Thursday, June 04, 2015

Of Cars and Cameras

Note: this is a blog entry I started at the end of April and didn’t get back to till now.

This one’s going to ramble a bit, but I’ll get you where I’m going if you bear with me. :)

I always enjoy reading Down the Road, one of the few blogs I still regularly visit. Jim Grey in Indiana keeps it rolling along, and touches on a number of things that interest me. What first attracted me to it is that Jim and I share an interest in old roads. Jim has a particular interest in the National Road, which I saw referenced in a US history book in high school but never found mention of again until I read Jim’s blog. Jim also has an interest in cameras that has by far eclipsed my own in recent years. Jim also writes about spiritual matters from a low-key, middle-of-the-road Protestant perspective that I find compelling and look forward to, despite my own journey taking me down the road of agnosticism. I’m not on the team but I find myself cheering for this player.

When I started writing this blog, it was around the time I was starting to get into digital photography in a big way. I’d had digital cameras for nearly ten years at that point, but I was on the verge of really stepping up. I’d had a Kodak DC 4800 for a few years, but it was something I took out occasionally. In 2005, I took the plunge and bought one of the earliest DSLRs on the market, the Canon Rebel XT, which I still have, and is arguably still my “best” camera. But the shutterbug was really getting its hooks into me and I bought a cheap Kodak model small enough that I could carry it around in a fanny pack… something I wore for the next seven or eight years. I took pictures of anything and everything, even stuff at my desk at work. I got interested in HDR photography and decided I needed a camera that could automatically step through a set of dynamic range shots, and that’s when I bought the Canon S80, probably the camera I’ve loved the best, and almost certainly the one I’ve taken the most photos with. During the couple of years I had it, I took something just shy of 30,000 photographs with it. That astonishes me now. Makes me wonder when I found the time to set it down and brush my teeth.

I went through a number of other cameras after that, mostly to augment things I could do photographically. I also got into infrared photography and I still have a couple of Canon P&Ss that have been reconditioned to do that. I moved on to the G9 for better shots, then the HXV5 because it did panoramas and geotagged the photos automatically, and then S100 when Canon finally budged and started moving the S line beyond 80, where they halted for a few years.

I carried all those cameras on me, up to and including the S100. Around the time I got laid off, I stopped wearing the fanny pack because I was going to interviews. I just never went back to it. My cell phone now is only 6 or 7 mm thick and fits in my pocket beside my wallet. And I’ve stopped carrying a dedicated camera around. With the exception of intentional road trips now, essentially every photo I take is with my cell phone.

I’ve noticed, too, that what I stop and take pictures of has changed. Ten years ago, I could barely walk down the street without taking a picture of every interesting sign, piece of graffiti, or cityscape that impressed me. Walking the trails near work at lunch time, I took thousands of pictures of brooks, plants, fields, interesting front yards, stuff kids had chalked up on sidewalks and fences. Anything. Now I hardly ever do that. What changed in me? Is it just that I’m that much older now and that stuff no longer catches my eye, or just that it does but I can’t see the point in recording it?

The same goes with this blog. Seven or eight years ago, I hardly did anything on the weekend or went anywhere interesting on a weeknight that it didn’t end up written about here. Now months can go by. I’m not sure why that is. I wish I could reverse that.

Well, here’s the destination of the ramble. On Saturday (note: April 18th, 2015), P-Doug took me out on a road trip to the east end of the GTA. Didn’t tell me where we were going. We just went. We ended up in Oshawa at an automobile museum.

The automobile industry has long been at the heart of Oshawa. What I didn’t realize until we were there is just how long it’s been at the heart of Canada generally and Ontario in particular. I was under the impression the automobile industry here really started in 50s when it sort of spilled over out of Detroit. I was impressed to see cars that were built here, going back to the beginning of the 20th century, and possibly even earlier.

I can't really comment on most of these cars, other than that I was thrilled to see an actual Delorean "in the flesh" and highly amused by the 1950s Saskatchewan license plate that gives Idaho's "Famous Potatoes" slogan a run for its money in leaden lack of inspiration; and present them here for your enjoyment.

As well, afterward we went to a rib joint in Oshawa that P-Doug was interested in trying out before its new location got rolling in Toronto itself. It's Buster Rhino's Southern BBQ. This location was on King Street, although there are three other locations now; two others in Durham Region and now another on College Street in downtown Toronto. It was a little hole in the wall sort of place but a good, nicely-appointed one, and the food impressed. I had fun with the signage and the names of some of the local beers they stock.

