An Urban Breathing Space: Evergreen Brick Works, Toronto

A wonderfully creative and sustainable use of retired industrial land in the city, the Evergreen Brick Works is an extraordinary community environmental centre located on the site of the former Don Valley Brick Works (1889-1980’s) which produced many of the bricks that built Toronto. Old and new is beautifully integrated, creating an eclectic and vibrant space that makes full use of its central location on a swath of green space along the Don Valley ravine that runs through Toronto.

If you arrive on a Saturday you will find a bustling farmers market, selling local seasonal food, and buzzing with the energy of creative and interesting people. We brought home some fresh fish, garlic scapes, new potatoes, swiss chard and multicoloured heirloom carrots, which were all put to good use.
An interesting little shelter where you can wait for a bus or a free shuttle to take you to the subway system for a convenient commute. Note the industrial pieces on the ceiling re-purposed as integrated art.

A central garden space showing both new and old buildings.

Above: A small section of the children’s garden. There are children’s day camps that run out of some of the buildings.

The open rafter area inside this building above,  marks the Koerner Gardens, which are planted with native species. There is also a garden shop where you can learn about, and purchase, native plantings and many other products.

The large artwork on this wall is called Watershed Consciousness and was created by artist Ferruccio Sardella. It represents a map of the rivers that flow through the city and gently flows with water itself to sustain the plants tucked into the crevices that mark the waterways. The structural metalwork acts as a support for the both the building and the artwork.

Much of the old graffiti has been left on the surfaces and somehow it adds to the dynamic community feel of the site.

The interior space of Koerner Gardens. In the winter this area is transformed into a skating rink where you can wind your way around the raised beds under the open rafters. The skating rink is equipped with a refrigeration system and the waste heat produced from this system is directed to heat the adjoining cafe.

An image of what the clay and shale quarry used to look like before it was filled with water and turned into a vital habitat for native flora and fauna.
Below: A cross-section representation of the rock layers found in the quarry.

You just have to turn away from the buildings to see what is, essentially, the back garden to the Brick Works. A green space so vast that it’s hard to image you are in a huge city. There are winding walking trails within the 40 acre site that take you to lovely ponds, boardwalks and sitting areas. And beyond that the continuation of the ravine system and its huge network of paths.

There are many interesting businesses, events and features within the Evergreen Brick Works that I haven’t even touched on here. If you are interested in more information you can visit their website here:

All images © Karen McRae

Signs of Life

I‘ve been spying on observing the Fishing Village again.  I sincerely thought about approaching some of the occupants and getting the inside scoop but I decided I like these images from the perspective of an outsider… or maybe I’m just too shy…
Can you call yourself Canadian if you’ve never been ice fishing? Maybe it’s a right of passage. I should find out.

I’m strangely drawn to the trailers. They seem so 70’s to me and in this imperfect light they could be vintage 70’s images. I wonder if they have orange and brown upholstered benches and shag carpeting? I’d like to think so.

Dogs like ice fishing too…
Images © Karen McRae

The Canadian War Museum 2

If anyone was left wondering what the  War Museum in it’s entirety looks like after my previous Deconstruction post I’ve book-ended this one with two different full views and included a few images I haven’t yet posted. As always you can click on the images for a larger view.

For information about sustainable design and the museum click here
Architect: Raymond Moriyama

All images © Karen McRae

Deconstructing Architecture: The Canadian War Museum

The Canadian War Museum in Ottawa is sustainably designed with the notion of regeneration. At the back it rises gently  out of the landscape in some places barely visible. In the summer its green roof sways with approx 10,684 square metres of native grasses further integrating the building into the surroundings. In the winter I love how minimalist it appears from different angles, how the materials used and the cement in particular, soften against the snow. Every angle intriguing.

While nature may be ravaged by human acts of war, it inevitably survives, regenerates and renews itself.Raymond Moriyama, Architect

All images © Karen McRae

Architecture On Ice

Can you call this architecture? I’m actually quite intrigued by this community of ice fishing shacks that pops up every year not far from where I live. I’ve never been ice fishing and don’t really have much desire to but as an onlooker I find something visually pleasing about the whole thing. All the various colours, shapes and sizes of the structures and even a trailer thrown in. Each shack a reflection of the owner(s). I wonder if it gets competitive? Surely the fishing does.
I’m going to get brave and move in for some closer shots, but for now this is all I can offer you. Curious?

All images  © Karen McRae

Avian Architecture 2: Bird’s Nest Shavings

Ages ago a friend of mine gave me some metal shavings for the purpose of remaking them into a bird’s nest. These shavings are actually called “bird’s nest shavings” because of the way they look and bunch together. I finally got around to weaving one together. It was trickier than I thought. The little shavings are very delicate and break easily if bent. It took me quite awhile to weave them into a decent shape. I’m sure the birds wouldn’t be impressed with my efforts but it made me appreciate even more what a work of art a true bird’s nest actually is. I think I might give it another go. You can see the real thing here.  (The little egg-shaped rock is from my trip to Newfoundland this summer).
Click on images to enlarge.

All images © Karen McRae

Back Lane Café Collaboration

The Hintonburg area of Ottawa is crawling with hip new restaurants and one of the latest additions is the Back Lane Café. I got a chance to visit on the weekend and although it wasn’t for the food this trip,  I will definitely be making a culinary visit in the near future.

I was there to photograph an interior design collaboration initiated by the owner George Monsour who recently returned to Ottawa from 6 years in Paris. My friends over at Rusty Nail  Design were tasked with creating a charming time-worn interior in a completely stripped down shell.

“The intention with this restaurant was to combine the transparent and informal workings of a colonial bakery with the subtle sophistication of a classic Parisian cafe. These two elements were combined using original Canadian architectural items (see the facade over the bar). Recovered logs from the Rideau river milled for flooring, doors and iron work from turn of the century  Canadian houses and post & beams from local barns.”
There certainly is a Parisian feel to the café but it also has more contemporary elements that give it a bit of a fresh edge. The custom concrete counter at the bar for example was finished to give it a look somewhat like aged metal with a lovely rich surface.

On Sunday the Rusty Nail crew were busy installing a new element to the interior, designed to help improve the acoustics.

A sound dampening material was essentially hidden inside some reclaimed shuttered window frames and mounted to the wall. This cuts down significantly on the space previously showcasing artwork but solves an important problem.

Rusty Nail called in another person to collaborate on this project. Artist Heather Snow contributed curly ironwork mounted to the front of each window. There is other iron work dotted around the café pulling all the elements together. (I will confess here that Heather Snow is my sister! She has recently become a welder which brings up her coolness factor significantly in my books)

You can find out more about these innovative artist/designers here:
Rusty Nail Design
Heather Snow
The Back Lane Café is located at 1087 Wellington St. W.Ottawa, ON 613-695-2999 No website yet but they are on Twitter and the reviews are excellent! I also got a peek at the bright beautiful kitchen with lots of natural light and 2 specialty wood burning ovens. Can’t wait to try the food!

Thanks to everyone at The Back Lane Café, Rusty Nail Design and to Heather Snow! And thanks to Desire to Inspire for re-blogging my photos!

All images © Karen McRae


Sadly this beautiful neo-Gothic style church in Aylmer, Quebec was burned out over two years ago. It was suspected to be arson but no one was ever charged. The shell is still standing but  is slated to be torn down to make room for a new church. The parishioners were hoping to rebuild this 1862 landmark but couldn’t find the financial backing for such an expensive  project. I find the ruins of the church are still striking and beautiful. The pigeons call it home. (click on images to enlarge)
All images © Karen McRae