The closest my suburban heart has ever been to "cottage life" was the three days I spent at the Boyd Conservation Area in grade six, playing Predator And Prey and looking for swamp frogs.
But when I arrive at Queens Quay last Friday expecting a bucolic afternoon "at the lake," it's sans school bus, cute boys or hip waders. These are uncharted waters.
The first thing I see when I get off the streetcar is the four-storey bicycle sculpture marking the beginning of the 4-metre-wide path. Bordering the promenade are a temporary bank of grass and a bed of 12,000 red geraniums running parallel to the tracks.
I stop and stare at the bikes hanging off the giant cage like two-wheeled bats. I like the concept, but after a while I decide it's a bit of an eyesore. Besides, the whole symbolic thing is dwarfed by the skyscraping condos in the background. A water truck goes past spraying the grass, on which no one seems to dare walk, let alone picnic. Maybe it looks too much like the prefab sort of green carpet you get from pesticide spraying.
Welcome to Quay To The City, a 10-day event celebrating the potential of our downtown shoreline hosted by the Toronto Waterfront Revitalization Corporation in partnership with the three governments. Until Sunday (August 20), the eastbound lanes of Queens Quay between Spadina and York will be closed to cars, allowing pedestrians, cyclists and rollerbladers to come out and frolic.
The project is an experimental glimpse of a new look for the waterfront, as imagined by West 8, the Dutch architecture firm that won the TWRC's design competition. The full makeover will cost up to $60 million, and construction will begin next spring, spanning several phases, the first of which includes completion of the Martin Goodman Trail.
I pick up some brochures at the information booth next to a sandbox and a scattering of Muskoka chairs (brought to me by the TWRC, a logo on the arm says helpfully). I slouch back in one and pull my baseball cap down low over my sunglasses. I have a feeling that despite my sandals and tank top, I look more like a private investigator on a stakeout than a beach bum.
I eavesdrop on the nearby television news crew as they go after an English couple to pose for a few shots. Someone from the welcome booth runs to get water bottles for props. Whatever the waterfront type is, I guess I can't pass for it. No free water for me.
I stand up, stretch and check to see if the nice shade I was sitting in is cast by trees or by the condos across the street.
On Sunday, August 13, I drop by again to watch the weekend hordes. Two women sitting near me on the packed streetcar are thrilled by the sight of Les Bicycles De Triomphe. "It's amazing!" they gasp. Crossing the road, I'm almost run over by two cyclists ringing their bells irritably. I feel like I've stepped out in the middle of the Tour de France. It's fantastic.
I head into Queens Quay Terminal to line up for the washroom. Later, the crowds along the boardwalk aren't watching the waves or the gulls drifting overhead; they're applauding a juggler and a singer before diving into the smoke of a tent filled with international foods or shopping at one of the market pavilions.
The day isn't made for sitting on a pier to watch the leave-takings and homecomings of little sailboats, even as the sun beats down on benches, water and way too much pavement.