Sunday, August 19, 2007

Visions For The GTTA

Visions For The GTTA

What do you want your city to look like in the future?

Voters have been asked that at almost every election at the municipal, provincial and federal levels for many years. Do you want your community to be urban with mass transit throughout or rural where you can hug a cow at will? These are the decisions that your politicians make on a day to day, month to month and year to year basis.

The blog GTA Visions takes a look at what the blogger wants to the Toronto area to look like in terms of transit. However, the blog also takes brief looks at planning, budgeting and much more of both the city of Toronto as well as the outer areas like Guelph and York Region. Andrae Griffith should be applauded for bringing forth his transit and other ideas into the public realm as hopefully, like Steve Munro's transit blog, it will stir spirited debate of how transit should look in the Toronto area.

The Toronto area has been grappling for some time with whether to use subways, rapid transit (e.g. streetcars, buses, etc.) or surface trains along various routes. There is debate over whether to discontinue the use of streetcars by using articulated buses or even whether the subway system should be extended. Planning issue like these in Toronto and surrounding areas are exactly what needs to be brought forth, debated and then approved in order to move Toronto forth into the future. These decisions, however, will change the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) for quite some time into the future. This is why spirited debate and successful planning need to be undertaken. The GTTA visions blog and website, works as these sites bring forth the ideas that could be debated or add further debate to ideas already being put forth by others.

I always take great interest in my community and areas in terms of planning and implementation of these plans. Thus, I plan to become an avid reader of the GTTA Blog for quite some time!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Doors Open Aurora

Yesterday, my roomate and I headed off to "Door Open Aurora" to check out the behind the seens sights, sounds and history of many of Aurora's buildings.

First we headed over to Sheppard's Bush Conservation area where the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority had opened the old Charles Sheppard homestead and Pefferlaw Log Cabin. This was the first time I had been in Sheppard house and had high hopes. I was sadly dissappointed as the house was empty and many of the rooms were overdo for repair.

Next we headed to the Farmer's Market to join the historical walking tour lead by Dr. W. John McIntyre of the downtown Aurora area. The hour and a half walking tour was very informatative. Dr. McIntyre provided great detail along with dates about various businesses, buildings, homes and dates for each all off the top of his head. He even ensured, when stopping to discuss the buildings around the group, that the group stopped in well shaded areas. This walking tour should be repeated again in the near future as it was well attended by over forty people. One of the most remarkable places I saw was the old Methodist Parsonage where the church ministers for my church used to reside. This was former home of Rev. Edwin Pearson and his family including, Lester B. Pearson who recalled this home as being the location where he remembers his first Christmas.


The Old Methodist Parsonage on Catherine Avenue


The tour ended at Hillary House where Dr. Hillary had his medical practice for the longest time. Now it is a totally restored house that shows the history of medicine in Aurora. This is an absolutely beautiful house to visit and take pictures on the grounds especially during weddings.

Following this tour we headed to TC's Fish & Burgers for Lunch. TC's has always had generous portion sizes of hamburgers and fries. This is perhaps one of my favourite burger places because it gives good value for money.

Next we headed over to Caruso & Company to take a look at Aurora's oldest continuing business. This home decor and flower shop used to be a fruit and vegetable store until it was converted to its current operations in the early 2000s. The original wood floors and 1930s tin ceilings have been totally restored in this store. The owners of the businesses are third generation Carusos who have done a maginficent job at not only creating a home decor business but also restoring this historical Aurora landmark to what it is today.

Following Caruso's we headed north on Yonge Street to The Odd Fellows Hall. I had always wondered what the Odd Fellows did. Now I know and they even tried to recruit me as a member. I politely declined as I currently have enough on my plate between my website, working, my involvement with the church and so on. But now I know the Odd Fellows are an organization that helps out local people who are in trouble after a fire (e.g. paying for hotel rooms, raising money to rebuild, etc.), helping those with children through their camp fund, sponsoring local soccer and hockey teams and much more.

