Sunday, 9 June 2013

All But The End.

One of the most important skills one can master is the art of understanding the power of change. I have known a change is needed for a while now but have not summoned the courage to bring it into fruition.

Until now. 

My engagement to writing is, like most others, unstable. It is constantly teetering on a thin line between finding joy and self-esteem, and bored disillusionment at the material I create - a relationship indicative of artist and art; the all too self-conscious maker of things. Lately I've been stuck in a rut where I don't find the things I produce interesting, nor do I have investment in the process of its creation. Lost and Found was the product of many other failures in blogging and a stubborn keenness to get it right. When I finally landed on something solid that made sense to me, I began to stretch it to its limitations....Which is where I am now. On the crux of something old and expired, screaming at me to change direction.

I must listen, but first I must break if I am to listen intently. Lost and Found, as successful as it has been to me personally, is at a point where its horizons have been met and further expansion is impossible. My decision to retire this blog rests not on being fed up, but predetermining its decay and giving it a respectable funeral.
The Wilds of Canada - Where I Belong.
Thus I shall take a temporary hiatus from blogging, three weeks in length, to focus on my new venture, "Aaron UnCanadian" - set to launch on July 1st - Canada Day itself. I am dedicating myself to the form of writing I feel best suited for and find the most passion in - story writing and capturing. Themed on an ambitious 16 month endeavor to save, organize and embark on a journey across Canada, "Aaron UnCanadian" is promised to rearrange everything we think we know about The True North - both good and bad. This is not a blog about igloos and maple syrup, but a pushing of authentic Canadian people, stories, things and events into the fore of our county's people....and the rest of the world.

So, for one last time on Lost and Found.....

Safe Travels,

Aaron Turpin

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Breakfast, Redoux at The Whippoorwill

What? The Whippoorwill – a new brunch/dinner joint at Lansdowne and Bloor. Sandwiched in between the gadabout shops and mismatched cafes is the classically redesigned restaurant, formerly known as the Bloordale Pantry. The Whippoorwill specializes in taking ordinary brunch fare and transforming it into whimsically extraordinary dishes. While the seating selection isn’t superior, the service and food surpasses par.
Whippoorwill's version of an eggs benedict. Giggity! 
My first experience here was on my last birthday; the Whippoorwill is a short walk from my new apartment, which is either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on how you look at a fairly overweight yet satisfied Aaron. We had poached eggs on a buttery biscuit (soooo buttery) with hollandaise and asparagus. The biscuit took this meal into the realm of taste-bud euphoria, but it was the second half of the meal that became a highlight. Referenced as the ‘breakfast bruschetta of the day’, an unbelievable combination of sweet and savoury atop a slice of toasted French stick etched a memory on my taste buds. Ours had apricot, cream cheese, dandelion, roasted pine nuts, and a bunch of other things I can’t remember because this was three weeks ago. Bottom line: get the breakfast bruschetta.

Oh, I also had a mimosa. Cause it was my birthday. So what?

Where? The Whippoorwill is another perfect example of gentrification on this stretch of Bloor. As development from either end encroaches, small indicators of a changing neighbourhood pop up; the Whippoorwill is no exception. No longer considered a ‘seedy’ part of Toronto, ‘Blansdowne’ is now clustered with hipster-esque establishments and old Portuguese bakeries. For a community in transition, it’s a great stretch to go at any time of day or night as a non-destination area…(yet).

Go Again? Yes – as one of the few joints in the area that specializes in breakfast, this place is a must go. I would try their dinner menu, but wouldn’t hold it to the awesomeness bestowed upon me during the meal earlier in the day. Although brunch doesn’t start until 11am, I would make sure I get there early as the venue is small and packs up easily. For a meal that defies normalcy, the Whippoorwill has made its mark on breakfast cuisine in an area that screams for something different. 

Sunday, 2 June 2013

4 Bush-Inspired Activities for the City

It is a proven and accepted fact that long term isolation in rural areas can easily lead to mental instability, depression and severe anxiety. I’ve written about my first hand experiences with the cognitive effects of my own journeys into the bush, recalling moments of moroseness and temporary insanity while I slip into the state slanged as ‘bushed’, but what of the opposite? Can one experience similar consequences after prolonged periods of time away from nature?

