Friday, 30 December 2011

Patrick where for art thou - tale of theft and intrigue in the US Virgin Islands

Recent Fluff From Stephen Weir's Many December Facebook Postings


If he says Patrick a few times, you know he is hot ... and he is probably an illegal alien!

While doing some research into a recent fatality in the US Virgin Islands, I searched through a number of recent press releases issued by the USVI police information officer. Serious business, but, I still was amused to read about a stolen parrot, who likes to say Patrick over and over and over again.

According to the police, earlier today thieves on the island of St Croix stole two male African parrots, a power generator and a gate lock from a farm. 

The police say the value of the items was $4,200 and have asked locals to keep an ear out for any parrots saying Patrick. They are asked to call Crime Stoppers and say the word Patrick (over and over and over again).

Thursday, 29 December 2011

If a Tree Exhibition was staged in the forest would ....



The McMichael Tree Project             
  January 28 to April 22, 2012           
This winter and spring, the McMichael celebrates the artistic, cultural,and natural aspects of the tree with two breathtaking exhibitions, a variety of  programs, and special  installations.  As part of this project, the McMichael presents the exhibition, The Tree: Form  and Substance, which provides an exciting  opportunity for us to connect the gallery's  interior spaces with our  newly invigorated outdoor spaces and forested landscape, for the very first time. In conjunction with our own exhibition, the gallery also presents The Tree: From the Sublime to the Social, organized and circulated by the Vancouver Art Gallery; an exhibition that considers the tree as a subject in art from the early twentieth century to the present. The tree has been used as a symbol for all of nature and its  overwhelming beauty; it is a powerful signifier of  Canada's national identity as well as the individual's struggle  against the wilderness; and currently, it even serves as a reminder of our precarious ecological  position.   

About The McMichael Canadian Art Collection
The McMichael Canadian Art Collection is an agency of the Government of Ontario and acknowledges the support of the Ministry of Tourism and Culture. It is the foremost venue in the country showcasing the Group of Seven and their contemporaries. In addition to touring exhibitions, its permanent collection consists of more than 5,500 artworks, including paintings by the Group of Seven and their contemporaries, First Nations and Inuit artists. The gallery is located on Islington Avenue, north of Major Mackenzie Drive in Kleinburg, and is open daily from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm. Admission is $15 for adults, $12 for seniors/students and $30 for families. There is a $5 fee for parking. For more information about the gallery,

For further information or to receive High Res images, contact:

Stephen Weir, Publicist
Gallery: 905.893.1121 ext. 2529
Toronto Office: 416.489.5868
Cell: 416.801.3101

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Diving Into Bat Infested Waters!

Stephen Weir,  "the moment I knew" - photo by Jim Kozmik

Mayan Riviera Runs A Small Price to Pay for Cenote Diving
November 2011 issue of Diver Magazine

By Stephen Weir

This picture, taken in a freshwater Yucatan cenote (cave) was snapped at the exact moment in time that I realized that in 48-hours I was going to be sick.  You know, Montezuma”s Revenge, or as I coined it following a sink hole diving expedition in Akumal, Mexico, the Mayan Riviera Runs.
This is not a diss on the Yucatan’s water system. This was something self-inflicted and it could have happened in any "fresh" water cave in the world. Blame it on the sanitary habits of flying animals or cenote diving being just too amazing for my own good.

 Watch a You Tube Video of Cenote dive guide Mario explaining to Stephen Weir, how the Mexican Cenotes came to be. 2-minutes
The east coast of Mexico’s Yucatan State is a flat, dry land void of rivers, lakes or much vegetation. What little green you see is at the well watered golf courses of the many hotels that hug the coastline.  The bleached sand beaches and tranquil turquoise sea are breath-taking, but for divers, the unique beauty is to be found under the rocky porous limestone scrubland – on the other side of the road from the mega resorts.
Dive Shop at Cenote - Stephen Weir

While above ground, the Yucatan is just a few raindrops short of a desert, there is a 800-kilometre long underwater cave system that constantly feeds life giving freshwater into the Peninsula. 
If it weren’t for the sinkholes, no one would even have known that the water was there.  It has kept the region alive since the time of the Mayans. And for  certified divers, it gives them a reason to visit the area -- often!  In the Yucatán there are over 3000 known cenotes, with only about 1,400 of them fully explored.
There are some 50 cenote parks for divers that line the main highway which runs from Cancun due south to the Belize border. At any given spot along the paved Mexican Federal Highway 307 one can see water filled openings into the cave system. The diving is really really good. As a result there are more dive shops in Cancun, nearby Caya Del Carmen, Akumal, Tulum and all points in between, then there are in Canada.
Looking up through a hole in the cenote - Weir

There are roadside route signs pictorially showing an explorer inside the cave. The other way to find the diveable caves? They are the ones with the telltale red and white dive flags at the turnoffs to their rutty crushed limestone driveways. Most cave sites have air fill stations and gear rental stores. Some -- no kidding -- have T-shirt and taco stands nearby.

