The Toronto Years

Ten Months of Sheltering in Place

Christmas came and went. For the first time in my life, I did not go to Vancouver Island for the holidays, and did not go to Vancouver to see friends. I kept the family tradition of eating Pizza Hut pizza on Christmas Eve alive, as did my family. On Christmas Day, I cooked Christmas dinner for myself. Turkey (though fried, not baked) with Brussels sprouts, mashed potatoes and stuffing and gravy. With that under my belt, I'm hopeful that for Christmas 2021 I'll be able to help my family cook it. I spent New Year's Eve wandering around my apartment looking for fireworks, and instead finding people on their stoops and wishing them a Happy New Year, then staying up to watch the replay of CNN's NYE coverage.

Before the holidays started, the Province of Ontario announced that enhanced lockdown measures would start on Boxing Day. While Toronto stores were open for curbside pickup, York Region stores and malls were open, and the predicable happened. Currently, as of this writing in the second week of January 2021, all of Ontario is subject to a "stay at home" order. (I wish it was a "shelter in place" order.) This is different than a curfew…somehow. I had read that theory about Quebec's 8 PM curfew was to cut down on people visiting for dinner and staying late. It seems unclear to Ontario's police forces what reasons people will be allowed to claim for not being home. I interpret the exception for exercise allowing me to continue running, though I expect not to be able to take a self-guided architectural tour of Toronto without being asked what I'm up to. Beyond that, not much has changed for me, since there's nowhere for me to go except the grocery store and restaurants for takeout. I don't expect a supply chain disruption this time, since it's at a pandemic equilibrium. I still have years' worth of soap and toilet paper, and that was from not wanting to have to go to the store for it so often pre-pandemic.

Vaccination is taking place, happening slower than expected at the outset. I don't expect to get mine until well after older, higher-risk and essential groups of people get theirs. Though I normally favour American terms, I've taken to calling it "the jab" after the British term for it. While I wait, I'm getting ahead of the anxieties around vaccines by listing them and adding to a thread of anxiety-causing headlines I come across.

It feels like end-of-March/start-of-April again. I'm re-visiting an infographic of things that I can control and things I can't control on a daily basis again, though this time around, toilet paper is plentiful, both in stores and in my own storage. I expect this two-month period to be the worst of it, but I don't know what to expect afterwards.

University of Toronto Heritage

To ring in the new year, I completed the University of Toronto tour from Toronto Architecture: A City Guide by Patricia McHugh and Alex Bozikovic. It took place over 3 separate days, the first day cut short by the need to return to attend a virtual event, and the second day cut short by snow. (I didn't want to get the book wet.) The University of Toronto is located in Downtown Toronto, next to several museums and art galleries, the legislature of Ontario, and a hospital district. To say it's where much of the innovation, just in general, in Canada happens would be an understatement. It's a short bike ride away from where I live, and It's about a 25-minute walk, which I found out today because I wanted to drink a coffee en route.

University College

There's much I learned about the university on this tour. Their varsity basketball team arena is below ground, and features of the university that I hadn't noticed before, like Perly Rae Gate, were brought to light for me. As large a campus I imagined it to be, it was even larger, requiring at least 2 hours, like 3, to complete the walking tour outlined by McHugh and Bozikovic.

I couldn't visit any interiors due to restricted access during the COVID-19 pandemic. My access would have been limited as a non-student/non-staff member anyway. One day I hope to see some of the grandeur that McHugh and Bozikovic describe in the pages of their book.

I logged my walks with Strava. There was GPS garbage in the last one. I was prepared to fix the GPX data and re-upload it, but that would have required deleting the activity.

Part 1, on December 13th, 2020, cut short by having to go back for a Christmas event:

Part 2, on December 19th, 2020, the one cut short by weather:

Part 3, on New Year's Day 2021:

For more photos, see the full set on Flickr.

Nine Months of Sheltering in Place

Toronto is in lockdown, the most restrictive since the pandemic began. It means no dining out, no gyms, and curbside pickup for retail. No barbers or hair salons. I had decided not to get a haircut after March anyway. I would have been comfortable with getting a haircut, but I'm using the pandemic as an excuse to grow my hair. It's still not an Italy- or Spain-style lockdown, since there's no penalty to going father than 100 metres from one's abode. In my mind, it's still more of a shutdown.

As feared in November, I was inactive the whole month. Earlier this month, trying to list things I enjoyed that had a positive effect on me, I recalled that I hadn't run much, so I've kickstarted that again, starting over with Couch-to-5k, the program that got me into it in the first place. So far so good, as I've completed the first week of the program.

I have been using a mini fridge for about a month now, which keeps beer cold (I would buy individual bottles for that night only, not wanting to store them in a common fridge) and means fewer trips to the amenities room. A full-size fridge still has a mid-January delivery date, but this is a big improvement.

