Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Building up, tearing down

Saturday I decided to do something I haven't done in a long time. I just gave myself a photo assignment and I went out and did it for something to do. Actually I kind of enjoy it, especially at this time of year. Things are winding down, people tend to stay home and out of the way, and the leaves off the trees, while ugly, furnish opportunities to get better shots of things they usually obscure. The weather's still good enough that the driving's not treacherous, and I can put on the music and play it loud. Just me; no conversations, no distractions, no hazy focus. It's nice, every so often. Given that I've been out of the car and taking the subway to work for the better part of a year now, it's an even greater indulgence.

What I wanted to get shots of was the road work at the corner of Steeles Avenue and Winston Churchill Blvd. It's an area I know fairly well from when I first got my license. It looks like it's on the cusp of development. Frankly, I'm amazed it's taken this long. The 401 intersects Winston Churchill Blvd. not quite a kilometer south of Steeles; I can remember when it didn’t even have an interchange (though it did by the time I could drive). In the meantime, the 407 has been put through in between them, Meadowpine Blvd has been put through to connect to the industrial park, the level crossing south of the 401 has been put on an overpass, a large shopping centre's gone in on the west side south of the 401, etc., etc. But above the 407, nothing. It's still a tiny little hamlet called Whaley's Corners.

One of the reasons for the difference in the build-up is that all this is on meeting of several borders. The east side of Winston Churchill Blvd. is in Peel Region, and the west in Halton Region, which were Peel County and Halton County respectively till 1974 (which means both regions have to agree to expand the road). In Peel, Steeles Avenue itself was once a municipal boundary, again till 1974; north and south, both sides are now in the City of Brampton. Brampton hasn't expanded as quickly as Mississauga to the south (where the mall, industrial park, etc., are), so there's a very abrupt end to urbanity and a sudden return to ruralness at Whaley's Corners. Driving by there a couple of weeks ago, I noticed the road work, and decided I should come back out and record it before it's simply a fait accompli.

Saturday I drove west to Winston Churchill Blvd. The traffic was great, never slowed down once; a rare joy that would be mine on that highway all weekend, as it turned out. As soon as I turned north, the road was packed. It took me about ten minutes to get to Steeles because the road work was going on even on Saturday; the lanes were merging early, and there were cops on point duty. Once I got to Steeles I headed north about half a kilometer and parked at a store that sells chicken and chicken accessories (to paraphrase Hank Hill), and wandered back.

I was hauling three cameras, each to a different end. I had the Sony HX5V to get wide angle shots, panoramas, and to ensure I got geotagged references in case the PhotoTrackr failed. I had the Fuji W1 to take 3D shots of the intersection. And I had the Canon Rebel XT to make myself look all spiffy and pro, since it's a DSLR and it makes you look like less of a wanker when you're shooting stuff with a "real" camera. People tend to think you're serious about what you're doing. Well, I do, anyway.

On my way down I passed a pioneer cemetery, which turns out to be Mt. Zion Cemetery (was everything back then named Zion?). Some of the people buried there had been born in the 1770s and 1780s. Around here, that's virtually a sure sign they were Loyalists, born in the United States, and fled here after the Revolution. Not the rich "Tories" of Yankee lore, but simple yeoman farmers who took a stand on principle and weren't welcome anymore when things went against those principles, lost everything and had to start over. That was the foundation of Ontario, essentially. It was sad, too, how many of those interred there died in childhood. It's not unusual, of course, that it happened a lot in infancy, but one that had me wondering was a boy who was eight, at which point you'd think the risk had passed. I pondered... farm accident? Appendicitis? Cholera, typhoid? Maybe they didn't even know. Meanwhile, some of these people lived remarkably long for the period, into their 70s and 80s. I lingered there for a bit (both on my way to the work site and coming back), but eventually I drifted from the past to the future.

There was already a slab of pavement for the new lanes on the Halton side. It was a good perch to take shots. I would have liked, and had expected to be able, to take shots from all angles, but that day it was just far, far too busy. I felt like an intruder as it was. I took what shots I could over ten or fifteen minutes, and then headed back to the car.

I suppose ordinarily I would have headed south to the 401 and that would have been it. But the way being so busy, I decided to take a leisurely detour. I headed north up Winston Churchill Blvd and made a virtue of necessity by videoing the drive: I put the HX5V on the windshield mount, plugged it into the outlet, and just let it roll. I headed north, then east along Wanless Drive, and then south along Mississauga Road. At that intersection, I noticed a house that was boarded up. As I headed south, I saw several of them; some of them quite striking. This was a little closer to central Brampton and development was arriving in the city's southwest. I had an urge to stop each time and shoot the place, but I fought it down. I decided to make that a project for another day. By the time I got back to the 401, I was considering the prospect of using the following day to that end.