Just like at the Parthenon, or the Coliseum in Rome or any other world-class tourist site, there’s usually a clutch of guides standing around looking to be hired. Here the guides are wearing wet suits. They are, or so they say, certified cave divers and they have come from around the globe to get a chance to escort divers through the freshwater passageways of the Yucatan. Much of the daily traffic into the cenotes is with dive shops (and their guides) from nearby hotels.
“If you aren’t cave certified, we can’t go more than 60-yards from an exit point.  It may seem that we have gone farther than that but we haven’t. When we get past 60 metres we are still less than that for the next exit point, and so on.” said Mario Pacheco. He is an Italian cave diver who has spent 2 years exploring Mexican cenotes. To pay for his passion he is a guide for hotels and dive shops.  He speaks 6 languages – English, Spanish, Italian, German, Dutch and Arabic (“I was a guide in the Red Sea” he shrugs).
Family dives into Mexican Cenote - Photograph by Jim Kozmik

This morning he is a guide for the nearby Akumal Dive Centre and we are at the KuKulKan (Plumed Serpent) and the Chac-Mool (Claw of the Jaguar) Cenotes. Recreational scuba divers can explore both sinkholes, even if they are not certified cavers. That is because at various points along the way both cenotes have open-air shafts that are considered emergency exits.
Cenote Diving - Photograph by Jim Kozmik
The water in these two subterranean cenotes is, at the surface, clear but tinted lime green. That is because of the underwater moss that has attached itself to everything: the guide ropes, rocks, and the cement steps at the rim of the cave opening. Underwater, away from the moss it is so shockingly clear that one can see as far ahead as the mandated waterproof torches illuminate.
Most of the cenotes are in private hands, and here the owners limit the number of divers to 4 per guide to protect the fragile environment in the two caves.  We are all wearing full length wetsuits; a few of the dive guides have dry suits on even though the temperature at 50 ft is 74° F (20º C).
Modified Cannonball into the Cenote - Weir
 “Since you are all experienced divers we will give you as much bottom time as you need to get your photographs,” says Pacheco as we suit up on a cement walkway that has been laid around the KuKulKan’s mouth. “After 45-minutes you are going to be glad you wore these suits. Remember follow one by one, not side by side, except when we get into the Halocline (a sensor distorted zone where fresh water and salt water meet)”
Getting into the water is a trade-off between style and ease. One can walk backwards down slippery stairs, holding onto an equally slippery rope. Or you can stride jump in off the concrete deck. Most popular method? Modified Cannonball, to the pleasure of the many overheated divers waiting their turn to get into the deep water overtop of the entrance to the cenote.
While our group waits our turn to enter the cave, Pacheco gives a rudimentary explanation of how these caves have come to be.
It all began in the Mesozoic Era 250 million years ago. What is now the Yucatan was underwater. It was a warm and fertile place for coral to grow. These coral reefs eventually emerged from the sea as limestone rock and the formation of the caves began.
Entrance to Little Brother - Stephen Weir
Over time rainwater began to erode the limestone, creating vertical holes. “With time the tunnels become bigger and bigger,” explained the expert cave diver. “The sea level changed, and what happened?  The water started to eat its way down farther and horizontally. So we have the formation of caves upon caves all at different levels.”
This layering of tunnels has created long corridors leading into cathedral-sized rooms and then into corridors  that pass right underneath where you have just been. Cenotes, sometimes miles apart are linked by winding limestone lined passageways.
The overall size of some of the rooms within the Little Brother is staggering, so much so that our underwater camera strobe lights cannot properly light the high cathedral ceilings. Five minutes into our dive, we stop at a tall wall of rippled limestone. It is the remnants of a coral reef, 150 million years ago when it was under the sea.  Our dive guide leaves us to escort one member of the party back to the surface – Claustrophobic? Nervous? Cavern diving isn’t for everyone.
It doesn’t help shaky divers when one swims by a passageway (and there are number of them) that is not meant to be explored. There are numerous signs with skull and cross bones warning people that divers have been lost and died inside.
The stalactites and stalagmites inside this well traveled cenote have taken a beating, but here and there in our long swim there are perfect stands of dangling limestone stalactites.
Difficult to read warning sign because it sits in a halocline zone inside Cenote - Stephen Weir 

