Defying winter

About now we get the coldest, snowiest weeks of the year. I want to hide. I want to stay indoors until April. I want to be a bear or a chipmunk so I can hibernate until winter goes away.

For a human in Toronto, though, there are better strategies!

#1 – Acknowledge the cold

Wear a wool hat and scarf. Your blood circulates up your neck, close to the skin, and around your head: keep those areas insulated.

Move with energy. Using muscles generates heat. (Shivering is just little muscle twitches – your body’s own way of getting some movement heat going.) Walking faster is walking warmer.

#2 – Find reasons to be moving

 “Go for a walk” doesn’t motivate me; I need a destination to pull me out. It has to be free, or I’ll use the cost as an excuse not to go. So here are worthy, free things to do, almost all in the city core. “Just do it.” “You can do it.” “It’ll be fun.” My sister says things like that – and she’s right.

Part I, in this post, is not about walking miles in the snow! (That’s Part II, next post.) This is just trips tosomething indoors. Move the body, feed the mind = win over winter.

Part I – Small steps – go out to go in

Exceptional one-off events

  • Toronto New Music Festival, Jan 12-21 – 10 days of free music, 7:30pm
  • Vogue dance workshop with Twysted (age 14-25) 4-7pm Weds, Jan 15 to March 4
  • Meridian Hall contemporary-dance classes, Thursday 6pm Jan 23, 30
  • January movement classes, Kaeja d’Dance, MNJCC, 1pm Weds, Jan 22, 29, Feb 5
  • DesignTO, Jan 17-26 – On the schedule, at the left, you can choose neighbourhood and interests – e.g., urban design, furniture design, graphic design…. Most exhibits are free.
  • Photography exhibit – Root cellars of Newfoundland. Jan 20-24. This basic structure often lasts longer than the house. Other work by the artist, also relating to harsh conditions.
  • Toronto Light Festival, Jan 17 – March 1, sundown to 9/10pm, Distillery District. I didn’t know “light artist” was a profession, but in 2019 specialists from Turkey, Austria, Sweden, the US, the Netherlands, Germany, and Israel joined Canadian artists to light up the night.
  • Mackenzie House/DesignTO workshop, 10am-2pm Jan 18. Plant a garden pocket for your household in a vertical garden, then explore Mackenzie House free. (Toronto’s first Mayor, William Lyon Mackenzie, was a fiery figure.)
  • African drumming workshop, 2pm Feb 1
  • Harbourfront’s 25th Kuumba, celebrating Black History Month, Feb 1-29. About half the items are free – mostly the exhibits. Just go, see something.

Museums: Major museums have free evenings. Go with a curious mind, there are marvels here. Most are on the Bloor subway, easy to get to. The Aga Khan Museum is farther, but so amazing it’s worth the long trip. The Allan Gardens Conservatory is my favourite destination in February: just hop on the Carlton car and walk into a warm climate to lift your spirits.

Free times (or PWYC where noted)
*PWYC means pay-what-you-can – it’s OK if that’s $1 or $0, you are truly welcome

If those times don’t work for you, or if you want to visit the Ontario Science Centre, Toronto Zoo, or the Toronto History Museums, get a free-entry MAP pass from the library.

Two to travel west for:

  • Etobicoke Civic Centre Art Gallery. Bus from Kipling or Islington Station to remarkable free exhibitions. March: Eagle’s journey, March: artists of the Albanian diaspora.
  • Assembly Hall, Sam Smith Park, Etobicoke. 501 Long Branch streetcar, or 44 Kipling South bus from Kipling Station to a community-driven venue. Art exhibits are free & interesting.

Music – listen free

Dance – move free

Some others

  • AGO art-interested seniors social — 1-4pm, second Friday of the month
  • Meridian Hall yoga — noon, Tuesdays and Thursdays
  • Mountain Equipment Coop (MEC) gives free workshops on topics like basic knot tying, winter camping, introduction to snowshoeing, and winter bike commuting. Go learn something – you don’t have to do it.

Looking forward, looking back

Kate Hamilton is the lead coordinator of our Urban Farm at Ashbridge Estate, and facilitates our biweekly ‘Do It Together’ workshops at the Moss Park Market.

The past year had me continually adapting to new circumstances, both bad and good. Jolting change is wearing, but it may be what 2020 has in store for most of us. If that’s right, we will need to keep each other’s energy up, and our own.

One success in 2019 was the launch of Do It Together (DIT) workshops for Building Roots, a non-profit that develops social connections in Toronto’s Moss Park. There was no fresh food for blocks; Building Roots created a produce market. There was little animation; Building Roots coordinates activities from organizations like Story Planet and Youth Gravity – and hosted the DIT series.

The highlight was a workshop on reducing plastic usage. We talked, learned, made our own waxed-cloth food wrappers, and considered joining an OCAD student project about what motivates behaviour change. Like all the DIT workshops, it was a warm, sociable event with interesting people who brought a variety of experience to the table.

The best part for me, though, was the research before delivering that workshop. I found innumerable initiatives about to break surface – biodegradable 6-pack rings; plastic substitutes from fish waste; improved sorting technology for recyclables; plastic-free 3D-print manufacturing; and innovations by food packagers, supermarkets, hotels, and clothing brands to reduce consumer plastic use. One example: ice cream in refillable stainless-steel containers.

I’ll mention four close to home – Ice River Springs, in Shelbourne, Ontario, uses 100% recycled plastic; a network of Roncy Reduces organizations, in Toronto, encourages restaurants and supermarkets to use customers’ containers; Etee, in Toronto, is an online source for plastic-free products such as toothbrushes; and TerraCycle, founded by Hungarian-Canadian Tom Szaky, is the world leader in recycling generally non-recyclable waste such as energy-bar wrappers. (Szaky remarked: “By moving from disposable to reusable, you unlock epic design [and manufacturing] opportunities.”)

Why was research the best part? It showed we didn’t have to be where we are. We could have been using waxed-cloth food wraps all along, and seen dispensers rather than miniature toiletries in hotels. We could have required durability in clothing, repairability in appliances, bulk bins in supermarkets, micro-fibre filters on washing machines, and local processing that makes plastic’s lightness unimportant. We could have demanded that what goes into recycling bins be recycled. We could have reserved plastic to essential uses like intravenous bags.

What we want in our culture – and what we allow – does shape our systems. But an opinion you keep to yourself has no effect. We have to speak up. And to do that, we have to register the effects of the systems we have. Alberta farmer Don Campbell reminded us: “If you want to make large changes, change the way you see things.”

Change is coming, not only to your toothbrush. Here’s to seeing a 2020 when our choices are better because we require it – and when we help each other embrace them.

Easy reading: Canadian Geographic’s “Canada’s Dirty Secret” (2017) and Ontario’s “Strategy for a waste-free Ontario: Building a circular economy” (2016).