While cities offer access to many important facets of life - education, healthcare and social support, etc., what they sometimes lack is a close relationship to the big wide world beyond the hinterlands. Just as we tend to go a little crazy when separated from the comfort of our devices and the luxuries of the modern world, it is also true that a lack of wild places can lead to major stress. Balancing urban life with nature can be tough, and I’ve responded with a list of scenic reprieves easy accessible within Canada’s largest city, so that in between shopping sprees and fine dining you can:

1)   Hike the Humber River
Humber River in Fall
Hiking is the perfect outdoorsy activity. Fully accessible and friendly to all ages, there’s no better way to experience a little nature than on foot. Henry David Thoreau, the forefather of modern environmentalism and wilderness romantic, quotes on his work Walking‘We should go fourth on the shortest walk, perchance, in the spirit of undying adventure, never to return’. So, if HDT said it, you better go for a damn walk.

And what better place than the Humber River? With a variety of trails to enjoy, including paved for bikes and families or off-path for the more adventurous, the Humber accommodates all, with the added bonus of being freakin’ huge. From its summit in Toronto’s North End at Steeles and Islington the river and surrounding parkland runs south to lakeshore, yielding a plethora of options for trailheads and access points. If hiking is your game, Humber River is the name.

2)   Tree Plant in Rouge Park

Achieving oneness with nature doesn’t always have to involve doing yoga on a mountaintop. Trade in your spandex pants and smelly roll mat for a garden shovel and pair of gloves and get ready to get dirty. The Rouge Valley in Toronto’s East End is a perfect place to escape and offers plenty to recreational activities. Did I mention this is Canada’s LARGEST urban park?

The Rouge Valley River
Planting programs are abundant in the area and include the 10,000 Trees Project, Natural Heritage Projects and other park-based planting programs. They are easy to get involved in and help keep Toronto’s urban wild areas sustained. While you’re taking advantage of parkland, why not contribute?

3)   Take in the View from the Scarborough Bluffs

Looking up to the Bluffs from Bluffer's Park Beach
Looking for a little romantic getaway but not interested in leaving the city? Or perhaps you want a workout beside the perfect beachfront scene? Welcome to the Scarborough Bluffs – a naturally eroded carving in Toronto’s lakeshore landscape that borders Scarborough along Lake Ontario. A network of trails and parks can be found near the water, both above and below the gorge, each offering unique activities. Places like Guildwood Park and Gardens inject a little history into Toronto’s East Lakeshore where a well-manicured setting surrounds hundreds of displaced artifacts, all significant to the establishment of the area.

Further West is Bluffer’s Park, complete with a wharf and beach boardwalk that winds all the way to Ashbridges Bay. Climb the Bluffs for a wonderful panorama of Lake Ontario or discover the unique ecosystems and tide pools at the water’s edge – the Bluffs are a ‘something for everyone’ activity.

4)   Get Schooled in High Park

Nature has a crapload of things to teach us, and at an environmental education hub at High Park, there’s no end to what we can learn. Close to downtown and just off the trendy Bloor West area, High Park reaches from Bloor Street to the Gardiner Expressway and can be accessed via subway. While you’re visiting, drop into the High Park Nature Centre for a nature walk or see what’s growing at the High Park Children’s Garden.

Other great on-site locations are the High Park Zoo and Colbourne Lodge Museum. Take a walk around Grenadier Pond or check out the amazing Cherry Blossoms – only in bloom a few days during each spring!

The elusive spring cherry blossoms in High Park.

Although this short list does not nearly encompass all things nature-related in Toronto, it is meant to acknowledge the wilder parts of the city; and the places we go to distress. Next time you’re bogged down by city life, take some time to reconnect with Mother Nature. The results might surprise you. 

