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Toronto gets some of its first aboriginally named streets

This citywide lane-naming project is turning out to be more significant than it seemed at first.

For the most part, downtown streets were named ages ago, by people whose priorities and frame of reference were often quite different from ours. Two major aboriginal roads were kept as Toronto developed, for instance, but named for an ale Etonian buddy of John Simcoe’s who was an expert on Roman roads (George Yonge) and a house that was named for an army buddy of the guy who built it just north of Bathurst (Major Davenport).

But these lanes are all about us, and a good number of them are looking to redress some of the oversights of those original street namings. Like Wabenose and Chechalk lanes in the Church Wellesley neighbourhood, named a week ago Friday.

When Connie Langille, chair of the Church Wellesley Neighbourhood Association’s heritage committee, was given the task of coming up with names for local laneways, she made a call.

“I contacted Carolyn King, past chief of the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nations, for name proposals and permission,” she says. “Each request needed the approval of their council.  Wabenose and Chechalk were the names submitted. Garry Sault, an elder, kindly explained the meaning of the names. Wabenose means the one that greets the morning, as when you lift your face to the sun for morning prayers. Chechalk is of the Crane clan. They spread the word of the people, tell the stories.”

Both men were signatories of the Toronto Purchase, by which the British acquired the land Toronto is built on. It turned into a contentious claim that was finally settled in 2010 for $145 million.

Until this month, there were a total of five streets named for aboriginal people, according to Brian Hall with the city's engineering services: Doctor O Lane; Oskenonton Lane; Sloping Sky Mews; Tom Longboat Lane; and Longboat Avenue. There are also 19 streets named more generally along aboriginal themes, but these include one ceremonial sname for part of Lower Jarvis (Warriors Way), and seven that include the word "Indian."

A closer look at the signs reveals something no other named lanes have.

“The banner above the names is very significant,” Langille says. “Banners are reserved for districts, etc. only. The first answer I heard to my inquiry was ‘No’.  Ultimately to have the banner read ‘Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation’ I needed to request the exception and have it approved at city council.”

There aren’t many streets or lanes with aboriginal names in this town, and locals were querulous.

“Neighbours were a little unsure at first,” Langille says. “Why native names? How do you pronounce them? But after getting a brief history, they are proud to have our lanes named after two great figures in history.”

Another lane in the district have been named for architect Macy Dubois, and one in the offing will be named Biscuit Lane for Brown’s Bakery, which used to be on the associations strip of Yonge, where Mr Christie first started baking cookies.

“Every lane we name adds to the stories of our neighbourhood. People are connected by the telling of the stories,” Langille says. “It is good.”

Langille also works at Oolagen Community Services, itself re-named two years ago for the Cree term for "where the flowers grow."

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Connie Langille
Photo: Heritage Toronto

Tiny Home an alternative to the tiny condo

When we think of the future of Toronto housing, we often think in terms of cities that got big before we did, and those of which we follow. So, like New York, Paris, Moscow, we’ll slowly evolve into a place where only the very rich own single family dwellings, and the rest of us will live in apartments and condos of various levels of spaciousness and luxury.

Anthony Moscar would like to offer another option.

“Our current housing system presents an environmental, affordability, and economic growth threat,” Moscar says. “Rising income inequality, soaring housing costs and the shortage of new affordable housing have all resulted in an affordability crisis for many low- and middle-income households.”

The kind of house Moscar, a naturopath, is building now, for himself as well as to present the concept to the public, will be 11 metres long and between 2.5 and 3.7 metres wide, and costs between $20,000 and $60,000 to build, either yourself, or having builders do it for you. (Land sold separately.)

But Moscar isn’t just concerned with the price barrier.

“The greater Toronto area housing system is failing to meet the region’s needs,” he says. "Trends in land use have encouraged inefficient sprawling development and energy-inefficient construction that is ecologically unsustainable and costly for municipalities, landlords and residents alike.”

So his building materials include Vicwest metal for the roof, which maintains heat in the winter stays cool in the summer, and is 100 per cent recyclable; naturally occurring, organic insulation called ROXUL, Marmoleum flooring is made from 97 per cent recycled material, 72 per cent of which is renewable, as is itself 100 per cent biodegradable.

How does it look?

“To keep costs low,” Moscar says, “it was designed as simplistic as possible. The fewer bends and edges, the less construction costs and potential challenges.”

The result: It looks a little bit like a trailer. So much so, in fact, that the city has had trouble giving him all the permits he needs, given the fact that it's illegal to live in a vehicle (it's got wheels) in this city.

