The Toronto Years

7 Months of Sheltering in Place

Since last time I checked in, I had a couple of days of vacation in the same week, meaning two 3-day weekends in a row. I spent one of those days on Toronto Islands again. I played several location-based games, and even ground-truthed a couple of microconfluences. The other day I kept open in case I was needed for helping with an online event the Icelandic Canadian Club held. It was a great success!

I've gotten the hang of wearing a mask, and most shops are open and tensions are a lot lower than they were up until about June. I didn't need to line up outside of a grocery store the few times I needed to go, not that I spent a lot of time waiting to get in. Winter is coming, and I hear people being worried about having to stay outside in the cold before getting provisions, but I don't anticipate that being a problem. I'm more comfortable with buying things again, though almost all online. I recently looked at my new year's intentions for 2020, and other than a big trip that I never got too deep into planning, I've more or less done everything I set out to do this year. That's been somewhat of a surprise.

In late September, I dined in a few times, once at Five Guys Burgers and Fries, another couple of times at the diner across the street from me. Up until then, I had dined exclusively at my apartment (either my own cooking or takeout), or the "balcony" outside the diner across the street. Other than those cases dining at the restaurant on Toronto Islands (both times outside), I did not dine at restaurants. Dining alone is bad enough to begin with. Dining alone and having my guard up was worse.

The gods smiled on me, and while I approached the bike rides along the Lakeshore Boulevard Activeway of September 26th and the 28th as the last of the year, the City of Toronto extended them into October. There are noticeably fewer people on the roads, but Ontario announced increased restrictions on gatherings, calling it Modified Stage 2. That meant no dining indoors at restaurants, and gyms closed. I don't go to gyms, but I know it's a part of a lot of people's lives. Extending ActiveTO was the right move, and I'm looking forward to hearing what's in store for the colder months so that I can stay active. I've lost count of how many times I've ridden along the Activeway, and update my long Twitter thread about it each time.

The course about me started a couple of weeks ago, and it's going well so far, having made my way through 4 workbooks already. I've registered for an American literature course in March, which optimistically states is an in-person course. I anticipate it being held online, even if a vaccine is available.

Throughout the pandemic, I've never felt days melting into others like some people have felt. It doesn't feel like an extension of March, and having a job there I work Monday to Friday, weekends felt like weekends. At work, I would grace Wednesdays with the "What a week, huh?" meme from 30 Rock, but I had to suspend the running joke because it had lost its pre-pandemic edge. I hope to return to days where I can drop the image macro in chat again.

Toronto Islands a Second Time

I've been trying all summer to think of somewhere to go on a day trip. My last outing was to Toronto Islands, and despite a flat tire at the tail end of it, it was a success. I decided against venturing out of town. That was necessarily because I was worried about catching COVID-19 on a train or bus, since the stories I had read of people doing it seemed OK. I just didn't know what I'd do once I got to, say, Kitchener-Waterloo, in-person events having been put on hold this year. So I did what was easy: I took a Bike Share Toronto bike to Toronto Islands again, and this time was even better than the last.

Toronto-on-the-Lake

I play location-based games when I'm out and about. It's a way for me to interact with my surroundings while also passing the time on walks and bike rides. On this trip, I played:

  • Fog of World, with a mechanic I saw first in Warcraft. If you visit a place on the map in that game, the fog at that location dissipates. Once you leave that place in the game, your vision as to what's there becomes limited, but the fact that the fog is gone marks that you had been there. Fog of World is the real life version of that. The game, if you want to call it that, will lure me into places that I haven't defogged, and this time, it was Algonquin Island, a highly residential area of Toronto Islands.
  • Ingress, which defies an one-line explanation, but in brief, you join one of either two teams, and the goal is to cover the most territory in fields. It had occurred to me recently that how one does that is actually faire daunting, but thanks to teamwork, much of the work (laying down resonators, making paths for links) is often done for you. Since it takes a little bit of effort to get to, the portals on Toronto Islands were unclaimed, so I "captured" quite a few by biking around, especially in the amusement park area. It being a non-holiday weekday, there wasn't anybody around to wonder what I was doing there. I haven't stopped playing Ingress completely. Until this trip, I had been holding steady at almost-but-not-quite Level 14. On this trip I crossed the threshold.
  • Foursquare's Swarm, where you get points (coins) by checking into nearby places. Since the start of the pandemic, Foursquare has discouraged people from venturing out by reducing the amount of coins (and thereby reducing your chances of climbing the leaderboard) one gets by checking in. I do it in part out of habit, but also to be able to easily retrace my steps if called upon to do so.
  • Untappd, which tracks beer consumption, and has a location component to it (where one drinks the beer, and, if applicable, where one bought it from). There's no leaderboard or points system, so it barely qualifies as a game.
  • While not a game, I ground-truthed two microconfluences. (What's a microconfluence?) It so happened that one was pretty much the exact location of a church. Did the people who build it know that at the time?

