Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Willows

My friend Larry has been bitten by the metal detector bug. He recently bought one and has been looking for a chance to get out and try it. The weather is finally borderline amenable to this kind of thing, and knowing that I have an interest in places where people and things used to be but aren't anymore, he asked me to make a local suggestion. A place on Highland Creek where Lawrence Avenue crosses it came to mind.

I've seen aerial photos of the place, and it was a thing in the earliest ones I have access to (1947), and even seems to have survived a decade beyond Hurricane Hazel in 1954, existing into the 1960s. The place was called, I gather, "The Willows", and started off as a set of cottages, at least some of which were winterized into homes by the early 1950s.

Above is how the place looked in 1947. The road running left and right toward the bottom of the image is Lawrence Avenue. As you can see, at the time, it followed the curve of the land into the valley, crossed Highland Creek with a one-lane bridge, and climbed back out again. At the eastern end of the valley, a road eased down into the flood plain on the northeast side, and here you can see the loop of the little community. At that time, the central area appears to have been an open common, sporting a baseball diamond.

Here's the same view in 1953, about a year before Hurricane Hazel hit Toronto. The place is really coming into its own, and you can see that cottages, or more likely home, have begun to fill up the north end of the central common area.

Here's how The Willows looked in 1957, a few years after Hurricane Hazel. I'm surprised anyone was still living down there after the flood. As you can see, the site was scoured right up to the edge of the ring road, and all the structures on the west side of the street are gone. There's also obvious construction going on at the bridge site. About this time, the one-lane bridge was being superseded with a temporary Bailey bridge capable of accommodating two-way traffic.

Here's the view in 1962. The double-lane bridge is in evidence but it's still a meander down into the valley and back. It appears there were still people living, or at least vacationing, down in the flood plain at least this late in history. The arrival of suburbia is pronounced now in the encroaching wide streets and sidewalks and dozens of houses now crowding The Willows on both sides.

1971. It's all over in spades. All the buildings of The Willows are gone, replaced by a park with a trail through it. Apartment buildings tower over a Lawrence Avenue with four lanes and a circa 1965 bridge that vaults across the valley and ignores it.

Same view in 1983. Not much has changed.

1992. Trees are clearly beginning to retake the field. Highland Creek has noticeably begun rebelling against the channel it was forced into in the 1960s, eating into the eastern bank again.

Here's how the place looks today. That bit of open green just to the left of where the trails meet is where I brought Larry to try out his metal detector. Apparently it works... if finding old pop cans is to be the measure of success. :)

While I couldn't find any pictures of the community itself, the City of Toronto Archives does have a number of pictures of the valley with, first, the Bailey bridge being set in place at the end of the 1950s, and then the 1965 bridge (called "The Willows Bridge") under construction for contrast.

This view faces east down into the valley. The road down into The Willows is about where the telephone pole blocks the view at the edge of the far curve.

This view faces west from the opposite crest. We parked somewhere in this vicinity last Sunday, just off the to the right. The turn down into The Willows would have been behind the embankment on the right.

This view faces south, looking at the old one lane bridge carrying Lawrence Avenue across Highland Creek, and the "new" Bailey bridge superseding it. This is just a bit south of where Larry was sweeping with his metal detector on Sunday.

This view faces north toward the bridges. To my real surprise, Highland Creek here flows northward, away from Lake Ontario. In other words, you're looking downstream in this shot, not upstream as I would have expected.

This north of the bridges, looking west. I believe that manhole you see is the same one I was standing beside last Sunday, watching Larry try out his metal detector. The manhole cover I saw, however, was dated 1969, so if I'm correct, then the cover was replaced. It's kind of strange seeing this view and contrasting it with what I saw in March, 2015, over 55 years later.

Given the shadow cues, this view faces west down Lawrence Avenue, with the valley behind (obviously) the photographer, looking in the direction of Markham Road somewhere in the distance.

I believe what you are seeing here is, in fact, the road that led down to The Willows. It's not as steep as I would have expected. You should see what the climb out of the valley is like these days. This view faces easterly from down in the flood plain.

The following are views from 1965, when the modern Willows Bridge was being constructed.

This view faces west from the eastern edge of the bridge. You can compare this to the second c.1959 photo.

This view faces east from the other lip of the valley and compares roughly to the first c.1959 photo above. Though that water tower appears in both sets of photographs, it's long gone today. It doesn't appear in the 1971 aerials taken just six years later.

This view faces west.

 This view faces east, taken on the north side of Lawrence Avenue. The extensive terraforming would have effectively erased the original road down to The Willows, somewhere there at the upper left. The community itself would have been off the left.

  Similar view, taken on the south side of Lawrence Avenue.

Further south, this view faces northeast. The flood plain seen through the pillars of the bridge was where The Willows stood until just before this bridge was built. You can also see the area where Larry and I were at the river's edge on the far side last weekend.

Both this view and the one below face east. The modern slope on the left on the far bank is where Larry and I came down the path on Sunday. Roughly at the edge of the frame on the left is where we tried out the metal detector.

Views today...

Facing east.

