Art / Cycling / Garden / Travel

Cycling Greenways – Umbilical Cord to My Past Neighbourhoods: Prairies, West Coast and Ontario

A  long bike route near home, joins my memories like a green umbilical cord, to places where I’ve lived and biked in Canada for the past 22 years.  My green route curls and unwinds in Toronto, Vancouver and now, Calgary.  To know, and to memorize each twist, bump, hill and breathless plateau of a bike path at my doorstep, is akin to knowing a secret hummingbird pulse of a big, noisy city.

Jogging and cycling on Humber River bridge in Toronto's west-end near Etobicoke. Along the Waterfront Trail. Photo by J.Chong 2011.

Jogging and cycling on Humber River bridge in Toronto’s west-end near Etobicoke. Along the Martin Goodman trail that is part of the bigger Waterfront Trail along Lake Ontario. Photo by J.Chong 2011.

I have been content and cosy in each chosen neighbourhood which has been oriented for cyclists and pedestrians in each of these cities across Canada. I know each entire city is still not completely this way, but I have made conscious choices to live in certain neighbourhoods that met my needs.

Waterloo, Ontario: Childhood Cycling Joy in Cycleable, Walkable Neighbourhood

King & William Streets. Downtown Waterloo, Ontario 2012. 1 block away from childhood street, was and still close to shops, school and transit.

King & William Streets. Downtown Waterloo, Ontario 2012. 1 block away from childhood street, was and still close to shops, school and transit. Photo by I.Yee

But I go back further to my first childhood bike route, a maple tree shaded street in Waterloo, Ontario. It was here, this lovely street with friendly neighbours, that seeded my bicycling dreams.  It was a one-way, one lane street off a busy downtown main street where I learned to bike at 11 years old, with younger siblings.My parents actively chose a home in Waterloo downtown’s core in the 1970′s –a walk 10 minutes  to transit and 15 minutes to a shopping area and school.  We didn’t have any car for a few years.

We took turns learning to bike,  by holding the saddle and handlebar for each other and wobbling up and down the sidewalk on a shared bike with no training wheels.  We could only afford 2 bikes for 6 children.

Under iron hand wrought roof art of the Music Pavilion within the Music Garden. Harbourfront. Overlooking Lake Ontario. Toronto 2012. Music Garden, a park inspired by TV music performance by classical cello player, Yo-Yo Ma of baroque composer, JW Bach's Suite No. in G. Major. Painted piano, 1 of 50+ public pianos for impromptu playing by anyone. Art work for Pan American Games 2015. Photo by J. Chong

Under iron hand wrought roof art of the Music Pavilion within the Music Garden. Harbourfront. Overlooking Lake Ontario. Toronto 2012. Music Garden, a park inspired by TV music performance by classical cello player, Yo-Yo Ma of baroque composer, JW Bach’s Suite No.1 in G. Major. Painted piano, 1 of 41+ public pianos placed all over downtown Toronto for impromptu playing by anyone. Streetscaping art work for Pan American Games 2015. Photo by J. Chong

Later, I escaped joyfully  away  from babysitting duties, by twirling my bike  past lovely, nineteenth century homes with rambling, wrap-around porches and stained glass windows on our street.

Home during my lifetime included: apartments, houses and condos. Painting along Bow River bike-pedestrian path. Kensington neighbourhood, Calgary 2013. Photo by J. Chong

Home during my lifetime include: apartments, houses and condos. Painting along Bow River bike-pedestrian path. Kensington neighbourhood, Calgary 2013. Photo by J. Chong

Neighbourhood Heritage and Progress Converge: Walking Tour, Iron Horse Bike Trail
Forty years later, I just discovered my childhood street has become a local historic street worthy of a walking tour and a web site.  Now just two blocks away, is a signed bike path, the Iron Horse Trail. But back then, my street was the best street to come home on bike.  In autumn, I rode dreamily under a gold-orange blazing canopy of mature trees and through crackling piles of raked leaves along the street. It was stuff that sparked a bout of poetry writing.

Then the bike was forgotten while I buckled under my university studies, then relocation to London and Toronto.

