Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The year of living conventionally

So I'm looking back at the postings on the blog and it's coming up on a year now since Larry made that comment about finding his own place sometime in 2011 that got me moving on buying a place at last. In a way it's hard to believe that was only a year ago... feels like a long, long time ago now.

But it really did all come together, and surprisingly quickly. Well, I blogged about that, right? But there you go. Feb. 27th we're sitting around talking, three months later I take possession, a month after that I've moved in. In that time my job moved offices again, Twinkle died, Ally was given to me.

I suppose some good things have happened. I got involved with Toronto Cat Rescue as an occasional driver and even though I haven't done much yet (so much of what they do seems to be in the west end and downtown), it did introduce me to a wiry black and white cat named Spencer who looks to me like nothing so much as the feline reincarnation of Frank Zappa. I mentioned him to Larry, who's talked about getting a pet, and so I offered to pay the fees for Spencer for Christmas, Larry accepted. It was worth the price just to get this story:

Recently Larry agreed to put up a buddy at his place for a bit while the guy finds his own place. The fellow smokes. On the day he arrived, he let himself in, went out on balcony to smoke, and Spencer played with the lock on the sliding door and locked the guy out. On the balcony. In winter. For three hours, till Larry got home. Now is that a great cat story or what? :)

Anyway, owning a place, yeah, is expensive. It's like rent, plus. I know in the academic sense I'm buying a place, and one day—ostensibly—it'll be mine. But it's hard to see that clearly right now. I have a slightly smaller, somewhat better-appointed place than I had 12 months ago today. I'm alone again, though I have to admit, being the sort of person I am, that the advantages to that pretty much balance out the disadvantages. Larry was around on Monday and we watched some vids, ate some pizza, had some laughs. It's like it was before, which is really all I hoped for. At least we don't have very far to drive when we want to get caught up.

I've got a nice view, too. I tend to forget that lately because, even enclosed, it's bloody cold on that balcony. Might be able to better appreciate it in the spring. (Of course, by then, I'll be sad that it isn't open air like the last place... spring was nice on that balcony.)

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Bridges out west

I'm fast approaching the limit of the portable drive I've been storing my project on. I have 40 GB left out of 500. I was saying to P-Doug the other day that not all that long ago, back in 1998, I was paying $300 or thereabout for my first 1 gigabyte hard drive, more than double the size of the my first. That seemed like an impressive amount of storage then. Now forty times that much is getting tight. It's about the videos, mostly. When I consider that it's not all that unusual anymore for me to come home with videos that each would fill up that 1998 hard drive four times over, it's not really that surprising.

I'm of the opinion that this would be a good time to get the ducks in a row and consider a first accrual to the provincial archives, for a number of reasons. 500 GB is a lot of information to drop on anyone, no matter how well-organized. Secondly, I'm constantly haunted by the idea that, despite the fact that I back up the drive, they're both in the same physical location and some kind of accident could destroy a decade of work (well, four years of work, but material stretching back to the mid-90s that I can't replace), and moving it on to someone else would be that load off my mind. P-Doug thinks I should bump up to a larger drive for now.

One thing I'd like to do is get a drive small enough that I can store it in my safe deposit box at the bank; the idea being that once a month or so I could run up there and fetch it, back up the projects to it, and return it to the bank. There are 1TB and larger 2.5" drives now, powered by USB, which would be ideal... assuming they fit the box. I think they do. I don't know. I need to research that.

Anyway... here's the story of this latest excursion.

Wellington County and Waterloo Region are still more rural in their entirety than Toronto is, at least since about 1970. Consequently there are still a lot more interesting bridges out there. I spotted a handful to take in last week, to which P-Doug added the suggestion of a bridge on the Grand River in West Montrose (question: what became of East Montrose?), the only existing covered wooden bridge in all of Ontario.

It had been my intention to go on Saturday, and for me to do the driving (aside from P-Doug getting to and from my place from his). Saturday morning came around with forecasts of snow and slippery conditions, so P-Doug called and convinced me to hold off a day for better conditions. When Sunday rolled around, he offered to do the driving, in part because he's more familiar with the area. I was a little reluctant because I didn't want to use his gas on my project (and having just spent $40 on the gas to do it, I wasn't eager to pay for more gas so soon!) and because it meant I wouldn't be able to mount a camera in the windshield as well as power it off the car. But I figured hey, I have arms, I have spare batteries. And it saved me the trouble of having him turn the thing on and off and on and off. So this was the new plan. I offered instead to pay for lunch at a place we had in mind and figure we probably came out square, or thereabouts.

