Monday, May 31, 2010

Toronto from the Bay: Moonlight Edition

Postcard Toronto From the bay 1907
The postcard above, which depicts a ferry boat traveling to the Toronto islands (circa 1907), comes from a collection of naval-themed postcards from the Maritime History of the Great Lakes.

What's striking about this postcard is that it looks nothing like Toronto. With the full moon overhead, the black skyline, and quaint looking riverboat, I'd probably guess that this image was of some Southern U.S. coastal city like New Orleans. (Or some town swarming with vampires.)

In case you're wondering, the black spire that dominates the skyline in background is the Cathedral Church of St. James. Although the church is no longer the tallest building in Toronto, it's still the tallest cathedral in Canada.

Image from the Maritime History of the Great Lakes.

> Continue Reading: Toronto from the Bay: Moonlight Edition

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Bing Screws Up

deepwater horizon oil spill
The Intrepid has been getting a lot of traffic lately from Bing's image search engine due to a pointless little post I wrote a week ago on the size of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and what it would look like superimposed over Toronto.

The post was a pretty lame piece of hackery with two mildly interesting images. When I posted it I never imagined that one of the images would make it to the top of Bing's image search results for the keywords: "Deepwater Horizon oil spill."

There are thousands of images of the spill out there that are better than the lazy Google Maps screenshot I posted, so why did my image make it to the top? Surely someone else has to have labeled an image of the spill with those same keywords. Just one more reason to use Google, I guess.

Screenshot from

> Continue Reading: Bing Screws Up

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Toronto Then and Now: Westwood Theatres

Westwood Theatres Etobicoke Toronto 1974Westwood Theatres, 1974.

Westwood Theatres Etobicoke Toronto 2010Westwood Theatres, 2010.

Despite being a hideous suburban monstrosity with almost no redeeming architectural qualities, Westwood Theatres, a now abandoned Etobicoke cinema, resonates with a lot of people, including yours truly. Before Queensway Cinemas opened at Islington Avenue and The Queensway, Westwood, while not the only game in town, was one of the most convenient, and perhaps the cheapest place to see first-run releases in Etobicoke.

Westwood Theatres Etobicoke Toronto 1974Westwood Theatres, 1974.

Westwood Theatres Etobicoke Toronto 2010Westwood Theatres, 2010. Behold, the mighty condos of Etobicoke!

Westwood opened in 1952 beside the equally monstrous six points interchange (the point where Kipling Avenue, Bloor Street West, and Dundas Street meet) and closed in 1998. The last film I had the pleasure of seeing there—for three dollars—was the 1996 masterpiece, Mars Attacks!.

According to srcushing, a Cinema Treasures commenter who claims to be the theatre's last manager, the final two features shown before the theatre closed were Titanic and Wild Things. (Neither of which seem particularly appropriate.)

"The Westwood had lots of life left," he continues. "[I]t was a discount theatre with first run films. I was selling out shows up until the end."

More recently, the site was used to film scenes for the unbearably shitty Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004). In the film, the roof of the theatre is destroyed by a zombie wielding a rocket launcher, and according to numerous accounts, the "D" in the Westwood sign was damaged during filming. (Dozens of other Toronto locations, including City Hall, also appear in the movie, and are subsequently nuked at the end.)

Westwood Theatre Resident Evil ApocalypseWestwood Theatre Resident Evil ApocalypseWestwood Theatres gets attacked by zombies in Resident Evil: Apocalypse. (Note the American spelling of "theater.")

Speaking of zombies and destruction, the Ontario government plans to demolish Westwood and build a courthouse on the site.

In response, local residents have started a Facebook group to save the theatre's most prominent image: the giant orange and neon green "Westwood" sign.

Bill Brioux, a former Toronto Sun columnist and the man behind the campaign, argues the following in his blog:
For any of us who grew up in that ‘hood, the Westwood letters are as indelible as the Hollywood sign and speak to the same magic, allure and escape movies have to offer. The letters should be saved for their historical value as a symbol of mid-century pop culture. Hard to see them remaining on that site if it is indeed a courthouse...Anyone up for a lost cause?
Any campaign to save the sign would have to move quickly, as construction is slated to begin within the next year, and the government hopes to have the courthouse complete by 2013.

Westwood Theatres Etobicoke Toronto 1974Westwood Theatres, 1974.

Westwood Theatres Etobicoke Toronto 2010Westwood Theatres, 2010.

Right now, the windows to the theatre are all boarded-up, but you can still peak through and see the completely stripped-down lobby. According to Brioux, all the theatres' trappings have long since been removed and some of the newer seats were moved to Runnymede Theatre, which closed shortly after Westwood.

Westwood Theatres Etobicoke Toronto 2010Someone still calls Westwood Theatres home.

The other two long time tenants, the Etobicoke Driving school and a karate dojo, have both moved, leaving the building completely empty. Though I suspect someone may be living in the theatre, as I saw several empty beer bottles and a shopping cart in the lobby, and what looks to be the home of some kind of animal behind the building.

As much as I'd like to save Westwood for nostalgia purposes, I think it's time for the building to go. Although the historian in me loathes seeing anything knocked down, there isn't much about Westwood that's worth preserving (even the sign), and the city desperately needs a new courthouse. In this case, memories and photos will have to do.