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Behind the City Scenes at Doors Open Toronto

What? Doors Open Toronto! An annual city-wide event that grants one-time access to buildings and locations not normally accessible by public. For urban-nerds like me, it’s an opportunity to get a behind the scenes look at how Toronto operates and the people/things that keep the city running. Doors Open Toronto has celebrated this 14th season this weekend, showcasing ‘over 150 architecturally, historically, culturally and socially significant buildings across the city’. The Toronto version of Doors Open is the original prelude to a province-wide event, now larger than ever with cities and towns all over Ontario participating. The best part: everything is absolutely free. Just show up and get ready to enter a world beyond the day to day.
Endless rows of documents at The Toronto archives
Where? We visited three sites over the period of one day in Toronto: The Toronto Archives at Spadina and Dupont, the Spadina House (aka ‘Spadina Museum’) just above Davenport, and Lower Bay Station. We had to pick and choose but you really need two full days to cross off everything you are interested in – and even then it would be difficult to do as most locations don’t open until 10 – 11am and close at 5pm, and many are only available for one day. Our advice is to really focus on the top 3 – 5 places in your list and keep a few more in case you find yourself with some buffer time.

I can say with confidence that I could easily spend an entire day at The Toronto Archives – a municipally operated storage and archival centre for all things City of Toronto. Copies of original Toronto maps dating to the early 1800’s can be viewed, council notes read, artifacts from significant locations available – you can even do research on the history of your house, including who owned it first and when it was built.

The Spadina House (aka ‘Spadina Museum’) was also a wonderfully preserved piece of Toronto History, but kind of dragged on throughout the self-guided tour. Unless you’re a detailed history buff, old houses kind of all look the same, regardless as to how many rooms are actually shown. Lower Bay Station, an unused subway station below the current ‘Bay Station’ and the stuff of folklore within urban exploring circles, was fun for about 7 minutes until you realized it just looked like a subway station. But knowing some of the most popular films featured scenes filmed on-site made it a little more special.

Lower Bay Station
How? A TTC family day pass is probably your best bet – allowing for unlimited public transit use for multiple riders at a time at the relatively cheap price of $10.75. If you plot out a route to maximize your time you get the most from Doors Open.

Go Again? I would definitely give Doors Open another crack (how punny!), especially because I had a positive experience this year, not only with the sites but the helpful and knowledgeable staff. I’d obviously choose different locations. Whether you’re new to Toronto or a veteran citizen, there’s always something worth learning at these events.

Friday, 24 May 2013

5 Betcha' Didn't Knows: Toronto

Toronto: a city of many identities, cultures and approaches to life. A place that never really gets tired of itself and continually finds new ways to recreate its fabric. But like any established urban area, Toronto holds onto little known facts and secrets that charm the people and communities within its ever expanding boundaries. The more intimate you become with its grid-iron history and financial bourgeois, the more you learn about each little quirk hidden behind the surge of life in The Big Smoke. Below: some of the lesser known aspects of our fair city.

1)   Front Street was Toronto’s Original Shoreline

It’s kind of a scary thought when you consider that everything South of Front Street (Harbourfront, The Port Lands, The Rogers Centre, The CN Tower and Lakeshore, to name a few) exists on infill land that was not so long ago covered in lake water. I mean, seriously…The person that decided ‘Hey, I think we need more space in Toronto…Why don’t we just create more land?’ and then proceeded to direct people to throw a shit ton of dirt into Lake Ontario until a large portion of it disappeared must have had some pretty ridiculous sized gonads.

If you look closely, you'll see them mounted on a steeple.
This massive campaign to extend the shoreline began in 1850 and lasted over 100 years until we can only presume it was decided that we didn’t want to live any closer to Americans. Today, little evidence exists proving just how far we actually got, but if you walk from Union Station to The Esplanade and imagine what it would be like to swim that same distance, you’ll probably build an appreciation for one of Toronto’s biggest engineering feats.

2)   The Junction was Under Prohibition Until 2000

It’s hard to imagine what prohibition was like, especially because most people on earth weren’t around during its heyday. Rather unfortunately, for the good people living in Toronto’s Junction Community, many don’t have to stretch their imagination too far. Here, the ban of alcohol sales and consumption lasted until late into the 20th century.

AND caused one of the most hilarious protests ever.
This restriction is partially responsible for rapid economic decline during the post-industrial age of the 1970’s and beyond – around the same time Toronto was all like ‘screw you, poor people!’ and successfully annexed The Junction, furthering the marginalization of this community. The commercial areas along Dundas West were all but alive until prohibition was lifted in 1997, causing an influx of local bars and eateries and (inevitably) hipsters to help re-boost its economy. And people wonder what good alcohol can cause.

