Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year's Eve!

It's probably best to keep wishes for the new year separate from those for new year's eve since they are two quite distinct, although related, events.

So, Happy New Year's Eve!
To all: Don't drink and drive.

To mathematicians: Don't drink and derive.
To critics: Don't drink and deride.
To surgeons: Don't drink and debride. (Yes, I know it's not pronounced that way.)
To politicians: Don't drink da bribe.
To reporters: Don't drink and describe.
To oppressors: Don't drink and deprive.
To protesters: Don't drink and decry.
To refusers: Don't drink and decline.
To judges: Don't drink and decide.

You get the idea.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

House guests

My sister is visiting. She is not in this picture.
The dog—Landon, the Sheltie—is visiting too. That's him in the picture. Euripides, my Siamese, is enjoying his company. As much as a cat can enjoy the company of a dog, but Rippy seems glad of having a male pal.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

New Year's resolutions

Having a parking gate come crashing down on your head is a little like making New Year's resolutions, isn't it?
Aw, it's the holidays. I just put up a picture and write some words. Sometimes they match.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Writers' strike

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Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Murray Christmas!

A musician hanging out in our Christmas tree.
More later — Santa came and we're checking out what's under the tree.
In the meantime, Murray Christmas (an old family joke) to you all!

Sunday, December 23, 2007


Again, I did NOT PhotoShop the red nose into this picture. I shot this outside Tucson, Ariz. I saw two of these signs - the other was on the other side of the highway.
I shit you not.
If you don't believe me, Rudolph will bypass your house completely and you won't even get a lump of coal!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Buy the book

Are online sales down this year, or below expectations? If not, then why am I getting e-mail after e-mail, imploring me to buy more and more? And for myself?
On the 16th, I received the following from
"As someone who has shopped at, you might like to know it's not too late to treat yourself to a little something to enjoy as you're recovering from the holidays.
"Maybe you got everything on your holiday list taken care of early, and it's time to relax with that mystery you've wanted to read or a few new DVDs."
But it's not just Amazon. I received a similar pitch from Dover, the publisher, yesterday!
The biggest gift-giving holiday of the year is about to happen and I'm supposed to buy *myself* stuff now? And to help me recover from the holidays that haven't happened yet? Or to reward myself for finishing my shopping and decorating and baking early? Are they nuts? As if anyone is going to have time to read a book between now and Christmas! Unless they're a recluse, shut-in, orphan, on welfare or on life support - and in all of those cases I'm sure a book or DVD is farthest from their minds.

P.S. The picture above is from San Francisco. I made a note of the building, but it's not to hand and I am just too swamped getting the house ready for my sister's* arrival to look it up. If you're really interested in knowing the building, e-mail me and I'll look it up for you... after Boxing Day.
*Not Marge, the sister whose Christmas present I read before mailing it to her. The visiting sister is Roxe, from Ottawa.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Rear window

The "picture" I posted of our snow the other day was pretty lame. This might make up for it.
I was working in my home office on Monday. It looks out on the back of the house and although I was concentrating on what I was writing, I became aware, in my peripheral vision, of a flying white lump of something. It was an across-the-lane neighbour shovelling her snow.
Well, it wasn't the neighbour — it was the snow she was shovelling.
When she was clearing the walkway between her house and the next-door one, she'd just heave each shovelful over the fence, and sometimes she'd achieve remarkable height.
This isn't the best example of that, but it's the best I could capture shooting through the window.
Today it rained and the temperature went above 0C. We still have lots of snow on the ground, but less than before.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

If you've never been here...

... this (right) is what Toronto looks like. Today anyway.
Of course, it's also what most of southern and eastern Ontario look like today. I've lost track of the accumulation that Environment Canada has estimated for most of us. 25 cm? 40 cm?
If you enjoyed this post, you might also like sketches in a similar vein (only much more amusing) by Sparky Donatello.

WHITE CHRISTMAS TRVIA: I just discovered this week that Environment Canada actually has a definition of "White Christmas." If there's not at least 2 cm of snow on the ground by 7am on Christmas day, it ain't white. Saith the guvamint weather agency.

Christmasy but creepy?