St. Andrew by-the-lake Church

On my last trip to Toronto Islands, the last hour was marred by a flat tire, and I ate the hot dog I was so looking forward to at the ferry terminal, waiting an hour in blustery conditions. This time, I got a seat on the patio overlooking the lake, and enjoyed it a lot more.

I noticed I wasn't the only one who took a Bike Share Toronto bike on the ferry. While on the Islands, on three separate occasions, someone asked me where they could get one. Being from British Columbia, having grown up on Vancouver Island, I think of a larger body of land that's adjacent to an island as "The Mainland" (after B.C.'s Lower Mainland region). So I told them "the mainland" was where they could get it, hoping they knew what I meant. The bike rental shop (a separate entity from the Toronto Bike Share system) was closed that day, so I assumed that's why they were asking. I knew that if I didn't dock a bike every half an hour, it would cost me $4 per hafl and hour not docked. I looked at my credit card bill afterwards, and it cost me $45 in rental. I knew more or less what the cost would be, and happily ate it as a cost of the day trip, but I still wonder what the effect would be of having one or two docks on Toronto Islands. It would make it easy for a family or friends, or even me solo, to justify a trip there and not have to take a bike on a ferry each way. I made my feedback known to Bike Share Toronto, so I hope they consider that if we're still under pandemic restrictions and need a pleasant getaway from the city.

This trip elsewhere on social media:

6 Months of Sheltering in Place

Summer is almost over. I’ve so far weathered the pandemic by continuing to have a job, already having made a bulk purchase in what was temporarily in short supply, and by keeping active by biking the Lakeshore Boulevard Activeway. The office opening up in July gave me respite from the construction across the street. I bike there and back once or twice a week, partly for a change of scenery and food options, but mostly for some peace and quiet.

Winter is coming, but not before Toronto’s typically magical autumn. I tried to plan a day trip out of the city, but I ultimately couldn’t think of what I’d do once I'd arrive at my destination. A boat trip to Toronto Islands soothed the soul in July, and I have some upcoming vacation where I hope to recapture that feeling. The farthest east I've been has been the office, the fathest north I've been is College St., and the farthest west I've been is Windemere Ave. and Lakeshore Drive W. (one end of the aforementioned Lakeshore Boulevard Activeway). I'm hopeful the City of Toronto will continue to encourage active use of the city while the second phase of the pandemic (acceptance of possible shutdowns if cases surge too fast) before the next phase (the safe introduction of a vaccine).

My main worry about the pandemic was not so much getting the disease but the boredom of events not going forward. Only by knowing what we know now (wearing a mask if you can't physically distance, going outside is relatively safe) do I think some of Toronto events could take place. I'm thinking mostly of one of Toronto's best events, Nuit Blanche, where the city becomes an outdoor art gallery and is celebrated now by all 4 corners of it. I'm hopeful an in-person event can be held next October, 13 months from now, instead of this year's online-only event.

I've more or less avoided virtual events. Concerts and movies aren't the same on the smaller screen and my lesser sound systems. I've helped organize an event normally held in person, so I understand the amount of work that goes into it, and the Icelandic Canadian Club of Toronto's upcoming premier event, Thorrablót, will be online-only as well. In-person events is a prime reason I live in a city, and the hope that they'll return have me staying put until we enter the vaccine phase of the pandemic. If I was worried Toronto had turned into a quiet small town during the initial emergency phase of the pandemic, car traffic has returned, restaurants are open (in limited capacity), people are walking the street (masked and unmasked), so big-city life is making an attempt at a return, at least.

