Winter Stations: the beauty of Toronto’s beaches

North by Montreal studio PERCH

The comfortable temperatures have been pampering Torontonians this winter, and even if some of us got the winter blues, there was no need to travel too far. A winter walk along Toronto’s eastern beaches has never been so entertaining. Visitors can get lost in a forest of upside-down trees and leave “a message from the sea” in plastic bottles.

Those are some of the five winning installations of the third annual Winter Stations, the international design competition to transform lifeguard stations across Balmy, Kew and Ashbridges Bay beaches into an open-air gallery with fantastic and interactive exhibits.

The jury of professional designers and architects of the Winter Stations, which is growing every year in its partners, organizers, and participants, received more than 350 ideas from around the world. Five were selected to be built on the beach along with three designs from the University of Toronto, University of Waterloo, and Humber College.

“Sometimes it was their [students’] first construction project,” said organizer Aaron Hendershott of RAW Design. “They should feel quite rewarded for their success.”

Catalyst, the theme of the 2017 Winter Stations asked the participants to envision a new waterfront landscape and to reinvent the way Torontonians interact with the beaches during winter. As it is only a five-week event, the other requirement included thinkining about how the installation can be reproduced, recycled, or used in other way.  

Flotsam and Jetsam by students from University of Waterloo

The 20-foot high sculpture Flotsam and Jetsam by a team of architecture students from the University of Waterloo resembles a huge Tetris-like horse from afar. But a closer look reveals many plastic bottles in wire cages. The installation is a close-up on the abundance of disposable packaging and its harmful impact on our planet.

North by Montreal-based Studio PERCH is a forest of forty-one fir trees hung from lifeguard stands. Hendershott explained that it was made from trees that didn’t found their homes over Christmas. The green installation stands out in the middle of the sandy beach covered with light-blue crusts of ice.

Collective Memory by Mario García from Barcelona and Andrea Govi from Milan

One of the most interactive designs is Collective Memory by participants from Barcelona and Milan — two walls constructed out of clear plastic bottles in which people can write messages about their experiences as Canadian citizens or immigrants in Canada.

“Over the period of the installation, hundreds of messages are making the piece more dynamic and interesting,” said Hendershott.

The Beacon by Joao Araujo Sousa and Joanna Correia Silva From Portugal

The creators of Collective Memory, North and the winners from Portugal, who designed The Beacon, the wooden lighthouse, were paid for their trips to Toronto to see how their pieces were constructed.

“They were quite satisfied that we were able to maintain their vision,” said Hendershott. “Being able to see it for the first time is little bit magical and emotional.”

Midwinter Fire by students from the University of Toronto

He added that it is always difficult for the jury to pick only a few designs from hundreds submitted, but that they focus on presenting something entirely new each year.

“There are a lot of repeated ideas, and [we have to] make sure that we keep the event fresh for the public,” said Hendershott.

BuoyBuoyBuoy by Dionisios Vriniotis, Rob Shostak, Dakota Wares-Tani, Julie Forand from Toronto

The Winter Stations event was founded by RAW Design, Ferris + Associates, and Curio in 2015 to inspire people to explore the beauty of the North.

The eight installations will remain open for public viewing until March 27.

All photos by Sveta Soloveva

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Novellahoods: A tour of the Upper Beaches

After over three years of living in Toronto, I feel like I’m pretty savvy when it comes to getting around the heart of the city. But being a west-ender, I’ve never really had many opportunities to cross over to the far-eastern side of Toronto. This whole time, the DVP has seemed to me like the Great Wall of China. What the hell is on the other side? I imagined tumbleweeds. Or maybe factories, or subdivisions for as far as they eye could see. It was all very mysterious.

But last night I finally got the chance to explore the Great Unknown that lies beyond the Don Valley: the neighbourbood of the Upper Beaches. ~TRUMPET SOUNDS~

Streetcar Developments hosted the tour — they’re the guys who build snazzy living spaces all over the city, condominiums that promote a tight-knit community amongst residents and within their neighbourhoods. It’s a really nice company who does really nice work, and their most recent project, The Southwood, is going to continue that track record right in the heart of the Upper Beaches.

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Our tour began at the sales office for The Southwood, where some bubbly was poured and we were introduced to the concept for the condominium, which will be ready for occupancy in spring 2017. Chatting with one of the Streetcar reps, I found out that they’re building on the Upper Beaches turf because the neighbourhood is gaining a lot of momentum — especially amongst the city’s young professionals.

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RoFo? Is that u?

After downing my champagne and deciding to start saving up for one of The Southwood’s south-facing one-bedrooms (SO. PRETTY.), our tour led us out of the sales office and we headed east down Kingston Road, the main street where all the magic happens.

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Yellow House was our next stop, a charming little gallery-slash-framing studio owned and operated by an OCAD grad. Within seconds of talking to her I realized there’s a huge artistic presence in this pocket of the city, and gazing at the walls of her gallery I took in some pretty incredible work. I made a mental note to take my next artistic excursion out this way.