This fellow and five of his brothers appear on the now-closed Village Theatre in Chicago. This whole figure—especially his tangle of musical instruments—has always struck me as Christmasy. I think he reminds me (without the instruments) of Marley after he's removed the bandage that keeps his jaws shut.
But he's sort of creepy too, which detracts a bit from his Christmasy aspects.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Canadian Women Artists History Initiative

We interrupt seasonal pictures for some relatively new news: the Canadian Women Artists History Initiative, based in the Art History Department at Concordia University in Montreal, appears to have officially started.

It is a collaborative effort to bring resources and researchers together to build and build upon scholarship on women artists in Canada. Its focus is on the period before 1967, and includes Canadian women artists born before 1925 (1965 for those in architecture) and working across a broad range of media.

I learned about the plans for this effort when I interviewed Dr. Janice Anderson (PhD), curator of visual resources in Concordia's Faculty of Fine Arts, in June, but I just happened upon the group's Web site yesterday. I interviewed Janice in connection with the biography I'm writing of Toronto sculptor Merle Foster (1897-1986). The picture above is a figure from a fountain she sculpted.

Blue Christmas

The City of Toronto decks out many of its neighbourhoods and squares with large light displays every year. The city also offers bus tours — one of the east end and one of the west end — to view the "cavalcade of lights." It's a hop-on/hop-off arrangement, to encourage riders to hop and shop.
This blue tree is in Dundas Square and part of the light display near the Eaton Centre.

Me, I'm not so crazy about the background of Dundas Square, so I (admittedly crudely) PhotoShopped most of it out.
As messy and noisy and commercial as the background of Dundas Square is here, if I'd shot the blue tree from the other side, the tree would be overwhelmed by a ginormous advertising tower on the opposite corner. I'll try to get a shot from that angle some time this weekend, braving the fierce winter storm that is swirling about us even as I speak.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Time for something seasonal

Doesn't this guy look like the Ghost of Christmas Present in the Alastair Sim version of A Christmas Carol? Only less jolly?
(His current gig is watching over Geary Street from the façade of the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco.)

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


Someone actually wrote "Hello" in the window grime. I did not PhotoShop that in. I shit you not.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

The Lost Arts (2nd in a series)

I knew it was a mistake but that didn't stop me.

I just popped into a Dominion store about a mile and a half from home for just a couple of things, and wound up buying too many groceries to schlep back on the bus.

I needed only a couple of little things, but yogurt was on sale, three for $1, the bags of crummy bagels [more like bread doughnuts] were going for three for $4. And of course it's Clementine season and I saw stuff that I'll want to have on hand over the holidays and if you don't get while there's that to get, you don't get.
I'd forgotten to bring one of the many eco-friendly store bags I have accumulated, so of course, I had to buy another. The check-out guy (not a kid) asked me which of the groceries I wanted to go in the bag. Huh? So I opted for the heavy stuff - the two cartons of egg nog ice cream and the Clementines. He proceeded to put everything in the bag.
I dragged the load out of the store and onto Yonge Street where I hailed a cab, to convey me, said groceries and other assorted Christmas shopping home.
Not unlike most Toronto cabbies, the guy didn't bother to reach over and open the door for me from the inside, laden though I was. As I seated myself among the bags spilling their contents onto the back seat and floor, I gave him my address which he apparently didn't recognize, despite the fact that I also gave him the nearest major intersection.
Thereafter followed the Toronto cabbies' refrain: "Let me know when we get there."
The guy (probably the brother of the bagger at the Dominion) figured I knew where I was headed, so why should he bother with his Perly's (Toronto's A to Z... street map) or his GPS (never mind learning where fairly major streets are)? Especially when no one ever hears the correct name of my street, he'd never be able to find it. (I enunciate RATHBURN; they hear Rayburn, Raglan or Robert.) (Street names changed to protect... me!)
So I give directions – how many blocks north and west of the major intersection, even down to the number of houses from the corner. So why do cabbies invariably go blasting up the street, and we're a block past my house before I can say, "Hey! Where are we going? What happened to the THIRD house on the right?"
Heaven help a tourist who comes to Toronto to see the famous Terry Murray gargoyles and has no idea where they are.
A tip: get into the taxi, give the address and then say, "Let me know when we get there."

