Anyway, on Friday I was walking by, on my way to the grocery store... I had been snapping pictures during my walk already, so I was in shoot mode - Keeping my eyes peeled for beautiful scenes that I just had to snap. As I had almost walked completely past the building, I swung my head to the left and caught just the smallest glimpse of a branch of magnolias. I did a double take. Tripped over my feet a little as I tried to decide whether I would go and inspect, or keep walking...forget about it...
I approached the wall of the building. It ran beside someone's drive way. I walked a little up the driveway just to see the branch. It was pretty. There were magnolia leaves scattered all over the pavement.
Well, I guess I'll take a picture from where I am since I can't get into the back yard.
I inched closer and closer. Whoever's driveway this was didn't seem to be home. They wouldn't mind...Once I saw the whole tree, I was in awe. It was probably the biggest magnolia tree I have ever seen. It was HUGE! There were just clusters and clusters and clusters of huge lavish pink magnolias. Toppeling over eachother. It was breath taking. To see so many flowers in one concentration is just amazing. I couldn't believe it was back here! If I hadn't come closer I wouldn't have realized how big the tree was.
I looked down, to get to this backyard I would have to go down and around, and get through a rickety rotting fence door crowded with garbage. It didn't look safe. I decided to go to the complete opposite end of the property, and see if there was a way in.
Success! The other end of the property had a narrow path leading right into the backyard.
As soon as I walked in I felt like I had stepped back in time. The ground felt different. The grass was soft and lush, and the soil beneath it came up in pockets that crumbled softly under my feet. Almost like ant hills. Like it's hardly been walked on.
There were old rose bushes all knarled and tangled. There was a row of garages nailed shut with huge sheets of metal. These may have been stables at one point. The back of the apartments had decks. With light bulbs still hanging, it was so magical to imagine this estate coming alive. What was this yard like in it's day? Who lived here? Who tended the roses. Where did the horses go? Who sat on these porches in the Toronto of yesterday. Long before malls and starbucks.. before cars and noise and garbage. There was a peacefulness about this place that I found comforting. But there was also an eerie quality that kept me so intrigued.
The dark side of me liked to imagine why this place is abandoned. Was someone murdered? Did a crazy woman with white eyes and a hairless cat still live upstairs? Was she watching me while rocking back and forth in her dusty rocking chair? Luckily the sun and the beautiful nature surrounding me brought me out of my dark thoughts, and back to beauty. The life in this small corner was just so tangible. This space just felt so...different. In a city that has every inch of itself trod on every day, it was really special to find a hidden corner that is mostly untouched. I would like to live here. I wish my bedroom opened on to this. Id pad out in my socks and sip tea on the balcony. Nobody but me. And the flowers.
The yard itself was quite large. The magnolia tree being the centerpoint. But it was obvious that it had once been tended. There were, as I've already mentioned - Rose bushes. There were planted in a row in the center of the lot. At it's south edge there was a hill rolling down towards me. A black cat with orange patches peeked out at me through the grass. A family of birds burried their beaks into the soil searching for bugs and worms. I didn't seem to bother them.
After snapping this shot:
A huge rolly polly groundhog came wandering out of the shadows. We were both shocked to see eachother. Each of us jumped and startled, then went our seperate ways. Me a few steps backwards and he back into the shadows of his comfy home. That's the first groundhog I've seen in Toronto. It added to my confidence that this property was just a haven of untouched nature. If the groundhogs like it here?? It's gotta be quiet and off the beaten trail.
I've always loved the concept of quiet secret spaces. As a child I had a favourite climbing tree. It was on my aunt's property next door to mine, and it faced the Ottawa river. It was right at the shoreline. If I jumped out of it I wouldve landed in the sand. It was the perfect height for me to climb. It had a low branch that I could pull myself onto, and up I went from there. My mom used to yell at me for going up there without shoes on.
"You'll slip Amy! If you want to climb the tree you have to put your shoes on!" I can still hear her. And I vividly remember getting up there and then dropping my shoes out of the tree with rebellious satisfaction. She was right. The shoes were key for climbing, but once I was up there, I just wanted to go neked!
I used to sit up there for what felt like hours. Just watching the water, and listening to the wind.
One day my uncle pulled me aside to tell me they were cutting the tree down. It was 'in the way of the view from their living room' and he promised to make me a bench out of the tree so i could "still sit in my favourite spot at watch the water"
He did build the bench, but it wasn't the same. There was something about being out of reach that made my tree such a special, secret spot. I never forgave him. I guess it was part of growing up. Realizing that things aren't always going to be there for you. That some things that you love are going to disappear, and that you can't stop it. So dramatic! I know, but it really was devastating. It was my first sense of utter rage and frustration. And deep loss.
I did find another favourite spot though, and this time it was a garden. Just a few feet from where my favourite tree used to be, there was a cluster of trees and bushes just big enough for me to hide in. ( I was 7 or 8 years old. Maybe 4 feet tall)
My solace space was found again. My secret garden was a place I'd go to to read, to plant little plants ( that never really grew because it was so shady) To sing, and recite random scenes from movies I liked. It was my oasis. Sometimes I'd just go in there and sit quietly. Alone. Watching the sun move and listen to the sounds of the birds. I guess I liked that.
Back to real time.
This building and its yard evoked all these special memories. It awoke a part of me I'd long forgotten, and gave me hope that even in a city so busy, dirty and public... that there are still secret spaces where groundhogs forrage, cats lay in the grass, and magnolia trees bloom.
To touch specifically on the property, all I know is that it is called The Sylvan Apartments. It was built around 1907. Apparently a development company wanted to bulldoze it to make way for a condo. But in 2005 it was declared a heritage site and nothing has happened since.
I'd really like to know what it looked like inside. In my mind's eye I can hear pianos playing and people laughing. There are still heavy cloth curtains on the windows, with those classic tassle pulls.
I dont know what will happen to this space. But I know I will return. I want to see the roses bloom and to see Mr Groundhog out for his morning walk.
I like knowing this space is there. I'm old enough now to know that someone might take it away one day. But until then, I'll keep visiting. I like to think I fit in with the other quiet animals. We all just want a little place to be on our own.