Toronto: ROM and AGO

Royal Ontario Museum
Royal Ontario Museum

We visited both the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) and the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), spending several hours in each (not on the same day – that would be too much!) Coming from a country where state and municipal museums are free, our first impression was that they were expensive. We paid $25 per person (including the special exhibition on tattoos) at ROM and $19.50 at AGO. If I lived in Toronto, I would probably pay to be a member which gives unlimited access – I could then go in and concentrate on one gallery whenever I pleased. As it was, we walked through every gallery determined to get our money’s worth, stopping at a few artefacts in each to get a flavour of the collection.

Royal Ontario Museum

ROM opened in 1914 and was extended in 2007 with Michael Lee-Chin’s Crystal which bursts out of the original walls (see above). I rather like it. Below are some highlights of what we saw inside – as you can see, the dinosaurs were a particular hit.

Art Gallery of Ontario

Art Gallery of Ontario
Art Gallery of Ontario

AGO has also been extended, this time by Frank Gehry. The interiors were pretty smart too. Inside the glass frontage, above, was the Galleria Italia where we enjoyed a post-lunch coffee in the Espresso Bar. (In both places, we used the self-service café for lunch. Neither was a memorable culinary experience, but AGO was better than ROM.) Walker Court has a beautiful spiral staircase.

Here are some of the exhibitions we particularly enjoyed.

Song Dong’s Communal Courtyard

One hundred vintage Chinese wardrobe doors transform the gallery into a series of walkways and small rooms reminiscent of Beijing’s densely populated hutongs. Seems we both had the same selfie idea!

Manasie Akpaliapik

Sculptor Manasie Akpaliapik is originally from Baffin Island and his work reflects a concern for the vulnerability of his Arctic homeland. Beautiful or scary? I can’t decide.

Norval Morriseau

Norval Morrisseau was born in Sand Point Reserve, Ontario, in 1932 and died in Toronto in 2007. These six panels are collectively called Man changing into Thunderbird. I loved them.

Benjamin Cheverton

In the 1820s, Benjamin Cheverton perfected a sculpture-copying machine which produced exact, miniaturised copies of full-sized busts by other sculptors. There were numerous examples on display as well as a case showing how it was done based on a bust of James Watt – one of John’s heroes, so how could he not love that?

We were very impressed with both ROM and AGO, but each day we retired punch-drunk. Culture can be so tiring!


Gallus Glasgow R: Religious buildings

St Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art was the first in the world to cover all major world religions together. It sits next to Glasgow Cathedral (1197) and superficially looks almost as old, but it dates from the late 1980s. The Scottish baronial style was deliberately chosen to emulate the Bishop’s Palace which used to sit on the same site. In the images below, the third building you can see is the Royal Infirmary.

Some details from the museum:

The Cathedral is Church of Scotland and there are, of course, many more Christian denominations represented in Glasgow as well as buildings for other world religions. For example, Glasgow Central Mosque:

Glasgow Central Mosque

Garnethill Synagogue:

By RonAlmog, (Flickr page) (Flickr) CC BY 2.5 (, via Wikimedia Commons
By RonAlmog, (Flickr page) (Flickr) CC BY 2.5 (, via Wikimedia Commons

And Gurdwara Guru Granth Sahib:

Gurdwara Guru Granth Sahib

Most religious buildings which have been mentioned in the Challenge so far have been converted to other uses. This is a small, and by no means comprehensive, selection of those which still fulfil their original purpose.

Tomorrow in S we’ll look at some art – but not in a gallery.


We had a friend visiting last weekend and Glasgow did its absolute worst with the weather. Where could we go that was accessible by car and under cover so that we could keep dry? Given that we’d been to Glasgow’s museums many times we thought we’d try Summerlee Museum of Scottish Industrial Life at Coatbridge in North Lanarkshire. We hadn’t visited for years and now we can’t understand why we left it so long – it was great. A large Exhibition Hall with café and enough to do outside in the brief window when it didn’t rain – a replica mine and row of miners cottages to tour and a tram to ride. Hours of fun!

The People’s Palace

The People’s Palace is Glasgow’s social history museum. My latest visit was with Glasgow Women’s Library’s Seeing Things project – although I’ve been many times before, it was interesting to visit the Palace with a group and get different people’s take on the exhibits. Here’s what caught my eye.

Glenlee: Glasgow’s Tall Ship

Glenlee reflected in the Riverside Museum
Glenlee reflected in the Riverside Museum

Glasgow’s Tall Ship, Glenlee, is berthed outside the Riverside Museum. Both are free, and make a great day out – especially when it’s bright and sunny as it was last Saturday.

Glenlee has had a chequered history since she was launched at Port Glasgow in 1896. She has also been known as Islamount (1899), Clarastella (from 1919 when she was sold to an Italian company) and Galatea (from 1922 when she was sold to the Spanish navy as a training vessel.) In 1992, she was purchased by the Clyde Maritime Trust who brought her “home”, restored her, including her name, and opened her to the public in 1999. She’s been at the Riverside since it opened in 2011. Last weekend, the Glasgow Gathering of Quilters had an exhibition of work inspired by the Clyde – it’s still there till Friday if you hurry.

