts……….

Ojibwa in Paris

Life Symbols

Art That Makes You Feel Sick



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Filed under Art, Nature, Toronto

Ojibwa in Paris

houle paris:ojibwaThis unique installation at the Art Gallery of Ontario called Paris/Ojibwa is by artist Robert Houle. It is a moving memorial  for Ojibwa dancers who died while entertaining the French court in 1845.  The story starts with American artist George Catlin who traveled extensively in the west painting hundreds of portraits of indigenous people.  He decided to bring his ‘Indian Gallery’ to Europe and display it there. He thought he might attract more viewers for his exhibit if he brought along an indigenous dance troupe organized by George Henry Maungwudaus an Ojibwa interpreter. The troupe performed in London and at the royal court in Paris where King Louis Philipe presented the dancers with medals.  Unfortunately six of the troupe caught small pox in Europe. They died never to return to Canada. 

Version 2Robert Houle has painted four of these ill-fated dancers, Maungwudaus’ wife Uh wis sig gee zig goo kway and three of her children and shows them on a return journey to Canada, a trip that because of their untimely deaths, they were never able to make themselves.  Above the portraits are the names of the dancers and underneath each portrait is an illustration of the small pox virus that killed them. houle paris:ojibwaRobert Houle paints the portraits on the walls of a reconstructed Parisian salon. There is a bowl of sage on a pedestal at the front of the salon and you hear quiet drum beats as you view the installation. 

houle parfleches for the last supper

Parfleches for the Last Supper 1983 by Robert Houle at the Winnipeg Art Gallery

I was drawn to Paris/Ojibwa because of its creator Robert Houle.  We have an installation of his called Parfleches for the Last Supper on view at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. Many years ago I interviewed Mr. Houle for a Free Press column of mine.  It was interesting to see a more current work of his, especially one that tells such a moving and tragic story. 

This post has been updated here. 

Other posts………

Life Symbols

Giving Slaves a Modern Humanity

Art That Makes You Feel Sick

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Filed under Art, Toronto, winnipeg art gallery