Never before have I been to a city so abundant in labyrinths!
My first week in Toronto led me on a chance discovery tour of said structure, first developed by the Ancient Greeks and featured over the ages on coins, walls, rock, paintings, tattoos and pottery. These days the labyrinth predominantly appears as a path set into the ground for the purposes of walking as if it were a pilgrimage – it’s said to bring a sense of meditational peace to anybody who follows its trail.
Unlike a maze, which is made up of a path that branches into multiple directions and often leads to dead ends, a labyrinth comprises only of a single twisting, turning path that eventually terminates at the centre of the pattern. And Toronto just happens to be full of them.
The Toronto Public Labyrinth
It was my second day in Toronto, walking toward the Eaton Centre along Dundas St West, when I noticed a street map at an intersection advising me the Toronto Public Labyrinth was in the vicinity. I made mental note of its location and took a right along Bay St, expecting a jungle of perfectly-trimmed hedges to pop up in front of me at any moment. At this stage I wasn’t aware of the difference between a hedge maze and a labyrinth – of course, the hedges were nowhere to be seen.
‘It’s definitely a good labyrinth if I can’t find the bloody thing to begin with!’ I thought to myself. I forgot about it and went on into the Eaton Centre to do my shopping.
I decided to have one more search after I finished at the mall. Upon exiting, I eventually found its giant granite arch gates and set foot upon the intricate spiralling pattern that was the Toronto Public Labyrinth.
I had walked through numerous hedge mazes in the past, but I’d never before encountered a labyrinth laid into the pavement such as this. The guidelines suggested I enter the labyrinth with a specific question or intention in mind, follow the path from the entrance to the centre, then stay in the centre to reflect on my question for as long as I want before returning back to the entrance via the same path. I did just that, and it felt surprisingly refreshing!
Walking the Toronto Public Labyrinth was as though I went on a mini expedition in the centre of the city, where I was able to drown out everything that surrounded me and instead focus all my attention onto myself walking the path that lay ahead. It was humbling to stand in the centre and reflect upon my question, before reversing back along the path the same way I came. It’s a form of relaxation I would recommend to anybody who may wish to slow down for a few minutes and look inward.
As impressed and intrigued as I was, my interest in labyrinths probably would have ended there if it wasn’t for the fact that I walked past another one the very next day.
Ashbridge’s Bay Park Labyrinth
I’d formed a plan during my first week in Toronto: on each day, I would visit a different area of the city. On my third day in town I took the streetcar to the end of Queen St East and walked through the beautiful Beach District. Toward the end of my walk from east to west, I found myself in Ashbridge’s Bay Park, where – lo and behold – there was another labyrinth. Two labyrinths in two days!
High Park Labyrinth
As if two wasn’t enough, a trip to the picturesque High Park a few days later led me to my third labyrinth for the week. I was running out of questions to ask myself but I still took the course to the centre and back again.
There’s something quite remarkable about Toronto in that I’d never visited a labyrinth before in my life, and of a sudden I’d seen three in one week. It didn’t take long to find there is a Labyrinth Community Network dedicated to collating information on all sites not only across Toronto, but the whole of Ontario, as well as spreading the word about the goodness of the labyrinth in general.
I was also impressed to find a World-Wide Labyrinth Locator, which is an online resource that lists details on their whereabouts across the planet. Although the majority of listings in the database are located in the US and Canada, the labyrinth is clearly a global sensation.
As time goes on, I’ll surely visit more sites and continue enjoying the serenity of the winding path to the centre – I encourage you to do the same if you happen to be close to one! For now though, I thank the good people of Toronto for opening my eyes to the labyrinth 🙂
Post-script: The bicycle arena
A few nights later during the Nuit Blanche celebrations I happened to walk past the Toronto Public Labyrinth again, where it had been converted into a nighttime bicycle arena. Anybody could line up for free and take one of the many bikes for a spin around the pavement 🙂