This City Has 24 Hours

John Yeung         .53

In one of the St. Mark・s get together, one member mentioned that after he came back from a China trip, Toronto became more obvious to him that it was really a drag city, no entertainment, no fun, and no culture.

On that day on, I decided to do a searching for the meaning of :fun;.

:Fun; meant different things to different age groups. As I was just about to retire, so, one day, I decided to do a free loathing in a small particular section of the City of Toronto, and came up with some :fun;, a term I used to suit me at my age.

On one early weekday morning, I left my house in the dawn, and drove downtown on Don Valley Parkway, conveniently called DVP by the broadcast traffic reporters.

On my way, I was struck by the beautiful fall colours of the valley, at a 45 degree under the morning sun. This was the best hour to take pictures because of the colour of the sunrays. I scrambled to the next exit, found a convenient spot in a hideout place, took out my camera, and captured the once-a-year Parkway scene (see below).

Next stop, I parked my car on Asquith Avenue, on the south side of the Toronto Public Reference Library. I set up my 180mm camera lens in my car, and took a series of pictures of the office workers, as they were about to enter the Bell telephone exchange building on Asquith in the morning. My intention was, I could love these pictures to do a photo essay. Here they are (please see next 2 pictures).

If you see the sense of humour of these pictures, you have it. If you don・t, you don・t have it.

After the picture taking, I warmed myself up in the Library lounge. There, I mingled with the young bright students, the not so bright city loafers, the freelance newspaper researchers, and the shopping bags ladies, over a cup of hot Second Cup coffee. On an average day, there were no fewer than a dozen homeless people frequenting the congenially, classless lounge. On a warm day, a homeless lady would feed the pigeons with crumbs just outside the lounge.

Just one short block north of the Library was one of Toronto・s oldest landmarks, Masonic Building, at the corner of Davenport and Yonge. In the sixties, this building used to host dances on Fridays and Saturdays. Now it is owned by CTV TV station. Across from this building was a parkette, bounded by Scollard and Davenport. There, you would find the highest number of pigeons, per unit of space, in the city, each one trying to compete for the crumbs tossed by a homeless person on a sunny day.

It was then the late morning. I strolled over to Bay Street. Half a block from Bay Street was Toronto's first gay street, the Philosopher・s Trail. It became known as a gay street since the .50s.

There, I met a street vendor, who were selling colourful hand-crafted copies of the Desiderata. For $10, I bought two beautiful copies. Later, I gave them away to some friends as gifts.

It was a mere four minutes walk from there to the Hart House, U. of T. men・s athletic house. So, I spent another hour in the Hart House music room, listening to some vinyl records of yesteryears. One of my favourite records was the one with the :Solvejg・s Song; by Peer Gynt. This song reminded me of the harmonica tune I heard each and every morning from Radifusion in Hong Kong back in the early .50s.

I could have lunch in the Hart House upper gallery VIP dinning hall, where the U. of T. staff and academics dined, overlooking the students cafeteria, and to rub elbows with some of the professors and the Noble laureate. But I had chosen to walk down to St. Patrick・s Church on St. Patrick Street. I went there not to pray, but for a good simple fulfilling lunch for a few bucks. They served reasonably good food to the people in the know. Quite a few Oriental employees from Ontario Hydro went there for lunch.

After lunch, I hopped over to the next street, McCaul St., across from the Ontario College of Art. There the international food court was one of the best in Toronto. I had a cup of freshly brewed Turkish coffee for a buck, and sat there for a breather. From there, I walked to the City Hall underground parking lot on Chestnut Street.

From the south side of the underground parking lot, I walked through the pedestrian walk under Queen Street, to the gateway of the miles of underground arteries of arcades and tunnels for shops and restaurants.

As I strolled along the underground laneways, I also renewed my friendships with a couple of the vendors whom I sold the businesses to some years ago when I was hustling in real estate selling.

At the end of the clusters of underground shopping lanes of course was the grand old building called Union Station for railway trains. This building was one of the most architecturally stylist buildings in Metro Toronto. The tall, gothic columns in the façade, and the high ceilings inside was unique design to allow the morning sun rays penetrate through the open space from the windows on the east. These sunrays would create a spectacular setting to a photographer.

But, unfortunately the day was getting old, and the passengers filing into the station all had a long day behind them. Those who headed home by GO trains were oblivious to the building altogether. They passed through the building twice a day, five days a week. Occasionally, if they had a moment to spare before they catch the GO train, they would stop at the main lottery kiosk to buy a lottery ticket.