But Moscar is confident he'll be able to figure it all out.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Anthony Moscar

Waterfront Toronto declares a new era of transparency

Waterfront Toronto is changing the face of the city, attempting to reclaim its lakeshore from centuries of misuse. But because we’re still not in the habit of spending much time there, much of what’s going on down there — and it’s a lot — is happening without most of us noticing.

Waterfront hopes to fix that in a number of ways, primarily by building up areas people are naturally drawn to. But in the meantime, it’s decided to institute a new policy of transparency, so that whoever’s interested can have easy access to whatever facts and details there are about what’s going on down there, and how. They’re letting us follow the money.

“The change in how we disclose contract values is driven mainly because other public sector organizations – the city, in particular – are moving to disclosing actual contract values,” says Waterfront Toronto communications director Andrew Hilton. “Waterfront Toronto want to ensure we keep pace with any accountability measures and best practices from the three levels of government.

“As well, we think it is important for us to contextualize how we spend and what we spend it on, so that anyone can understand what we are trying to achieve in, for example, building a park or public amenity. For us, it is critical that Torontonians are able to get the information they need to form an opinion on Waterfront Toronto’s activities: our mandate, what we do, why we do it, how much it costs, and the benefits that waterfront revitalization bring to the city.”

There is a lot of money being spent down there. The East Bayfront, just one of several neighbourhoods being constructed out of what is largely former industrial and shipping zones, has been estimated to cost $1.1 billion.

The new transparency initiative is called Get the Facts. Though Hilton says there was no immediate motivation for Get the Facts, Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong did express some public outrage in June over expenses related to Sugar Beach, accusing the organization of secret spending.

“We certainly hope that Torontonians pay attention to the revitalization of the Waterfront and why it is being done,” Hilton says. “The lack of progress on our waterfront for generations was why Waterfront Toronto was created, so we feel that informing and engaging the public on the progress we’ve made on one of the most significant parts of the city is important.”

The first fact released by Waterfront Toronto under this new programme was Hilton’s salary. He makes $130,000 a year.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Andrew Hilton

City gets tough on construction disruption

The city’s decided to get tough on developers who, city-builders though they be, take too many liberties with our roads.

“This is part and parcel of the City's overall congestion management plan whereby we are increasing enforcement of construction activity taking place on city streets,” says Andre Filippetti, Toronto-East York’s guy in charge of right-of-way management. “We consider this important because maintaining construction sites in a proper way is critical to ensure the safety of all road users.”

With constructions sites numbering in what Filippetti estimates to be the thousands around the city, most pedestrians, cyclists and drivers will have run into messes and other forms of encroachment into our rights of way. It’s hard to keep on top of it all, and even harder to do something about when you do encounter infringements and infractions, but the city figures it's up to the job.

“We employ staff who are certified as Provincial Offences Officers (Transportation Standards Officers) who are able to issue notices to the constructors and/or to lay any appropriate charges under the Municipal Code related to any violation within the City of Toronto road allowance,” Filippetti says.

If you want to report a case, call 311.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Andrew Filippetti

As the East Bayfront grows, Waterfront invests in making it cycle-friendly.

Waterfront Toronto is not satisfied to wait until the East Bayfront is finished before opening it up to cyclists. It wants them there now.

And so they’re building an interim cycling infrastructure (and one for pedestrians as well), that will serve the burgeoning area until development and funding are in place.

East Bayfront was a formerly industrial part of the waterfront,” says Waterfront spokeswoman Sam Gileno. “It lacked basic infrastructure such as a continuous sidewalk on the south side of the street. The full revitalization of Queens Quay in this area is dependent on funding for the East Bayfront LRT. The interim pedestrian and cyclists improvements will help connect the area until funding for this important transit line is in place and construction is complete.”

According to Gileno, there are two major projects getting underway.

First is a cyclist network.

“We will create a continuous off-street Martin Goodman Trail on the south side of Queens Quay which will separate cyclists from motor vehicles along the waterfront,” she says. “By spring, 2015, when both this project and the revitalization of Queens Quay are complete, the Martin Goodman Trail will be in place from Bathurst Street all the way to Parliament Street.”

The second is a continuous sidewalk for pedestrians.

“Currently the sidewalk in this area is an asphalt path,” she says. “It will be replaced with a city standard concrete sidewalk with landscaping alongside. A north-south pedestrian crosswalk will also be added along the east side of the Parliament Street intersection.”

