Friday, November 27, 2009

Retrospectives: Looking for Leslie

So what are we looking at here, you may ask. Well, I'll tell you. You're standing on the eastern shoulder of Leslie Street in 1964, looking north across the CNR level crossing towards the 401 (and, just out of sight beyond it, Sheppard Avenue). In fact, if you look at the gap between the trees, you can see the bridge that carries the 401 over the railroad tracks, and, at the time, Leslie Street itself there.

Do I need to tell you that this view has changed a lot in the last 45 years? Mostly, in the 2-4 years after this shot was taken.

First of all – and this probably won't surprise you even if you've never been to the place in the photo – this is no longer a level crossing. Since 1966, Leslie has deked to the east and under (more or less where the house is on the right side of the photo) a long bridge that carries these tracks diagonally across its six lanes here. The trees in view on the left have since this shot was taken encroached out into the space of the original road course. It's almost impossible to match this view today... but I gave it my best.

To me, the photo above is a wonderfully charming shot. For years I've seen this area, in this time period, only looking straight down from the air. I was delighted to actually see a ground-level shot of this crossing. Once I did, I had something to work with in terms of trying to match up a then-and-now pair. I had to match the locations using aerial shots... one from the mid-60s, and one from today, to try to place it as exactly as possible. That's when I realized what should have been obvious from any map: that Leslie had curved away to the right. The road doesn't go where it used to, quite. In fact, the very western end of the bridge today is, essentially, about where Leslie Street used to cross the tracks, give or take a couple of yards.

What is there at that spot today? A difficultly landscaped hillside, a billboard, fencing, and a lot of stubborn undergrowth. At first, I tried to approach it from the north, in the hopes of accessing the tracks, or at least getting some kind of clear and enlightening view. No dice. It was only when I made my second attempt, from the south side, that I managed to get the matching shot. And believe it or not, this is it...

I'm glad I was there in broad daylight. The place has every indication of being a hangout for the homeless, or at least someone who wants to be apart, but not too far apart, from the everyday traffic of city life. As it was, I didn't encounter or surprise anyone while I was poking around. I'm not dissatisfied with the shot, but I wish there'd been just a little more left over to reward my efforts... some pavement or a disused crossing signal, or something. But nothing. If you didn't have the photos and the aerial confirmation, you'd never even imagine there had once been a busy road, with cars stopping for trains every day, right on this very spot.


Jim Grey said...

Did you identify the place by the utility poles? That's the only clue I can see!

Lone Primate said...

Hi, Jim, no, actually, I didn't... I overlaid current and previous aerial views, matching up the few details that have stood the test of time, and realized there was only just a place to stand relative to the old course. It wasn't easy to get there! It took me about 15 minutes of poking around to find my way to the spot. I only noticed the nice detail of the dovetaling of the power lines myself yesterday while posting this... but even then, the must have moved them to do the work, so it's anybody's guess if they're still in exactly the same line. Odds are, they are, but I can't swear to it.