With the Christmas holidays approaching in late November, I decided, for the first time ever, not to travel home to Vancouver Island to see my family. I'm less concerned about what I'll contract and more concerned about what I'll spread. I don't love the idea of spending a whole day travelling and wondering whether I've done everything that's asked of me plus the time spent isolating plus the time spent wondering if that was enough, to see my family for a few hours, and then going through the whole thing again on the way back.

I've always sensed that we were a family where we weren't heartbroken if we couldn't get together, and that's going to be the case here, too. There's parts of B.C. I miss like crazy (the people, the mountains), but I always remember the parts I don't miss as well (the rain, how every conversation inevitably turns to the topic of real estate). I hope there's something to see over the holidays in Downtown Toronto that doesn't require a car, and if not, my bookshelf is 2/3 unread books. And FaceTime is a thing. So I think I'll be OK.

University Heritage

Faced with the need to get some sunshine and exercise the day before it was expected to rain in Toronto, I flipped through Toronto Architecture: A City Guide by Patricia McHugh and Alex Bozikovic, looking for the closest tour I haven't done yet. University Avenue was the logical choice, as The Globe and Mail had just featured Bozikovic's article on a proposed redevelopment of the boulevard that runs north-south between Front St. and College, with the intersection of College and University marking the confluence of the University of Toronto, the Legislature of Ontario, and a major hospital district.

I started mid-afternoon, on a mid-fall day, so the sun was not cooperative in lighting my shots. Almost every photo in my set on Flickr has a shadow in it, and trees that shed their leaves have lost all of them by this point. Nevertheless, it was a worthwhile jaunt on a very wide street. It is 4 lanes for vehicle traffic. with a recent edition of bike lanes, bisected by trees and places to sit.

University Ave. landscape

University Avenue is rich with architecture, old and new, big and very big. (Not much about University Ave. is small.) I had to laugh at how big the U.S. consulate building it, but how small it is compared to pretty much everything else on the street.

U.S. Consulate General in Toronto

The most interesting building (other than the building with a weather forecast on top of it) is what was originally the Shell Oil Building: “The ornamented, windowless mechanical floor midway up used to be the topmost: the upper seven levels were added In 1966.”

The Ornamented, Windowless Mechanical Floor

University Avenue gave its name to the subway line underneath it (it is now officially called Line 1 Yonge-University), though due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I haven't taken the subway since the end of May. Normally I would take it down to either Osgoode or St. Patrick station, but thanks to the pleasant weather, I biked south, using Toronto Bike Share.

To see the route the tour took me on, see the activity on Strava.

Eight Months of Sheltering in Place

As feared, ActiveTO has come to a close. On the last day possible, I did get out to the eastern eastern section of the Lakeshore Boulevard Activeway, and there were few others there. I learned of some routes to the east side of Toronto that should come in handy during the warmer months, especially if there are activities at Woodbine Beach. Taking transit there was a bit of a slog pre-pandemic anyway, and there are safe bike paths even without closing the street to cars. The mission was to see the eastern section of it before it ended, and my mission was more than accomplished.

I see the tweet that started the above thread appeared in Cycling Magazine and Toronto Storeys along with others who celebrated the freedom to cycle on a major city street.

In less excellent news, my fridge went kaput. This after almost 5 years of living here. It's not a secret that I'm using my building's common area fridge (because I left a detailed note with my contact info in it), and the delivery date for a new one keeps getting pushed out. I made an order from Best Buy for a mini fridge after striking out on Kijiji. I would have liked to give a used fridge another home, but that was not to be. The Best Buy fridge will fit in a good spot, and I imagine I'll be able to sell it when I don't need it. It was also cheap enough that maybe I'll keep it, which would mean having to move with it when that time comes.

I'm about as busy at work as I was before the pandemic. I'm still on the board of two non-profits, with no plans to change that. While the Icelandic club has met on its regular schedule and convened virtual events, my neighbourhood association has been less active. From reading the websites of other neighbourhood associations, I get the sense this has been common.

I'm worried about not finding a replacement activity to keep myself moving (it's going to be running, isn't it?), and I'm worried about having to cancel travelling to British Columbia for the holidays. I'm much less concerned about myself getting the coronavirus than I am passing it on to my parents, who are senior citizens. A co-worker decided that because of the pandemic, it's fine if you say this year doesn't count. He meant towards aging, but I'm applying it to my yearly streaks of going home for the holidays and running in a race.

The very, very good news about an apparently effective and likely safe vaccine was a payoff for my optimism at the outset of the pandemic. I don't expect to receive a vaccine until well into the new year, but this is more or less on schedule for what we have been told to expect. It is, in the words of Churchill, the end of the beginning.

Seven 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.


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:

Six 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.

Five 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.