Friday, July 29, 2005

Under Highway 401

Wednesday night I went for a walk down the Betty Sutherland Trail. The path takes you under Highway 401. At that point, the 401 is something like 16 or 18 lanes wide. I can remember when, as a boy, I moved to Ontario from Nova Scotia... coming over some rise heading into Scarborough and suddenly seeing the 401 spread across the land in front of me, more than a dozen lanes wide. We'd had highways in Nova Scotia, but I'd never seen the like. As long as I live, I'll remember that moment. For me, that was when we arrived in Ontario. I wonder what I was thinking as I passed over the very spot you now see in these pictures, a quarter century later.

Some of the graffiti was interesting. Here's some of what I saw.

The way down into the valley

This isn't the way I meant to take, but I discovered a way down into the valley off George Henry Blvd. It doesn't lead straight to the path like I expected; it actually takes you through about a quarter mile of brush, forest, and flood plain first...

The bridge at the bottom of the stairs

You can't quite see it in this shot, but there's a very steep rise on the far side of the bridge. I expected the main trail to be at the bottom of the steps, and then the other side of the rise. By this point, I was walking the route barefoot, so I was all at once challenged by the (as then) uncertain distance and terrain and delighted by the wonderful textures of nature to be experienced right inside the city.

We Love You

Eventually I found the main trail, which, among other things, takes you under the 401. In this shot, I've passed southbound under the Leslie Street offramp of the 401 West, and am looking at the first support pillar of the westbound collector lanes. The 401 here was built in the early 1950s, but this pillar and collectors weren't built until the mid-1960s.

You can see that someone has taken considerable time to cut out and paste up several dozen of these rather unsettling creatures, and captioned it all with something that has been changed from "We Kill You" to "We Love You". I wish I knew what the motivation was. I like to think the idea is that we judge too much by appearances, and that we can miss the message due to our preconceptions.

Detail of We Love You

Sit By a River

It might be a little hard to read this one, so I'll quote it. It says, "Sit by a river to find peace in the rhythm of the lifeblood of the Earth". To my back is the East Don River, about thirty feet away and twenty feet down.

Environmental advocacy

Just to the right of the last message are these ones. The one in red isn't too difficult to read; it says, "Only dead fish swim in the Don River". As it turns out, I personally made a lie of that about half an hour later, but that's another story.

There is also a message in silver beneath it, which is virtually impossible to read in this shot. It says, "We labour long for peace cause war threatens our survival. It's time we fight with equal passion to protect our environment. A polluted stream is just as deadly as a bullet!"

The Don River passing under Highway 401

This shot really does not do the setting justice. I guess nothing short of being there, or a 3D camera of some kind, really could. It takes just about a minute to pass under the 401 at this point. Where I'm walking is under the busiest highway in North America. Just a few miles to the west at Hogg's Hollow is the most travelled commercial set of highway bridges on the continent, and just west of that, at the 401-400 interchange, the volume of traffic is 415,000 vehicles per day. What you're seeing here, standing over the "lifeblood of the Earth", are the pillars that uphold the lifeblood of central Canada and the northern Midwestern United States.


G said...

Very cool photoessay. Especially that last part.

Some terrific photographs in there. Thanks for posting that.

Lone Primate said...

Thanks! I've recently been wringing out the very marrow of what my four-year-old Kodak DC4800 is capable of. I'm itching to move on now to the Canon 350D Rebel XT. Should be able to post some really nifty stuff with that thing.

katherine said...

I agree ... very nice photo essay. : ) I'm itching to know about how you proved the quote, "Only dead fish swim in the Don River" to be a lie.