Friday, December 7, 2007

Up on the roof

... or somewhere like it. When I was shooting gargoyles and grotesques and whatnot for Faces on Places, I enjoyed access to several rooftops in the city. A 300mm lens will take you only so far.
But this (left) is a far cry from standing on a roof, with a railing or something like it to keep you from falling over the edge.
I shot this fellow (who is not the sheriff or the deputy) out the window of my Day Job a couple of weeks ago before the snow. Being on rooftops was a cool experience; this looks chilling.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007


Admittedly, this is a departure from what I usually cover here, but since this is a big gift-giving season, I thought some of you might want to put this little gem on your gimme list.
For the low, low price of only $12.79 (and that's in American dollars!), you can guarantee a spot for yourself or a loved one in heaven! The "essential travel kit" comes with that low price tag, but for a mere $12.16 more, you can get the "all access travel kit."
Both contain a certificate of reservation with a unique I.D. number registered in the Book of Light™ as well as a first class ticket to heaven, the Official Heaven Identification Card (so you won't be hassled as you check out your eternal reward), and the Heaven 101 mini informational guide.
The "all access" kit also contains a VIP pass to the special-access areas of heaven, and includes framing for your ticket and certificate.
But here's the best news — both kits come with a money-back guarantee!
"Come on, Terry," you're thinking. "Don't be a sucker."
The Reserve A Spot in Heaven people are the ONLY official distributors of reservations into heaven. They are directly affiliated with The Board of Heavenly Officials, the only governing body in Heaven.
So there! Ye of little faith!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Straighten up, Toronto!

There are a lot of differences between Toronto and Montreal. Bagels, for one. Toronto bagels: not so hot. Montreal bagels: The best.
Oh, yeah, and language for another. Toronto: English. Montreal: French. Unlike the bagels, neither language is better than the other.
Now I've discovered another difference - and a shocking one - between Canada's two major cities: children's posture.

These are Montreal children walking to school. Their posture is so impeccable, they could carry their books on their heads (if their heads were flat, which they clearly aren't). Their stride suggests a sense of purpose. Possibly even joy.

What of the youths of Toronto? Apart from the surrounding city looking an unhealthy yellow, these children are slouching, shuffling, dispirited.
Hold your heads high, youth of Toronto. Straighten up! Put a spring in your step! (It's not officially winter yet anyway.)

Okay, I'll post architecture stuff next time.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Our Lady of York (aka Deeds Speak)

Last Monday, the sculpture of the woman (let's call her Our Lady of York) was taken down from the 60 Richmond Street East building. I was able to document how half of the job was done.

When I arrived at the site, wearing my new steel-toed boots and hard hat, the Lady had been freed from her surrounding brick and was bundled up to protect her from potentially damaging bumps on the way down.
(The relief is about 4 inches, but she was mounted on another piece of concrete, so that her total weight is probably about a ton.The County of York coat of arms, with its "Deeds Speak" motto, had been taken down several days before.)
The guys from Bird Construction began sloooowly lowering her ... and then found the board they'd propped up to ease her down wouldn't work. So they scrambled to find a new board ... which worked just fine.

But as she got nearer the ground, it became apparent that the chain holding her from the top wasn't long enough.
So the guys took a break, sent for a longer chain... and I had to go to my real job. The Lady hung there until she was taken down either later that day or on Tuesday.
I wasn't able to get back to the site to see the complete removal, so I don't know what the next steps would have been: how they'd get all 1,000 pounds of her from an upright position to the horizontal (presumably) to move her to a storage facility.
Where she will end up is a bit uncertain. I talked to Leslie Gash at Toronto Housing, and she'd like to see Our Lady put on the the new building. But the building's design doesn't look like the right style for Our Lady. See renderings of the new building included in this Globe and Mail story by John Bentley Mays.
Leslie said she supposed Our Lady could go inside the building, but she thought the sculpture really ought to be out where it can be seen.
That's my feeling exactly. It drives me nuts when these pieces, executed by some of our leading sculptors, are removed when a building is remodeled - and then put inside, where no one but indifferent employees can see them. The Rogers building at 333 Bloor Street East (a part of the complex where I work) is probably the worst offender, for reasons I outline in Faces on Places.
And that involved a Jacobine Jones sculpture too.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

A chip off the old...

