Sunday, March 01, 2009

City Beat: Ossington back in the day....

Did you read the article in the Saturday Globe about the revitalization of Ossington Ave here in Toronto?

I used to live on Ossington between Queen and Dundas back in the mid-80s. I had finished University, got myself a part time job, and was trying to get out of my parents' house in Etobicoke. I wanted to live in the city, so I started looking for studios I could live in.

I found this place on Ossington. It used to be a hardware store. The landlord didn't care what I did with it. He just wanted the rent in cash each month. I remember him coming over to collect rent, counting the money in front of me then giving me a big smile.

The place had peg-board walls, perfect for a painting studio. I divided it into two studios with a makeshift kitchen in the middle dividing them. The idea was that I would find someone for the back studio, and we would share the kitchen and the basement, which also had the bathroom. I had no money, but it's amazing what you can do on no money when you apply yourself to it. I divided the front into work and living space with two bookshelves, forming a wall and a half wall. My bed nested in behind the half-wall. It was pretty comfortable, and the studio was excellent. I covered the windows with paper stretched across frames. It let in light but offered privacy. Perfect.

At the time, Ossington Ave was dominated by Portuguese businesses, including a remarkable number of kitchen shops, places where custom kitchens were built. There were a few artists sprinkled up and down the street. Mendelson Joe had a store-front a couple blocks north. I knew his music - both the older Mainline material and his newer solo stuff. He often sat on his stoop playing the guitar, in cover-all cut-offs covered in paint. The artists were there for the same reason the kitchen places were there. Rent was cheap. It was a good place to live.

There was a little bakery just up the street from me. I was working evenings at the time - I think it was 7-midnight. I'd paint late after work and sleep until the crack of maybe 11:00 in the morning. Sometimes, I'd then put on coffee and go over to the bakery for a custard tart or some such thing. It seemed to me that they usually sold me day-old goods. I don't mean I was paying for day-old goods. I just mean that's what I ended up with. One day I noticed that when certain other people came into the place, they got food that looked decidedly better. It came from the back. I got the stale stuff; they got the fresh stuff. That's what I'm trying to say. I resented this, seeing as I lived just down the street and I was a regular customer. I didn't mind that they did it. I only minded that they did it to me. One day I had enough and accused the lady of selling me stale goods. I was so ticked off. I must have shouted at her. She protested, and started ranting back at me in Portuguese. The more angry I got, the less English she spoke. We never spoke of it again, but from that day forward, miraculously I got fresh goods.

There was a dog that lived down the street whose name was King. He was a husky and everyone knew him. I used to watch that dog wait at the bus stop on Ossington in front of our place, get on the bus, go up a couple stops and get off. He did it just about every day. I'm sure he was friends with the driver. Maybe he even got treats. The fellow who lived in the back studio had a dog, a big black lovable mutt. King sometimes called on him. King would come up to the back door and knock. The two of them would play in the back yard behind the place. One day they took off. I have no idea where they went but they were gone for hours. When they returned, they each had one of the biggest bones I had ever seen. I don't even want to know where they got them. I do know that back then, there was some home butchering going on. One day, we were out with the dog in the back lanes and passed a garage which was open but blocked by a big white cargo van. There was a steady stream of blood flowing into the lane from the garage.

For quite a while, next door there was some kind of storefront church which celebrated on Saturday mornings. The congregation came all dressed up. The men wore suits and the women wore hats, and they gathered to pray and sing. This was a serious church. I could here people work themselves up to a frenzy, praising the Lord, getting louder and louder. Sometimes there were musicians. There was always singing. There was pounding. There was praising. I really enjoyed the whole business.

more on Ossington soon.....


Patience said...

I spent a year and a bit working at the caterer at 13 Ossington (Sweet and Savoury Foods)in 1984-5. Quite a bit south of you so more colourful people coming from the facility on Queen to stare and knock on the windows.
Kris lived just around the corner and I met him because the girl he rented the room from also worked at S and S (aka Sweat and Slavery LOL!)

Barbara Bruederlin said...

What a wonderful story of your time in that area! It sounds like it was such a colourful neighbourhood, but I imagine that it will shortly become filled with Starbucks or whatever the equivalent of gentrification is these days.

I look forward to more of your Ossington stories.

Anonymous said...

I bet I know the bakery you are talking about. I walked past it for years thinking what a cool funky little place and untouched by any current gentrification.

Then I finally went in one day recently and found out that the baking tasted like shit and the woman at the counter is a total bitch.

mister anchovy said...

I remember Sweet and Savoury very well. I was at #70. Across the street from S&S and up the stairs, a painter named Paul Wysmyk had a studio, and if you went around through the lane, there was the entrance to a booze-can that was around for quite some time.

That was quite a block. There was the mental health centre, and at that time, there were a lot of troubled people hanging about, panhandling, and then on the west side of Oz there was also a drunk tank. Several times when I was painting in my studio with the front door propped open, people wandered in, looking for it. I helped a number of people walk down there during my stay on the street. Once when we had the dog, one of those blue nuns opened the door and walked in. I was bringing a painting downstairs at the time. The dog decided she wasn't welcome and cornered her. He was a friendly dog, but he didn't like uninvited guests.

mister anchovy said...

LM that was the bakery for sure. Har!

sp said...

Thanks for the reminder about Ossington.
I use to love biking on Ossington (below College) because it felt so wide (unlike Dovercourt). It felt roomy and I could bike all the way down the hill from Dundas without stopping.