The beers, as listed...

Batch 1904
Octopus Wants to Fight
Love Fuzz
Nut Brown Ale
10 Bitter Years (first 8.5% alc. vol. beer I've ever seen!)
The Grain Merchant
Perry Loves Mary
100th Meridian

Monday, April 13, 2015

in tablino scribo...

...I think that's correct. It's been a while.

I made a really nice score on eBay last week. I finally found the last book to round out my collection of the Cambridge Latin Course, 3rd North American edition. Are you yawning? Let me explain.

Back when I was in grade 10, I bailed out of a German course I'd signed up for because two guys who were terrorizing me were also in it. I took refuge in my high school's Latin course instead. I quickly fell in love with it. I still drift back to that class in daydreams sometimes.

The text of the course was the aforementioned Cambridge Latin Course. In our case, it was little folders with slim paperback units that had been around since the mid-70s and by the early 80s were well-worn and lived in. My school was semestered so we only really had five months to work on the stuff. But we did get through the whole first unit.

The first unit concerns itself with a banker named Lucius Caecilius Iucundus in Pompeii. There really was such a man; his home has been excavated. The unit introduces the basics of the Latin present tense by telling stories about the household and friends... names I still remember. Metella, his wife. Quintus, his son. Cerberus the dog. The slaves Clemens and Grumio, the latter being the cook. A freedman named Felix, formerly a slave who saved infant Quintus's life. Perhaps not surprisingly, the unit ends with the eruption of Vesuvius in A.D. 79, at which point Caecilius dies, but not before giving Clemens his signet ring and one final command: to find his son Quintus and give him the ring. We managed to start the second unit, In Britannia, in which Clemens does find Quintus in the Roman province of Britain. Naturally, as English-speakers, it was interesting to us to have Roman stories set in the home of our own language. But we didn't get far into it before the year was up. I changed high schools that summer and was stunned and deeply disappointed to discover my new school had no Latin course... that in 1980s Ontario, such courses were scarce as hen's teeth. As Caecilius would have said, "Eheu."

Can I explain that I came to think of these long dead, fictionalized people as my friends? That I looked forward to working hard to discovering more about them? I started collecting the books back in 2008, snagging them used here and there when the price was right. Last week, I finally found the fourth and last book (there are five in Britain but here in North America they merged units 2 and 3, for whatever reason). The books tell the stories in Latin, but give glosses and explanations and histories in English. Even though I've never really sat down to push on... and maybe I should... I've cherished them, the same way I would a long-lost family history. It was a moment in my life, my youth. I remember the day I transferred into the class, about two weeks after everyone else, and I was asked to read out loud. I remember pronouncing Caecilius as "se-SIL-lee-us", only to be gently corrected to "ky-KEE-lee-us". I remember the songs that were big at the time that became the music of the course for me... UB40's Red, Red Wine (which I nicknamed "the Caecilius song") and Peace Train by Cat Stevens, which was enjoying an extended renaissance at the time. Both those songs have kind of a longing quality to them and make me think of standing at the side of sad, long-forgotten Roman roads. Like I arrived too late for the party. Bittersweet. Hard to explain.

The course is still going strong. In fact, you can take the first two parts of unit 1 for free online. I'm tempted to sign up for the course so I'm kind of forced to crack the books. Pick it up where I left off. Yeah, I know; what am I going to do with Latin? Well... talk to Caecilius, I guess. :)

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Willows

My friend Larry has been bitten by the metal detector bug. He recently bought one and has been looking for a chance to get out and try it. The weather is finally borderline amenable to this kind of thing, and knowing that I have an interest in places where people and things used to be but aren't anymore, he asked me to make a local suggestion. A place on Highland Creek where Lawrence Avenue crosses it came to mind.

I've seen aerial photos of the place, and it was a thing in the earliest ones I have access to (1947), and even seems to have survived a decade beyond Hurricane Hazel in 1954, existing into the 1960s. The place was called, I gather, "The Willows", and started off as a set of cottages, at least some of which were winterized into homes by the early 1950s.