The two will cost $1.8 million, which includes both hard and soft costs, and will remain in place until Queens Quay has been fully renovated.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Sam Gileno

New Meccano-like home-building system debuts in Toronto

There’s a new building material in town. It’s called Bone, and its Quebec-based progenitors are colourfully enthusiastic about it.

“In addition to being environmentally friendly and energy efficient,” their press release says upon the introduction of Bone to the Toronto market, “the BONE Structure system promotes the development of local economies and gives free rein to clients' and architects' creativity by making it easy to form vast spaces with variable volumes and grandiose fenestration.”

I’m guessing that was written by president and founder, Marc Bovet, based on the tone and timbre of our quick talk.

“I have been in different trades,” he says, talking about what got him into the building business. “I was born and raised in retail, probably even conceived behind a counter.

“I'm not an engineer, not an architect, not a handyman, I do not wear a tool belt on the weekends. In 2004, I bought a property, a 1942 house, the paint was original, even the phone was Northern Atlantic. People tell me I'm compulsive. I hired a master carpenter. It went way over schedule and I ended up in a hotel room with my wife and four kids for two weeks.”

He says the experience left him “pissed off,” and he went in search of a better way to fix your home.

After reading and travelling and consulting with his old colleagues at Bombardier, where he used to work in management, he came up with Bones, made of recycled materials, and put together in what he compares to Meccano, for those old enough to remember it, or Lego for those who aren’t.

Standardized parts, made of 40- to 60 per cent recycled steel into 11-gauge galvanized steel, mean as much as 1,000 square feet of home can be put up per day by four or five builders using a single tool (an impact drill). “There’s no cutting, no piercing, no welding, no garbage on our construction site,” Bovet says. There are also no load-bearing interior walls, meaning houses built with Bone are easily alterable.

“Your kids, they leave home at 28 if everything goes well,” he says. “You can knock down the walls, and put them back up when they come back at the age of 32.”

The system, he says, has been patented in 42 countries.

As a showcase, Bovet’s had a show home put up in Don Mills, open to the public Sept. 27 and 28, in conjunction with an information session at the Shops at Don Mills, from which there will be shuttle service to the site. (You can register by emailing jmcaffee@budmanpr.com.)

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Marc Bovet

Bayview development looks to replace "outdated" concept of a "room"

Toronto is a grandly livable city. One of the world's most livable, in fact. And a big part of what makes it so livable are its neighbourhoods and its Victoria/Edwardian houses.

The flip side to this is a certain monotony. If it ain't broke, don't fix it seems to be the approach of developers and architects behind even the newest single-family dwellings, all of whom hew to some version or other of the classic Toronto look.

Andrew Sorbara figures it's time for a change, and he's calling his north Toronto contribution to that change Crafthouse.

“We've created a beautiful collection of contemporary homes that will comprise a highly unique urban subdivision,” the developer says. “Each home features well-proportioned and open spaces, with livable floor plans. Inside, we've removed the walls that typically separate formal and informal spaces.

“I think the most significant design element in Crafthouse, and the aspect that I'm most proud of, is the connection between interior and exterior spaces. We've successfully integrated courtyards into each of the homes, capturing light throughout. This is really unique to our Toronto subdivisions.”

Built on the site of an old public school, the subdivision of 20 houses was designed by architect Peter Vishnovsky. The houses are all fairly large, ranging from just over 3,000 square feet to just over 5,000, and starting at $1.8 million.

The first closings are slated for mid-2015.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Andrew Sorbara

City's Idea Space looks to engage the community beyond the public meeting

Public meetings are great democratic tools in principle. But in practice, they tend to attract a narrow demographic, consistent in both the nature of their concerns, and their attendance. The result can be an equally narrow glimpse into the mood and opinions of the city.

So the city's decided to expand its ambit.

“Over the last year, the city has been exploring ways to enhance our capacity to inform, engage and consult with the public including through the use of online tools,” says Fionna Murray, the city's director of corporate policy. The city commissioned a company called Mindmixer to develop consultation tools it could deploy online to get a truer insight into what the city thinks.

They're calling it Idea Space.

“Each discussion is created for a specific purpose,” Murray says. “City divisions can use the new Idea Space as one of their consultation tools – likely they will use a combination of traditional and online methods. Depending on the purpose or goal of that consultation the comments would be considered alongside other input. This online tool has the advantage of creating a record that can be shared and passed along to other staff as well.”