...John Kay Macdonald, founder of Confederation Life.
He was immortalized on the south side of the original Confederation Life building at Richmond and Yonge, along with portraits of three of the architects.

When I led a small but enthusiastic Faces on Places walking tour past the building on Saturday, we noticed that JK was missing a chunk from his cap.
It's a designated heritage building, so I'll look into whether there's any way to get JK repaired.

MARINA CITY UPDATE: Lynn Becker, on his ArchitectureChicago PLUS blog, reports that the Marina Towers Condo Association Board has passed its wrong-headed rule requiring people who want to photograph and publish images of Marina Towers to seek its permission and pay royalties. Only now it's citing trademark law rather than copyright. Lynn, a Marina City resident, is so fed up that he's said he won't write about this subject again "unless the MTCA board is actually stupid enough to try to enforce it."

Monday, November 19, 2007

New Loring and Wyle bio launched

Congratulations to Elspeth Cameron (at the left in the picture on the right) whose new biography of Florence Wyle and Frances Loring was launched on Sunday at David Mirvish Books.
The book—And Beauty Answers: The Life of Frances Loring and Florence Wyle (Cormorant)—is a comprehensive look at the life and times of these two American-born Canadian sculptors. If you haven't heard of them, that's not surprising. Canada hasn't really celebrated its artists—other than the Group of Seven and Emily Carr.

When I discussed my Merle Foster project with Sally Gibson (on the left in the picture on the left), and mentioned that Merle was a contemporary of Loring and Wyle, she told me that Elspeth was working on a new biography of them. I Googled Elspeth, who I knew was an award-winning biographer of Canadian literary figures, and found that she was giving a talk about Loring and Wyle in April at Rodman Hall in St. Catharines. I contacted her and told her I'd be attending her talk and would like to interview her for my book afterward. She very generously offered to put me up in her home after the talk, and then spent the entire next day discussing Merle, Loring, Wyle, sculpture, sculptors and more with me. When I left, she gave me a copy of her manuscript. That was a big help in organizing my thinking about Merle Foster—and I got to read it months before it was published.
So I know whereof I speak when I recommend this book to anyone interested in the lives of two extraordinary women whose stories aren't well enough known. (And yes, they're the subjects of the "Loring and Wyle Parkette" at the corner of Mount Pleasant Road and St. Clair Avenue East.)

Not to take anything away from Elspeth, I should explain who Sally Gibson is. Formerly with the City of Toronto Archives, she's currently a heritage consultant at Toronto's Distillery District. She also recently published an award-winning book on life inside Toronto buildings at the turn of the last century (Inside Toronto: Urban Interiors 1880s to 1920s (Cormorant)) which features Merle Foster's aunt on the cover. Sally's book won Heritage Toronto's Award of Excellence and was short-listed for the Toronto Book Award.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Deeds speak, the saga continues

This is just a quick, pictureless update on the 60 Richmond Street East building. The County of York coat of arms has already been taken down and I'll be notified when the sculpture of the woman is removed so I can photograph her descent and - I hope - her standing next to a man of normal height, just to show off the sculpture's 7.5-foot height.
I'm getting information about how these pieces are going to be reused, and also the fate of the heritage plaque that was mounted on the Berti Street side of the building. There's been too much going on in my other life (my day job) to post much here, but I will gather all that information and update, with pictures, on the weekend.
Again, please stand by.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Deeds speak

Faces on Places was released in June 2006, and a month later, one of the 65 buildings in the book was torn down. It was the 12-storey National Building on Bay Street which I included because of the griffins over the front door. The capitals were modelled by Merle Foster, whose biography I am writing, so I had hoped to return to photograph those details. In its place, the Bay-Adelaide Centre (with its highest tower at 50-odd storeys, the oddness depending on what you read) is going up, and will have a facade of the National Building pasted onto one corner of the new building's gleaming glass. Take a look here to see how ridiculous this will look.

Now I see that another building is coming down. The 60 Richmond Street East building is a fairly nondescript two-storey red brick building that started life in 1946 as the York County Registry Office. Since then, it has been a variety of municipal buildings, and most recently was a combination drop-in/shelter for men. It is going to become a 12-storey, 85-unit community housing building, with most of the units replacing Regent Park Housing.