Close to the bottom of the cave it gets wonky. The water is suddenly layered into two distinct types of water. Top layer is fresh, cool and clear while the bottom layer is salty, warm and fuzzy. We have entered a halocline.
It is a zone of fresh water hitting seawater. This Cenote is very near the Caribbean Sea and saltwater seeps into the lower levels of the cave. Seawater is denser than freshwater and absorbs and transmits light differently.  It changes light, colour and temperature – divers say that it feels like being stoned on alcohol or drugs.
“The first person into the zone will see a mirror. It is a weird mirror that moves up and down like this (our dive guide makes a waving motion with his hands and arms).  “As you swim into the Halocline your flippers mix the water together. Everything will get blurry. The temperature of the salt water is warm and you will become more buoyant because of the salt.”
Stephen Weir in Yucatan Cenote - Kozmik
He was right.  It was nature playing with our sensory input. Holding onto the guideline we were able to make our way up and out of the halocline and into the freshwater mouth of the cave.
Exiting the water quickly, we made our way to nearby cement picnic tables to change scuba tanks, load new batteries into cameras and get ready for the next cave, the Chac-Mool.
“We call it the Little Brother, because it is smaller than KuKulKan,“ said Mario Pacheco. “ It used to be hard to get in the cave. But, rocks were removed. Now we don’t have to twist our way in (he does a good imitation of a contortionist wearing twin scuba tanks!)”
We follow a natural underwater ramp to reach the bowels of the Little Brother 55 feet down. It feels as though we are absolutely alone in the dark. But once we swim away from the natural ramp and enter what appears to be a limestone walled cathedral, we look back at the path we have just swam down and we see the bobbing lights of a dozen divers that are following a few minutes behind.
We took pictures. Lotsa pictures. I got very hot. Thirsty. Parched. I couldn’t help myself. I did what any Canadian diver would do. I took a drink.
At first, I didn’t swallow; I just swished the cool water over my teeth and tongue. Thinking about where I was and what I was drinking, I tried to spit it out. Maybe there is an "APP" for expectorating underwater, but I haven’t downloaded it. I shrugged my shoulders and swallowed, and took a couple more drinks. That’s when TV cameraman Jim Kozmik took this photograph.
I could have been okay but like they say, “location, location, location”.  I was in the wrong spot for a drink. We surfaced inside an air pocket at the dome of the cave. There were holes in the ceiling where thick tree roots dangled deep into the water.
It was almost noon. Pacheco told us that only in the spring and early summer, when the sun is directly overhead sunlight passes through a hole in the fauna shrouded ceiling and lights up a round patch of the water.
True enough. We watched the circular beam of light appear and play upon the water. We could now see the reflection of the cave ceiling on the surface and at the same time catch the glow of the lights of divers down below us. 
Strange, there were flickers of black through the sun’s spotlight. Bats. Lots of them. They lived amongst the stalagmites in the ceiling. They have been living there since before the Spanish. Before the Mayans. Before cave divers had begun bringing in noisy scuba tourists in to disturb their sleep.
There is a healthy population living in the roof. I was fascinated until I realized I had just been drinking ‘bat eau de toilet’. I put my regulator back into my mouth and sank back under water. I knew I would pay for the drink, but today there was more cave to explore.
After a day of diving in the caves, it was back to Akumal. In the evenings there are night dives on a shallow reef just offshore.  The waters offshore of Akumal teem with life – healthy coral heads, massive schools of small tropical fish and free-swimming, slow lumbering turtles. Loggerhead and Green Turtles are almost always seen.
Tourism has brought a conservation message to the Yucatan.  As a result the turtles are protected, their egg nests on the beach are protected by hotel staff, and conservation groups watch over these endangered species.
a drift swim in a cenote river in  Sian Ka'an Biosphere
Like Jack Bauer, my 24-hours were clicking away. Before boarding a plane for my date with my doctor, there was time for a dawn snorkel to spot turtles off Hotel Akumal, an afternoon a drift swim along a cenote surface river in the public Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve and finally a snorkel in another cenote. This one had a cave system that started in a small pond on the west side of the highway, wound itself around under the ground for hundreds of metres, and then surfaced on the eastside of the highway, near a beach and an ancient Mayan ruins.
The original Mayans called the sinkholes “dzonot”. The Spaniards translation became cenote or “deep thing”.  The Mayans considered the larger caves to be gateways to the underworld. Visiting divers will say they both got it right!

