Explore Toronto: Eco-Art-Fest @Todmorden Mills

AU_no9_EcoArtFest_8036Last week, with intentions to squeeze every last bit of summer fun out of what remained of the summer days, Carol, Nathalie and I took our boys to explore no. 9’s Eco-Art Fest.

Just off Pottery Road in the Don Valley, is a tucked-away enclave sheltered by a canopy of trees where art and green collide. Andrew Davies, Executive Director, is a man with a vision. Having spent years in New York City working for the Museum of Modern Art in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Davies became enamoured with the emerging art scene that seemed to couple art and social consciousness so seamlessly. Upon his return to Toronto, he learned about the Evergreen Brick Works, at that time in its planning stages, and envisioned a place where art and the environment could not only flourish but also serve to inspire people to live more sustainable lives.

Drawing on his extensive art and architecture background Davies went on to found no. 9. It is an arts organization that uses art and design to bring awareness to environmental concerns through school and community based programs. Earlier this summer when I explored the Brick Works with my boys we were able to view My Sustainable City, a collaboration between no.9 and the Toronto District School Board that is on exhibit at Brick Works until September 23.

IMG_4848While My Sustainable City is an example of a school program, Eco-Art-Fest is an outdoor summer-long art festival held at Todmorden Mills until September 21 for the entire community to enjoy.

Davies and his staff of artisans offer daily programs for children. Our boys got their hands dirty throwing clay and enjoyed a water colour painting workshop where they learned about endangered animals and just how interrelated the creatures in our environment really is. We ended our morning activities with a guided tour of the various outdoor art installations by celebrated artists Dean Baldwin, Nicole Dextras, John Dickson, Sean Martindale, Ferruccio Sardella, Penelope Stewart, John Loerchner and Laura Mendes.


It was an enriching opportunity to learn how art is not just paint, paper and brush strokes. Art can be just as much about aesthetic and expression as a social message. In particular my boys enjoyed Sean Martindale’s installation of the word HISTORIES created from the earth, and depending on perspective history could be rising up from the ground or buried.

Saturday nights offer live music after 5 pm, delicious artisanal charcuterie boards that are works of art in themselves, and organic beer and wine all under the lights of Helliwell’s.


Nearly four hours passed before I looked at my watch.   The green space combined with the art, and the easy-going, light-hearted atmosphere was enough to make me forget that I was in the city, less than a few minutes drive to the centre and its hustle and bustle. It was four hours of appreciating art in many forms, learning about our environment and most importantly connecting with each other.

Time is running out to experience the wonder of Eco-Art-Fest this summer. The festival ends on September 21 but will return next year. To learn more or to register for the activities and tours please visit Eco-Art-Fest.


Explore: Evergreen Brick Works

IMG_4844Years ago my weekends were peppered with city-dweller activities: markets, neighbour explorations, festivals and art appreciation but then a string of pregnancies and little babies kept me nestled (chained) in my neighbourhood bubble venturing only outside to visit the zoo.  My youngest is now almost 4 (I still can’t believe it!) and for the past year, we’ve really been able to enjoy the city and all that it has to offer without the stress of strollers, naps and diapers.

It’s a whole new world!

Recently we explored an urban oasis: Evergreen Brick Works.

The Brick Works, as locals affectionately call it, was the Don Valley Brick Works from 1889 to 1984 and many of Canada’s preeminent buildings are constructed of bricks made from this site.  From 1984 until the early 2000s, the Brick Works deteriorated.  Piles of rubble and crumbling buildings are what most people saw when they drove past along Bayview Avenue, with the exception of a group of creative innovators who saw the potential to transform the site into a not-for-profit destination celebrating nature, culture and community.


The old buildings mesmerized the boys.  They imagined themselves heating clay in the giant kilns to make bricks.  They saw the old tracks used to transport the tons of coal from the various buildings.  We talked about the working conditions: how loud it must have been and oppressively hot from the steam, the kilns (and the humid Toronto summers) and how it probably wasn’t that safe in the early years.

