Monday, November 30, 2009

More pix, more heroes

Friday I happened to be looking around on the TPL's site and I came across a list of indexes for some very interesting photos. None of them were scanned and online, unfortunately, but they were well-described and really made me sit up and take notice. They were shot by a man named Ted Chirnside in the 50s and 60s, and it looked as though the North York Central Library kept the index.

Saturday I got up and headed over there. They had six binders of photocopied images to be used as a reference, and just like with James Salmon relative to the cards in the TRL, Ted Chirnside's collection seemed to take up half the space. The index they'd put together was terrific... it was arranged by subject and by number. I found the number index far more useful because Chirnside's images were largely in two sections, and so it was a simple matter to flip through them, wonder what the subject was, and look it up.

It was like finding James Salmon's collection all over again (indeed, it was suggested to me that they knew one another and may have even have shot subjects together; one of Chirnside's photos includes Salmon's wife and daughters taken nearly two years after he died). The unbelievable images just washed over me. Things that I never expected to see. It was weird. It was like he knew I'd be along someday, and what I'd like to see, and he shot it. A couple of shots of Old Bayview bridge over the West Don, one looking southward up the hill and showing the road still clearly visible, the other capturing both the old bridge and the current one high above it through bare trees. The intersection of Finch and Woodbine, which no longer exists. Shots of Sheppard and Woodbine (which, again, no longer exists). The drive-in theatre on Sheppard, closed in 1976 and long gone. Steeles and Victoria Park as a dead-end rural T-junction intersection; a one-lane bridge carrying Finch over the Don just west of Leslie; a weird curve in Finch Avenue near Page Avenue... even a photo of what is now Old Cummer Avenue bridge over the Don, back when it was still open to traffic and the road running up the hill beyond was clearly visible! A first; other than my own shots, I've never seen a picture of that bridge till now.

Unfortunately, as I said, his brilliant collection is not digitized and not online. Getting reproductions for comparison work is going to be expensive. Digitized copies are about $20 a pop. Getting colour photocopies (of black and white photos) at a little over $5 each might be my best solution for now. I can use the indexes to careful select photos that have "wow" power and then show what those locations look like now. It would make an interesting ongoing project.

Anyway, I'm also doing my bit for the future; paying it forward. Yesterday (Sunday) P-Doug came out with me and we fixed the G9 to my car and videoed the roads, bridges, and level crossings in what is (unofficially) Rouge Park in the northeast of Scarborough. I handed off the W1 to him and every so often we would stop and he would leap out and photograph level crossings and one-lane bridges that may not be long for this world. We have them in 3D now, and I can only hope that will really be of value to researchers someday.

Afterwards we went to a pub in the area called The Fossil and Haggis. The wings P-Doug had were REAL wings; not those tiny things you get in most restaurants. It was two-for-one day and he got two pounds of wings for about eleven bucks. Wow! I had a roast beef dip and it was nicely done. The beef was thoroughly cooked but it wasn't dry. We need to back there. It was a good spot.

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.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Salmon weekend

This Saturday just past was one of a couple of appointments with an awkward block of free time suspended between those dependencies. I had an appointment with my dental hygienists at one end and a meeting with a friend at the Duke of Kent pub at the other. Between the two was a gap of three or four hours, depending on who got where when. I'd been meaning to go to the Toronto Reference Library for a long time now, mainly to see if I could look up some of the originals James V. Salmon snapped, and that seemed like my opening to spend a few hours doing so.

The dental appointment was in East York on the lip of the Don Valley. I started wondering how I'd get to the TRL. I figured back on the DVP, up to the 401, and down Yonge or some less-travelled parallel street. Then in looking at the map, I realized I could just about see the TRL across the valley from where I was. It was a lot simpler to just drive down Broadview, cross the valley on Bloor, turn up Sherbourne and start hunting for a place to park in toney Rosedale. Ultimately I opted for Cluny Avenue, and decided to cross to Yonge by a footpath down from the heights (and then back up some stairs again, duh). But I wanted to make the trek anyway. The path in question is runs between Cluny Crescent and the cul-de-sac end of Rosedale Valley Road beside Aylmer Avenue, and I'm not sure, but I think it might once, and not too long ago, have been part of Rosedale Valley Road running up to Cluny. Anyway, it makes for some interesting shots.


