East End Laneway Getaway
article and photo by Graeme Parry

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Laneways are fascinating because of their variety of character. Some make you feel like you're not in central Toronto at all. One laneway, for example, with rows of cookie-cutter garages, seems quite suburban. Another alley, bordering an unfenced lot with long grass hiding rusted cars, is like a country back road. An odd jog where narrow alleys meet amidst brick buildings feels like a time before cars.

This east end laneway excursion has a refreshing dose of this kind of variety. Starting near the bike lanes along Lakeshore Boulevard, the route travels 2.5 kilometres north and east and ends near Leslie and Gerrard. Compared to west end laneways, the connectivity isn't as good in the east. You can go a kilometre further, almost to Coxwell, by cheating a bit and using the streets to get to the laneway north of Gerrard that starts at Hastings.

The start is easy to miss, at Logan just south of Eastern Avenue, because it's between two Purolator warehouse buildings. You feel like you're trespassing, especially with the cameras on the roofs eyeing you; but once you turn the corner, you pass a playground and you're on your way to feeling less delinquent.

From Carlaw, the route cuts in and goes behind a garage. In late summer, trees along the alley here grow thick and jungle-like, crowding your passage. Turning the corner, you eventually come to an amazing collection of graffiti, including grimacing creatures and ghostly forms, all done by the same artist. You stumble upon these galleries here and there behind the streets, their sudden appearance contrasting with the general visual calmness of alleys.

North of Queen Street, the laneway is fairly typical and passes behind fenced-off backyards. The route crosses Dundas and runs along an uninspiring townhouse development. At Pape, it travels in front of, and then alongside, the Holy Blossom Cemetery via a particularly narrow alley. From here, you pass another playground and then, until you reach Leslie, the alleys run behind businesses on Gerrard.

By the time you reach the end of this excursion, you may notice how the hectic aspect of the city is further away. Traffic sounds fade to the periphery, allowing you to hear the subtler sounds of chirping birds and creaking trees. Occasionally you'll see a car, some kids playing or people walking their dogs, but for the most part laneways are tranquil. Emerging out onto the main streets after arriving via a route so estranged from the city, you see familiar neighbourhoods anew.

visit Graeme Parry's website on Toronto laneways

click here to download a PDF version of the map

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