After that we headed down to Aurora United Church to view the historical display in the narthex of the church.



Aurora United Church's Narthex

Following the visit to the church, we visted at Bluetiful Living at the Grimshaw House. This is yet another home decor store in Aurora. The entire Grimshaw House, both the main floor and the upstairs bedrooms, have been redesigned with different home decor fashions. A very well redone historical house repainted into today's home decor fashions.

Next we headed up to the Barnes' Garden to see the different agricultural gardens the former teachers have developed. There must have been seven different types of tomatoes growing in the garden. A problem, one of the owners of the garden was telling me, was that the squirrels would dig up the garlic cloves and bury them somewhere else for safe keeping during the summers. But squirrels being squirrels seem to forget quite a few places where the garlic cloves were buried. So the cloves would sprout next summer across the garden from where they were dug up from the next summer. It gets quite frustrating when your picking tomatoes to find a couple of cloves of garlic right next to them and you have no idea what kind they are. But at least the gardeners took this with good humour.

After visiting all the above, we were quite tired. After visiting the church for a couple of glasses of water because we were thirsty from walking around town all day in the hot sun. It was a good day to get out and find out what goes on in town and to also learn about the local history of Aurora.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Swiss Chalet is Sometimes Good

Swiss Chalet Rotisserie & Grill on UrbanspoonAnother night out with my girlfriend for some fine dining. My girlfriend has never been to Swiss Chalet in her life. So I thought I would treat her to a nice classic Swiss Chalet quarter chicken dinner.

Upon entering the Aurora Swiss Chalet Restaurant (1 Henderson Drive, Aurora, Ontario) we were told by the hostess, after waiting at the front for two minutes, that we had to wait to be seated because she had to clean off a table.

We waited another three minutes before she seated us at the freshly cleaned table. This was a little disturbing because I counted roughly five other tables that were already cleaned and ready to go. So why didn't we get seated at one of those?

Anita, our server, easily made up for the lacking service from our hostess. Anita stopped by within five minutes of us being seated to take our drink order. She also took our food order at this time as well as we were ready to order. Throughout the meal she checked in twice, once shortly after we received our meal and near the end of the meal to ensure everything was fine. The food came quickly as well within five minutes of ordering. My girlfriend was a little disappointed in the variety of mixed vegetables though. Other than that food was good.

We had "dark meat" for chicken instead of white. This is because all Swiss Chalet's now charge about a dollar for the white meat.

The bill came quickly after being requested at the end of our meal. Our meal was pretty good with the exception of the beginning with the hostess not recognizing what a "clean table" was looking like.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

East of Terrible

East Side Mario's on UrbanspoonWent to old reliable East Side Mario's in Newmarket (17175 Yonge Street, Newmarket, Ontario) with my girlfriend. It used to be it was expected good food, good service and good times. Things have changed!

Food was decent. However, the tap water my girlfriend ordered had to be sent back as it had what looked like a bread crumb in it plus pieces of paper. The next glass of tap water came back with greasy fingerprints on it.

Then once we were finished eating, it took ten minutes to find the server, ask for the bill and receive it. Then it took another five minutes to receive my change from a twenty. I had to ask the hostess and the manager where the server was with my change! The lame excuse we received back from the server was everyone had given him twenties that night. But our server never explained as to why it took so long to get change. Um...like doesn't the bar have change for a twenty?

To add to the above, there were three house flies in the window next to our table that every now and then we had to swat at.

Definatetly will be avoiding this location of East Side Mario's for a while. What happenned Mario? Where have things gone so bad?

Sunday, August 05, 2007

MyBikeLane

MyBikeLane - Toronto

Sometimes I find the oddest blogs by reading other blogs. In this case I found MyBikelane by reading BlogTO.com. Sometimes these blogs get me thinking like: "Hmmm interesting idea.." or "What were they thinking..." The MyBikelane blog leaves me thinking the former rather than the latter.

