Monday, June 25, 2007

Just bridges

I'm taking most of this year's vacation as Fridays off during most of the summer. I tend to feel obliged to do something with the weekends... sitting at home feels like wasting them. So I try to get out and look around. One of the best things about an amateur photography hobby is it gives you a built-in excuse.

So Friday I waited for the traffic to abate on the 401... but does it ever?... and I headed west. I've always been interested in abandoned roads and bridges; anyone who's read the blog for a while knows I like to poke around in such places and take shots and try to imagine what they were like as going concerns.

I took the 401 to the 409 to the 427 to Finch Avenue. If you follow Finch as far as you can, it eventually crosses Steeles Avenue and goes under the 407. At this point, it's taken up the course of an old Peel County concession line, today known as Gorewood Drive. It only goes about a quarter mile north, though, before it's closed to traffic. At that point, you do what I did: get out and walk.

Five minutes further along you come to my goal... the Gorewood Drive bridge over the West Humber River. It's a kind of bow arch bridge, and looks wide enough to have accommodated traffic in two directions at once, though you would have had to be careful, I think. The river was, at least the day I was there, as still as a pond. It hardly seemed to be a river at all. I poked around on the bank for a while and finally waded in. Leaving my cameras on the shore, I made my way under the bridge. Ordinarily I'm used to such places being rife with graffiti, but oddly enough, under this bridge, there wasn't any. I guess the local vandals have contented themselves to defacing the road surface sections.

I was down there lounging, trying to keep the cuffs of my shorts out of the water, for about twenty minutes, I guess. It was idyllic. Then I heard voices. A couple of guys, and it sounded like they were drinking. I was concerned that if I stayed where I was and they found me, they'd be mad because they'd think I was spying on them or something. So, quietly, I got out from under the bridge, gathered my stuff at the bank, moved through the trees and into the meadow. Incredibly, I don't think they ever knew I was there. I wandered around in the meadow and the the little groves in it for a while, maybe half an hour or so. When I got back, they were gone, whoever they were. I headed up north just a bit to see what was around the bend... hydro towers, a sign telling you where on the path you were... a guy on a bike went by as I was looking at it and waved to me. Tipped my cap. Seemed the polite thing to do. After that, I figured I'd gotten what I came for, and I crossed back over the bridge and went back to the car. I had another bridge to visit.

I guess I didn't blog about it when I was there last December, but I visited a stretch of road on the border between Mississauga and Toronto called Indian Line Road. It's an old concession line that, since the 1980s or so, has been increasingly subsumed by Hwy 427. The part that I visited still exists in its own right; in fact, for about ten years, till around 1991 or so, it actually served as the exit and entrance lanes for what was then the northern end of the 427. After that, the 427 vaulted further north to Hwy 7 (its current northern terminus), and that stretch of Indian Line Road was closed to traffic for good. A strange life, to go from a quiet country road, to the busy distribution and collector lanes of a 400-series highway, to a forgotten stub that can be glimpsed by travellers on that same highway even now. Being who I am, stuff like that makes me wistful.

I had my license before all this changed, just, but I don't think I myself ever drove there. I had driven the 427 to the weird traffic light that gave access to Morningstar Drive, but not as far north as Indian Line, I don't think. There's a possibility I was on it once, though. I do, clearly, remember going up the 427 onramp from the 401 eastbound the Christmas I was 13 to visit my Dad's relatives up north; Trouble by Lindsey Buckingham (always a favourite song of mine) was playing on the radio. Given how short the 427 was at the time, I can only imagine we were dodging traffic and that we would have driven that stretch only to be dumped onto Albion Road, and from there perhaps to Steeles, and then to the 400. That's a guess, of course.

I found myself walking there late last December, promising myself I'd return in the spring or summer and see how the place looked, green. So I did.

I parked nearby and set out on foot. As I rounded the first turn, surprise surprise! A truck rose up over the railroad bridge and started down towards me! I remember laughing and thinking it must be the most traffic the road had seen in a while. There's some kind of facility at the end of the drivable part of the road, and that must be what the truck was coming back from (the service vehicle gate at Albion Road was open, in fact). I was charmed by the idea that, at least for the moment, I was seeing it just how it would have looked on a less busy day in the 80s. I was tempted, really tempted, to run back to my car and drive the stretch while it was open. But I thought better of it. It's just as well; the gate was closed again when I eventually made my way back.

Until around 1990, this would have been your view as you, having exited the 427, came to the end of Indian Line Road at Albion Road. There was a signaled intersection here at the time. Today, there's no intersection; this road is closed.

Heading down Indian Line Road (Albion Road is behind me), I was very surprised to see... traffic! This was, probably, a service vehicle returning from a facility at the end of the accessible stretch of Indian Line Road.

Life on Indian Line Road. Some little robin has made a successful escape from the egg into the big wide world.

Till about 1990 or so, this would have been your view as you entered the 427 (in the left background in this shot). This was the northern limit of the 427 at the time.

Originally, Indian Line Road skirted the lip of the valley of the West Humber River. When the flood control dam was built in the mid-60s, that valley became the reservoir, and submerged part of the road. By then, Indian Line had been diverted to its present course (its bridge across the river was roughly where the much larger 427 bridge is now). I didn't realize that when I was there in December. This time, I decided to walk the old trail. I came to places where someone had been doing replanting work, and strange things had been done with the logs of old trees. Some of them look like they'd been put out as diving boards to let the workers cool off, perhaps. I also found what must have been someone's boat launch years ago. In fact, I padded down it to the reservoir and for about half an hour I sat there with my feet in the water, just taking it all in. While I was there, I noticed a guy fishing to the north of me. Cranking my cameras up to 11, I could just barely get a few shots of him. After that, I headed back, retracing my steps.

Looking south down what was once, even further back in time, Indian Line Road as it runs along the lip of the West Humber valley. On the right is that valley, now the Claireville Reservoir.

From there, I thought I'd stop in at the conjunction of Islington Avenue, Rexdale Blvd., and the 401, where Rexdale Mall stood for about 40 years. I never visited it myself, but it was still kind of sad to learn it had been torn down. It's been replaced, it turns out, by a big Wal-mart and a lot of open plazas. The days of the enclosed mall seem to be over in Canada, at least for now.

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