Sunday 24 June 2018

Sauntering in Brighton

“I have met but with one or two persons in the course of my life
 who understood the art of Walking, that is, of taking walks –
who had a genius, so to speak, for SAUNTERING...”
- Henry David Thoreau, American Philosopher and Walker

Regular readers of this blog will know that I love to wander with a camera. With no particular goal for my photos, I derive great pleasure discovering visual treasures while just...wandering.

Henry David Thoreau, the great American philosopher and writer, recently reminded me of another word for walking: sauntering. Thoreau was an avid 19th century walker who frequently referred to himself as a saunterer. (The fact that he also had friends and family who did his laundry and cooked his meals certainly freed up his time for sauntering, but that’s another story!)

Thoreau wrote a brief book about walking, appropriately called Walking. (A free Kindle ebook on Amazon, BTW.) In the opening pages of that book, he describes the derivation of the word ‘saunter’:

“...beautifully derived ‘from idle people who roved about the country, in the Middle Ages, and asked charity, under the pretense of going a la Sainte Terre,’ to the Holy Land, till the children exclaimed, ‘There goes a Sainte-Terre,’ a Saunterer, a Holy-Lander. They who never go to the Holy Land in their walks, as they pretend, are indeed mere idlers and vagabonds; but they who do go there are saunterers in the good sense, such as I mean. Some however, would derive the word from sans terre without land or a home...”

Thoreau goes on a bit more about this, as Thoreau tends to do, but this quotation captures the essence of his thinking.

Without claiming that I am heading towards the Holy Land, I do like the word ‘saunter’ to describe what my camera and I do.

Which brings me to nearby Brighton. Two weeks ago, Bill and I drove there so he could help with the community quilt show. While he was doing that, I had two uninterrupted hours to saunter through the town with my camera. It’s a pretty community, with an active sense of history and a tidy sense of landscape.

One of Brighton’s gems is the Memory Junction Railway Museum. Situated next to the busy VIA Rail Canada, Canadian National Railway, and Canadian Pacific Railway main lines, the museum is housed in the old Grand Trunk Railway station. Two local angels, Ralph and Eugenia Bangay, bought the station and adjacent property in 1995 for their growing collection of railway equipment, including a 1906 Grand Trunk Railway 2-8-0 steam locomotive (#2534).  You can still see the museum on the north side of the tracks as you whiz through Brighton on VIA trains to/from Toronto. The museum was created as an absolute labour of love, with an impressive collection.

Alas, it has fallen on hard times. The Bangays are no longer able to handle the demands of maintaining the museum, so it is closed. I had heard that the property was for sale, but I can’t confirm it.

And that’s where I ended up for an hour, sauntering through the outdoor collection of freight cars, cabooses, and railway paraphernalia, not to mention that magnificent locomotive. It was both a happy time and a sad time for me – almost like visiting the remains of dinosaurs. Ghosts lingered at every turn.

This museum is in need of both guardian angels and box cars of money to be restored to its prime.

These photos, all made on the grounds of Memory Junction, give you a flavour of the special place it once was – and could be again. Enjoy.

I plan to be in Manhattan for a few days, so I will not be posting in a week's time. I hope to post later next week.

Monday 18 June 2018

More Urban Wandering

“You can observe a lot by watching.”
- Yogi Berrra, Baseball Catcher

“These walks re-awakened in me a sense of perpetual wonder
in my surroundings – a perceptual skill typically available
only to experts and to the very young (not yet expert in being people).
Perhaps they will awaken wonder in you, too.”
- Alexandra Horowitz, author of
On Looking: A Walker’s Guide to the Art of Observation.
(Scribner, 2013)

Alexandra Horowitz is one of those wise people who uses humour to make important points. She teaches canine cognition (!) and creative nonfiction at Barnard College in New York City. Her previous books – Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell and Know and Being a Dog: Following the Dog into a World of Smell – explore the world from a dog’s point of view. The book quoted above, On Looking: A Walker’s Guide to the Art of Observation, looks at similar territory but from a human point of view. And it is wonderful.

To quote the book’s blurb, “On Looking is structured around a series of eleven walks the author takes, mostly in her Manhattan neighbourhood, with experts in a diverse range of subjects, including an urban sociologist, an artist, a geologist, a physician, and a sound designer. What they see, how they see it, and why most of us do not see the same things reveal the startling power of human attention and the cognitive aspects of what it means to be an expert observer.”

One of the most enjoyable walks is the one led by her nineteen-month-old son. A delight!

In this blog, I have often written about my own enjoyment of urban wandering with a camera. As I glide my way through On Looking, I am constantly reminded about how the camera enhances my ability to observe. It’s as if the camera adds a layer of visual accountability to the walking. It puts my eyes and my brain on notice: ‘Pay attention! There are things you need to notice!’

With that admonition in mind, and channelling Alexandra Horowitz, I offer these ten photos from a recent trip to Toronto. The first four are urban images of life in Toronto. The last six come from a happy two hours I spent wandering around the vacant Unilever Soap factory near the mouth of the Don River. Parts of the huge plant had been taken over by Max Dean, a Toronto performance artist, photographer, and sculptor. Working in collaboration with Andrew Savery-Whiteway, Dean created an engagingly gritty urban installation that featured photographs, menacing mannequins, a stuffed moose, industrial safety tips, and a giant bubble machine. Great fun! The exhibit, called Still Moving, was part of the 2018 Scotiabank Contact Photography Festival.

Enjoy these images. Most of them won’t qualify for a Toronto Tourism brochure!

Next week, I plan to continue the theme of wandering with my camera, this time in the town of nearby Brighton, with the assistance of the American philosopher and wanderer, Henry David Thoreau.

Brewery, Dundas Street West

Mouth of the Don River

Underpass Park, Lower River Street

Reflections on the Don River 

The Abandoned Unilever Factory

Part of Max Dean's Still Moving

Part of Max Dean's Still Moving

Interior Stair Case Spiral

External Pipes and Valves

Hydro Towers and Pressure Gauges

Sunday 10 June 2018

Naming and Remembering

“Words are the source of all power.
And names are more than just a collection of letters.”
- Rick Riordan, American Author

On Monday, April 23, Toronto was attacked. Just before 1:30 pm on a sunny afternoon, an angry young man drove his van up onto a sidewalk and started to mow people down. The rampage along Yonge Street south of Finch Avenue ended seven minutes later. Ten people were killed; sixteen were injured; an entire city was traumatized.

Suddenly, the van and truck attacks that Torontonians had read about in London, Barcelona, Muenster, Paris, Berlin, Nice, Stockholm, Jerusalem, Manhattan, Charlottesville, Columbus, and St-Jean-sur-Richelieu had landed home with a sickening thud. Alas, this wonderful city was not immune from the ravages of the 21st century.

The city came together magnificently – stories of heroism and generosity soon emerged, as did the stacks of flowers and makeshift shrines along the van’s 2.2 km trajectory.

And now, seven weeks later, the flowers and shrines have gone and a casual Yonge Street walker would not know that anything had happened. But it did, and the people whose lives were overturned that day will take a long time to heal.

As soon as I heard about the attack, I knew that I had to visit the site of the attack and walk that 2.2 km path myself. Call it an act of reclamation and healing. My way of paying respects. My way of adding a voice to the mending process.

I waited two weeks before visiting. These five photos flow from that visit. I’ve included the names of the ten people who died on April 23, two per photo. Their names are a cross section of Toronto’s wondrous diversity. In naming them and remembering them, I am striving – in a very small but concrete way – to honour their lives.