I continue to have questions about Canada's, Ontario's, and Toronto's handling of the pandemic. Are hospitals at increased capacity if they have to accommodate a sustained surge? Are better treatments on the way? When the vaccine is approved in Canada, how will health units deliver it? Will I be able to fly home to British Columbia to visit family for Christmas?

In the meantime, I'm making plans to take a course or two in case boredom sets in again. I will miss the deadline for the fall semester of continuing education courses, though the course I stumbled into for this season will be about an unlikely subject: myself. I hope to one day get a chance to talk about that.

5 Months of Sheltering in Place

I'm still riding bikes, and still going to the office once or twice a week. I bought a sturdy lawn chair so I could sit in the park next to my building. I reasoned that it would be a useful thing to have post-pandemic as well. I'm otherwise sheltering in place because there’s no events to attend. At least there are still places to go. I remain optimistic that we'll get to the other side of this pandemic, but I'm also getting used to the idea of not attending any more events in person in the year 2020.

Toronto mandated masks inside public places (and common areas of private places), and has been steadily re-opening businesses, especially restaurants for dining in. Dining solo isn't such a great experience to begin with, but it adds back vibrancy to the city streets. During the pandemic, wearing a mask is the price to pay to go to stores, and that's a fairly small price. I don't think I'm going to like doing it for more than an hour at a time, though, which may come into play if I go on a group day-trip, something I'm considering as a way to get out of town for a few hours.

In an article where the headline signalled pessimism, an interview with Bill Gates in Wired actually gives more hope:

for the rich world, we should largely be able to end this thing by the end of 2021, and for the world at large by the end of 2022. That is only because of the scale of the innovation that’s taking place. Now whenever we get this done, we will have lost many years in malaria and polio and HIV and the indebtedness of countries of all sizes and instability. It’ll take you years beyond that before you’d even get back to where you were at the start of 2020. It’s not World War I or World War II, but it is in that order of magnitude as a negative shock to the system.

(Although the criticism is that it relies too heavily on the idea that innovation will save us when there are established practices for this sort of thing.)

I'm still single, and while this year started off with a date (and for once, a second date), while dating apps reported a surge in signups, I can't report increased matches, so I decided to take all of August off. It was always time-consuming to spend an hour swiping in the hopes of making a match, and then trying to think of something original but sincere and getting to what I call the "values conversation" (i.e. getting beyond small talk to discuss what each other wants in a relationship). Matches seemed to get fewer and further between, so I'm taking the hint and re-tooling in that department.

I haven't learned any new skills or read many books during the shutdown period. Every time I start to feel bad about that, I recall that I've been cooking a lot, writing in my blog more, sitting on my balcony and in the park more, and focussing on learning how to relax, something I'm not sure I've experienced in a while. I have started learning Chinese again, using the Duolingo app, and recalling my time in university, the courses I enjoyed the most were those that assigned short essays based on course readings, i.e. no research outside of the texts already suggested. I'm looking to take such a course again, possibly in a field new to me. One that isn't computers (self-learner) or political science (my university major).

Toronto Islands

I had a vacation day today, the day after a weekend on-call shift. This year I decided I didn't want to work 12 days in a row, so for this weekend and the next time I have pager duty, I have a day off in between. Today started out with breakfast from the diner across the street from where I live, sitting in the park catching up on personal email while sitting on the new lawn chair I bought, and trying to decide whether to visit Toronto Islands. In the COVID-19 era, the ferry there is open to non-residents, at half capacity, and everybody has to wear a mask, even on the top deck, which is open to the elements. I had the presence of mind to take a bad selfie with the CN Tower in the background. How else are people going to know it was taken in Toronto?

I had no plan other than to take a Toronto Bike Share on the ferry and bike around Wards Island, which I hadn't seen much of previously. I was treated to this view of downtown Toronto:

Toronto Islands

It was a short bike ride, no longer than 40 minutes. Near the end of it, I took a wrong turn and ended up on a boardwalk on Centre Island:

Centre Island boardwalk

I had intended to get a hot dog at a local bar (with outside seating), so with half an hour to spare, I did just that. 5 minutes before the ferry was due to leave, I discovered the bike had a flat tire. That meant I had to wait for an hour for the next ferry, and I couldn't venture far due to disabled bike, though I was able to read a book on a bench.

