Day Tripping to Toronto’s Former Lunatic Asylum

Here’s what people who don’t have much money to travel do. People who have imagination and desire and trust that Dorothy was right. These people are Heather and I and the Toronto Transit Commission is our dream world. Too vague?

I’m talking about what’s in our own backyard and how accessing it is as easy as investing in a TTC day pass then scratching off the date. Sept. 25, 2010. A cloudy Saturday threatening to open up and tip on us but we didn’t care. We scratched and climbed aboard the reddest rocket on Queen Street, moving down to the back where the seats provide the best view and where, as Heather says, it’s like we’re in our own private limousine.

For the day, we filled Tupperware with dried fruits and nuts; brought along a section of that morning’s Globe just in case we got trapped somewhere and there weren’t enough people to watch and we got bored. We dressed in layers, ever hopeful the sun would come out and stick with us. At the front door, we hesitated, umbrellas in hand. “Leave them,” Heather said, in that firm voice she uses when she encounters weather trauma and the heft of indecision. So I did what I was told, tucking the spindly black dripping spiders behind the pillar on our porch and carrying on up toward Queen Street beside my girl.

Once we settled aboard the streetcar I turned on my observatory skills, noting signposts along the way, entrances and exits by pedestrians, shoppers, store-keepers, children at play, whatever moved. For us it only takes a switching-on of this alertness to life and we’re off viewing. For instance, right now as I post there is a white-haired woman in a lovely lavender pant suit and high heels strolling along our street outside my window peeking inside each blue recycling bin she passes. Across her left shoulder is a huge blue bag but it doesn’t look like it’s bulging with bottles. She distracts but also intrigues; she is one more instance of what we, I mean me in this instance, but it’s an experience shared with Heather for sure, what we involve ourselves with by opening eyes, minds, heart and imagination to living our days. Especially our Saturdays in September with a TTC day pass.

And now: back to the tale of that afternoon the culmination being: attending a ceremony at Toronto’s former lunatic Asylum, currently the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH). Strolling along the seven newly erected plaques commemorating patient labour from over a hundred years ago–women working in laundries, sewing rooms, kitchens; men toiling in orchards that used to line that strip of Queen, or bricking in the enclosure walls forbidding exit.

Daytripping to this memorial site. Perverse pleasure in what was once, no doubt about it, unbearable pain. Tales to tell so stick around for my next posting. My intention for now: to give your eyes and mind a break but hopefully entice you to come back to my blog and join Heather and I as we move further into our last September Saturday in Toronto and the soon-to-be completion of my inaugural blog posting.


About Nor

I'm a creative non-fiction writer, with a special interest in memoirs and obituaries--life stories, local histories with flesh & blood anecdotal details. I'm also beginning to create podcasts of people's stories and expanding their audiences. I'm a diarist, an editor, and a political activist. I live in Toronto, Ontario, Canada and spend days tapping keys or staining my fingers in ink.
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