Thursday, August 07, 2008

In the trees, of the trees

Monday being a holiday hereabouts, and my friends either out of town or communication, I was kind of at loose ends. So I made some plans to just get out, get some earth under my feet, and see something new. Well, something old. I like to explore places that have been abandoned, left behind. Place that once were "places", but are no more, if you see what I mean.

Greater Toronto's in a state of flux. Once just a small town surrounded by farms, it's grown into one of the continent's principal metropolitan areas. People migrate, farmland becomes subdivision. Patterns of land and people change. Thanks to things like GoogleMaps, it's not that hard to soar over the landscape and seek out the places that have been left behind. I found one last weekend and went to explore it.

Situated in Milton north of the 401 and just a little east of Hwy 25, it's an intriguing chunk of territory that, a generation or two ago, must have been settled farmland, or at least attached to it. I've seen lots of abandoned concession and range roads in the past 20 years or so, but I think this is the first time I've encountered an actual abandoned intersection. Yes, in the middle of the forest, a concession and range road meeting up, without lights or stop signs or buildings. Just two thin, cleared lines among the forest trees. I imagine that an intersection like, say, Dufferin and St. Clair must have looked like this once. One became a busy city intersection. The other was returned to nature. Well, more or less.

The roads are still open; they're no more than a single car width now, if they were ever more than that. I parked at the west end and began the walk. The road was full ruts, deep and muddy; the kind of thing I find enjoyable in my style of hiking. Not far in, I found a section of the Bruce Trail leading away to the north; a bit further along, the southbound part of the Trail as well. I stayed with the road, however, passing a clearing, a shallow pond, and any number of rises and valleys. It took me about half an hour to make my way to the intersection, which was surprisingly wide, and featured a large pool that was probably a couple of feet deep. At that point I was more interested in checking out the other road, so I skirted the pool rather than wading it.

Try to imagine this intersection as it might have been... or might yet be, one day... at the heart of a busy city scene.

I didn't go far up the other road; I stopped for a while to sit and enjoy the setting. The air was still; there was hardly a sound. Near me on the road was another big pool, and this one I did attempt as I headed back. Just then, I heard behind me the sound of an approaching vehicle, and I scrambled out, for fear I might get run over. A truck came over the rise, and behind it an ATV. The ATV used the little side road to get around the truck, and its rider stopped to talk with me while we watched the guys in the truck decide whether or not to take on the giant puddle (which they did with aplomb, the driver calling back to us, "Where's the fun in that?"). The ATV headed off south, and then east; the truck turned west, down the road from which I'd come. I skirted the pool at the intersection again, crossing through the forest, and headed back. After ten or fifteen minutes, I heard the truck coming back, and I stepped off the road. It was at the location of the first big pond, which is off the road on the north side. They turned towards it, clearly considering driving through it, but prudence got the better of them and they stayed with the road. They saw me and we shared a laugh and I said I didn't blame them.

On the way in to the road, I'd noticed what looked like an abandoned school on the corner, and that was confirmed when I spoke with the fellow on the ATV. So I stopped there for a few minutes and took a few shots of the sad decay of the place. Later on, I found out a little about it on the net. It was Speyside Public School, and it was built in 1960 and closed (as such) in 1986. Afterwards, it was a Catholic high school for a couple of years, and then a teacher's college for York University till the mid-90s (in fact, it still has a York University entrance sign on it). After that, it was closed for good. It made me sad to think of the people who must have passed through it over the years; a place so full of life once, now just silent and increasingly overgrown.

I also discovered there's a "royal" oak there. Acorns from England were brought over and planted, in the nearby village of Dublin, to celebrate the coronation of King George VI in 1937. It was soon moved about 20 years later to its current location when the new school was built. I took pictures of nearly everything else, but missed the oak! I mean to go back and take some pictures of it; soon, or maybe in the fall.



August 25th

Last Friday (August 22), P-Doug and I went out to Milton and I got the following pix of the Royal Oak for you. :)


Peter said...

Lovely photos!
I especially like the long perspective one looking down at yourself and up along the trail. It's a neat effect.
I used to love walking through Launceston's old Tram Yards. They'd fallen into utter disrepair (and it's now the site of the art gallery and uni academy of arts). It was the closest Launceston ever had to a ruins.
I used to love walking through it, imagining it at the height of its activity. It had these really 1950's signs everywhere. I love the aesthetic of that era.
One night I walked through the yards, it was sort of misty but also drizzly and the sodium lights nearby made it all look like something from the set of Blade Runner.
Anyway, once again: luverly photos there, Mr Primate. Would love to see the oak you're talking about. My favourite tree, the oak.

Lisa S. said...

Just discovered this. I indeed went to Speyside in the 70s and it is sad to see how run down and abandoned it is now. Many happy memories there of running through the woods, climbing over large wooden spools and tires, sliding down the hill in the winter. Though we do now have a Facebook group where we are trying to find our classmates and share pictures. I've shared your post there as well. Thanks so much!