We headed out on the 401 westbound fairly early; probably before 10, and were in the vicinity of Guelph, our first stop, by about 11. Our first project was...

Stone Road bow arch bridge

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According to the cross bar on the bridge itself, it was built in 1916 to span the Eramosa River. Stone Road is in the south of Guelph, still essentially outside of town or just at the fringe. Twenty years from now it'll be a whole different story. It's hard for me to judge if the bow arch bridge was wide enough to let two cars pass at the same time... probably, but only just, and I'll bet the odd mirror was lost in so doing. In 2005, an adjacent modern bridge took over the route, and the bow arch was removed from the road network, but kept for pedestrians and the Scout camp on the south side.

The Scout camp driveway is as far as you can now drive on the old stretch of Stone Road. Beyond it are three barriers to vehicles on the bridge; one at the driveway, and one each on either approach to the bridge. Earlier shots I've seen of the bridge on Flickr (all, oddly, since it was closed) don't show these barriers, and I think it's a real pity the city felt it necessary to ruin the aesthetics with them since then.

We approached from the west; P-Doug wielding the S100 and me the W3 [A note about which... yes, W3, not W1. A camera store in Buffalo was unloading their demo model of Fuji's newer 3D camera on eBay at a cheap snip, less than half the price of retail, and I just had to bite. 3D HD video from the early 2010s is going to be a godsend for researchers someday; it's also stunningly better with low light conditions than the previous model.] We did some good work on the bridge during the half an hour or so we were there. I would really like to go back there in the spring when it's warm enough to get into the river and under the bridge and shoot it from other angles that February simply doesn't afford.

This bridge is likely to be around for a long time. I think the value in these shots will be its current condition, the nature of its surroundings in 2012, and even the character of the graffiti to be found on it and the barriers.

P-Doug got what I considered the best shot of the whole trip just before we left.

On our way out, I hiked up to the new road to photograph the level crossing there. They made allowance to expand the 2005 bridge, so expect before long Stone Road will be four-laned, and I can't imagine them doing that and not eliminating the hazard of four lanes of high-speed traffic crossing rail tracks. I'm convinced there will be an over- or underpass there within a decade. My shots will show what was.

After that, not far away, there was...

Niska Road Bailey bridge

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Now I'm used to thinking of Bailey bridges as a phenomenon of World War II and just after. But from what I understand, this bridge was built only about 25 years ago, or so. It's a one-lane bridge that carries Niska Road across the Speed River on the southwest corner of Guelph. The whole idea was to discourage traffic using the road to get back and forth to Hwy 6, while enabling access for locals. Judging from what we saw, that's really backfired. There were long stretches of so much oncoming traffic that for much of the time it wasn't worth the risk of trying to cross the bridge on foot. We were there 15 or 20 minutes, and I wouldn't be surprised if close to 100 cars crossed it in that time, and some of them just flying, too. There were at least a few occasions when cars had to stop to yield to traffic already on the bridge. I've seen proposals to replace this bridge with a two-laner, which strikes me as a good compromise between encouraging too much traffic (Niska Road is residential for a while east of the bridge) and continuing to risk the almost inevitable mid-bridge smash-up. Suggestions are that there will be money earmarked for this in Wellington County's 2014 budget, so this bridge may not be around as such for much longer.

In a way, it's regretable; there aren't that many Bailey bridges still in use in Ontario. But it's clear the status quo isn't viable... especially not with Guelph growing like it is.

We headed north across country and into Waterloo Region, where we stopped at what was the gem of the expedition...

"Kissing Bridge"—covered bridge

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This bridge dates to 1880, spanning the Grand River in the little hamlet of West Montrose. Another bridge about half a mile to the east carries the serious traffic nowadays but this treasure is not only still in existence, it's still in use by vehicular traffic. It draws dozens of tourists daily and is in extremely good upkeep.

To be honest, this stop wasn't really so much for the project as it was just to see the thing. I honestly don't think this area is going to look remarkably different within my lifetime. It's a long way from any city, it's already clearly a heritage-heavy site, and the bridge is the heart of the community in more ways than one. It's all going to look like this for a very long time, so at best, the shots of this bridge in the projects will be more about the chronological details the bridge finds itself in in 2012 than about the bridge itself.

Something about the covered bridge just lends itself to a winter setting. The colour, standing out against the grey pallor and the dead river passing below; the snow scattered around... it simply wouldn't be as evocative, I think, in warmer weather. My one regret in our not going on Saturday is that the shots might have been that much more romantic in heavier snow (even then, we did see a few flakes in the air while we were there).

