Many thanks to Doors Open Toronto and…


all the enthusiastic gargoyle hunters who came out for the Faces on Places walking tours! You have motivated me to update and maintain this blog after a lapse (due to the crush of work at my day job). Stay tuned – new posts coming soon! Keep looking up! For those of you who couldn’t make it: CTV News walked with us on the first tour on Saturday ( – look under “Latest Videos” tab on the right for “Doors Open city architecture tours kick off”), and CBC Radio’s Here and Now promo’d the walks on Friday but they don’t seem to have archived the interview (or not yet).

More decorated Toronto schools


1fa4e-jarvis2Harbord Collegiate Institute and Jarvis C.I., both by school-board architect C. E. Cyril Dyson in the 1920s and 1930s, have figures so similar in style that they must have been designed by the same person.

Flanking the main entrance to each building is an academic figure (the Jarvis scholar above – an apparent math phobe, and the Harbord scholar below),


and another pointing to a spherical object that may be a globe — or a ball. (The Jarvis figure is above, and the Harbord fellow is below).

The latter would suggest that the figures illustrate the mens sana in corpore sano philosophy— healthy mind, healthy body. (However, similar figures appear inside Northern Secondary School, where it is more apparent that the spheres are globes and not sport balls.)

Outside the third-storey art-studio window at Jarvis are more student figures, including a reader and a writer.



Central Technical School’s scholar and journeyman


2f9b9-tech-scholarOf the four ornamented secondary schools in central Toronto, only Central Technical School has information available about its building’s carved faces — despite publication of individual histories of two of the other schools, and a book devoted to art (including sculpture) in Toronto public schools.

(The original school building was constructed in 1915, designed by architectural firm Ross & Macdonald.)

As described on Central Tech’s web site, at the top of each column supporting the main entrance arch is a “gnome”—a scholar in cap and gown, busily scribbling in a book, and a journeyman with hammer and chisel, representing the two sides of the school’s curriculum. (The tradesman’s hammer has broken and disappeared over the years.)


The “Handball Gods” of Northern Secondary School, Toronto


I recently discovered the website of The Decorated School Research network, a largely European group whose focus is sculptures and murals in and on 20th Century schools, and the relationships between architects, artists and educators through that art.

“We are interested in understanding more about how the art came to be commissioned, how the subject matter was decided, what was its function, its life story and what ideas about education or childhood, if any, were intended to be conveyed,” according to the website.

The network, which seems to have begun last year, has a two-year plan including seminars, a final international conference and a book, motivated by the fear that “many of these [artworks] may be in danger as school buildings are becoming replaced often with scant regard to the treasures that they contain.”

Having found this group (which I’ve included in my list of links, to the right), I thought I’d revisit some of the schools I included in Faces on Places: A Grotesque Tour of Toronto (my 2006 book on Toronto’s architectural sculpture) as well as to bring out pictures of school sculptures in Toronto and elsewhere that I haven’t included here before.


Northern Secondary School, whose architect was C.E.C. Dyson, the Toronto District School Board’s own architect, was built in record time in 1930. When I went to shoot the dozen masks all around building in the summer of 2005, a janitor leaned out a window and called to me, “You taking pictures of the funny people?”


“Funny people” they are indeed—and some are contented, goofy, frightened, frightening, or sad — but there is no information on the Oxford-like faces to be found in architectural journals, at the school itself, or in the Toronto District School Board Archives. (In fact, the archive does not even have a file on Dyson, who was the board’s architect from 1921 to 1949.)

I appealed for information — even pet names that students, faculty, or staff may have had for their stone classmates — on the website for Northern’s 75th anniversary in that year. I heard from several of the original graduates, who had a wealth of information on the history of the school, but nothing specifically about the faces.

Then I heard from Amir Fatemi, a more recent graduate. “When I attended Northern between 1993 and ’98, my friends and I played a lot of handball outside the south doors,” he said. “We frequently referred to the gargoyles as the ‘Handball Gods’ since they could oversee everything.”