Photographs used in Diver Story Sidebar About Akumal Diving


A coral encrusted moped in the sand off Akumal Beach - Weir
A Scuba Dive Girl drifts in the current Akumal - Weir
Yucatán Facts
• The Yucatán Peninsula is a large, cavernous limestone shelf not more than 165 feet (50m) above sea level and without any surface rivers. Instead, rainwater penetrates the porous limestone and forms
underground rivers.
• Most diveable cenotes in Mexico are to be found in the Riviera Maya on the Yucatán Peninsula. It’s been estimated there are approximately 30,000 cenotes in this region of which an estimated 100 are diveable.
• Many cenotes are located on private land and are accessible only with permission. Most are basically inaccessible by normal means but many are open to the public.
Entrance fees vary from $10 pesos to $100 pesos, approximately USD$1-10, for those managed by locals. Commercial operations offering more to see and do typically charge more, USD$10-25.
• The Riviera Maya is a tourist zone situated along the east coast on the Caribbean Sea.
It runs south of Cancun for more than 75
miles (120km) to the town of Tulum, one of
the most important archeological sites in the
Mayan World.
• Offshore the most important attraction in the Riviera Maya is the Great Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the longest barrier reef in the northern hemisphere. The diveable reef stretches southward to the coast of Honduras
• Getting There: Airlines flying into the Yucatán in season include: Air Canada, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Continental Airlines, Delta, Frontier Airlines, Jet Blue US Airline and West Jet.
• If You Drive: La Ruta de los Cenotes (The Route of the Cenotes) is a paved road
through the Yucatán Peninsula that passes many of the diveable cenotes.
• High Season: December 20 – April 19
• Low Season: April 20 - December 19

Shallow Reef Akumal Beach - Stephen Weir

Dive talk before shore dive to see turtles Akumal Beach - Weir
Tulum Beach - and it is right! Photo Weir

Friday, 21 October 2011

A Pride of Inflatables - transportation to check out a US Boat Show

Boat Show At Night.  Sailors' Delight.  Boat Show in the Day. Vendors Make Hay!
Report from Annapolis By Pat Whetung

Sailors be aware. 
Each autumn boaters flock to historic Annapolis, Maryland trying to hang on to the last vestiages of fall. The port city, nestled on the banks of Spa Creek in Chesapeake Bay, hosts the annual United States Sailboat Show. 
They come in cars. They come in inflatables.  Some sail in.  The common goal for all visiting sailors is to collect, connect and collaborate. The talk is all about boats, cruising, racing and significant events on and around the water. 
There are hundreds of boats on display to tour and, if the price is right, buy.  On land there are scores of vendors hawking anything that might seperate a boater from his wallet!
Lining up for tickets. Photo by Paul Horn
In fact at this year's boat show, the vendors were  selling just about everythingboaters’ needs and wishes.  Walking through the stalls and visiting the boats in the harbour that this year at Annapolis the yacht show was all about: Boat design, on the water comfort and efficiency, water collecting systems, electrical and power-saving devices,  life-saving equipment, go fast equipment and finishes, new gear  (functional and fashionable) and marketing on-water cruises.
Floating Displays - Photo by Paul Horn
Although the vendors look to be fewer this year, the enthusiasm and camaraderie is viral. Step onto the grounds and you will catch the fever to participate in the sport of sailing. This year, car license plates indicate visitors from every state within driving distance  of Maryland was there. And there was a huge contingent from Canada -- Northerners try to extend their season or simply taking a break from haul-out preparations back at home. 
Now in its 42nd year, the United States Sailboat Show, the October events attracts more than 50,000 boating enthusiasts from around the world to the waterfront of historic Annapolis, Maryland. 
The Chesapeake Bay community is also home of U.S. Naval Academy. Recognized across North America as the premier sailing showcase, this is the sailing event to buy, sell or dream.

Kicking the floating tire - Photo by Paul Horn

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Breaking the ice - introduce Iceland's Dive Shop. River Diving in the lava fields