I last visited the Riverside not long after it opened and wrote about my impressions then. This time, there was less pressure to see everything and we just wandered round the bits that caught our eye. We had a tasty lunch in the downstairs café at the start of our visit (fish and chips for him; vegetable balti for me) – there’s also a more casual place for snacks upstairs and a coffee shop on the ship, so you could easily spend the whole day there. The Riverside won the European Museum of the Year Award 2013 – it’s well-deserved.



Liz Lochhead at Scotland Street: Competent at peever

What a great wee museum Scotland Street is! A former primary school designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, who fell out spectacularly with the School Board of Glasgow and was more or less taken off the case, it’s now a School Museum with, amongst other things, classrooms of different eras. You can see something of that in my last post about it – this time I went for Liz Lochhead’s exhibition, Competent at peever.

Liz is currently Scotland’s Makar, or poet laureate. She studied at Glasgow School of Art and was a teacher for a while, but is now a playwright and poet. For a flavour of her work, read her moving contribution to Book Week Scotland’s My favourite place project. The exhibition results from a year-long residency at Scotland Street and comprises poems, drawings and collages on the themes of childhood and primary school. The highlight for me was her art school project from 1968 in which she went back to her old school – it brought back so many memories since that was the year I finished primary. Not all pleasant unfortunately – I enjoyed learning “sums” with the cuisenaire rods she illustrated, and there’s a real set to look at elsewhere in the museum, but my headmaster was not as benevolent as Mr Ritchie and I still smart with humiliation from an undeserved punishment. I came away with the exhibition literature and a collection of poems from the bookshop – but where has the cafe gone? I was also planning to have lunch there, so that was my only disappointment about my visit. Finally, for non-Scots, what on earth is peever? Well, the clue is in Poem for my sister: “I like to watch my little sister playing hopscotch………She is competent at peever.” If you’re in Glasgow, hop, skip and jump over to this exhibition as soon as you can! It’s on till 7th April.

Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum


I love this view of Kelvingrove emerging from the trees, it almost looks like a fairy tale palace. Last week, we looked down on it from Glasgow University – this week, we could look up at the Uni from the gallery. Two very handsome buildings!


Our visit to Kelvingrove today was to see the new exhibition, The Essence of Beauty: 500 years of Italian Art. This displays about 40 of Glasgow’s collection of over 150 Italian works from the 14th to the 19th centuries, most of which where bequeathed to the city by Archibald McLellan in 1854. I loved it, and agree with Cate Devine’s review in the Herald that:
“One of the highlights – perhaps even the jewel in the crown – is presented early on. The Adoration of the Magi, painted in the 16th century by an unknown painter now known as the Glasgow Master, has had its coat of brown varnish removed and now its blues and reds and golds glow – the wise men’s crowns in particular almost 3D in their clarity.”
This is particularly fascinating, because you can watch a short time lapse video of the restoration and see the painting emerge from the shadows into its full glory.

Of course, being Glasgow, there had to be one dissenter from the general praise in the visitors’ book who opined that the exhibition wasn’t worth £5 because you could see better in Rome for nothing. And being Glasgow, future visitors did not hesitate to point out the cost of the air fare and hotel bill you would need to pay to get there. Personally, I thought it was wonderful and well worth the money. The exhibition runs till August so plenty time to see it.

When we went upstairs to the rest of the gallery, one of the regular organ recitals was underway and it was lovely to wander round with the music in the background. In this view of the interior, the organ is on the right:


I love the exhibition of heads that hangs over one of the staircases. They look quite sinister here:


Every time, I spot some different expressions. I’ve decided this one is my favourite:


The final thing we looked at was a small exhibition about Anne Frank, mounted by Anne Frank Scotland, which only runs till April 17th but you can request it for your own organisation. No matter how many times I read about this, it still feels unbelievable that it could happen so it’s important to tell the story again and again.

Other things that happened today – it took us forever to cross Great Western Road for the very worthy reason that we had to wait for hundreds of bikers to pass on the annual Yorkhill Easter Egg Run which raises money for the local children’s hospital. Some of them certainly dress up for the occasion:


And it wouldn’t be a Marsh outing without food, would it? A very nice roast lunch (nut for me, pork for him) was consumed in the Curlers. This has been a very enjoyable Easter Sunday which almost makes up for having to work tomorrow!

Riverside Museum, Glasgow


In the 25 years I have lived in Glasgow, its Transport Museum has had three homes. The latest move is to the purpose-built Riverside Museum, opened earlier this year and designed by Zaha Hadid who has just won the RIBA Stirling Prize for another building, a school in Brixton. There are some good pictures of the museum on her website and also on the city council’s site. We’ve been waiting to go until we thought the novelty had worn off and it might be less busy, but it was mobbed this afternoon – Glaswegians do love their museums, which is a very good thing. Despite the crowds, however, we managed to see most of the exhibits and were there for over two hours.