At the TRL itself, I eventually found the reference cards for the James V. Salmon collection in a quiet, segregated room on the 4th floor. The librarian there tried to be helpful but strangely, she had no idea where the original photographs reference on the cards were stored, or even if they were the property of the library! She did promise to have someone more knowledgeable about the collection get in touch with me. In the meantime, I did spend a couple of interesting hours going through the cards. A lot of it's been digitized and is already available online, but I'm convinced I saw a few interesting things I'd never seen before. One thing I noticed, now that I've taken the time to actually look, is that James Salmon had a deep interest in, and real knack for locating, old TTC streetcars that had been retired from service and put to other uses. It would seem that in the 1950s, southern Ontario was utterly dotted with streetcars in farmers' fields, or being used as restaurants, or as additions to homes, or the basis for cottages... almost anything you can think of, someone took a streetcar and turned it into that. This has largely gone by the boards in the last few decades, which makes it all the more interesting now. But of the collection, I can say this... I believe I saw six iron boxes of photo reference cards, and fully three of them are taken up with James V. Salmon's collection. Not surprising, because he seems to have shot and shot and shot! Flipping though his images for spring, 1952, it seemed like hardly a day went by that he didn’t shoot a half a dozen subjects. The last image in the entire collection, if they're strictly chronological, is dated April 18, 1958, which is seven months to the day before he died. It was hard to look at that imagine and wonder, was this his last good day? Was this the last carefree moment before he got the news and his world and priorities turned around? But I suppose the focus should be on the joy his range of images does give me, the chance to see what was and is no longer, and the gratitude that stirs in me.

N.B. (Thursday, Nov. 26th) Forgot to mention this, though I meant to... Going through Salmon's collection, I noticed that one of the things he documented was the removal and subsequent replacement of the Sherbourne bridge north of Bloor Street. That resonated with me when I saw it that day because I'd just driven across it an hour or so earlier. What a strange thing to see the simple, shaky-looking lumber-and-bailing wire bridge that was there before, then being pulled down, then the empty gap there, and at last, a year later, the current bridge taking its place. This impressed me. James Salmon must have known the bridge was about to be torn down. He got in there and patiently took the before, during, and after shots. Probably nobody else did that, not even the photographers on site to provide the city the building proofs. End to end, he covered it, for us. That's a real inspiration to me. We now return you to your regular blog entry...


On my way out, I took a wrong turn, and found myself wandering towards the TRL's used book store. I couldn't resist. I spent about half an hour in there. It's a tiny little room that could barely contain the two volunteers and half a dozen browsers inside it at any given time, but apparently it's moving. I found a book called Eastern Europe that presents arguments and counter arguments about the collapse of communism and what it would mean for the future, as the book was published in 1990, right in the middle of things: the Berlin Wall had come down, but German reunification hadn't been accomplished yet, the Soviet Union still existed, and most of the governments in the east were in the process of feeling their way forward. The opinions on a range of matters, trends in history, and forecasts for the future, are remarkable... they're all over the place. With two decades of hindsight it's easy to see who had it right and who was scaremongering, but often there's kernel of truth in both views. I just glanced at it while waiting for my friend at the Duke of Kent, so I'm looking forward to what should be a fascinating read. While waiting, I read Vaclav Havel's address to the US Congress a couple of months after he became president of Czechoslovakia (back when there still was a Czechoslovakia), which came only a couple of months after his last arrest! The speed with which things changed is what's so astounding.

Sunday I decided to get out and do something I've been planning to do since P-Doug found the requisite information: visit the resting place of James Salmon. He's buried in Glendale Memorial Gardens at the northwest corner of Albion Road and Hwy 27. Back in 1958, I imagine it was utterly rural and surrounded by nothing but farmland. Today, it's at the edge of suburbia and light industry. Nothing around the place towers over it, but I imagine that's bound to change as the city grows into the northwest of Rexdale and southwest of Vaughan. It was a really strange thing to finally be separated from James Salmon by only about six feet or so physically, but a half a century in time... and that was the dimension that trumped, of course. I'd give a lot to be able to talk to him. But at least he left us what he saw, and he was dutiful enough to record it instead of just see it. Buried with him is his wife, Jean, to whom I believe our gratitude is due for having donated his collection to the city. I took a few photos of their resting place, and of its current surroundings, and one holding up a photo he took at Bayview and Eglinton in the early 50s, not far from their home. For what it's worth, I made a point of saying thank you. If the gesture did no one else any good, living or dead, at least it mattered to me.


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Humber summer numbers

I actually did a fair amount of exploring on the Humber the latter half of the summer, but I never bothered to blog about it. I suppose now that the summer's over and it can all be more or less consolidated, it might make sense to do so.