As a person who cannot stand those that obviously break the law and, in turn, make things unbearable for others, I laud this idea for the blog. Bike lanes in Toronto and other cities are meant to separate bike riders from regular traffic. The concept of a bike lane is to make life easier for both bike riders and car drivers. However, sometimes drivers break the law and, sometimes, get away with it. With this aggravation in mind, MyBikeLane blog was born.

Sometimes, you just have to take the law into your own hands....Congrats to MyBiklane blog for doing that!

AGO = Ripoff Central



Yesterday my new roommate and I headed down to the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO). I hadn't been to the AGO in years. We rode the subway down from Finch Subway Station to Yonge and Dundas and then walked over to the AGO at Dundas and McCaul Streets.

We entered the Art Gallery and walked up a long ramp to the pay the admission. Since I am member of the Ontario College of Teachers (OCT) I have free admission. My roommate paid fifteen dollars.

Before the we paid admission though, we were warned that most of the permanent collection, with the exception of about three paintings, was not available to be seen as the gallery was undergoing extensive renovations. I, at the time, thought no problem because the gallery seemed to be charging regular admission prices anyway.

We were in and out of the Art Gallery of Ontario in less than forty five minutes! WHAT A RIPOFF! There were perhaps five galleries of art brought into the gallery and three paintings from the permanent gallery shown. The three paintings from the permanent gallery were only displayed in the second floor hallway area and not even in a gallery unto themselves.

Add to this that really only the second floor of the gallery was worth viewing. Even then some of the space on the second floor was needlessly taken up by one of the two gift shops. Why are there two gift shops when more than three quarters of your building is closed for renovations?

The Art Gallery of Ontario has three floors. The basement was totally inaccessible due to renovations. The main floor had a small children's art gallery area, a large gift shop, architectural displays of the new Art Gallery of Ontario building, and a self portrait display where people from around the world submitted self drawn self portraits. The second floor had five galleries of works brought into the gallery from other galleries from around the world.

This hardly seems to be worth the fifteen dollars for the price of admission. For twenty American one can go to the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art or the Guggenheim and see Picasso and Renoir. The AGO? Not one Canadian Group of Seven picture could be seen because these paintings were buried someplace due to renovations.

If a gallery is going to undergo renovations, admission must be adjusted in order to match what can be seen. If most of your permanent collection is not there, please lower your price of admission. If the AGO did this and the admission for one adult at this time was fifteen dollars, I'd hate to see what the real price of admission is when the whole permanent collection is. This idea of modifying the price of admission during renovations only makes sense as customers will at least appreciate not leaving feeling ripped off and, thus, are more likely to return in the future once the renovations are completed. As of now, I doubt whether I will be returning to the AGO for quite some time as this visit left a poor taste in my mouth. I was left apologizing for the high admission price and poor quality of a Toronto Art Institution. It really seemed that the only thing the AGO was interested in was getting our money so they could finish the overpriced Frank Gehry designed renovation of their beloved building. Why else would there be a need for two relatively large gift shops and a high admission price in comparison of what gallery space there was? Bottom line, if I wanted to be ripped off, I would have done it by buying designer coffee from Starbucks.

Meanwhile, the Toronto tourist industry is wondering why the number tourists is dwindling. Perhaps part of the problem is not only Toronto's continuing woes in the crime, litter and municipal taxation, but also with attractions. If attractions like the AGO leave a poor impression on tourists, then why would tourists return? Lets also note that the ROM, which has been undergoing renovations for the Michael Lee Chin Crystal expansion, is still not fully completed yet. Sure the ROM's physical building is finished, but the inerts of galleries and other amenities won't be finished until well into 2009. This is despite the renovations to the ROM beginning in 2004. So apparenlty it takes five years to start, complete construction and move all the collections in. No wonder tourists are not coming to Toronto as much, two of our major museums that people flock to are under renovation and one, the AGO, rips people off in terms of value for money. Add to the fact that some members of the tourist industry are calling Toronto boring and lacking pizzazz in major newspapers like the Toronto Star, it is no wonder that tourism is suffering.