Bike rack sculpture. Kensington Market area. Toronto, ON 2012. Photo by J. Becker.

Bike rack sculpture. Kensington Market area. Toronto, ON 2012. Photo by J. Becker. Area historically known as highly ethnic area –Jewish, Italian, Portuguese and East Asian. Still retains these roots reflected in food shops, cafes but now more shops with bohemian artistic flair and some gentrification in residential streets.

Toronto: Bike Longing and Reigniting My Cycling Passion
Several years later, I resigned myself to a home in a highrise building near a subway station in Scarborough.  Except for the green tree canopy, my balcony view seemed furthest away from childhood sun-dappled shady streets.  By then, I was hankering to bicycle again.  But somehow, I had landed in a semi-suburban fringe of highrises and strip malls, north of Toronto’s Beaches area.

Cycling lower Don River bike path with Bloor St. Viaduct in distance. Part of daily 30 km. round trip bike commuting route between workplace, downtown Toronto and Scarborough home. 2012

Cycling lower Don River bike path with Bloor St. Viaduct in distance. Bike route is embedded in Toronto’s ravine parks –under the Don Valley Expressway. Part of my daily 30 km. round trip bike commuting route between workplace, downtown Toronto and Scarborough home for over 14 yrs. Photo by J. Becker 2012

Striking Lucky: Living Near Toronto’s Bike Routes  
Later, I was thrilled to discover that I lived only a 5 –minute bike ride away from Toronto’s extensive Don River Valley and its well-connected bike network like a spider web, buried in its ravine parks. Only 8 km. south of home, was Toronto’s Beaches neighbourhood where the Waterfront bike-pedestrian route runs through along the lake.

Bici -Public bike share. Downtown University of Toronto campus area. Huron and Harbord Streets. Photo by J.Chong 2011

Bici -Public bike share. Downtown University of Toronto campus area. Huron and Harbord Streets. Photo by J.Chong 2011

These wonderful cycling discoveries were revealed after meeting my new partner. With Jack, I jumped back onto a new bike and learned of another new hidden world of Toronto snaking under the Don Valley Parkway north to Sunnybrook Park and west through the Humber Valley.

Arresting outdoor art sculpture at Gooderham Distillery district. East of St. Lawrence Market near Waterfront Trail. Toronto ON 2012. Photo by J.Chong. Heritage area of former distillery buildings now into shops, public square for pedestrians and light cycling.

Arresting outdoor art sculpture at Goderham Distillery district. East of St. Lawrence Market near Waterfront Trail. Toronto ON 2012. Photo by J.Chong. Heritage area of former distillery buildings now into shops, public square for pedestrians and light cycling.

Over months and years, I learned to join different bike routes between home and work, between home and pleasure. I cycled the Waterfront Bike Trail that edged Lake Ontario and wandered into the Beaches area, before cycling homeward.

After work, I pushed the pedals as far as Etobicoke and back home after work, on some summer evenings. On those evenings, it was a solo 53 km round trip.  I was addicted to my cycling route forays, the bike, and to freedom.

Bike Routes Near Home: Familiar Touchstone After Long Rides
Other times, a bike route near home, was a safe touchstone after cycling home on multi-day trips, from Kingston, Peterborough or just Kleinberg.

False Creek at sunrise. Looking out towards Science World. Olympic Village on right. Vancouver BC. Photo by J. Chong

False Creek at sunrise. Looking out towards Science World, the geodesic building. Olympic Village on right. Vancouver BC. Photo by J. Chong. Seaside bike path winds along the edge of False Creek from Stanley Park to Granville Market.

My best Toronto bike path memories were suffused with paintbrush splashed autumn trees and glowing red sumac bushes.

I brought along those slow burning memories, when we moved later, to Vancouver.   We lived by the famed Seaside-Seawall bike path that threads through Stanley Park, Olympic Village and to Granville Island.

On our bikes, we inhaled  sea air tang.  As we turned our handlebars, the North Shore mountains rose  ahead.  Like other cities, I learned the best times to cycle, was in the stillness of early morning sunrise before hordes of walkers, roller bladers, dogs and cyclists.