The first place was a gap I noticed in the road grid where it seemed to me a road might once have crossed by no longer does. Such places are endlessly fascinating to me; the idea that people could once travel somewhere we no longer can always makes me a little wistful. I like to go to places like that and look for hints of bridges — or much better yet, bridges that still exist but are now closed to vehicle traffic — and try to picture it as it once was. The gap in question was where one of concession lines meets the West Humber River.

I went out there on a rainy morning towards the end of July. The closed part of the concession there is not very long... it only takes about five minutes to reach the river, if that, at least on the north bank. Where the road meets the river, there was no hint of its south leg on the opposite shore. The was certainly no hint of a bridge, though with such lightly-travelled roads, it's always possible that modest wooden structure was utterly erased by the floodwaters of Hurricane Hazel in October, 1954, and simply never replaced. I decided to take a little time and wander the river itself, so I stepped into the water and headed a little east. I found this beautiful little spot, a kind of a pool created by forest debris, possibly accumulated on an old beaver dam, and I found a fallen tree to settle down on. I guess I spent about a half an hour there before I started wondering about the road at the other side, and I headed back to the car to make my way over. Funny how it goes... the far side I wanted to explore was probably not 150 feet from where I first came down, but I probably had to drive two or three miles to get back to the heights on the other side.


The roadway down on the south side was a lot more substantial. It made a long, sweeping curve down to the river, and took about ten minutes to follow down. Despite the fact that on either side, the road came clear down to the river bank, there was no hint anywhere that there'd ever been a way to cross in a car. The two parts didn't seem to meet up.  There must have been a gap of something like 50 to 100 feet between them... not impossible to bridge, but possibly more than people wanted to be bothered with. Still... if you weren't going to cross the river... why build roads right down to it in the first place? I can't make up my mind if there were ever a bridge there or not. Anyway, the principal discovery of the trip was that tranquil pool further east. I came back to it with P-Doug the following weekend and we explored. In the middle of the water a bit further east we found something that was like a natural pagoda, a sort of little sitting area made up of towering old trees, open at the top. The warm sunlight streaming down made it a wonderful place to sit and soak; the water was three to four feet deep but traveled through it so slowly it was nearly becalmed. It was a perfect place in nature and I'll never forget it.


The next spot was quite a bit closer to town; a conservation area up in the northwest end. The valley walls there are short, but steep, and that made it a real challenge for us to get to the river. Once P-Doug and I were at the river, the only way to get around, at least initially, was via the river itself. But, as before, it was several feet deep, so we stripped below the waist and followed the river along till we could trek across the forest floor, taking shortcuts from one bend in the river to the next. After a while we came to a fantastic sandy landing opposite a steep bank. We spent an hour or more in the sunny water before retiring to the shady bank. Again, it was a sweet slice of nature. The only note detracting from it was the faint but ever-present sound of the nearby highway traffic, not quite a mile off.


The final spot was back to a place on the river we've been a dozen times before, except we travelled beyond it to a new location through the woods. We went nude hiking into the hills there a few years ago and decided to do it again, this time making our way through the woods to the river on the far side of the bend. The hills in question are on a peninsula that's practically rendered an island as the river bends back upon itself. We carried our clothes across the river and stowed them on the peninsular side, then started the climb. I'd actually done this by myself a few weeks earlier when we'd been there but he had elected to stay and soak in the river on the near side. Retracing my route, we reached the place we got to the first time, at the heights, and travelled beyond it. On our way down on the far side, we came across this strange landing in the woods make up of trash and abandoned furniture. It looked for all the world like a long-abandoned spot for teenage make-out parties. We looked around it for a few minutes in curiosity before moving on to make our way down to the river. I showed him the bleached fallen log on the opposite bank that I'd forded to and sat upon in the sun. This time, it was his turn to cross over and to wander the river there; for myself, I reclined in the sun amid the long grass. He satisfied his curiosity for the river and joined me in the sunbathing spot after about half an hour or so, and we just whiled away the early afternoon there. Eventually we wandered back into the forest and up the hill, down the other side to find our stowed clothes (funny how different landmarks look from the forest instead of the river...), and headed into the nearby town to liberate a few beers from imprisonment in cold, dark kegs. It more or less represented the end of the summer, but a summer spent enjoying nature while in a matching  state is one well-spent in my opinion. :)

Monday, November 16, 2009

The whole 3D deal

Here are some of the shots I took in 3D on Sunday with the new W1 camera... just a handful of the many. I think you can see, in the lower two pairs, the difference in exposures right and left that I was talking about.