On every trip I take, I try to fit in a boat ride. There's no travel for the foreseeable future, so for $9, that's my boat ride for the summer.

For more photos, see my set of the trip on Flickr.

4 Months of Sheltering in Place

The one thing that has kept me going, from the gloomiest times in March of this year, is that time marches forward no matter what. I look at my Timehop recap of where I went and what I said on this day in previous years on a daily basis, the years seem both so long ago and like it was yesterday. Either way, time will its way, and this too shall one day be in the past. I never lost track of what day it was, thanks to still having a job. (Co-workers lost track of what weekday it was, so I'm not saying continuing to work and have a weekend was the only reason.) I stuck to my Sunday routine and did everything I was allowed to do while taking all the precautions asked of me.) I've read the various articles about experiencing time differently, and that could be true for March and parts of April. That said, May, and especially June, went by about as quickly as they do outside of a pandemic. I experienced a loosening up from the pandemic anxiety as stores opened up again (or closed for good), and restaurants started offering patio service. My beloved diner even came through with a re-opening, first with takeout and then with patio service, which I take advantage of on Saturdays, weather permitting. While planning ahead has been more difficult (no plane travel until at least Christmas, for example), I have been taking it 2 weeks at a time, and that has worked well for my peace of mind.

The other ideas that keep me calm come from an interview with epedimiologist Larry Brilliant. From that I get the confidence there will be a vaccine. (Also a treatment for those that, rolling my eyes here, choose not to take the vaccine.) this quote near the end stands out: “Everybody needs to remember: This is not a zombie apocalypse. It's not a mass extinction event.” To my knowledge there's no obvious treatment, but our knowledge of the virus grows, and, if they're not 100% guarantees, I have yet to hear someone say treatment will definitely never come and that a vaccine is impossible. All signs point to the scientific community coming to a full understanding of the virus this year.

Also encouraging has been that my office has opened up. I have the benefit of living in downtown Toronto, and the office is a 12-minute bike ride away. I'm only comfortable going in twice a week, mainly to get a break from the construction noise across the street from my apartment and to sit in a comfortable chair, and not taking transit to get there. I don't have a plan for the colder months other than working from home, though generally speaking, Toronto has been good about clearing the bike lanes of snow.

I haven’t taken up any new hobbies or restarted many old ones. I have been biking for leisure as much as possible, and have just started doing self-guided architectural tours of Toronto. I’ve been cooking at about the same frequency, but double the amount each time. That and gaming take up most of my time, and reading books has come to be a habit again. I'm still listening to full albums like I had started a few years ago.

I have been spending a lot of time on my balcony. So much so that I have dinner out there regularly, and I now have a storage box so that I make less frequent trips to get things.

In the box I have paper towel, a glass or two, placemats, cutlery, and earplugs for the times I want to have breakfast or lunch out there when construction across the street is happening. I expect to be able to stay out there through September, and possibly October if warmer weather prevails that long. Because of how well things have gone these four months, the only thing I have to plan for is cold weather during lineups to the grocery store, and so far trips have been minimal because I cook using meal kits that are delivered to me weekly.

I've also been making a number of fixes to this blog. It's been nice getting back into the depths of Drupal 7 again, which has had some life breathed into it recently. I've restored the following sections: my bookmarks, no longer syndicated from anywhere; my Flickr photos, which will start being syndicated here shortly, and the station pages of my SkyTrain Explorer section. This is all in anticipation of an upgrade to Drupal 8, though there's at least two years until I have to do that.