Stephen Weir on the steps of Reykjavik's Sport Divers Club

A cold clear rift river in the Thingvellir National Park
It is cold. There is snow on the nearby mountain tops and  most days the moon is up longer than the sun.  It is late fall in Iceland and the fresh water dive season is still going strong!
There are at least three dive operators  this time of year in Iceland offering guided scuba fresh water tours to rift valley river  in the Thingvellir National Park.  One shop offers a second safari to a geothermic lake near the capital city of Reykjavik.  There are ocean dives offered as well but are very much weather and sea condition dependent.
Thingvellir Park is the most visited site in Iceland for three reasons.  It is a region where two tectonic plates  - the North American and Eurasian Plates all but  touch. It's a place where the continental plates have meet and are now drifting  apart at a rate of about 2cm per year.  
The continental drift between these two gigantic plates has ripped the ground apart creating large picturesque canyons. It was in one of these canyons that Iceland's first government in 930AD held its first outdoor parliament, an annual governmental gathering that continued until 1230AD.  The glacier fed rivers that cut through this region are clean, cold and also the most popular spot on the island for diving.
"These rivers are so clean you can see 50 metres down and 150 metres straight ahead," said our Icelandic guide on a recent October tour. 
As she walked over a bridge spanning the  narrow deep Coin Fissure River she told an oft repeated myth " It is said that if you can see your coin hit the bottom your wish will come true."
I threw in a Canadian quarter.  I saw it hit bottom 10 seconds after I tossed it in.  Sigh. My wish didn't come true.
For divers, it is a 45-minute van ride from Reykjavik to the Silfra Fissure River in the park.  Divers kit up in dry suits at the side of the paved road . One walks into shallow still water but within steps the river deepens and the current picks up -- it is now a drift dive  towards the lake  through a deep sharp canyon filled with ice cold clear water.  
The PADI Diver Centre Iceland describe it "diving in a crack between the American and Eurasian continents.  
"The visibility  that you will experience will rarely be surpassed, if ever. 100m+! The reasons for this clarity are twofold: the water is cold ( 2°C - 4°C all year ) since it's the melting water from a glacier about 50km away and has traveled through the lava fields for many years before coming out at the north end of Thingvellir Lake through  underground wells."
 The rift offers amazing visibility and it continues to be considered the  one of the three best fresh water diving destinations  in the world according to leading dive publications. The visibility reaches end-of-sight and is rated at 150 to 300 meters. The water is 50 to 100 years old once it reaches the lake from the melting glacier through the lava field, and is quite drinkable.
The dive shops supply all the gear (except for woollies to wear inside the dry suit), transportation and snacks for a cost of about $300.00
The same shop also offers day trips to Lake Kleifarvatn, also less than hours drive Reykjavik.  What makes Keifarvatn unique is that divers recently have discovered geothermal hot springs at the bottom of the lake.  Divers can swim down to these holes in the lake where hot sulphuric water bubbles out of the rock -- it is one dive where the water gets warmer the deeper you get!
Silfra Fissure River - you can see two white dive tour vans near dive site


The Sport Divers Club (Sportkafarafélag Íslands) of Reykjavik will be making a night dive in the Thingvellir National Park en-masse on November 3rd. The club is bringing together divers from around the world to submerge themselves at the same time to set a world's record for night diving!

Monday, 10 October 2011

The Best From Facebook: Vignettes About A Recent Trip to Peru part 2


At the chicheria in rural Peru - drink twice chewed and then brewed
(from a series of Facebook postings that received strong readership and approval)
Chicha is a popular working class drink in Peru. Made from fermenting corn, the beer-like beverage can be made in just 3-days. It is cheap (about 60 cents a glass) and easy to drink. There are an estimated 2,000 chicherias in Peru. Most don't have signs, just look for the universal Chicheria sign - a red flag over the door. 
I paid this woman 60 cents for a glass of chicha and strawberry juice. Drink was invented by the Incas. Back in those days the corn was chewed by women before being put in fermentation vats. Nowadays the kernels are boiled before being placed in the vats.
Maria plays for drinks. She lost
 How to find a chicherias in Peru. Look for a red flag over the door. Usually dirt floors and no electricity. 
Corn drink is cheap and not all that alcholic (3%). Big attraction at many of the underground bars is a game where you try to toss a coin into the mouth of a bronze statue of a frog ... just another game where we can end up buying corn drink for the house. Pictured, my wife Maria Nenadovich takes on our guide, and looses. I pay up.  I tried. Did worse. Luckily everyone was corn drunk out!
Oops - neglected to post a picture of the secret symbol of a chicheria in Peru. No signage for these working class bars, just look for the red flag. That's our vehicle and this particular bar is a favourite for tour guides showing tourists the underside of Peru - light.  Most people walk to their favourite chicheria.

The red flag indicates bar inside

A political graffiti is painted on side of chicherias - on the road to Lake Titicacca

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

The Best From Facebook: Vignettes About A Recent Trip to Peru

Crossing the street in Cusco Peru - One part art, One part danger, One part daring do!
(from a series of Facebook postings that received strong readership and approval)

Crossing the Street in Peru Part 1 In the city of Cusco the police use humour to fight jaywalkers on their main street. As mentioned previously, crossing any street, even with walk/don't walk lights is a life threatening experience. Most days during business hours the police dress up officers in Punch and Judy costumes, cucumber-nose masks and Peruvian sheep whips to confront people trying to jaywalk. It works (till they go home) Check out companion posts of a pair of buskers/breakdancers in the middle of a busy street!

Crossing the Street in Peru Part 2:
A different kind of breakdancing

Busker/breakdancer performs in the middle of a busy Cusco street in Peru. I paid him $2.50 for letting me take a picture of his act. Does it when the light is red. Most drivers in Peru seem to ignore red lights, so his act is more dangerous than it seems. He seems to make about 30-cents per light change from bored motorists.