3)   ‘Little Italy’ Isn’t Italian

It would be silly to name an area after an ethnicity that isn’t actually prevalent there, no? One might assume so. Turns out you assumed wrong. Welcome to Toronto’s ‘Little Italy’, a place that couldn’t be more Portuguese, according to Census Canada. Now take a walk along College Street West and really pay attention to the signs and advertising alongside gelato shops and bakeries; most are owned and operated by people of a Portuguese background. In fact, a fairly large area that should rightfully be named ‘Little Portugal’ would span South of College to Queen and Northwest to St.Clair.

Which begs the question: why the hell is it called ‘Little Italy’? Actually, there’s a (not necessarily good) reason: marketing. When it comes to attracting tourist dollars, ‘Little Italy’ translates to suave, lush and authentic when ‘Little Portugal’ doesn’t really translate into anything. Branding communities like this, while ultimately economically viable, doesn’t always represent its members accurately, so watch out for those misnomers and don’t let a name influence your perspective.

4)   ‘Cabbagetown’ isn’t Irish.

In another twist of misinformed irony, recent demographic studies show that the Toronto jurisdiction currently known as ‘Cabbagetown’ (usually an alias for a place that is dominantly Irish) is actually devoid of Irish people. In fact, the original Irish settlers in Toronto occupied what is now Regent Park, Moss Park and Corktown - South of the aforementioned area.  

You see, similar to the plight of ‘Little Italy’, ‘Cabbagetown’ was the victim of a marketing scheme designed for profit instead of accuracy. Because Regent Park was a virtual slum for thirty years before its current redevelopment project, ‘Cabbagetown’ was relocated – only the people remained in the same place and the more expensive properties to the North assumed the new name. While it remains an attractive prospect to live in ‘Cabbagetown’ today, you’re actually just moving into an area full of non-Irish, old white people. But go ahead and decorate your lawn with shamrocks, anyway. It’s not like there’s any Irish people around to get offended. 

Totally a place people want to live.

5)   There’s a Cemetery Full of Babies Under Yorkville.

So many dead baby jokes could be made right now. It’s completely true, and gravely apparent (zzzing!) during almost every construction project when little baby skeletons are unearthed by bulldozers. Before Yorkville was paved and spattered by condos and upscale boutiques, it was a secular cemetery for families that couldn’t afford proper burials. Known as ‘Potter’s Field’, an estimated 6700 people were laid to rest there, including many prematurely deceased babies. Not creepy at all.

Look behind closed doors and secrets become apparent. In Toronto, there’s no end to the things you can learn if you’re interested in digging a little. Just don’t dig in Yorkville.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Garage Sale-ing in Swansea Village

What? A favourite pastime of Canadians of all backgrounds living in cities: the garage sale. Yes folks, get ready for dozens of miscellaneous baskets filled with useless trinkets you hoard in your basement until you yourself host a garage sale. North Americans aren’t always given the opportunity to haggle, but when it comes to garage sales you better get your bargaining on or you’ll wind up with a bed spread that you paid for half over the depreciation value.

Where? Swansea village, just below Bloor West and beside High Park. A community full of white people anxious to turn their front lawn into a gypsy market. Roam the streets off Windermere and Runnymede on a Saturday morning and you’ll find dozens, lining the sidewalks with electronics from 1950 and crime mystery novels.

When? Some unreasonable hour in the morning, usually during the summer months and on weekends.

Who? To be completely honest, I was visiting my Grandma who I am certain was a wealthy salesperson in a previous life. Give this woman a marker and random house junk, then watch as the magic of selling things that could have been donated to Goodwill anyways lands you tens of dollars after an eight hour day. We all love it when Grandma holds garage sales because she also feeds us hot dogs and wine. This is one person who takes selling household items seriously, and has it down to a very fine art. We love you too, Grandma. 

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

4 Great Things People in Their Mid-Twenties Can Still Get Away With

As a child, the world seemed infinite and powerful. Everything was worth exploring and your quest for learning was never complete. Then you awkwardly stumbled into your teens and began to understand society as a parasitic cesspool of evil people trying to take all your money, make you miserable and punish you with irrelevant rules you were desperate to challenge. Once you finally tasted freedom after crawling from the terror gauntlet known as 'high school' you began to take gratuitous advantage of things like legal drinking and credit cards....That is, until all the people your parents warned you about who were actually trying to take all your money, make you miserable and punish you with irrelevant rules succeed in doing so.