Bike wheels transformed into garden screen for Mount Pleasant community garden. Along Ontario St. bike route. Vancouver 2012. Photo by J. Chong

Bike wheels transformed into garden screen for Mount Pleasant community garden. Along Ontario St. bike route. Vancouver 2012. Photo by J. Chong

Daily Cycling Bliss-Out: Vancouver BC
I went further, by cycling Stanley Park in the dark as part of my extended cycling to work route.  I needed to lengthen cycling gloriousness before arriving at work downtown.

We swept down paved, empty roads in the park with our tiny firefly bike lights flickering faintly in the wooded deep darkness. No one else was around when we cycled up to Prospect Point by Lion’s Gate Bridge.  This was my commuting bliss out every day for several years.  Rain mist became a veil to enrich the colours of flowers that were bigger and more brilliant here, than elsewhere in Canada.  Cyclists spun by in rain while café drinkers still hung out, chatting away under the awning.

Cycling along the Seaside path by False Creek. Downtown Vancouver

Cycling along the Seaside path by False Creek. Downtown Vancouver

In the evening, on our highrise balcony, many ant-like cyclists crisscrossed the paths and bridges below.  Swarms filled the paths on a summer evening by False Creek where kayakers and dragon boaters ply the sea waters. It was urban west coast life at

Magnolia and cherry blossom trees along Seaside bike path. North False Creek, David Lam Park. Vancouver BC. Photo by J. Chong 2013

Magnolia and cherry blossom trees along Seaside bike path. North False Creek, David Lam Park. Downtown Vancouver BC. Photo by J. Chong 2013

its best.  I still linger over this view whenever I visit and marvel the magnolia and cherry trees popping their blushing blooms in spring time.

Swept Along or Fighting Chinook Winds: Calgary, Alberta
Now, it’s still cyclists trundling on another path, –along the Bow and Elbow Rivers.  Here the gentle, grassy prairie hills rise in green-gold and yellow dry layers, from the blue-green waters swirling downstream  from the Rockies  into Calgary.  I ride through the

Bow River bike-pedestrian path. Calgary 2012

Bow River bike-pedestrian path. Calgary 2012. Photo by J.Chong

teeth of the chinook headwind any season and face-numbing winter cold at -25 degrees C.  The dry air is sunlit and loose.  It’s not the red cardinal that flits across my path but a brilliant blue black magpie bird that hops heavily along the verges.    Tiny rodent prairie dogs play tumble on top of one another, while long legged pale jack rabbits leap away from the path in the heart of the city.  There are less bushes and trees to screen creatures and oncoming cyclists.

Fall. Edgeworthy Park, western end of Bow River bike route. Calgary AB 2012

Fall. Edgeworthy Park, western end of Bow River bike route. Calgary AB 2012. Photo by J.Chong

I ride with poignant memories, dreams and gladness for these neighbourhoods in the Canadian cities where I have lived,  explored their intimate corners and have celebrated on bike.  When I close my eyes, each familiar bike route calls out to me to return home again and again. And I do.

By "Raindrop", a permanent outdoor art work . Coal Harbour along Seaside-Seawall bike-pedestrian path. Vancouver, BC 2012

By “Raindrop”, a permanent outdoor art work . Coal Harbour along Seaside-Seawall bike-pedestrian path. Vancouver, BC 2012

Big wild rabbits sometimes hop about in East Village area near Riverwalk bike-pedestrian path. Downtown Calgary. 2012.

Big wild rabbits sometimes hop about in East Village near Riverwalk bike-pedestrian path. Downtown Calgary. 2012.

Further Reading:
Harbourfront Centre. The Music Garden. More about this unique City of Toronto park. Aerial view of the park reveals gardens and walkways designed in the shape of a musical note. Garden designs are inspired by each music movement: prelude, allemande, courante, etc.

Street Pianos. 41 uniquely painted pianos in Toronto’s public spaces for 41 countries, that will be competing in the Pan-American Games in Toronto.

Waterloo Public Library. Waterloo Historical Walking Tours: Mary-Allen Neighbourhood. Sample houses on childhood street of George St.  It was socio-economically mixed neighbourhood with blend of low income residents (like our family), middle class to upper middle class.