More festivals, restoring the reputation of "Toronto the clean", and other such cosmetic changes won't help if the major backbones or draws of tourism appear uninviting. This is proven with one question: "Why would I want to come to visit your city if I'm going to leave feeling ripped off and underappreciated?" I would like to ask the very similar question to the AGO after yesterday's visit: "Why should I come back if I'm leaving here feeling ripped off and underappreciated?"

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Toronto Star: "National Gallery...in a Garage"

The Toronto Star is notoriously a Liberal paper in its reporting and editorializing. So it is not surprising to find the Star’s Peter Goddard lambasting the federal Conservatives over the National Portrait Gallery not being funded for completion in his column in today’s paper.

In the column, Goddard tells the tail of woe of the National Portrait Gallery having to be hosted in a garage located off a back alley in downtown Toronto. Goddard, in the column calls this fact the gallery is hosted in such awful conditions a travesty which is true.

Goddard only mentions, in passing, the idea of former Liberal Heritage Minister Sheila Copps idea of a opening the portrait gallery in the old US Embassy building being launched in 2001. Then, for some reason, he lays the entire issue at the feet of today’s Conservative government. Goddard is right to blame the Stephen Harper government for cutting the $44 million in order to launch the national portrait gallery. But he believes this to be “more Tory political payback”. But really, is it all Conservative party problem?

Sheila Copps launched the idea for a National Portrait gallery in 2001 and nothing happened except the old US flag came down and a new Canadian flag went up. Since then nothing much has happened to the building. So why didn’t the Liberals get the museum up and running? Was it because of lack of money? Not likely since Paul Martin stressed it was the Liberals who slayed the deficit and now were running significant surpluses. Surely some of the money from the surpluses could have been invested in the museum to get it up and running. But perhaps with the problems the health care system was seeing, funding a new museum was not politically palatable at the time. So hence the Liberals kept putting it off and putting it off.

Fast forward to today, and it seems, according to Goddard, the Conservatives are to blame for not funding this new museum. Goddard unfairly believes the entire problem is with the Conservatives. But why shouldn’t the Liberals, who were in power the majority of the time between 2001 and today (2007) also share the blame?

Goddard also mentions a further tidbit of information, $44 million. It takes forty four million dollars to get this museum up and running? Lets figure out what the forty-four million might be used for:

1. Purchasing land and a building? Nope, the Canadian government already became owner of the former US embassy in 2001.

2. Renovations of the building? I would suggest the building already meets fire code for an office building. Perhaps only some minor renovations would be required for space and accessibility purposes but that should cost more than two million dollars tops. Two million is also probably on the very high side.

3. Purchasing portraits and art work? The Montrose Portrait Gallery of Canada, on their website, notes “The National Portrait Gallery of Canada has thousands of lovely portraits and millions of lovely photos” already. So why spend more money to acquire even more portraits if thousands of portraits and millions of these photos are currently collecting dust?

4. All portraits need picture frame hooks. So perhaps a good portion of the forty-four million dollars is to go towards the picture frame hooks and the hammers needed to mount them on the wall. No doubt there will be highly paid union jobs needed to put these portraits up on the wall. The portraits placings, of course being a government operation, would require hours of special committee meetings and bureaucrats to fuss over. This doesn’t even include the time to discuss what paint colours to use for the walls itself!

So in order to save everyone time and money, I hereby volunteer to do my part for the National Portrait Gallery of Canada and volunteer my time and my hammer in order to get these portraits on the wall of the old US Embassy. I figure a team of 5 to 10 of us could each take a room and hang the probably already framed portraits on the walls of the old embassy building.

But of course the Portrait Gallery of Canada being a Liberal idea and a government operation, my suggestion will never see the light of day. But of course the spending of forty four million dollars down the toilet will never be the fault of the Liberals. The Liberals will only blame the Conservatives of course, once the Conservatives come to power that is. Otherwise, just like Goddard and the Toronto Star, while the Liberals form government, its all HUSH! HUSH!

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