Crossing the Street in Peru Part 3 Crossing any city street in Peru is a life threatening experience. Imagine my shock to find buskers/breakdancers using the cross walks to perform when the always ignored street light is red. Two men took turns running out into the street and performing (see pix of his partner above).
From Stephen Weir Facebook, October 2011

Friday, 30 September 2011

Toronto Sun: Back On The Rails

Downtown Market Wharf  is now  under construction --
But first --  a massive train barrier ad to be built

By Stephen Weir                                                       
Published in the Toronto Sun  September 23rd nd 25th

Putting off that downtown Toronto condo purchase because you suffer from Siderodromophobia (irrational dread of trains)? One project in the St Lawrence Market District will allay that fear: The Market Wharf condominium complex, currently under construction, has installed a steel reinforced concrete barrier wall to stop any runaway Go trains!
Market Wharf is a multi-level condominium tower project at Jarvis and The Esplanade, just south of the back-end of the St Lawrence Market. Plans for the city block include a 34 -storey tower which when built, will abut six busy Go and Via Rail tracks, Lakeshore Blvd and the Gardiner Expressway.
The derailment containment wall – built last fall – protects the south-end tower currently under construction.  The side of the building is very, very close to a myriad of tracks used daily by Go, VIA Rail and CN.
“We began work on this back in November 2009 when we began clearing the site,” explains Lou Hack, one of the principals of Bluescape Construction Management, the company overseeing Context Development’s challenging condo project.
“Theoretically a train could hit the wall and you wouldn’t feel it inside the building” said Hack. That is because there are now two walls at the south end of the building. “The outer barrier wall is 24’ tall and 18” thick with a 2” gap between it and the (building’s outer) wall.”
While the building of the crash barrier is an oddity in Toronto (there is no record of a train ever colliding with a condo building in Canada), there are other unique challenges that the builders have dealt with since the project was first launched.
The largest problem? It wasn’t construction related, it was all about the lack of investment money in North America. 
The train barrier under construction

Market Wharf’s Dream Team – Context Development, architectsAlliance and TACT Design – found that despite strong interest from condo buyers there was scant investment money available for a project of this size. Not in Toronto. Not in Canada. Not in Dubai, Not anywhere in the world.
It was 2008. “No one really knew where the market was going and since the project consisted of a large podium and a tower, we decided to phase the construction and split the building into two condo projects,” explained Craig Taylor, Director of Design and Marketing for the developer, Context.
Two different investment deals were cut to bankroll the construction and, for the most part, two different building teams reported for work. 
Phase One  is just about complete – it is a seven story podium which will include at ground level a soon to be opened large Shopper’s Drugmart facing St Lawrence Market.  Phase Two  is now beginning to reaching upwards (continuation of the podium and a 27 storey tower on top of that) and the project is starting to look like one big happy building! Right now you can see that there are two distinct structures but over the next few months exterior bricking will hide the great divide.
There are other quirky things that have caused Architects Alliance’s Peter Clewes and Bluescape Construction to think outside the typical condo box.
Take for instance the question of nearby Lake Ontario. Two hundred years ago, the spot where the Market Wharf now sits was totally underwater. Toronto was a busy lake port and many sailing ships anchored here. The lake is a long way away now, but the property is all reclaimed land.
The water table is so close to the surface that Market Wharf is being built sans basement. The parking garage, typically found underground at most large condo towers, is on floors 3 through 6. From the street you won’t see the cars, there is a ring of small flats (576 to 673 sq ft) on both sides of the building separating the parked cars from the outside world.
Since there is no basement at the Market Wharf, almost 200 caissons - concrete shafts that extend down to the bedrock - have been sunk. These 33ft long concrete beams take the load bearing role of the basement. It is upon these caissons that the condo podium and condo tower are being built.
The first 5 floors are brick and include small condo flats and parking. Sitting on top of the masonry levels is a two-storey horseshoe shaped level of townhouses.
Most of these 2-bedroom townhouses have their backdoors facing out onto Lower Jarvis and Market streets from behind a walkway of glass. The living rooms and master bedrooms look inward to a garden and private patio space that can’t be seen by the outside world.
Along the western side of the building a number of these townhouses angle out over the rest of the building. Driving south on Jarvis you can see how some of the units dangle over the sidewalk below. 
At the south-end of the building the townhouses give way to a soon-to-be-built peanut shaped glass walled recreation centre. What little green space there is on this property will be on the rec centre’s green roof and in a small outdoor treed garden that will be constructed beside the recreation centre. There will also be a patio where owners can sun themselves and wave at the harried commuters sardined into the never-ending parade of Rush Hour Go Trains.
The Tower will rise dramatically from the Rec Centre. The Penthouse suites take up the top two floors and will be curving walls of glass, which, if viewed from an airplane will look like a second giant peanut!
For people more rooted to the earth, whether they are walking in the neighbourhood, riding the rails or driving by, the thing that will make this building visually different is the shape of the balconies.
The balconies will not be rectangular; instead they will be a series of undulating in-and-out curves of cut concrete. The curves on one floor don’t match the curves on the floors directly above and below, which should give the building a undulating wavy look.
With two levels of commercial space and a public passage through the building, Market Wharf is designed to interact with the city. The store and other commercial units and much of the podium housing will be ready for occupancy this year. The Tower should be completed the year after that. When the last condo is occupied, there will be about 1,000 people living on the safe side of the steel reinforced runaway train concrete barrier wall!