The 1974 photos of Westwood Theatres come from the City of Toronto Archives. The 2010 photos are by Stephen M.

> Continue Reading: Toronto Then and Now: Westwood Theatres

Monday, May 10, 2010

Cashing In On My Minor Fame

Beer Makes History Better Groupon
I achieved a new level of infamy today, when—a deal of the day type site—posted a deal for Urban Adventures's Beer Makes History Better tour and included a quote from my Torontoist review of the walk.

As far as I know, this is the first time I've ever been quoted in ad. Perhaps I'll celebrate with some kind of beverage...

> Continue Reading: Cashing In On My Minor Fame

Sunday, May 09, 2010

If the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Covered Toronto

Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Toronto Google MapsThe extent of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, May 6, 2010.

Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Google MapsThe Deepwater Horizon oil spill over the GTA and surrounding region.

Paul Rademacher, a Google Maps engineering manager, has created an interesting app using Google Earth that lets people overlay the Deepwater Horizon oil spill over any area of the globe.

If the 6,500 square kilometre spill were centred over Toronto, it would also cover Oakville, Mississauga, Oshawa, Vaughan, Brampton, Ajax, Pickering, Aurora, Newmarket, Cobourg, St. Catharines, Niagara Falls, and Welland, plus dozens of other small towns, a large chunk of Lake Ontario, and thousands of square kilometres of farmland and forest.

You can read more about the spill, its size, and how it's being tracked on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) website.

Hat tip to the Toronto Star's Map Blog

> Continue Reading: If the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Covered Toronto

Pandas Suck

That's right, according to Animal Review, a blog devoted to reviewing and grading animals based on their awesomeness, Pandas get a big fat F. Why? Well, Pandas don't seem to like to procreate and they eat bamboo, which wasn't designed for their stomachs.

Here's an excerpt from the highly scientific entry:
In the meantime, pandas occupy valuable zoo space while bringing little to the table. We’re not even allowed to name them. If we could give the pandas that China lends us names like Babcock or Slider, they might be ever-so-slightly more interesting. Instead we’re left wondering how to pronounce ‘Gao Gao.’
The mammals behind Animal Review are Jacob Lintz and Steve Nash, who, like any good bloggers, have managed to turn their site into a soon-to-be-released book.

So far, they've reviewed seventeen species that can be found in Canada, giving us a middling average grade of C+. (The site itself would be infinitely better if you could sort animals by their region and rank.) Dragging us down are flies (annoying), garden snails (evolutionary retards), and hummingbirds (addicts). While our best animals are skunks (armed and ready), North American mountain goats (bearded), and porcupines (spiky).

Of course, the most important animal—our national animal—the beaver, has still yet to be reviewed.

Photo by The Brit_2.

> Continue Reading: Pandas Suck

Friday, May 07, 2010

Coloured Bars of Democracy

Big Ben Exit Poll
The BBC and Parliament’s joint decision to beam the exit poll and real-time results from the 2010 UK general election on to the side of St. Stephen’s Tower (the bell goes by the name Big Ben) is an excellent example of a practical way to engage citizens in the democratic process. It might just be some coloured light on an old building, but even the most politically detached individual can take a quick look at this graph and see that the blue team is winning.

It would great to see a similar display on the Peace Tower for the next Canadian Federal Election. Unfortunately, that seems unlikely to happen anytime soon. When it comes to elections, we’re a little more stuck up than the Brits. We can’t even vote in pubs yet!

Photo by veryhappyhack.

> Continue Reading: Coloured Bars of Democracy

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Nouveau Canada

New Canada
Behold Nouveau Canada: an optimal realignment of Canada's provincial borders. This map is the ultimate culmination of exhaustive research into Canada's history, culture, and traditional cleavages. The Photoshop work alone took almost twenty minutes!

Yesterday, after I made a post about The Economist's rejigging of Europe, I thought it might be fun to take the same tongue-in-cheek mentality and redesign Canada.

As you can see, I've finally given Alberta and Quebec what they want most: distance from the rest of the country. And with Quebec on the east coast, Ontario now has some sweet coastline. I also moved the islands in Canada's Arctic region south and used them to build some nifty politically significant archipelagos.

Perhaps what's left of the Rhino party can adopt my plan as an official platform.

Base image from Wikipedia Commons.

> Continue Reading: Nouveau Canada

Rejigging Europe

New Map of Europe
In an recent article, The Economist loosened its necktie a little—a welcome break from its usually staunch fiscal conservatism—and redrew the map of Europe in a rather amusing way (see above).

The big winners from this rejigging are no doubt Poland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. After years of nervously looking over their shoulders at the Russians and the Germans, these countries finally can enjoy the security that comes from miles of water.

Even though this map is joke, The Economist's editors have still managed to take a swipe at the UK's financial problems by moving it south to join the equally beleaguered Mediterranean states.

The inclusion of the fictional countries of Syldavia and Borduria is also a nice tip of the hat to Tintin fans—though in the Tintin universe these two countries share a border.

Map from The Economist

> Continue Reading: Rejigging Europe