Wonder what they would have thought of this back in 1880:

For myself, I got some interesting 3D shots of P-Doug using a couple's camera to snap some touristy shots of them. I was inside the bridge and the w3 had just enough zoom and just enough balance sensitivity to capture those interesting views.

JB's Mongolian

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Not a bridge, but the place we went to eat after a quick stop at Picard's Peanuts in St. Jacobs. JB's Mongolian is the first Mongolian BBQ place I ever found in Ontario, out in Kitchener-Waterloo long before I ever found one in Toronto (of which even now there are still only two that I'm aware of). I'd had Mongolian in both Los Angeles and Chicago, but JB's was my first in Canada. I hadn't been there in probably six or seven years. It was nice to go back.

The big adventure here was the money situation. Since P-Doug was driving and gassing up, I said I'd pay for lunch. Well, I almost never carry cash. I tend to pay by debit. Their internet was down and despite several attempts, we weren't getting a line. So we decided to wait a few minutes. Finally it worked... but with the tip, the amount exceeded what I had in the account, so it was their turn to wait while I used an app on my phone to move money around in my accounts. Finally, on the fifth attempt, the bill got paid. Sheesh. :)

After that it was a drive out to New Hamburg to see...

Perth Street one-lane wooden railway overpass

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This one's definitely not going to last forever. It's one of the last remaining, if not the last remaining, wooden road bridges over railroad tracks in Ontario. I missed photographing one in Durham Region recently by about a year. But we got this one, at least in video. We didn't get out and shoot this one. P-Doug figures the real value will be when it's shot from the tracks, and right now it's just too cool and difficult to do that, so maybe in the spring or summer.

By that time, it was past four, so we headed home, making our way back to the 401 and the hour-long trip back to Toronto. It was a full day and I'm really pleased we did everything we set out to do and got some good work out of it all.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Meadowvale Village

Used to be I was pretty good about blogging stuff I did. I think the project of arranging things for eventual donation to an archive takes some of the wind out of the those sails. You spend a Saturday actually doing the running around and photographing stuff, and then the evening and next day geotagging, key wording, and changing formats on the various images and videos, and about the last thing it occurs to you to do is write about it. Also, sometimes, there's really not much to tell.

But I want to be able to remember these things, and one thing the past 15 years or so has taught me is just how easy it is for a decade of your life to seem to just blur into a handful of murky summers and winters if you don't drop some breadcrumbs along the way. So...

For a while now it's been in my mind to get back to northwest Mississauga and revisit a few places interesting to me, and I finally got around to it last Saturday [N.B. "last Saturday" at this point was the one before last, Feb. 4th] because the weather was bright and dry enough that it made sense. My plan also included videoing the drive along Steeles Avenue from about Mavis to Appleby Line and back, but that didn't happen. Oddly enough, other things I hadn't planned to record did.

When I was much younger, and just had my license, I was rather familiar with the area of Meadowvale Village, but only in passing, really. Centred on the intersection of Derry Road and Second Line, it's existed since about 1820, when it was founded by, oddly enough, Irish New Yorkers. Even when I was driving through it in the early 1990s, it was still just a handful of streets off in the middle of nowhere. Traffic on both roads was two-lane. It had only just become a signaled intersection by the time I was driving there. Sleepy little place with a corner store, a church, a library, a gas station. Funny how charming that is to me now... back then, it didn't impress me much. It was just on my way places.

In the years between, there's been a lot of change there. The old village is still there but it's almost completely wrapped around by new subdivisions. Derry Road, now "Old Derry Road", and Second Line are each interrupted in both directions, and can only be accessed by using other roads. Mavis Road, which once ended miles south at Eglinton, now soars past on the east side, making Second Line superfluous, and Derry Road was diverted widely to the north in the mid-90s to bypass the village. The long, straight drives east and west on Derry and north and south on Second Line are now impossibilities consigned to my youth.

When I started driving, there was pretty much nothing on Second Line between Eglinton Avenue and Meadowvale Village (much less north of it) except the landfill at Britannia (oh, the hours I spent lined up there before anyone ever heard the word "blue box")... which is now a golf course (yeah, like I'd want to stick my hand down THOSE holes after a ball). Now, just south of the bridge is a big subdivision. It actually erases part of Second Line, splitting it into a ring, before it comes back together north of Britannia Road, where it's now called Silken Laumann way after a local Olympian, and Terry Fox Way between Britannia and Eglinton. North of Old Derry, it now dead-ends at the wall of what is new Derry Road's crossing of the Credit River. Between new Derry and Hwy 401 is a completely abandoned stretch that I've walked a few times, but in my youth, drove many. It's hard to believe they're the same stretch, but they are. I didn't shoot anything south from the bridge on Saturday, but I do have some previous shots... a couple of them 1989, I think, taken in black and white (me trying to be artsy) looking south on Second Line towards its end at Eglinton. It looks a little different these days, at least on the west side. Might even have filled up on the east side by now for all I know. I see from GoogleMaps now, though, that Second Line continues south from Eglinton for a bit... "Terry Fox Way" becomes "Wainscot Drive". Changes on changes on changes. One of the glories of growing up at the very edge of urbanity.