And so Sunday, that's what it was. Back on the 401 westbound, this time only as far as Mississauga Road. I headed north and was very quickly back in Brampton. I passed the first house I wanted to shoot, but it was on the other side of the road so I decided I'd pick up the spare on my way back down.

The first house was on the corner of the newest extension of a street called Williams Parkway. Williams Parkway nearly entirely spans Brampton, but there's nothing on this new part yet. I parked on the roughed-in side of its intersection with a road called Royal West Drive. I had to walk past a neighbouring house on Mississauga Road where a German Shepherd took issue with my presence. It must have been fun building the road with him around. The corner (well, new corner, that is) that the old house now finds itself on, briefly, is slated for a little plaza. It must have been a fine old farmhouse once, because the yard was full of massive trees that were cut down only days before I got there. Sad, but it offered views of the house that couldn't have been had otherwise. Oddly enough, one huge pine was spared. I had to wonder if it will be the farmland legacy towering over the new suburban landscape, or if they just hadn't gotten around to killing it yet.

Sunday was bitterly cold, unlike Saturday. Officially it was 5 degrees, comfortably above freezing, but with the wind, it felt far colder. My hands ached by the time I got back to the car. Winter's definitely on the way. I pulled out to Mississauga Road and headed north.

At the corner of Wanless, where I'd seen the first abandoned house that caught my eye, I pulled onto the gravel shoulder. This was a far more modest dwelling, though it still seemed associated with a farm... if not part of the farm, then as least cut out of it at some point. Rows of corn stalks surrounded it on three sides. It was faintly ramshackle. The driveway was unpaved. There was a remnant clothesline, though I'd speculate it hadn't been used in a generation. The most curious thing I noticed was the satellite dish on the southwest corner. You'd think they'd have taken that down. More than any of the other places I recorded that day, this one made me sad. I wonder if I would have been less affected if it had been a bright summer day instead of a moody Hallowe'en afternoon.

I headed south. I noticed that someone had parked a Jeep a discreet distance behind me, and were still in it. They weren't there when I drove up. I wondered if my presence was the cause. I wasn't concerned, though. I was carrying and using cameras, I was always in plain sight, and I never entered or even touched the house. I was technically trespassing but I can't imagine it would really be worth anyone's while to make an issue out of it under the circumstances.

The last place... well, places, actually; there were two side-by-side... was opposite a golf course just south of Huttonville. It was an impressive place from the front but somehow, the additions in the back didn't seem worthy of the rest; not matching the original in either style or design. They were kind of shabby, actually. They spoke to me of a family that, over time, saw a downturn in its fortunes, and were lucky to have held onto the start they got. Something like that, anyway.

Almost in passing I noticed that the little bungalow to the north was also boarded up. It was a much more recent structure; at a guess, I'd say it went up in the comfortable days after the war. Exactly why these places were slated for demolition and not the others close to them isn't clear to me. I expect it has something to do with the roadwork going on on Mississauga Road, even up into Brampton now; possibly, a new business is going in... businesses have been creeping north up Mississauga Road from the 401 for years now; a number of them pharmaceutical concerns. In any case, I felt it was a good idea to record what they looked like while I could.

I also spent some time those two days recording the drives, but it occurs to me that the views people have on these roads in twenty years will decidedly not be the views I had this weekend, and I'd like them to be able to see what it looked like. We're fortunate to live in an age where it's so very easy to video such things, and in fairly high quality. We're used to B&W photos and grainy silent film as the mark of "what was". I think the approachability of the formats we have now is going to make our "what was" seem eerie to people in the future.

So, anyway, home again after that; stopped off a Wendy's for the reasonably healthy combo of grilled chicken, chili, and Fresca. :)


jim said...

Three things.

(1) You calling me a wanker? :-)
(2) Windshield mount?! Do tell how you accomplished it. I've been trying to figure out how to do either that or a dashboard mount.
(3) Those are some great old houses you photographed. Too bad most of them look slated for demolition.

Lone Primate said...

1) Only if you're taking shots at Winnie and Steeles without an SLR! :)

2) Will get back to you on the windshield mount presently.

3) Well, stuff that's gone or will be is kind of my thing. :) I love looking at shots James Salmon, Ted Chirnside, and others took around here of places I'm familiar with that looked different when they took their photos. I want to do the same for other folks someday. :)

Teuvo Vehkalahti said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Thomas said...

The old house at the corner of Wanless was a farmhouse that is probably about 150 years old, it belonged to the same family who had the larger farmhouse on the corner of Wanless and Mississauga that burned down several months ago. I think it was rented out to tenants and farmhands before it was sold along with the larger house and the farm's property to developers. I actually found this while googling the larger farmhouse since I used to know the family who owned the farm.