In slightly circular fashion, the first issue up for discussion via Idea Space is called Growing conversations: Making engagement work, organized by the city's planning division to get a handle on people's thoughts as to how public consultations can be improved.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Fionna Murray

Ace Hotel-inspired condo rising at Richmond and Spadina

Inspired by the Ace hotel chain in the US, and influenced by its neioghbourhood's garment district history, Fabrik is about to begin its rise on Richmond at Spadina.

“Excavation is well underway,” says Menkes Development Ltd.'d VP of high-rise residential Jared Menkes, whose baby it is, “and we are approaching the bottom of the hole. Soon people in the neighbourhood will see our crane go up, for the start of concrete pouring, when we begin working on the parking garage.”

Designed inside and out by Giannone Petricone and Associates, the 17-storey just-above-midrise tower will fit in well with the similarly massed existing buildings along Spadina.

Giannone “were incredibly thoughtful in their design approach,” Menkes says. “All of the common areas incorporate small details and features that nod to the local area's history as Toronto's garment / fashion district. Giannone Petricone is responsible for the design of the Terroni restaurants in Toronto, and anyone who's been to Terroni would understand their great design aesthetic.”

The development is part of what may be a trend in next-generation condos in the city drawing their inspiration from, or being influenced by hotels.

Fabrik is being built on the site of the old King Textiles.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Jared Menkes

New Arc'teryx store opens at Queen and John

When you go to Gstaad to learn to ski, you'll notice something about the instructors. They all wear the same orange ski jackets. They look pretty cool in them, and if you ask, they'll sing the jackets' praises, telling you how you can mold the hood in any number of ways depending on the visibility and wind conditions, how the bright orange makes them visible in even the worst conditions. They love these things. And they're made by Arc'teryx.

You've been able to get them at all the more serious outdoors shops, but on Friday, the company finally opened a 2,700 square foot standalone store on Queen at John, at the site of the old Quicksilver shop, conceived and executed by the Arc'teryx design team.

Like Canada Goose, Arc'teryx – an abbreviation of the name of the earliest identified bird fossil discovered at the time of the company's foundation in 1989 -- was conceived and founded in Canada, the sort of company the country could be proud of, that reminded us that we are indeed a Northern nation and know a thing or two about the outdoors.

And like Canada Goose, Arc'teryx, founded in North Vancouver, sold out to a French firm in 2001, which was then bought by Adidas, and then sold to a Finnish company. Its headquarters are still in Burnaby, B.C., though much of its stuff is now made in China, Vietnam, and elsewhere. It currently employs 600 people.

Queen and John is its 13th standalone shop, with immediate future plans to open numbers 14 through 16 in Portland, Minneapolis, and Washington D.C.

As its Toronto communications person says, though Arc'teryx products will continue to be available in shops aorund town, "Our brand stores are the only location where customers can experience the complete Arc’teryx offering."

Arc'teryx may not be Canadian anymore, but like William Shatner and Jim Carrey, we can still be proud of them.

Writer: Bert Archer

Senior nuns' residence wins international design award

The Sisters of St. Joseph, who once ran much of the Catholic school system in Toronto, are a dwindling breed, but they've decided to dwindle in style, and the commission they gave to Shim-Sutcliffe Architects to build a home cum hospital for the older nuns in need of care has just won the World Architecture News Healthcare Award.

The project included a renovation of their existing residence, built in the 1850s on the Don Valley, and an addition in the form of a private hospital for 58 nuns along side it.

As the jury described it, “Forming a sinuous line between the Don Valley to the north and the low rise urban fabric of the city to the south, the Residence for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Toronto articulates both individual contemplative life and the community engagement of the Sisters ministries, making relationships to Nature and City to reinforce public and private aspects.”

The new structure includes geothermal heating, green roofs, solar panels and a storm water management system.

The project was completed in April, 2013. Shim-Sutcliffe is one of Toronto's most awarded firms, with 12 Governor General's Medals since its formation in 1994, and is best known for Integral House (2009), Weathering Steel House (2001), and Laneway House (1993).

Writer: Bert Archer

Fifty-five storeys going up at University and Dundas with indoor connection to subway

The hotel/condo thing did't work for Toronto – see 1 King West – so developer Amexon is trying out a more likely model: a condo that behaves like a hotel.

