A walk on Toronto's streets, emptied by the summit

Toronto was quiet this morning. The prospect of G20 summit protests, mixed with some confusion over which thoroughfares are actually closed, had folks avoiding the downtown streets. With rain failing so softly there was no need to open an umbrella, I didn’t bother catching a cab outside my hotel on Bloor Street, and strolled south instead along St. George Street through the nearly deserted University of Toronto campus.

U of T shows well even when it’s not bustling. A minivan of Chinese visitors with summit passes around their necks were snapping pictures of University College, a high-Victorian marvel that never fails to impress. But I was more struck by all the new buildings and construction; I paused try to imagine what the Rotman business school’s expansion will look like when it’s completed in a couple of years. Handsome, I imagine, given that it’s another project of  Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg, the architects behind the Royal Conservatory of Music’s celebrated new Koerner Hall (not far away on Bloor) and Winnipeg’s innovative Manitoba Hydro Place.

Still drifting south in the general direction of the summit’s media centre, which is on the Canadian National Exhibition grounds, I checked to see if I could find a bite of breakfast somewhere in the fun cluster of restaurants tucked on Baldwin Street. No luck—all closed. (And I was dismayed to see the venerable Yung Sing pastry shop looking shut for good. When did that happen?)

South a couple of blocks further and I took in the exhilarating curvy sweep of the new Frank Gehry-designed front of the Art Gallery of Ontario. Nice the way the celebrated Gehry expansion leaves intact the most satisfying angle of the old AGO—the northeast corner anchored by Henry Moore’s eight-ton Large Two Forms, its bronze worn shiny where kids can’t resist sliding on it, though none where around this morning.

A notch south of the art gallery along McCaul Street and it’s impossible not to smile at the Ontario College of Art and Design’s Sharp Centre for Design. In case you haven’t seen it, or at least a picture, it’s a white-and-black building lifted nine stories in the air on slanted coloured stilts. Smack dab in the centre of the sheltered space beneath the suspended structure, a woman practiced tai chi solo this morning, which somehow tied the whole crazy thing together.

A few minutes later, turning west on Queen Street, I realized the rain was falling just hard enough to wet my shoulders, so I flagged down a cab, and ended my little foot tour remembering why I like this city so well.

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