King St. W. Heritage

Faced with having someone over to clean my apartment, and nowhere to go, my first idea was to sit on my balcony for 2½ hours. Eating dinner there that evening, it was obvious that being stationary in the sweltering Toronto heat would not be a good idea. If it weren't for the COVID-19 pandemic, I would go to a Starbucks and sit inside for the duration, and cross off some items on my task list. Dining inside is currently not possible, and patio space is at a premium, so I took along my copy of Toronto Architecture: A City Guide by Patricia McHugh and Alex Bozikovic and walked around my neighbourhood, the area of King St. West near Spadina Ave. Starting at Bathurst and King, I walked east and took photos of the buildings and construction sites along what is mostly restaurants and nightclubs, but is transitioning towards high-rise residential. My favourite view along the King St. corridor is the location of where ing Toronto will be located, giving me a temporary view of the side of a building and the CN Tower. That site will be filled by King Toronto, a huge residential development that I quite like, if it comes close to the proposed designs.

View from the development site of King Toronto by Bjarke Ingels Group

The directions too me north on John St., back south to Adelaide, then to Peter St., then the home stretch on Richmond St. W. all the way to Maud St. to see the Waterworks residential and food hall building under construction.

The first walk I took was northbound on Yonge St., which is mythically the longest street in the world, and this was the second walk. All of the buildings were familiar to me, but they didn't have names. Every walk I go on contains a surprise, though, and this was no different. On Adelaide St. W. near Widmer, is a map of the southern parts of Toronto engraved in the sidewalk. I hadn't noticed it before because usually there are chairs and tables on top.

Map of Toronto

It doesn't photograph well, but I admired it as a flat memorial to the city and Lake Ontario. I killed even more time in St. Andrew's Playground Park, itself slated for redevelopment, though the pandemic has delayed that too, if only slightly. Overall the walk serves as a good introduction to my neighbourhood as it changes rapidly.

For all of the photos taken on this architectural tour, visit my set on Flickr.

The Lakeshore Boulevard Activeway is Real, and It’s Spectacular

As soon as it was announced in May, I couldn't wait to bike the sections of Lakeshore Boulevard to cyclists, runners, walkers and others who want to exercise and stay physical distant. My position is: As long as the gyms are closed, the city needs to open up as much public space to move around as possible. I've gone every weekend it has been opened, missing only one day. (After I missed that day, I realized I wanted to go each day the road was open.) I even went on a day when I assumed it was open, but it was closed to active participants because the Gardiner "Expressway" was closed due to repairs.

I don't own a bike, mainly because I don't want to have to lock it up. Instead, I have a monthly membership with Toronto Bike Share. It's a 10-minute walk to the nearest bike share dock (more like the dock that's most convenient to depart from), and after that, it's about an hour of biking. That's from the time I take out my first bike share bike to the time I dock. My yearly membership gives me unlimited 30-minute rides, and as long as I dock at a station. Each day I go, I take a photo to memorialize a moment, add a tweet to the above thread, and I keep track of the rides through Strava. Some days I try to get a personal best, and some days I go for a leisurely ride. The days with a headwind are usually followed by days with a light breeze, so I don't let it demoralize me.

While I appreciate the branding of and the effort into SafewaysTO1, since it refers to roads that have reduced or no car traffic on them, I'm trying to make 'activeway' a thing. That's especially true of Lakeshore Boulevard.2 It hasn't caught on yet.

I still don't know what to make of people using motorized vehicles, like e-bikes and scooters. I guess they're getting some freedom on the open road and outside time, but I don't think that was the idea.

On my rides, I take along my $50 Anker speaker and play music as loud as it will go. Inspired by Roland, I use the Volumatic app to control my volume based on my velocity. As soon as I'm biking full speed, the speaker is at full volume, but when I slow down (such as at a stoplight), it turns the volume down to about 70%. It's especially nice for when I have to dock a bike, since the music still plays, meaning no pausing and unpausing, and no manually having to adjust the volume for nearby ears.

It has been my way to stay active, see the lake, and see other people, which reminds me that we're not locked down even if restrictions on large gatherings are still in place. I haven't yet ridden on the other sections that are open to active users, and that's something I hope to do by the end of summer. Toronto has recently entered Phase 2, meaning patios are open for service and we can get haircuts now. I'm not happy with how long it has taken to flatten the curve, and I think it could have been a lot flatter, but opening up streets to people on weekends has been such an inspired idea that I hope we learn from it, and I hope it can be made a permanent feature of summers in Toronto.


