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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Notes from a psychogeographical Thursday night in Toronto — quicksand included

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The following is an account by Nadia Halim of a recent psychogeographic wander-through-Toronto. It was a short walk of about two hours but as you’ll see, a lot can be packed into a Toronto walk (see route here). It’s also not complicated. You can do this by yourself or get a friend or two or eight and go for a walk with no destination. Above photo by Jamie Bradburn who, coincidentally, is up for a Heritage Toronto Award tonight for his Historicist pieces over on the Torontoist (see his other photos from the walk here).

We met at Bloor and St. George. Though we used to walk most Thursdays, I hadn’t walked in ages, and it was good to see some of the old crowd again. It was a clear, mild early-autumn night, and with TIFF on and university students flooding back into town, the city seemed wide awake and lively. Where would we go? What would we see? A police car flipped its siren on and raced along Bloor towards Yorkville, as we watched. So we decided that was a good direction in which to set out.

Walking through Yorkville, we stopped to look at a banner draped in front of a flashy bistro. It announced a launch party for a new album by a guy named Paris Black, who looked like what Fabio might have looked like if he’d fronted Whitesnake. Then we looked through the window of the bistro, and there was Paris Black, who had just breezed in, looking exactly like the picture on his banner. Some of us kept walking, which was a mistake, because a block or so on, we turned around and realized that Mr. Black had come out of the bistro and was having his photo taken with our friends on the sidewalk. He had crimped platinum-blond hair that fell to his waist.  He chatted with our group for a bit, then opened his leather duster coat – revealing washboard abs and a pair of buttless chaps – reached into a pocket and produced copies of his business card, which he handed round. It had a lot of photos of him displaying the hair and the abs, and it said, “PARIS BLACK – SINGER.”

We walked on into the Annex, and Shawn pointed out Margaret Atwood’s house. Trees and hedges grew densely around it, and the windows were dark. We stood across the street, looking at her house and trying not to be obnoxious about it, whispering about her books and the Long Pen.

We found the unexpectedly spectacular High Level Pumping Station, built in 1906, and tried to look through the high windows at the turbines.

There was a colossal mansion we saw in Forest Hill, just impossibly huge, with massive wrought-iron gates and a long drive. We gazed up at it through the gates. “Who lives here?” wondered Simon. “Veronica Lodge?”  “It’s got to be Scientologists,” I said.

We walked to the St Clair reservoir, and climbed the steps to the top. We could hear a rowdy party going on somewhere nearby – so many teenage voices shrieking and laughing, it sounded like the cormorant colony on Leslie Spit.

From the edge of the reservoir, we looked down into the ravine. The noise was coming from under the Spadina bridge. It was very dark there, but we could see small fires burning.

As we watched, a couple of figures emerged from the shadows, then a couple more. They were all wearing long black robes.

“Ooo! Maybe it’s the Episkopons!” I said.

“I’ve heard of them!” said Jason. “Who?” said Jamie. “How do you spell that?” said Shawn, trying to Google it on his iPhone.

“They’re this U of T secret society, like the one George W. Bush was in at Yale. I think mostly they just throw parties in churches at night and burn a lot of black candles.”

We started down the steps towards the party. “Of course,” someone said, “probably it’s just a Harry Potter party.” “Yeah, or a vampire theme party,” I said. The others groaned.

We could see now that there were maybe a hundred people under the bridge, all young women, all wearing long black robes. Three of them came out as we approached, and stood with arms folded.

“It’s a lesbian Wiccan poetry reading,” one of them explained. “You can’t come in unless you can prove that you’re a lesbian.”

“And a Wiccan,” added her friend.

“Well, we are interested in poetry,” said Simon.

“But, there’s still the lesbian Wiccan thing,” deadpanned the second girl.

The robed girls behind her appeared uniformly very femme and upper-middle-class. We, a group of thirtysomething academic/writer/urban-issues nerds, looked at each other in complete befuddlement.

“You’re making a lot of noise,” Shawn said earnestly to the third girl, a WASPy-looking blonde. “You can hear it all the way up the ravine, where the houses are.”

“We appreciate your concern,” said the girl, primly, in a perfect Betty Draper sort of voice. Someone in the crowd behind her bellowed, “Where’s the fucking wine? I’m still sober!

We wandered back onto the path and stood about looking at each other. “Did… Did that just happen?” It took an embarrassingly long time for the penny to drop, but finally someone said, “Oh – right – SORORITY PARTY.”

As we walked on down the path, still giggling, we could hear them chanting unintelligible slogans in the dark behind us.

(Later, after the walk, Shawn found this article about Episkopon, which notes that it has male and female divisions, holds “readings,” and since the ’80s has become “more frat-like and alcohol-fuelled” than it used to be. It may have been an Episkopon “ritual” that we stumbled upon, after all!)

Onward to the Wychwood Art Barns. On a quiet street below St. Clair, we passed a house and Shawn began to hold forth about how it was a fine example of clapboard from between the wars, or something. Two guys were standing out on the sidewalk, and one of them said, “Are you talking about our house?” and then, bewildered, as he realized how many of us there were (about nine at that point), “What? It’s like, a gang.”

“An appreciation gang!” said Shawn.

In Wychwood Park, the enclave that used to be a Victorian artists’ colony, we saw the brackish water that is the only remaining above-ground bit of Taddle Creek, and there was a sign warning, “DANGER – DEEP WATER – QUICKSAND.” Quicksand?

Nadia Halim is currently a Ph.D candidate in Philosophy at York. She likes to walk around the city, pondering her dissertation, and occasionally taking photos.



  1. I don’t know if the water in Taddle Creek qualifies as brackish water. It’s basically a step between saltwater and freshwater, sort of a semi-saltwater.

  2. Isn’t that the approximate definition of brackish? More saline than fresh, not as saline as seawater? It’s not a precise term, but basically anything that’s more than 0.5 parts per thousand salt but less than 30 ppt is brackish.

  3. Fabio fronting Whitesnake and girl-on-girl cult orgies. That must have been an awesome night!!!

  4. Interesting! I never realized “brackish” meant “slightly salty,” but you guys are right. I guess I always saw it used to describe marshes, and assumed from the context that it meant “marshy,” “full of algae,” etc. – but in fact it meant that the marsh in question was a _salt_ marsh. Thanks for pointing that out!