Up next was The Art of Cheese. This place really gave me a feel of how tight-knit the Upper Beaches community is. The owner, Bill Miller (a.k.a. “The Grand Fromage”) is a retiree who opened this tiny shop as his passion project, and he could talk for literally hours about the magic of cheese. After feeding us some beautiful San De Oro cheese and local red wine (I nearly died of happiness in this moment) he divulged all the secrets of his craft. Like, the mind-blowing fact that cheese is supposed to be eaten at room temperature — if it’s too cold, you’re only tasting 40% of its flavour. (WHAAAAT.)

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The Grand Fromage in his element

After being charmed by Bill and his cheese (and his fromage-shaped foam hat), we headed to our next stop: Collected Joy. This beautiful odds-and-ends boutique is owned by Sharon Smyl, a former marketing director who worked with Minto Group and Starbucks. She lives right around the corner from the shop, and most of the brands she carries are local.

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I adored Collected Joy. Sharon kept describing things as “exquisite” and I was just in awe of her style. Maybe I’ll get her to design my new condo at The Southwood. One day…

Second-last stop was at The Stone Pizza, where my fellow media people and I had an impromptu pizza photo shoot. The pies were, as Sharon would say, exquisite. Who would have thought to put apple slices on a pizza? And who would have thought it would taste SO GOOD?

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Finally, we found ourselves at The Beech Tree restaurant and bar. This cosy, beautifully decorated spot is like the “Cheers” of the Upper Beach. The owner, like a lot of the shop owners in the area, used to work at a desk crunching numbers all day and abandoned that job to pursue his passion. The Beech Tree blew me away — literally everything is made in-house. Not one ingredient enters the store in a bottle or package. The mayonnaise, the syrups, everything is handcrafted from scratch in their little kitchen. Swoon. Oh, and the gnocchi can attest to the quality. I was almost reduced to tears while eating this. In a very good way.

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(I couldn’t get a good photo of the gnocchi because it was dim and my photography skills are not on point)

On the walk to our ride home, we were pleasantly surprised by one final Upper Beaches experience. Farmacia Juice Bar‘s tiny cooler-on-wheels rolled up to the sidewalk and served up some scrumptious house-made juices, smoothies and freezies. As if I hadn’t fallen in love with the neighbourhood already, the owner told us that a few weeks prior, when their cart was stolen, the community banded together to find it and bring it back. It’s like the whole Upper Beaches ‘hood is #squadgoals.

So, my dear west-of-the-DVP-ers, here is my advice to you: if you’re getting bored of downtown and want to make a little escape from the city without going too far, go to the Upper Beaches. It’s not as swanky-snotty as the — er, Lower Beaches? — but it’s equally as beautiful and full of boutiques that will steal your heart. I’d live here. And maybe one day I will. I mean, who wouldn’t want to live in a charming small town that’s hidden in a huge city?

Novellahoods: Amanda’s Guide to the Beaches

For a west-ender like me, the Beaches are a beautiful little escape from the crunched-up downtown areas. It has a slight Niagara-on-the-Lake feel, making it a quaint spot to for a refreshing walk, bike ride or picnic, and it’s home to an abundance of local business that keep residents looking and feeling sharp.

Wunderland in the Beaches
Wunderland in the Beaches

STYLE: Parlour Salon East

I can personally attest that this place is the bomb. If you’re thinking about putting pastel in your hair (or making any other dramatic colour-related change to your locks), come here and ask for Megan, who often brings her tiny but well-behaved chihuahua Olive to work. The bright, sunny salon is a fun place to be while you undergo your little makeover.

CAFFEINATE: Wunderland Gallery & Espresso Bar

There’s never been a more romantic love affair than that between art and coffee, right? Immerse yourself in both at Wunderland, where you can soak in locally made art and sip on a latte at the same time. Heaven.

LISTEN: Beaches Jazz Festival

Ah, a summertime classic. The Beaches Jazz Festival is happening this July 10 — 26, so bring your dance moves because it’s going to be a hoot.

EXPLORE: Kew Gardens

Making the Beaches even more nature-centric is this busy 6.5 hectare park that stretches from Queen St. East to Lakeshore Blvd. It’s the perfect spot to curl up on a picnic blanket with a book, but if you’re up for more adventure, go for a jaunt to check out the wading pool, tennis courts, trails, playgrounds and other fun stuff.

EXPLORE: R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant

This is more for you history buffs, or you CanLit lovers: This famous plant played a big role in Michael Ondaatje’s Toronto-based novel In the Skin of a Lion. The landmark is definitely worth a visit, if only to take in the opulent grounds, which are now open to the public.

SNACK: Ed’s Real Scoop

A must. All the treats here are inspired by Ed’s mom’s homemade candies, and the results are breathtaking. Stop here for a sweet escape from the heat and a sugary pick-me-up.