A group of Scarberia-raised artists seeking inspiration hosted a tour two weeks ago to show that the burb’s more than a mess of strip malls, car dealerships and bad transit. Here are some of their fascinating checkpoints – and a primer on what downtowners don’t know about the city’s far east.
Here I am Saturday afternoon, August 14, aboard the Magic Bus riding around Deepest Scarborough with a gaggle of adventurers seeking Scarberian inspiration for an upcoming art show.
Show bus organizer Michelle Rumball was born and bred around Midland and Lawrence. She and her childhood classmates attended the sod-turning for the Scarborough Civic Centre, which no doubt marked her for life. She's wearing a vest from Notre Dame, the same Catholic high school I attended for two years and I am thankful for the memory-blocking techniques I have learned since then.
Her cohort Mark Hazen, too, was raised in deep Scarboro, which, according to most printed signs, is trying to shed the "ugh" at its end. But he has included it on the handsome T-shirts he's screened for us featuring a hydro tower emitting bolts of zigzaggy power.
The bus is fizzing with energy as we take off, to the first of countless versions of Are You Going To Scarborough Fair? Up the Kingston Road past my grade school and church, the funeral parlour where my father was laid out last fall, my mother's apartment and the Alpine Hotel. I walked this strip as a kid. I vowed I'd escape. I'm on the wrong bus!
Out around Midland or so, in back of McDonald's, is a mural whose creation was guided by Sady Ducros, who's on the bus. Community participation was sought to come up with a work that goes from cave drawings through European art to modern graffiti.
No time to linger as we plunge on east. A good rendering of the Bluffs prettifies a wall on the north side.
On the grounds of the stunning St. Augustine's Seminary and Scarboro Foreign Missions is another mural that Ducros was involved in. It includes a copy of a piece originally done in Chiapas, Mexico that was destroyed there and reproduced by artists around the world as an act of solidarity.
Gavin, our driver, successfully navigates the precipitous drop down to Bluffers Park. We turn left past the big marina to the beautiful beach marked "temporarily" unsafe for swimming. I swear there are some hoodoo sand pillar things here that they use in rock videos, but nobody knows what I'm on about.
I set off through the willow scrub and tall grasses at the base of cliffs named by Mrs. Simcoe after the Scarborough Bluffs in England. I soon become mired in clay that seems fine enough for skin treatments (Scarboro Spa) and suitable for Scarboroware ceramics. There is plenty of charcoal on fire sites and there are cig packs and beer cartons.
Chugging (the bus, not beer) up the hill and east, we get a suggestion from Michelle over the megaphone: "If you ever want to give yourself a large headache, go to the TTC Web site and try to figure out the history of railways on Kingston Road."
South through Guildwood, we come to the site of the visionary artists' colony founded in the 1930s by Rosa and Spencer Clarke amid Carolinian forest atop the Bluffs. Arches, pillars and sculptures covered with feathers, faces and flowers of carved stone, salvaged from Toronto's pathological 20th-century destruction of any trace of architectural beauty or integrity, repose in this majestic setting.
The original Guild Inn was expanded with a groovy 1960s-style balconied hotel. The city has inherited the place, which has been boarded up and left to rot. Even my mother suspects this was no accident but a bit of passive assistance to the cause of developers who long to exploit this rare gem that has been shamefully disrespected in true Toronto style. One of the abandoned little log cabins would be just right for a resourceful pioneer such as myself.
We leave the sounds of cardinals and cicadas and roll out past the subdivision around Kennedy and Lawrence, where you can live on Mike Myers Drive. The lunch stop is the Wexford Restaurant. Their claim to fame, "620 million eggs cracked," makes me a bit queasy. That, and I only have $5. I eat my tasty $2 spanakopita from Athena Bakery in front of the Islamic Super Store - "Buy two hejab, get one free." Reid's Dairy supplies me with an ice cream cone for only $1.06.
The "smoking allowed, but no cigars" sign convinces me to take a dollar from my emergency streetcar fare to have a draft and a friendly natter in the lounge adjoining the Wexford. Saris, Royal Kerala South Indian grocery and Uncle Seth's African, Caribbean and Asian foods will have to wait till next time.
Around behind the Lawrence LRT station is Ducros's first graffiti-style mural about his life in Scarborough, with a quote from Lao Tzu. Ducros believes that the building owner's support has kept it from being whitewashed away.
A few more turns and we're at the home of "a typical Scarborough family." Michelle's parents, brothers, sisters-in-law and nieces and nephews playing hockey are out to greet us. In her mother's hand is a giant basket of homemade cookies. How very sweet. A long way from the east end/Scarboro I vaguely recall of hot knives and home-job tattoos.
Then, oh, I don't know. Back on the bus, everybody's singing along with Bob Dylan. There's this windy countryish road, a cemetery, we skip the Scarborough Historical Museum and then make a stop that seems to enthrall the artists. Miles of labyrinthine pipes and mysterious metal structures produce International Waxes, which you can smell in the air. This is our Industrial Romantic period.
We cross Steeles into Markham to visit the famous Pacific Mall. I'm braced to be overwhelmed but am a bit disappointed at my ability to cope with the piles of ginseng, jade and junk. Downstairs there's a ping-pong tournament and upstairs they're making ice cream waffles next to the mesmerizingly hideous purple crystal horses and miniature fountains with steam pouring out.
I hope the artists are feeling inspired. By the time we get to the Golden Mile Plaza, which was opened by the Queen, I'm getting depressed. Toronto didn't take over Scarborough. Scarborough's taken over Toronto. Suburbs are eating the world. Stop the bus and let me off. But where?