Below: looking down Eglinton into the Don Valley from just east of Brentcliffe...

...the SMART car dealership between Brentcliffe and Laird on the south side of Eglinton...


...and a house being rebuilt, on Broadway Avenue, if my memory serves me correctly. Geez, you'd think with geotagging, this would be easier. (Twenty bucks says the reason is they're adding a garage with an extension to the house above it, and need to expand the roof as a result.)


The native format for these shots is MPO (multi-picture object). I can't show you that. As a matter of fact, I don't yet have the ability to view them myself. What I do have is StereoPicture Maker, a wonderful freeware program I've been using for years to create stereo pairs like these using the cha-cha method (take a shot, move, take another shot). Unbelieveably, the same program can open MPO files and spit out JPG pairs like these so we can view them with the low-tech cross-your-eyes method.

Here's the camera itself. Actually, this is the one I took back and got replaced, but of course, the new one looks exactly the same.

The view screen is in 3D; you can actually look into the depth of the photos and movies. Obviously I can't demonstrate that here in two dimensions, but it is quite startling when you see it the first few times. Someday, it'll be routine; for now, it's a sort of magic.

Nature Trail to Hell in 3D

Kind of an interesting weekend as it went. P-Doug had a front yard full of leaves he's been waiting to attack. Last week, his leaf sucker's motor burnt out, so at some point during the week, he went looking for another. The timing was bad and he ended up with a gas-powered one with a two-stroke engine.

I offered to give him a hand because it's nice to get out and do something with the weekend, and I figured we'd wind up at a watering hole once the job was done. I also wanted to test a couple of camera tricks. I put the new 3D camera on my dashboard with a class 6 SDHC card in it to see if it would be fast enough to keep up with the writing speed of the camera when it records video (it wasn't). Also, when I was digging around looking for my 0.8x wide angle attachment, I discovered the 0.75x one that came with the G9 when I bought it from the wedding photographer just about two years ago. Forgot about it! Was delighted to discover it. I put it on the adapter for the G9 (giving it an effective focal length of about 26mm, nice and wide) and put the camera on the suction cup tripod I bought a few weeks ago. This time, I stuck it on my sunroof... outside the car. Just to reassure myself, I also closed the sunroof on the wrist strap of the camera. :) I started it up and drove down to East York, and I got a really neat, wide-angle, up-high video of the trip. As for the 3D camera, the W1 overflowed the buffer every three minutes, so I gave up on that for the time being.

Anyway, I got down there about quarter to 11. P-Doug and I set to work assembling the gas-powered leaf sucker. We wound up with something that looked like a tumourous bagpipe. Spilled gas all over the place having to add blue engine oil to it. He managed to get it started. He told me it was heavy, ungainly, and vibrated annoyingly. It half-heartedly sucked leaves for a few minutes, filled the bag (it promised to mulch leaves at a volume of 16:1, but the proportion of leaves that survived without so much as a nick was disappointingly high), and we emptied it. Try as he might... and he tried, and tried, and tried... he could not get the thing to start again. At one point, I said to him that the thing certainly did suck, but only in the figurative sense, not the literal one (it was a good line, I thought, but I kind of fumbled the delivery).  We pondered what to do, and decided finally to take it back and get his money back, and use the rake to do it the old-fashioned way.

When we got near the store, I asked if he'd tried the competitor we were passing by when he was looking for an electric leaf sucker and he admitted he'd overlooked it. He decided to take a look, once he got his money back. That actually went surprisingly smoothly; they didn't give him a hard time (he had the coupons they dish out to hand back and all). When he presented the leaf sucker, he opened with my "sucks figuratively but not literally" quip (much to my delight), but I think it was lost on the bored cashier. We went to the other store, and they actually had one last leaf sucker of the exact model that burned out on him. And it was just a little over half the cost of the gas-powered one, too. He grabbed it and we headed back. Now this thing was so easy to assemble I actually had it put together for him in the time it took him to go inside and get the extension cord. We spent the next hour and a half or so sucking up the leaves in his front yard and doing what we could for his neighbour. I took a few turns at it, but mostly I kept the cord out of the way, provided a second pair of hands for emptying the bag, and raked leaves into handy piles. When the ones from between the houses were sucked up and mulched, the air was filled with the heady aroma of raccoon shit. That's something I won't soon forget. The fun upshot was that I briefly videoed P-Doug leaf sucking in three dimensions. I feel this will be important to the people of the future someday.