Market Wharf - Just the Facts

Sidebar #1
Just the Facts
There will be approximately 475 separate living spaces within Market Wharf, with an expected population of close to 1,000 people all living in one city block.
There will be 4 different styles of units built. It depends on where the units are within the tower and podium. The four styles are:
• Market Flats – being built on the low rise brick podium on Floors 2-5), no balconies, typically smaller units. 77 in total
• Townhomes are atop the podium on the 6th floor and are two storeys and have their own “back yard” terrace (some have balconies facing the St Lawrence Market as well). 34 in total.
• Watersuites are all single storey units in the tower and are named as such since they all will have water views of the lake. Approximately 355 in total.
• Penthouses. 2-storey glass walled penthouses. Top two floors are shaped like a peanut. Up to 10 units available.
As of November  15, over 85% of the units have been sold
The project’s website is

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Renfrew Stories: Even while at school in Windsor, Renfrew Foundry Made a Big Impression

x YOU CAN TAKE THE BOY OUT OF RENFREW BUT ... x George Heath, a former Renfrew resident and a keen follower of, sent me a clipping announcing the January closure of the H.Imbleau & Sons Foundry in Renfrew. George's wife Marie is a member of the Imbleau family. The company, founded in 1858, is the town's longest running business. For over 150 years the factory has put the Renfrew name on the map ... literally. One of the company's most successful products is manhole covers. When I received George's note about the closure, I wrote him a quick letter, reprinted below, which tells my story of the impression the foundry had on me in the early 70's while a student at Windsor University. .
Back in my days at Windsor University I worked a variety of part-time jobs so that I would not have to move back to Renfrew and work in the mines at Haley's Station in the summer. One of my steady gigs was in the student pub, which was held in the residence cafeteria between Laurier and McDonald Halls. In 1970 our student pub had to get special banquet permits to operate on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. To qualify as a banquet, every person entering the pub had to pay $1.00 for 3 sandwiches, ham, ham & a cheese slice and a straight cheese slice sandwich. There was a big garbage bin by the front door where you could throw out your sandwiches as soon as you passed the on-duty cop checking to make sure we complied with that license. I spent Thursday, Friday afternoons and Saturday afternoons making the sandwiches. I spent the rest of the week eating the sandwiches people didn't buy or wouldn't eat. They kept me feed for one whole semester. Bruce Payton briefly stayed with me, and those sandwiches feed him too. But I digress. Back at the pub, I also worked as a waiter. I was pretty bad. The music was too loud to hear peoples' drunken orders. Ask me for whatever you wanted but you always got a 50 or jug of draft. I would lie and say we were out of Black Horse, or Red Cap or whatever someone might have asked for. . "Oh, they aren't cold." "Oh man, sorry, last bottle just got sold." Didn't matter, how much they asked for something different, I always gave them a 50 or a jug of draft. We sold a lot of 50. Most nights, but not every night, we drained a lot of draft beer kegs. The music was terrific. Live. Many of the acts were from Detroit, coming over to Canada to slum on a Thursday night. Mitch Ryder. Alice Cooper, the MC5, the Stooges and my favourite Detroit band ... The Frost. There were Windsor bands too, Danny Bonk (who died three years ago) and Buzz and the Blues Train (Buzz died before turning 25). The student pub was student run. The tips were bad. The food never changed. But the music was oh, so, good. Favourite night was Saturday. When it all ended at 1am we waiters cleaned off the tables, carried the bodies to the front door and talked to the music acts. We'd also drink beer and stuffed those sandwiches into our mouths ... as a favour to the establishment. Seriously. Our pub manager Brian Ducharme, now a Windsor lawyer (who made his fortune defending strippers in the all-nude Windsor Clubs dubbed collectively as the Windsor Ballet) would let us finish off the kegs that hadn't been drunk dry. A half open industrial sized beer keg wouldn't keep from Sunday morning until the next Thursday night.
It was the difference between the optimist and the pessimist. Sometimes the keg was half full, sometimes the keg.... well you know how it goes. The night I called the Imbleau night, the Keg was way more than half full. In fact it was a shot glass less than full. Some thirsty waiter cracked it open just as we were screaming "Last Call". 10 waiters drank 20 jugs in 1 hour and 20 minutes. Security shared a jug or two too and then threw us out. I left upright. But by the time I crossed the main campus I was staggering. I remember crawling sorta along the sidewalk that lined University Avenue (Windsor's Raglan St). I kept one knee in the gutter and the other on the sidewalk. Figured I wouldn't get run over, and I wouldn't block pedestrians if I went down for the count. It was a 3-block crawl. Just as I got to my house I realized I was going to be sick. I was ashamed of myself. Had I sunk so low that I was about to be vomiting in the street? (Yes!) In my limited and failing vision, I saw a manhole cover -- I was saved. I crawled out to the cover. My plan was to lift the cover and void all that swirling beer and sandwiches in my stomach into the sewer. Who was I kidding? I reached the cover. I tried to get my fingers into the crowbar opening to pull the cover up. No luck. Fingers too thick. No strength. No chance. I was sick. 2 Jugs worth. And 5 ham and margarine sandwiches and 4 pickled eggs. I lay my head down in the mess I made. Three hours later, with dawn breaking, I awoke. Still in the street. Still with my head on the manhole cover. Lucky for me, Windsor in 1970 was as busy on Sunday morning as Calaboogie on Friday night ... no cars out and about to run me over. No good citizens to look the other way as they walked by. I got into my apartment on McKay Street. Cleaned off my face and looked in the mirror. I could see that lying on the manhole cover had created, momentarily at least, a Renfrew tattoo, for there on my cheek you could see the word Imbleau. You can take the boy out of Renfrew, but some nights, you can’t take Renfrew out of the boy (although, aside from my blood shot eyes, my face returned to normal pretty quick!) Pictured Top: A Renfrew manhole cover Pictured Bottom: Photo of Danny Bonk tribute story, Windsor Star