On the upper level of the station, one would see a few individuals loitering in the station. These were the normal out-of-town passengers waiting for their trains to pull in. They too were not mindful of the beauty of the building structure. This building, sparingly used for train travels during the last forty years, seemed to be hallow and forlorn. It was not the functional place as used to be anymore.

There was a tavern in the west end of the station where one could buy a bottle of beer and watched the favorite sports on the big screen TV・s. The food in the tavern was reasonably good, if one cared to catch a bite there while waiting for the trains. There were also a number of good fast food vendors who competed with one another for the business from the same number of passengers every day. One donut shop served very good donuts and pastry.

One Jewish woman owned a small lotto kiosk at the entrance from the subway station. She only operated the kiosk a few hours a day, only to pass her time. The other main lotto kiosk was owned and operated by a Korean. He bought the business from a Chinese man for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Earlier, I spent many an agonizing late evening to negotiate the sale of his kiosk business to a client of mine, but of no avail.

To make up for his heavy investment, this Korean also worked to the full extent every day, until the last passenger walked through the gate each night.

After mid-night, when the last passenger had boarded the last train, one would find that there was nothing else to hang on in this station any more. Then I walked over to the Royal York・s bar through the underground pedestrian shuttle walk. The band had apparently been disbursed at this time of the night. A piano player lingered on the keyboard to appease the few out-of-towners.

In the hay days, this same bar used to host song-stresses such as Peggy Lee and Ella Fitzgerald as an annual event. I heard the song, :Feeling; for the first time, when I passed by this bar one evening, some 20 years ago. I was so impressed with the song that I bought the vinyl the next day.

As the autumn night was getting chilly, I walked briskly up on York Street to the City Hall square, passed the square to Dundas and Elizabeth. On this corner (second door from Elizabeth), was the location for a small Chinese restaurant, which started business from the early 70s. This was the hide-away little restaurant famous for spicy Chinese dishes. In the early morning hours, most of the patrons were cab drivers, late night workers and gamblers. I ordered a plate of oyster-fried noodle. It was almost superb at this time of the morning.

From the restaurant, I walked a couple of short blocks to Yonge and Bond, beside the Sam the Record Man store. A couple of hardy souls were still playing chess on a concrete chess table.

I spent many enjoyable evenings in A & A Records Store, and Sam the Record Man. In those early years, vinyl record covers provided colourful pictures of the artists and the background of the songs. It was a sheer joy just to flip through some of these records as a past time on a Friday or Saturday night, in one of these stores.

Across the record stores was the start of Elm Street, where the Barberian・s Steak House was located. It was perhaps the oldest steak house of its class in the city. Elizabeth Taylor and many other movies stars once dined in this restaurant. Thai Sensations Café was across the street. It was located in the building once was a women・s residence.

Some forty years ago, one funny thing happened on my way to a dance. I was told to pick up my escort from a women・s residence on Elm without realizing that she meant the Branksome Hall on Elm Ave., in Rosedale. I went, single-mindedly, to the women・s residence on Elm Street. An agonizing moment followed that incident naturally.

At this hour, the streetwalkers had already left for the night (or day), but there remained one or two delinquent youths of out-of-towners plying on that section of the street looking for a john.

The sun started to crawl above the horizon, and I felt really tired but not bored. So, I dragged myself to the Wellesley Subway station to take a subway back to the Public Central Reference Library, and picked up my car again from the Baker・s Dozen Donut parking lot behind the Library.

As I was driving back home on DVP, I was wondering what a difference a day made. Yesterday, I was away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Today, I was right in the middle of the stop-and-stop traffic on the Parkway.


The parkette on Davenport and Scollard has now turned into a site for the high-rise condominium development. I feel sorry for the pigeons for they have nowhere to go to for rest and feeding.

All the office workers in the Bell Asquith Building had been relocated to elsewhere. The building is now used for telephone exchange equipment only.

The St. Patrick・s Church had been closed for luncheons for some years now. The reason, most of the Oriental staff from Ontario Hydro had been given an early retirement package, and they had accepted it.

The Ontario Hydro now is called Hydro One.

Plan had been proposed to refurbish the Union Station. But the hundreds of million dollars required to undertake this project by a consortium of companies would ensure that this plan needed decades, if not millennium, to be finalized, between the three levels of Governments.

Sam the Record Man had declared bankrupt. Later, his son took over the business.

Last but not least, if anyone of the readers feel bored of the city, please let the author of this article know, I might be of some help.