Afterwards, P-Doug and G and I took off uptown to a pub we haven't been to in ages — The Three Monkeys, which was once my and P-Doug's regular haunt. There I had a salad and a sandwich on bread that was twice as long as the modest chicken breast it accommodated, but it was spicy and I enjoyed it. We wiled away a few hours and headed off in opposite directions.

Sunday I was determined to get out and work with the new camera some. I went down to James Salmon's old neighbourhood to try to recreate some of the shots he took in the 1950s. I brought the G9 with the wide angle attachment and the W1 to capture scenes in 3D. I also decided to try one last experiment to see if I could overcome the problem the W1 was having with keeping videos rolling. On my way down Leslie Street, I set up the camera on my dashboard beanbag tripod and ran a test with the  4G Sandisk Extreme III card I got when I got the G9. It ran for 11 minutes non-stop till I turned if off. Given the longest the camera can record at 640x480 is about 15 minutes, I'd call that a successful run. Limits the cards I can use to those By Appointment to Her Majesty, though. The G9 seems to do just fine with slower cards, even when I record video, so I guess I'll use the class 6 16G card with it and cede the fast card to the W1.

James Salmon lived on Broadway Avenue, a street that runs parallel to Eglinton Avenue, a couple of streets north of it. I parked near the house and took a few photos of it, then I set off to recreate some of his shots. I'd printed them and had them in my jacket pocket for reference. The first ones were shots he took near Eglinton and Bayview back in the 50s when the strip mall was being built there and the swamp was being filled in. I did my best to recreate them, but it was hard to know exactly where he stood. I also shot the intersection itself from a few angles for the benefit of future researchers. On my way back, I briefly videoed a dozen or so 30-somethings tossing a football around in the bowl-shaped park south of Eglinton.

(...Just so you know... the colour shots here were taken with the G9, not the new 3D camera.)

Below is his house, 461 Broadway.

...and the view across the street from his house; 458-464 Broadway, in 1948, 1949, and 2009. You can orient the view with the fire hydrant in the 1948 and 2009 shots. Incidentally... if you look closely, you'll notice an interesting trend. None of these places seems to have a garage or attendant room above it at the time of construction... but they pretty much all seem to have grown one on in the meantime (including, probably, James Salmon's house, above). I wonder when the vogue for doing this hit the neighbourhood. "So, what'll it be, honey... a garage and a family room, or a bomb shelter?" :)


 ...Looking west down Eglinton towards Bayview, 1951 and 2009...

...and east up Eglinton from Bayview, from in front of Sunnybrook Plaza. In the distance on the right is Leaside Secondary School. Again, 1951 and 2009.

I drove along Broadway a few blocks east to Brentcliffe. Brentcliffe was once the street where Eglinton effectively ended west of the Don Valley. When the Salmons first lived in the area, Eglinton didn't cross the Don yet. It more or less dead-ended in the trees above the valley. I know this for sure because one of the photos James Salmon took in the early 50s was just that. Later, he took photos of the work being done building what was called "the Eglinton Extension" between there and Victoria Park Avenue. No one calls it that anymore; I was astounded to find out there'd even been an "Eglinton Extension" when I first read about it four or five years ago. I took photos more or less matching Salmon's, and then just for good measure, walked west to Laird where he had photographed some store fronts at the northwest corner. They still looked kind of the same, in shape, if not in function. Eglinton and Brentcliffe, 1954 and 2009; Eglinton west of Laird, 1955 and 2009.

Something I noticed when I got home and processed the 3D shots into JPG pairs I could work with (geotagging, etc.) was that my camera had a displeasing tendency to shoot the right image with a hazy cast over it that was increasingly visible towards the upper right. There were no strong blacks in the right side images; they were all faintly grey. Colours were muted towards the right side, too. Earlier in the week I wondered if it were a function of the light direction, but by yesterday it was clear to me it was chronic... it had nothing to do with the direction the light was coming from. It was a defect.

I took the camera back to Henry's at lunch time today, with a few printed examples to make the point in case they thought I'd messed up the camera somehow and was just making up an excuse to bring it back. To my relief, they didn't give me any trouble at all. They simply replaced the camera from one they had in stock (I kept all the accessories that came with my original camera). I took a few shots with it in the parking lot and at stop lights, so when I get home I'll see if it has the same problem. If not, great; if so, it's a "feature" of the model I'll have to live with till there's a better one (e.g., the "W2"). Anyway, that's one reason I'm glad I bought it at Henry's and not off eBay or something.

P.S. Below, a "bonus" shot of Eglinton, looking west towards Bayview (intersection out of sight in the dip). Doesn't match up with anything; I just kind of like the look of it.