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Just The Facts About Market Wharf

Sidebar #1  Just the Facts About Market Wharf Condos

There will be approximately 475 separate living spaces within Market Wharf, with an expected population of close to 1,000 people all living in one city block.
There will be 4 different styles of units built. It depends on where the units are within the tower and podium. The four styles are:
  • Market Flats – being built on the low rise brick podium on Floors 2-5), no balconies, typically smaller units.  77 in total
  •   Two storey Townhomes are atop the podium on the 6th floor and are two storeys and have their own “back yard” terrace (some have balconies facing the St Lawrence Market as well).  34 in total.
  • ·      Watersuites are all single storey units in the tower and are named as such since they all will have water views of the lake.  Approximately 355 in total.
  • ·      Penthouses. 2-storey glass walled penthouses. Top two floors are shaped like a peanut. Up to 10 units available.

As of the summer, 85% of the units have been sold
The project’s website is
Sidebar #2
Who is buying Market Wharf housing?
According to Marketing Director Craig Taylor:
·      The demographic is a mix of downtown professionals and empty-nesters.
·      Buyers tend to be couples without children who are a mix of first time buyers and move-up buyers and people who want to sell their house and live by the St. Lawrence Market.  Predominantly end-users ( i.e. owners who will live in the building) 
·      St. Lawrence Market is always the core attraction of this project for purchasers, followed closely by the overall St. Lawrence neighbourhood and its proximity to the downtown financial core (where many of the buyers work). 

Sidebar #3
Good Tall, Strong Fences Make Good Neighbours

Why a steel enforced safety barrier is being built between the GO tracks and the south end of the condo tower:

·      On a typical weekday, there are 117 GO train trips operating on three separate corridors -- Richmond Hill, Stouffville and Lakeshore East – all of which will pass by the Market Wharf tower.

·      On a typical weekday there are 34 VIA trains, two Ontario Rail trains and one CN  freight train that pass  by the Market Wharf

·      There is a reduced speed limit in the Market Wharf neighbourhood of no more than 30mph for passenger trains. Freight trains are limited to 15 mph.

More about those train barriers

Market Wharf project is not the only project in the GTA that has to build a train barrier.  Metrolinx (the Greater Toronto Transportation Authority) manages road transport and public transportation agencies in the Greater Toronto Area and Hamilton, and is responsible for ordering train safety barriers to be built around new projects.

According to Metrolink spokesman Ian McConachie, “one example of a recently constructed crash wall is at the Metrogate residential project - on the Stouffville (train) line just north of Highway 401.”

“A crash wall will be included in the forthcoming residential tower project at 507 Esplanades - just west of Market Wharf,” continued McConachie. “Crash barriers have been contemplated for various projects that are still in the early planning stages.”

Not all crash barriers are made of concrete and steel. According to Metrolink there are a multitude of crash barriers used in the GTA including crash berms (a mound or wall of earth or sand) and soil embanking.