Monday, July 4, 2011

Doors Open, 2007

Grandeur, Grace, and Repairs

Although the Jack Layton endorsed fundraiser for St. Stephens-in-the-Fields certainly helped, this parish has a long way to go before it can truly declare itself out of harms way. Condo development’s harms way, that is. Their on-going community initiatives, however, are still going strong, including their seasonal out-of-the-cold initiative and their community breakfasts that take place every weekend.  The room in which the breakfasts are held (the west wing) also happens to be the oldest part of the building that survived the fire of 1865. All other portions were added in the proceeding decades.

Light fractured by the intricate stained glass windows on the parish’s east side falls on their most impressive feature: the Ryder Pipe Organ. This piece has a compelling history on its own, having been acquired from another Toronto church and installed to its current placement in 1906.  If you want to hear it in action, you’ll have to drop by as organ masters Ross Trant and Robbie Beaumont will be having a go at it during Saturday and Sunday respectively.

Garth Hudson wanted to have a go at it…” laughs the parish’s Sexton Jim Sutherland, “but as an instrument, it’s terribly unreliable.  Beautiful, but unreliable.”  Sutherland also mentioned that Daniel Langlois was involved in attempting to use the chapel for its acoustic niceties, but that plan too fell through when it was realized the organ couldn’t be played on a constant basis. “It’s worth the wait though,” Sutherland adds, “It’s a very impressive instrument.”

With any luck, enough interest will be generated in the space to prevent St. Stephen’s from having to sell.  Maintenance is obviously key, and one can only hope that it won’t fall victim to what appears to be this municipality’s trend of neglect-and -demolition.

Bonus Trivia: Any wonder why it’s called “In the Fields”?  When it was built, it was situated in a, well, a field.  The church was at the end of a path that led to University Avenue.  Yep, it was a country church. Yee-haw.

Also in Need of a Tune-Up:

The Church of the Redeemer celebrates 119 years of gracing the corner of Bloor and Avenue Rd with its elegant, stone structure.  It too has a pipe-organ and the impressive stained glass, but something I always found peculiar about this building was the pulpit.  It features a sculpted wooden panel, commonly refered to as a “reflector” or “canopy” that forms a kind-of halo behind the orator’s head, gently bends towards the congregation before him, much like the curve of a speaker.  This is old-fashioned acoustics at work, and while the church now has an electrified sound system, it’s a treat to see an instrument such as this still on display.

This church remains unique also in its choice as a venue for many a musician.  The likes of Bjork, Emily Haines, and the Great Lake Swimmers have all used it as a place to hold rock and roll court.

Sadly, this church is in need of a few repairs as well, and has also started an initiative to raise awareness about its structure and plans for its future.

Grace is the Word 

Don’t forget to check out the Hare Krishna Temple, north on Avenue if you’re still in the neighbourhood. Other venues of interest include St. Michael’s Cathedral on Bond, St. Paul’s Basilica on Power, or going north up to Sheppard to visit Toronto’s “greenest” church, St Gabriel’s Passionist Parish.

Where do we go when we die, Mommy? 

Well dear, wherever you go, do it in style.  The Toronto Necropolis, Chapel and Crematorium is part of Toronto’s finest in the business of that particular inevitability.  The leaves are out, so take a pleasant stroll through their grounds which dip into Rosedale Valley, part of the beauty of the west bank of the Don River.  The gorgeous chapel (on a hill!) at the ground’s entrance boasts a High Victorian Gothic design with the Crematorium below.

Also: Visit the Distillery District tunnels at Building 35. The stores up top may seem a bit frou-frou, but don’t let that deceive you. These underground curiosities are open exclusively for Doors Open, so get going.

“And the award for the best-place-where-you’ll-get-slapped-with-a-hefty-fine-if-you-visit-on-any-other-day goes to…”

For all those transit lovers, here’s your chance to have a look at the long-abandoned Lower Bay Station, located, you guessed it, just below one closer to ground level. For those of you who took the Bloor line when the TTC was in repairing mode earlier this year, you might remember that some of the trains ran through, but didn’t stop at this station. I was in transit bliss to be able to see the station, even from the train’s windows. Sometimes it’s difficult to remember what transit looked like before the TTC started selling their wall space, but here’s your chance. Not an ad in sight. And if you want to see where all those cars are repaired, take a jaunt up Bathurst to the TTC Harvey Shops. This one-story piece of masonry glory will perhaps assist your appreciation of public transit complexities.

And speaking of horses…

Make sure you stop in to one of Toronto’s finest small presses, Coach House Books, located behind the street-front properties on Huron. It hasn’t been used as an actual coach house since the 1940s, but it’s still a great place to visit if you want to see where the draft dodgers slept, or where Michael Ondaatje drops in when he has a minute to catch up with the long-time, devoted staff.

If buildings aren’t really your thing, get yourself down to Queen’s Quay and take a walk along the docks.  There’ll you’ll find the last of the Queen’s fleet, the Empire Sandy.  Built in England and used in the Second World War, this ship has served in the North Atlantic, the Indian Ocean, and the Mediterranean.  It’s also the cause of some understandable envy within the Spadina Quay docks.  It won’t be in action for Doors Open, but once it sets sail, it’s impressive to watch, and entirely worth an extra visit to the docks to see it happen.

On land, but also boat-related is the Queen’s Wharf Lighthouse, located past the west end of Queen’s Quay on Fleet Street.  Along with St. Stephen’s, this too can boast an age older than our country’s constitution.  Built in 1861, this joins the proud but few remnants of the Toronto that saw Tom Thumb impress astonished crowds and witnessed Jenny Lind perform to packed audiences.

Make sure you check out the St. Lawrence Hall on King Street. Now a venue for music video and television shoots, this building was not exclusive to the beautiful voices and the little people. It also housed meetings of the Anti-Slavery Society of Canada. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.