Construction has begun on 488 University, a 55-storey condo tower being built on the site of the old 480 University at the northwest corner of University and Dundas, and when it opens in November, 2017, it will include something called Sky Club. It's a bit of a shtick, but it may also move the bar on condo amenities in the city. Sky Club includes the regular social space and a fitness centre. They've got a pool too, but it's saltwater, and they throw in a spa, a restaurant, a bar and a concierge, all open to residents and their guests.

It doesn't go as far as it might in staving off the grand privatization of the downtown core – condos with bars and restaurants and rooftops open to the public would be much better – but by explicitly inviting guests to take advantage of what's essentially a gym/spa, it goes a little further than most.

Fifty-five of the 453 units will be three-bedroom – also a step in the right direction – but families looking for space to raise their children in condos will still have to come up with a minimum of $750,000 to do it in this building.

The tower was designed by Deni Poletti of CORE Architects, with interiors by Dan Menchions of II x IV and will be incorporating everything but the façade of the old structure into the new tower. Along with the RCMI down the street at 426 University, 488 could very well liven up University Avenue and encourage more retail along what's now just hospital row. Amexon is planning on signing up a restaurant, a cafe and what spokesman Jason Shiff refers to as a “gourmet food store” to occupy the base of the building.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Jason Shiff

City's app-assisted bike research nears 3,000 riders, 40,000 rides

Toronto's aptly named Toronto Cycling app is now approaching 40,000 captured trips in its mission to map the city's most popular cycling routes.

The city's current cycling routes total 570 km, and it's looking to expand along what some have called desire lines, routes that get used whether they'e promoted or not.

Created by Waterloo's Brisk Synergies, Toronto Cycling was released in May on Android and IPhone. Since then, about 3,000 people have downloaded the app, which uses GPS to track the routes cyclists use. A visualization the city has produced using the data collected so far, with recorded trips rendered in red as an overlay on a map, reveals veinous and arterial routes breathing two-wheeled life into the city.

The city will continue collecting the data until at least November, when they will compile it into a report to present to council in 2015. 

"At the end of the year we will be evaluating the value of continuing the data collection into 2015 and on," says Sibel Sarper, assistant planner. "The data collected in 2014 may provide a good baseline to monitor the change in cycling route choice after new cycling infrastructure is introduced yearly."

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Sibel Sarper


Roots opens new flagship shop on Bloor

It's summer, but there's a breeze coming in off the water, and in a small Austrian town on Lake Constance, a Chinese tourist walks through the old Corn Market wearing a red Roots sweatshirt.

Roots was never entirely Canadian. Founded in Toronto in 1973 by two Michigan natives, Don Green and Michael Budman, the brand has always been Canada as seen by Americans who like Algonquin Park, a vision of roughing it, Canadian style, through the patina of New England nostalgia.

What started as a binational hybrid has become global. The company announced that 2013, the year of its 40th anniversary, was its best ever due in large part to its success in Asia. 

So it's appropriate that their new flagship store, which opened on Friday, was built by a student of Mies van der Rohe, whose modernist aesthetic was known in its heyday as the International Style.

Eighty Bloor West was designed by Peter Carter, built in 1972, and once was the address for architect Arthur Erickson's Toronto office. The new Roots space is 6,500 square feet on two levels.

That's a little more than a third the size of the Bloor store it's replacing, which was 18,500 square feet. And that's a reflection of the other reality of Roots circa 2014. It may be expanding in Asia, but its physical retail operations are beginning to take a back seat to its online business.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Robert Sarner


New report reveals plans for Lower Yonge Precinct

Yesterday, Waterfront Toronto and the City of Toronto gave the public an update on what's going on with the plans to develop the 12-hectare chunk of the city known as the Lower Yonge Precinct.

The parcel goes from Yonge to Jarvis, the Gardiner to Queens Quay, and includes the Toronto Star tower, the big LCBO, a Loblaws, and a lot of parking.

As the presented report says, “Since this waterfront precinct is so centrally located, its skillful and appropriate revitalization is critical to the waterfront’s success.”

The plan involves extending Harbour Street all the way to Jarvis, building a new street between Cooper and Lower Jarvis, and putting in a park. While “acknowledging its contextual relationship to the downtown core to the west and the St. Lawrence community to the north,” the proposed density doesn't seem to be learning much from St. Lawrence, long acknowledged as one of the city's most successful bits of planning. 

The most important aspect of the development of this precinct, however, is likely to be its role in connecting the centre with the eastern port lands, like the Canary District and the Distillery.

If you would like to offer your own feedback – and a good deal of this planning has been based on previous comments from interested Torontonians – you can do so here.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Samantha Gileno
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