The sign at the Toronto city limits should warn people about all the other signs here.
Toronto’s zeal for signage can be intense. As it marks the third anniversary of High Park’s total closure during the cherry blossom season, this park is a good litmus test of where Toronto’s signage temperament is.
Two years ago, the park was completely fenced off, guarded by the police and no-entry signs. Last year, only the area where there are cherry trees was fenced and guarded. This year it is different. There are signs, but they tell people how to get to the blossoms.
In the park there are small signs saying ‘this way to cherry blossom’ and large ones asking people ‘Please stay away from the flowering trees’ and ‘take only memories and photos’. Indeed, on Wednesday afternoon of this week, as a cloudy day gave way to a perfectly sunny one, it felt like a pilgrimage in High Park, blessedly closed to cars, as people walked to what has become one of the city’s biggest springtime attractions.
Even outside the park, the “Bloor by the Park” business improvement area has signs that read “Welcome you during cherry blossom sakura in High Park.” It’s a real event. The “yes” instead of “no” vibe is such a profound change. The warnings to stay away from the trees are also reasonable, because in this day and age of Instagram and Tik Tok, the zeal to get the perfect photo or video can lead to damaged trees.
Yet there were more signs.
Near the cherry trees are sandwich signs with rather bizarre signs warning that “you may be photographed, filmed or recorded.” The copious amount of fine print also hints at the “event” taking place: in this case, nature does something natural. The sign also states that visitors “recognize that you are at least eighteen years old” or, if younger, have parental permission to attend the cherry blossom.
These signs are because the city is live streaming the blossoms again, as they did before for, we’re told, a large online audience. But what a bizarre legal purgatory it brings people into. How is this maintained? What if people miss the signs? What if stray teenagers hang out by the blossoms without their parents’ express permission?
Either way, attorneys who visit the blossoms and see the sign will have the added joy of knowing their industry is moving fast.
There are more signs nearby. Despite the fact that it is the middle of spring and this annual event attracts many people, the doors of the public toilets are marked ‘Laundry rooms closed for the season’. On Thursday, the parks department said the process of opening Toronto’s seasonal toilets and drinking fountains will take another two weeks. Last year, the mayor made a big deal about turning on fountains. Isn’t it bad now?
Amazingly, in year three of the pandemic, when public toilets were a critical part of getting people out where it’s safer, and residents have been begging to open, not much has changed.
Last weekend I visited Rosetta McClain Gardens on the Scarborough Bluffs and the rather nice toilets there had handwritten signs on the doors that said “Not open yet Sry” I’m not sure if the “Sry” meant sorry or serious.
The Toronto police unit was in High Park on Wednesday to ensure cherry blossom devotees didn’t riot in a booming frenzy. Toronto has unlimited money for the police — essentially a PR squad, the budget for mounted units is nearly $6 million — but at the 2021 budget meeting, a majority of councilors, including Mayor John Tory, voted against a $1 plan. .5 million to winterize 15 toilets. Maybe this should be an election issue†
In High Park, the city has provided some port-a-johns by the cherry trees, and while it’s a fundamental gesture of human dignity, the experience of using a portable toilet is different from the permanent ones our tax dollars built.
Sometimes the characters are at odds with each other. Toronto Public Health signs are all over the city asking people to wash their hands. Citizenship and all that. “Wash your hands” and “Laundry room closed” are two signs that exist at the same time, in the same city, issued by the same government.
In the 1970s, Toronto’s legendary park commissioner Tommy Thompson launched a “Please walk on the grass” campaign, a campaign that lives on as a slogan on a number of city park signs here and there.
More ubiquitous are the “Ball and Hockey Prohibited” signs that can be found on numerous city streets. Toronto is much more of a priceless kind of city, be it ball games or bodily functions, despite Thompson’s catchy phrase, but at least we know how to get to the cherry blossom this year.