Exploring the kiln building was a favourite but not only because of its historical significance.  The walls are lined with an evocative gallery displaying artistic photography and, perhaps the highlight for me; it is where The Sustainable City installation is currently on display. City school teams have imagined and created a future Toronto that encompasses the core values of Evergreen: nature, community and culture.  Not only are the projects incredible but also they are inspiring!  To think that our city is home to such innovators . . . lucky for us!


There is a lot to see and do at the Brick Works.  Every day people explore the extensive trails where local wildlife abounds!

The weekdays are quieter but the weekends are chock-full of activities including an impressive farmer’s market, pottery demonstrations, bike rentals, a flea market and the children’s garden.  The Brick Works hosts seminars on the weekends that appeal to bikers, gardeners, wild life enthusiasts and artists.

Wednesday evenings (from July 2- August 6) enjoy pizza from Pizzeria Libretto from the outdoor wood-fired oven (to.die.for.) and a small seasonal salad for $3.

It’s summer and there is no shortage of activities in Toronto.  There is a reason it’s called The Living City, so get out there and live!

Exploring Casa Loma With Dora The Explorer by Corinne Simonyi

imgres-1A new interest in knights and dragons had my son, Hugo, asking all summer to visit Casa Loma.  But our busy schedule meant we never made it beyond a couple of nighttime drive-bys of Toronto’s historic castle on a hill. And I’ll admit, bringing a four-year-old and his two-year-old sister to a place where objects of historical worth might be within climbing reach sounded like a recipe for…something breaking.

When I was invited to a meet-and-greet at the castle with Dora the Explorer, to kick off the tour of the show Dora the Explorer Live! Search for the city of Lost Toys, it seemed the perfect opportunity to visit the landmark—and assuage my guilt. And Dora’s a popular gal in our house. Possibly because she’s unavoidable, seeming to pop up everywhere and on everything. She’s on at least two pairs of Anna’s shoes. I think I saw her face on a yogurt container the other day. But thankfully, she’s a not-too-bad female role model. I’ll take her over the Disney princesses any day.

The event was a chance for kids from Make-A-Wish Foundation, along with other invitees, to meet the plucky adventurer. It was a bright and warm September day, and the castle and surrounding gardens looked particularly fetching. The children were invited to sit and colour at a long table set up on the terrace. When the backpack-wearing guest of honour finally arrived, Hugo and Anna were the first to bombard her with handshakes and hugs. They then photo-bombed their way through the rest of the meet-and-greet. I truly hope some families got pictures of their kids that don’t include Hugo or Anna pawing at some part of Dora’s anatomy.

As a bonus, we were able to see a good chunk of Casa Loma afterward. The multilevel garden is beautiful, and probably the best place to spend time with preschoolers. Inside, the kids spent several minutes emptying the contents of my change purse into the fountain in the conservatory. This seemed fair, since we hadn’t paid admission (which, at $18 for adults and $10 for kids over four, isn’t cheap). We then watched a few minutes of a movie on the castle’s history, before Anna’s stage whispers of, “What’s dat? What’s dat?” got a little irksome. I opted not to venture to the second floor, since we were all getting hungry and I wasn’t sure what to do with my stroller (though there are small elevators in the castle, strollers are not permitted on them). I was also getting tired of pulling the kids off the velvet ropes that block off certain rooms.

So I parked the stroller and went down to the lower-level cafeteria, which offers plenty of kid-friendly options. And finally, the tunnel leading to the stables. This was definitely a highlight for the kids. Though to me it was kind of creepy, and slow-going since Anna wanted to be carried the entire 800 feet and back. We never actually made it to the stables. I’ll leave that for a visit when I’ve got backup.

By then, Hugo had reached his best-behaviour limit. After they both ran several laps around the fountain in front of the castle, we were off.  We’ll definitely visit again, but next time I’m bringing a husband instead of a stroller.