The Second Line bridge over the 401, just south of the village, is due to come down shortly, and not be replaced. It's stood since the 401 was built there, at the end of the 1950s. But the province is extending the collector system westward to Mississauga Road, and the Second Line bridge is not wide enough to accommodate it, so it's going to vanish. I wanted to record what it looked like while I still can.

I was supposed to visit my high school buddy Jay while I was there, so I gave him a call about quarter to twelve. Turned out his battery had died and he wondered if I'd give him a lift to buy a new one when I was done. I promised I would. He said not to hurry but it did kind of put a hustle in my bustle.

About a mile to the west is the Creditview Road bridge over the 401. As far as I know, that bridge has a future. Well, not that bridge itself, per se; it's too narrow too. But it'll have to be rebuilt because it's now an important feeder between the residential area south and the industrial park that now fills up the fields and former road allowance of (Old) Derry Road north of the 401. So I took some shots of that too. Jay occasionally writes action fiction, and in one of his stories years ago, he had agents blow up this bridge. Looking up the 401 at Second Line, I'd say he picked the wrong one.

The "intersection" of Old Creditview Road and Old Derry Road is really now just a turn. But until the end of the 90s, it was actually a comparatively complicated intersection. What's now the Orangeville Brampton Railway (OBRY) cuts through the intersection, and so at some point in the past, the leg of Creditview on the north side was shifted to the other side of the tracks. I can remember driving down the little hill on that side of the level crossing 15, 20 years ago, heading north to Churchville. Well, that part is now closed, simply a path now, as is the stretch of "Old" Derry Road between Mississauga Road and Creditview. The quiet country drive up to Churchville is lost; Creditview Road now no longer exists between the 407 and Old Derry Road, except for a short lost stretch of abandoned pavement north of the new houses on the south side of the 407. Can hardly believe we drove there, so often.

More interesting still, and something I didn't even know until just the last few days, is that the big empty field on the southeast corner of Creditview and Derry used to house Meadowvale Station; a stop on what was then the Credit Valley Railway (now the OBRY). I would love to find a picture of that. I never gave the trestle just north of there much thought; it was just something you passed on Creditview back in the day, but it's the Howe Truss Bridge, apparently.

Same view as above, but how it looked back in 1999:

I have various shots of this intersection from over the years, and even a couple of the old road that's now gone. I think the most notable thing, though, was that I was there in a windstorm six or seven years ago that blew down the direction arrow sign just beside me, just six or seven feet away. All told, it must have weighed about a hundred pounds, and if the thing had actually struck me, it might have killed me.

Still in use is the charming Old Derry Road bridge over the Credit River.

I've often wondered, in passing, why there is a string of telephone poles in the middle of the field to the east of the river. Well, something else I didn't know: they ran alongside an interurban railway that ran between Toronto and points northeast, abandoned now for nearly a century. It continues to amaze me how long ago people put that kind of effort into so many such schemes to move workers around, and how they all seemed to bite the dust in the 1920s, just when you'd think that kind of thing would only be becoming viable.

Anyway, I did my bit in Meadowvale, and headed over to Jay's place. We went and got him a new battery, but while we were at the mall, he asked me if I'd been "under" Derry. He might as well have been asking me if I'd been "beside north" or "over yellow" or something. It made no sense. So, he directed me eastward, back to Meadowvale Village. I finally got what he meant: that closed section of Second Line that can only be accessed by taking the path "under Derry" at the Credit River bridge.

This was another road that he and I had driven many times in our younger days. It was closed in the late 90s by a combination of being pinched off in the south by the new course of Derry Road, and in the north by the construction of the 407. Six or seven years ago I came out here alone with my camera and took photos of the place. This time, with Jay, we wandered up the hill, cracking jokes and making old familiar references, feeling our age as we looked around at a lost road once so familiar to young eyes going places. I noticed that the cement was even more bitten-into by the grasses and plants than it had been the last time. In 20 years, you'll barely be able to tell it had ever been paved, I expect.

For me, it's all worth recording. It's all going to be given, one day I hope, to people younger than me who never had the chance to see these things for themselves. I really enjoy that idea and it's a big part of what gets me out there.