There is also a wealth of sculpture inside the school (which is known for its art programmes, among other things), and I was recently told by the parent of a Northern alum that the students paint murals on the lockers in the corridors.


Neighbourhood lights



As our snow lay on the ground indecisively while the heavens alternately rained and snowed (and sometimes sleeted, or freezing-rained), this snowman kept hanging around (suspended from a tree) in front of a North Toronto house.

Happy new year!

Looking out my back door


Actually, looking out my back window. (Taking a break from ranting about dumbing down the language.)

Living in even a quiet, North Toronto residential neighbourhood, their are interesting and sometimes surprising scenes outside my back window. (This is where my office is – hence, the lights from my little office Christmas tree on the left side of the picture).

This is not the first time I’ve seen men in trees


but it’s the first time when it hasn’t been summer.

What I didn’t capture well enough to post was the tree-trimmer sweeping up afterward.

Happy Winter Solstice!

I feel stupidified


I spoke too soon in my ridicule of the Toronto Star use of the term “storified.”

Actually, that should be Storified. “Storify” seems to be a new-ish neologism for a proprietary tool that allows a journalist to pull in elements of “social media” to build a story. Hence, “storify.” I mean, “Storify.”

It’s not that new – I just found an article about Storify, from almost exactly a year ago, on the website of the Poynter Institute, a journalism school in St. Petersburg, Florida.

I suppose Storify as a verb is no more stupidifying than Google as a verb, or referring to the brief messages that are sent using this global system of interconnected computer networks as “tweets.” Tim Berners-Lee, one of the architects of the Internet, famously said, “The World-Wide Web was developed to be a pool of human knowledge, and human culture, which would allow collaborators in remote sites to share their ideas and all aspects of a common project.”

I wonder whether Berners-Lee and his colleagues dreamed it would ever become principally a tool of commerce; secondarily a way of perpetuating falsehoods, hate and insipidity; and third, a repository of most of the world’s exclamation marks (OMG!). The “pool of human knowledge” thingie has fallen somewhere much farther down the list.

So, mea culpa, Toronto Star – this time. I guess you did legitimately Storify that… story.

However, I plan to continue to resist adopting and perpetuating these wacko neologisms and meaningless buzzwords and catch phrases.

Storify – I’ll retire to Bedlam…

English language: 0 – Toronto Star: 1


The Toronto Star today ran a story – online, anyway – about how the children’s singer/champion Raffi Cavoukian has started a Twitter campaign to “mute Don Cherry.” Raffi encouraged his followers to mute their TVs during last Saturday’s Leafs-Canucks game when the “Coach’s Corner” segment aired during the first intermission of “Hockey Night in Canada.” Cherry is a former NHL coach and flamboyant, loud-mouthed broadcaster, who likes the physicality of the game – including fighting and head shots.

000c4-paediatric-award-1Raffi, a children’s advocate who was recognized by the Canadian Paediatric Society in 2010 when the organization made him an honourary member, told the Toronto Star: “For years I’ve been watching him [Cherry] get louder and louder. He sounds and acts like a bully. That’s not fun and it’s not a good example for the kids who are watching. In this day and age of all the hockey violence, we should be putting a stop to this…. I have nothing against the man personally. I’m just saying his act is uncivil and doesn’t belong on our public broadcaster.”

(“Hockey Night in Canada” airs every Saturday on CBC TV.)

Good on Raffi! Boo, Don Cherry!

And boo on the Toronto Star. The first story I referenced at the top of this post was nothing more than a series of tweets between Raffi and his followers, and a Toronto Star poll. Okay, I guess. As a sidebar anyway.

But the “byline” read “storified by the Toronto Star.”

4638b-storified1WHAT? It reminds me of one of my favourite comic strips – “Get Fuzzy,” which features Bucky Katt, a perpetually apoplectic Siamese who regularly murders logic as well the English language. One of my favourite Buckyisms is “You can wordify anything if you just verb it.” And that’s what the Toronto Star has done.