I don't think the building itself is such a loss, but I was concerned about the sculptures—the County of York coat of arms with its "Deeds Speak" motto (above) on the Berti Street side and a woman standing atop the coat of arms on the Richmond side, both of which were sculpted by Jacobine Jones.
The foreman on the site said they're being salvaged for the city. I thought that might be the case when I saw bricks missing from around the coat of arms.

I've been trying to find out who in which City of Toronto department I need to contact to find out where the sculptures are going.

Watch this space.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Go ahead and shoot

Thanks to Lynn Becker, a writer on Chicago architecture, for letting me use this image (which he created) and for bringing attention to a ludicrous situation that many architectural photographers have run up against in other places. The condo association at Chicago's iconic Marina City towers, in a move he describes as "equal parts loony and arrogant," wants photographers to get the association's "express written permission" to take pictures of the building. The association says that because of "the architectural significance of our building," it holds a "common law copyright on the use of the Association name and building image," under state and federal law.
In fact, copyright is an area of federal law, in the U.S. and in Canada, and neither piece of legislation forbids taking and publishing pictures of buildings. I had reason to check that area of Canada's Copyright Act when I started shooting in earnest for Faces on Places when someone cautioned me against shooting her building. I know of at least one other Toronto architectural photographer who has also run up against that.
For the full story, see Lynn's ArchitectureChicago PLUS blog (see Links in the left column).
Lynn (who I bet gets more mail addressed to Ms. Becker than I do for Mr. Murray) lives at Marina City and says the association board is going to vote on this groundless rule on 15 November. If it passes, he challenged the board to come after him for shooting and posting or publishing photos of the building. "If you're so dead set on embarrassing the building, the board, its residents, and - come to think of it - the very notion of intelligent human life, I will be a willing co-conspirator in getting your buffoonery the widest possible audience," he wrote.
Glad to help you, buddy.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Have you seen this man?

I understand the need for pictograms, but what is this one saying? That you shouldn't steal? That you shouldn't dress up in the way movies portray burglars? Burglars not allowed? This sign appears in a parking gararge in Yorkville and is meant to warn car-parkers not to leave valuables in their cars because these forbidden burglars might make off with them. The valuables, that is. Or maybe just the poorly packed but eco-friendly shopping bags.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007


I just got this back from the framing shop at the end of my street. It's an Award of Merit from Heritage Toronto that was awarded to Faces on Places... well me, actually, and House of Anansi Press, my publisher, last month. I didn't mean to be ungrateful — the frame was okay — I just wanted to get UV glass.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Small world

I came home from a conference in Chicago in late September with two 1GB memory cards full of pictures—pictures from the conference as well as the gargoyles and other architectural critters I found. Somewhere between my study and a friend's car, waiting at the curb, I lost one of the cards. Sugar and I retraced my steps three times, and he took the back seat out of the car twice—but still no card. Until yesterday... when I found the bloody thing in the magazine basket in my living room. It must have flipped out of my hand or pocket somehow as I was walking out, and landed neatly in the magazine rack that I never use and noticed only because I bent down to pick up one of the cat's toys which had come to rest in front of it.
Either that or the cat gently dropped it in the magazine rack after batting it around the apartment for the last six weeks.

The headshot files on the card were no good to me now, seeing as I'd already written the stories that they would have illustrated. But I was glad to be reunited with my architecture pictures.
Such are the hazards of miniaturization—or having a jealous cat.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Lost Arts (first in a series)

Each major grocery store chain has its own 'green' (reusable, 'eco-friendly,' etc.) shopping bag. The idea is to stop using those staticky flimsy plastic bags that were so shapeless it took no skill to pack them. Hell, the grocery stores let us bag our own if we got in the right line-ups. (Were the Bag Your Own lanes supposed to be a reward for something, in the way that having "less than" eight items allowed you to use the Express Check-Out?)
But my point is that with these new bags and their squared bottoms it's time to revive the Lost Art of Grocery Bagging. Or at least make a rule that bread does not go on the bottom.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Enjoy bacon!

I don't usually take pictures in washrooms—public or otherwise—but I couldn't resist this interpretation of hand-drying symbols.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Something to start

I'm kicking off this new blog with a picture of my favourite Toronto stone creature, featured in my book Faces on Places: A Grotesque Tour of Toronto (Anansi, 2006).