So what’s the verdict? Positive, on the whole. I like the wavy shed of a building, although it’s not to everyone’s taste I know. Although I felt the exhibits were a little cramped, and were basically the same items I had seen before, there were definite improvements – the vehicles were enhanced by more social exhibits, particularly those from the city’s costume collection which doesn’t have a home of its own. The period street has been extended and you can actually go into the shops and cafe instead of just peering in the windows. Here’s one end of the street with the Dalmarnock tram:


I’m not so sure about the wall of cars – they look good, but when you are close enough to read the captions, you can’t see the cars they are referring to:


The museum is situated at the point where the Kelvin flows into the Clyde. Berthed outside is the tall ship, Glenlee:


There’s also a good view up the Clyde to some other Glasgow landmarks:


From the left, the brick building is the old Pump House, now an Indian Restaurant with karaoke. Next to that is the curved Clyde Auditorium, commonly known as the Armadillo. The tall building is a hotel and behind that the Squinty Bridge peeks out. It also has an official name, but no self respecting Glaswegian would use it so don’t try asking for directions via the Clyde Arc, you’ll probably get a blank look. Across the river are some flats, and the final building on the right is BBC Scotland.

I have always thought Glasgow didn’t make enough of its riverside compared to other cities I have visited, but in recent years that has begun to change and this museum is a very welcome addition to its attractions.

Memories of Phoenix

Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix

For the last few years, our holiday pattern has been the same. Just after Christmas, we look at the BA website to see which North American city near a National Park we can reach on air miles. In 2009, the answer was Phoenix. I had wanted to see the Grand Canyon for years but was afraid of the climate: my peely-wally Scottish skin burns in the sun and I wilt in the heat. However, as I get older, I have learned to take the view that if I want to see wonderful places I have to put up with the inconveniences, so we booked. Once the destination is decided, two or three enjoyable weeks of route planning and booking accommodation follow, then we forget about it till we get there and it all comes as a lovely surprise.

We only had one day in Phoenix but packed in two major sights. Because we’d just arrived the night before we were jet-lagged and woke up early enough to get to the Desert Botanical Garden when it was “cooler”, not long after it opened at 7am. It’s a fabulous place with more than 20,000 desert plants from around the world. We then crossed town on the METRO to the Heard Museum of Native American art and culture. We enjoyed the exhibitions – and were especially pleased to fortify ourselves when we arrived with lunch in their amazing cafe. I would get quite fed up with South West cooking by the end of the holiday, but this was the first, and very classy, example.

Below are a few of more shots from the Botanical Garden.

A Mackintosh school and an old tramshed: two Glasgow galleries

Glasgow has purpose built museums and galleries such as Kelvingrove and the new Riverside (still to be visited when the schools go back and it quietens down) but today we visited two more unusual venues. Both are on the Southside – Glasgow is divided by the Clyde and I’m ashamed to say I really haven’t got a clue where I’m going when I cross the river, especially since the M74 extension has just cut across even the bits I thought I knew. After some fraught attempts we eventually got near enough to our first venue to abandon the car and walk.

Scotland Street School was designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, but is now a museum of education.


We visited to see the temporary exhibition, The Glesga that I used to know, a series of black and white pictures of Glasgow around 1976. It was fascinating, not least because it scared me to think that I was already grown up and at university by then, yet it looked like ancient history. While there, we had a quick walk round the permanent exhibits and I got all nostalgic again about the 1950s/60s classroom which reminded me so much of my own primary school days.


The place certainly looked as though it could do with some refurbishment, the outside in particular had peeling paint and lots of weeds, but it’s a lovely little museum, well worth a visit. To round ours off, we had tea in the small cafe which had quite an ambitious menu for its size and was bright and attractive.

Off we set for the Tramway, which was our main destination. I blogged last week about the British Art Show and how we had visited two of the three venues in Glasgow. The Tramway is the third. You can still see the tracks in the floor from its days as a tramshed, after which it was a Transport Museum and now a venue for contemporary visual art and performance. It also has a good cafe (very important I find) and a “Hidden Garden” – though you just walk out the back door, and there it is.

I can’t say I enjoyed the exhibition as much as the ones last week. There were several sculptures by Sarah Lucas which were accomplished, but not really my thing, but most of the rest consisted of installations which are absolutely, definitely not my thing. We watched some of a film by Duncan Campbell which pieced together media interviews with Bernadette Devlin. This was interesting because, whatever you think of her politics, she came across as so confident and decisive for a young woman of 21. But is that art? I’m not sure. One exhibit was entitled Bench, fire and youth. At first I just thought it was for sitting on, but apparently “at unspecified intervals, a flame will flare at one end of the bench, occasionally tended by a naked young man”. That would probably have been the most interesting part of the afternoon, but it didn’t happen while we were there. Nae luck.

The Tramway exhibition is on until 21st August and the Scotland Street one until 8th January.