Words from my favourite TV show character. 
Enter your mid-twenties: a time in your life when you can make decisions with the wisdom of earlier years and have fun without all the serious repercussions. It's arguably the best part of your life with the least amount of responsibility, and that makes a whole lot of awesome. While I hit my exact mid-twenties this week, I am apt to speak of all the things we quarter century old humans are ripe to take advantage of (and get away with). The list is just wonderful, and can include things like:

1) Mooching

Times have changed in the most mind-bending, absurdly different ways, as they tend to do while humans continue to surmount every impossibility ever. One great way things are way different than they used to be lies in the case of young adults, many of whom are recent grads entering the workforce and trying to sketch some sort of path in life. Because of the recent emphasis on post-secondary education over the past few decades, 20-something year olds are spending more time in the classroom and less time in places like wedding chapels, full time jobs and namely vaginas (at least unprotected vaginas).

'Please, sir...I want half my tuition back'
Because of our current tendency to settle down much later in life, we've been given the social normative nod to stay more financially dependent throughout this stage of life. It's still okay to take money from older people who actually have a decent credit rating and something called 'disposable income'. We may not be operating on the most liberal budget, but the generation of young adults in the 21st century has a hell of a lot more they can do than their much more limited predecessors. There's no shame in accepting some support in doing what you really want.

2) Partying

Sometimes I really question Google Images.
Yes, our youthful bodies are still amazing capsules absorbing alcohol and pizza at a rate that will not sustain itself later in life. Remember this the next time you're downing jello shots like they're absolutely essential to your being on earth. Our recovery times consist of a sleep in and greasy breakfast and we're primed for a new night of turning our bodies into a jar of sanitizer. In ten years that shit will take an entire week before we've totally purged ourselves after a night of binge drinking.

Partying also serves an equally important function for us (other than turning into the worlds best male belly dancer): social networking. Indeed we go out because we're at the height of our social lives and combining a hip venue with excessive drinking is the best way to broaden your connections. This urge won't last forever because other things become more important, but when you have the time and energy to invest in this aspect of life you'll want to squeeze out every drop of relationship-building-ness. 

3) Travelling

Young people make excuses for this one plenty of times over, but for most people in their twenties travelling is completely feasible. There won't be any other time in your life when you'll have this kind of mobility, so take advantage of it and go where you've always wanted to. Secondly, the type of travelling your body can afford at this point isn't going to last forever. If you wait until you're old and falling apart to go anywhere, chances are you'll be watching the world pass from a wheelchair inside a climate-controlled old person tank. 

On the other hand, this is totally a bus I'd want to be on.
That fear you feel when you know you can drop everything and go somewhere far away is usually what stops you from embarking - that's usually where the excuses come from. But I've never heard any traveled person tell me they wished they hadn't gone and stayed home and settled down early. That just doesn't happen. In fact, generally ignoring any want of travel now results in lots of regret later on, so what are you waiting for? GET OUT THERE!

4) Risk-Taking

Then again, I'm probably not the best person to be
advising on risk taking. 
Perhaps scariest of all is our ability to take risks. Now is the time to try as many new things as possible, experiment and learn about yourself. Our quest for self-knowledge is never as pertinent as it is in our twenties, but with great learning comes great risk. Luckily, at this point you probably don't have that much collateral, and having little to lose means your options are plenty. Yes, there is always a chance you'll pull and epic failure and fall flat on your face; but at this age, your recovery is minimal. 

Much of your success here will rely on resiliency - something that may be a bit of use when you're older, too - so why not build it early? Heck, if you can't take a few hits, what kind of stories will you have as a senior? Your grandchildren will think you're a smelly old boring fart because you always listened to your parents and followed all the rules. Please....don't be THAT guy. For your sake and your grandchildren's. 

I've hashed out a small list with a big impact on your mid-twenties. There's certainly more to add, but currently I'm too busy mooching, partying, travelling and risk-taking to write out the rest. Let's hope you are, too.

Safe Travels,

Aaron Turpin