  1. I'm very fond of maps and mapping, but found, to my surprise, that I didn't find the SafewayTO map useful. It has spurred some thinking on how useful I find maps to begin with. I now have more questions than answers, like "What do I use maps for most?" and "What story is any particular map trying to tell me?" and "Is a map the best way to display this?" A map like the SafewayTO map would be very useful in an app like MapinHood and, don't worry, I told them so↩︎

  2. I prefer the spelling Lakeshore to the official Lake Shore. It feels like it should be one word rather than two. ↩︎

Toronto Heritage

When I lived in Vancouver, I wanted a way to explore the city in a structured way, and as someone who loved riding transit, the perfect way to do that was by doing the tours in SkyTrain Explorer: Heritage Walks From Every Station by John Atkin. Having moved to Toronto almost 5 years ago, I was able to see the city through Jane's Walks and other walking tours, and I was on the lookout for something similar to Atkin's book. Toronto Architecture: A City Guide by Patricia McHugh and Alex Bozikovic is a close analogue. While they don't use subway stations as their starting point, I flipped through the book and the tours seemed brisk and informative, not to mention opinionated. (Each tour references others, as they overlap, so the reader is often referred to the building description in another tour by walk number and building number.) I have created a separate page for the architecture I'll take from the book, and the format of that page will closely follow that of the SkyTrain Explorer page.

The book does not direct the reader to each point like SkyTrain Explorer does, and has more to see on each walk than that book does. The book does number the buildings, so you can piece together a route. In the Yonge St. walking tour I just completed, I ran Strava in the background to capture the route I took. You can see the diversions to side streets, as well as deciding not to retrace my steps early on.

Like with the SkyTrain Explorer section, I will embed the photos in a page per walk. It will take some time to upgrade the code behind it, which is a both a major PHP version and Drupal version behind, but I'm looking forward to exploring the city I live in again, and documenting it here along the way.

Two Months of Sheltering in Place

The weeks have gone by a lot faster these past 30 days than the first 30 days. Toronto is slowly loosening it’s restrictions, allowing curbside pickup from retail stores, though all restaurants are still open only for delivery or pickup. So far none of the restaurants I get food from have closed permanently, though I don’t have a lot of hope for the diner across the street from me. I take a walk each day, weather permitting, go grocery shopping for snacks once a week, and as of today, I finally have masks that fit me. A family friend, Ruby, made them for not just our whole family, but my sister’s in-laws as well. We call them our Ruby Masks. It was a heartwarming gesture, one I've seen friends on social media gush about as well when their friends make them masks. I don't know if we're all in this together, but a lot of people are stepping up.

My task list is just as long as it was before the pandemic. If I've said "I'm too busy to do [xyz]," well, that wasn't the reason. I watch more movies than usual, with Saturday having become movie night with co-workers. We stream it over one of the video chat services, and we make up for the low quality with camaraderie during the film. There’s a demand for a service like this, even in a post-pandemic world, or a world in which movie theatres still exist, because of the distributed nature of teams and friends. A browser plugin won’t cut it.

The weather is warming up, and even in a cold May, I’m out on the balcony in the sunlight. I went on my first bike ride of the pandemic to Trinity Bellwoods Park on a warm Saturday, which was followed by a week of cold weather. That all changed this week. I can finally drop my parka off at the dry cleaner.

I've taken two streetcar trips, both of which were back from a computer repair place, having walked to get there. I took note of the time and ID number of the streetcars, but that has been at least 2 weeks ago. The next streetcar I board, I'll be wearing a mask. I still keep track of every place I go using Foursquare's Swarm. While before the pandemic it was a game, the winner getting more points based on how many places they visit, now it has taken on the sombre task of logging where I was in case I need to retrace my steps up to 14 days later.

All concerts I had tickets for to this point have been either cancelled or postponed. I expect the same of June concerts, and any concert happening this year. I know why sports leagues have not cancelled their seasons (they traffic in optimism), though it's all but certain no games will be shown in front of live crowds in North America in 2020.

It's easy to rationalize away the things I miss. "Restaurants weren't such a great experience anyway." "Concerts always had annoyances that I don't miss." "Museums are boring." But I'll go to them when they re-open, taking any precautions that's asked of me. I'm still optimistic that we will get to enjoy what we enjoyed before the pandemic, just in a different way.

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