Above is how the place looked in 1947. The road running left and right toward the bottom of the image is Lawrence Avenue. As you can see, at the time, it followed the curve of the land into the valley, crossed Highland Creek with a one-lane bridge, and climbed back out again. At the eastern end of the valley, a road eased down into the flood plain on the northeast side, and here you can see the loop of the little community. At that time, the central area appears to have been an open common, sporting a baseball diamond.

Here's the same view in 1953, about a year before Hurricane Hazel hit Toronto. The place is really coming into its own, and you can see that cottages, or more likely home, have begun to fill up the north end of the central common area.

Here's how The Willows looked in 1957, a few years after Hurricane Hazel. I'm surprised anyone was still living down there after the flood. As you can see, the site was scoured right up to the edge of the ring road, and all the structures on the west side of the street are gone. There's also obvious construction going on at the bridge site. About this time, the one-lane bridge was being superseded with a temporary Bailey bridge capable of accommodating two-way traffic.

Here's the view in 1962. The double-lane bridge is in evidence but it's still a meander down into the valley and back. It appears there were still people living, or at least vacationing, down in the flood plain at least this late in history. The arrival of suburbia is pronounced now in the encroaching wide streets and sidewalks and dozens of houses now crowding The Willows on both sides.

1971. It's all over in spades. All the buildings of The Willows are gone, replaced by a park with a trail through it. Apartment buildings tower over a Lawrence Avenue with four lanes and a circa 1965 bridge that vaults across the valley and ignores it.

Same view in 1983. Not much has changed.

1992. Trees are clearly beginning to retake the field. Highland Creek has noticeably begun rebelling against the channel it was forced into in the 1960s, eating into the eastern bank again.

Here's how the place looks today. That bit of open green just to the left of where the trails meet is where I brought Larry to try out his metal detector. Apparently it works... if finding old pop cans is to be the measure of success. :)

While I couldn't find any pictures of the community itself, the City of Toronto Archives does have a number of pictures of the valley with, first, the Bailey bridge being set in place at the end of the 1950s, and then the 1965 bridge (called "The Willows Bridge") under construction for contrast.

This view faces east down into the valley. The road down into The Willows is about where the telephone pole blocks the view at the edge of the far curve.

This view faces west from the opposite crest. We parked somewhere in this vicinity last Sunday, just off the to the right. The turn down into The Willows would have been behind the embankment on the right.

This view faces south, looking at the old one lane bridge carrying Lawrence Avenue across Highland Creek, and the "new" Bailey bridge superseding it. This is just a bit south of where Larry was sweeping with his metal detector on Sunday.

This view faces north toward the bridges. To my real surprise, Highland Creek here flows northward, away from Lake Ontario. In other words, you're looking downstream in this shot, not upstream as I would have expected.

This north of the bridges, looking west. I believe that manhole you see is the same one I was standing beside last Sunday, watching Larry try out his metal detector. The manhole cover I saw, however, was dated 1969, so if I'm correct, then the cover was replaced. It's kind of strange seeing this view and contrasting it with what I saw in March, 2015, over 55 years later.

Given the shadow cues, this view faces west down Lawrence Avenue, with the valley behind (obviously) the photographer, looking in the direction of Markham Road somewhere in the distance.

I believe what you are seeing here is, in fact, the road that led down to The Willows. It's not as steep as I would have expected. You should see what the climb out of the valley is like these days. This view faces easterly from down in the flood plain.

The following are views from 1965, when the modern Willows Bridge was being constructed.

This view faces west from the eastern edge of the bridge. You can compare this to the second c.1959 photo.

This view faces east from the other lip of the valley and compares roughly to the first c.1959 photo above. Though that water tower appears in both sets of photographs, it's long gone today. It doesn't appear in the 1971 aerials taken just six years later.

This view faces west.

 This view faces east, taken on the north side of Lawrence Avenue. The extensive terraforming would have effectively erased the original road down to The Willows, somewhere there at the upper left. The community itself would have been off the left.

  Similar view, taken on the south side of Lawrence Avenue.

Further south, this view faces northeast. The flood plain seen through the pillars of the bridge was where The Willows stood until just before this bridge was built. You can also see the area where Larry and I were at the river's edge on the far side last weekend.

Both this view and the one below face east. The modern slope on the left on the far bank is where Larry and I came down the path on Sunday. Roughly at the edge of the frame on the left is where we tried out the metal detector.

Views today...

Facing east.

Facing west. The path into what was The Willows is on the right just beyond the construction vehicle.