Adult tricycle near St. Lawrence Community Centre. Downtown Toronto. Photo by J.Chong 2011.

Adult tricycle near St. Lawrence Community Centre. Downtown Toronto. Along The Esplanade, a block from St. Lawrence Market. Photo by J.Chong 2011.

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30 thoughts on “Cycling Greenways – Umbilical Cord to My Past Neighbourhoods: Prairies, West Coast and Ontario

    • Hopefully you will recover and cycle again. Take an easy there! I know you are an ex-British Columbian, but Toronto has been greatly overshadowed for its bike routes long before I moved and lived in Vancouver.

        • Yesterday it was nearly 85 degrees F (I tend to think metric, I guess that’s over 22 degree C or so. I need a converter.), hot and very bright. Lots of cyclists. It’s weather like this that one revels in cycling away.

  1. I am not a bicyclist. I don’t know Toronto at all but I do know Vancouver and other places you have traveled to. Reading your blog has given me a different perspective on how to view cities, towns and the countryside from a bicyclist’s point of view. It’s a perspective we all need to develop as we move forward in time.

    • Hope you learn bits here and there. I lived in Toronto for over 20 yrs. after university. First few months were hard to adjust. But the city has great dynamic drive that I don’t find at all where I live now. (Prairies). I used to hear that Vancouver was an international city. Well, honest it’s Canada’s Pacific Rim city, the demographics with the population heavily of people with ancestry from Asia. Toronto is way more international, diverse since it has one of the largest black communities in Canada in addition the Asian component, etc. Toronto also has large, ethnic neighbourhoods. There are whole swaths of areas that are Greek, Korean, East European, Italian, Portuguese, Jewish where there are clearly shops, restaurants, etc. I have not yet showcased enough of Toronto in this blog and plan to do more. It is the city where I solidified my identity, recaptured my art spirit (by taking several evening courses. Toronto has some great art supply stores with highly competitive prices compared to Vancouver), etc. Nearly my whole extended family is in this city area. And it’s a lot of people. :)

      But it is the city where I volunteered for various organizations prior to cycling, where I found my “voice”. One of the organizations was a magazine on the arts and social issues concerning Asian-Canadians.

  2. Wow, Jean, great post. It has a wonderful lyrical quality: the secret hummingbird pulse of a big city, that gold-orange blazing canopy of trees in autumn, glowing red sumac bushes and slow burning memories, the idea of misty rain enriching the color of flowers– yes, you’re a born poet, I would say. Lovely photos, just a beautifully constructed post– well done, and thanks so much for sharing! : )

    • Well, it’s easier to be poetic about specific areas of a city. But yes, that’s how I tend to remember my favourite routes that I used often. It’s nice to talk in a logical, dry manner about the efficiency of a bike route, but there are other better things that pull a cyclist over and over to the same route. Thanks for dropping by, Mark. Most likely New Hampshire has some great routes.

  3. What a lovely journey you’ve been on! The places you’ve traveled to are all beautiful, such serenity and peace compared to busy Shanghai. Speaking of which, there are also public bike share areas here. I think one of these days I may try it. But cycling in a big city like Shanghai may be a little challenging given how the local drivers drive. Maybe there is a bike route, or not.

    • Maybe one day you will bike around in an area within Shanghai that’s less car-threatening. Does the public bike share appear to be used often? Or maybe it is near parks. Well, I’m only showing photos of serene cycling areas in the cities where I’ve lived. Toronto is something like Chicago –busy downtown with bike routes. Over 1 million people from all the city and suburbs pour into the downtown area to work. It terms of pacing, it is more hyperactive compared to Vancouver. But then, I hear Toronto is tame compared to heart of NYC.

  4. What a beautiful post with lovely memories. I really enjoyed reading about your journey since you discovered your love of cycling! Wow! 2 bikes for 6 children!

        • I actually have bikes in each of those cities so whenever I go back to visit, I can jump onto a bike that fits me. For Toronto, I gave away a bike that used for 14 yrs. to sister. So that’s what I use when I’m there. I can check out changes to cycling infrastructure, routes, etc. :) Of course, Vancouver has gone nuts over cycling recently.

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