Facing west. The path into what was The Willows is on the right just beyond the construction vehicle.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

I want to take Bill Gates out for a beer

I never, ever thought I'd say this, but I want to kiss Microsoft. Right on the mouth.

I document software as most of what I do to pay the bills and it has been getting harder, and harder, and harder as operating systems advance to find capture software that can perform the simple task of taking a screen cap and extracting the text from it. Given that 90% of the time, this is a standard sans serif font like Arial, you'd think this would be a piece of cake by now. But apparently not. One by one, heavy hitters that have been doing this for years, like SnagIt and HyperSnap, have been dropping text capture support from their apps. Their excuse? Getting just too hard to maintain the functionality as Windows matures.

Oddly enough, Microsoft itself has a solution that seems almost like an afterthought. OneNote, which is part of its Office suite, can haul the text out of a screen capture like a dream, with something close to 99.5% accuracy, at a guess on my part. I'm a $100-a-year subscriber to Office 2013, but my company is using Office 2010 and didn't opt for OneNote.

I've been going crazy most of the day trying to find something that will do the trick, and looking for an alternative to OneNote, I happened to read that right about this time last year, Microsoft made OneNote a free application. I guess this is similar to when Internet Explorer became free once Netscape started eating up its install base... only this time it's things like Evernote. So, I downloaded it, installed it, synced it with one of my accounts, and crossed my fingers. Now that it was free, would it have the one feature that would make having it worthwhile?...

Yes! It does! It captured an area of our application and then sucked the text out of it and got only one letter wrong out of around a hundred. It's going to save me hours of having to type out our myriad parameters for attributes tables. Like I said, right now, I want to kiss Microsoft.

Update: Here's an example, taken from a page in OneNote itself. The "text" on the left is actually a screen capture. It's a genuine image; just an array of pixels. Despite what your eye can see, to the computer, there's not "text" here. But if  you right-click the image and select Copy Text from Picture, you instantly fill the clipboard with text OneNote recognizes in the image, which I pasted to the right. That is, in fact, editable text now. And as far as I can see, it didn't get a single letter wrong.

Empty chair

I think about the cat chairs and I get a little sad.

Years ago when I moved out I inherited the old Laz-E Boy chair that used to be in our family room. It’s probably 30 years old now and I still have it. It’s in my living room beside the empty liquor cabinet I’ve been using as a “temporary” monitor stand since setting up a computer about 12 years ago that just never left the spot and was eventually superseded.

In those days, Bonnie, the tortie I had for 13 years, liked to sit close to me. She’d sit on the back of the chair behind my head, or hug the armrest. I finally moved a spare computer chair beside the Laz-E Boy and gave her a place to lie down beside me. Then another for Max, my grey and white fellah. Larry gave us cat beds as a present one year and they wound up on the chairs. More often than not, when I was home and awake, I was in that chair, and either Bonnie or Max or both were installed in the others beside me. When Twinkle joined us, a third chair and third cat bed, all lined up. She didn’t use it as much as the others, but there were times when all three of them were there beside me. I loved it, but I didn’t know how lucky I was.

Twinkle died not long after I moved here. I got Ally that winter. She was not, and still is not, the kind of cat who will curl up beside me. Next summer, Max died. I got Seth the following winter, but much as he’s a pal, he, too, is not the kind of cat to sit close by. Only Bonnie still routinely sat at my elbow. When it was clear her life was over, I had a vet make a house call to put her to sleep. She died in the cat bed in the last chair, with me sitting beside her, stroking her, telling her of my love for her.

No one uses that cat bed anymore, though it’s still there. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to move it or get rid of it.

Bonnie also slept on the pillow beside me. Max, and often Twinkle, took the corners at the end of the bed. None of the cats I have now consider that their place. I really miss that.

Now, of course, for the past couple of weeks, there’s also been Harlequin. He’s still timid and largely afraid of letting me get within arm’s reach. It’s pretty clear he’s never going to be a cat like Bonnie.  I’ll probably never have that kind of trust and love and desire to just be near me in my life ever again. I don’t think anyone, cat, human, whatever, will ever love me quite the way Bonnie did. Don’t get me wrong… I knew what I had when I had it. I just didn’t imagine it would be quite so rare.

But at least I had it. I knew it. I cherished it.


I always give my cats collars. I think it’s important that other people know, if the cats get out, that they are someone’s pet, and loved, and missed. Not just strays or abandoned.

My first cat, Jenny, a dainty black cat, learned to take her collar off, which involved pulling the hole off the tongue and then hauling it through the clasp: hers was just like a belt. I remember the day she hopped up on the bed with it in her mouth like a kill, proud to show me. I was astonished and put it back on her. From time to time, she would take it off. And I would put it back on her.

When I was about 25, I went away on a three-week vacation. I was living with my parents then so there was no real issue about Jenny; life would be largely the same for her. But they noticed something. She was taking her collar off and leaving it on my bed. They’d put it back on her. Soon, they’d find it on my bed again. They finally decided to leave it there.

What was in Jenny’s mind? Had she become superstitious? Did she believe that, if she took her collar off, I would have to return and put it back on her? I’ve always wished I could have spoken with her and asked her. I really do hope that someday, science gives us something like the means. If you’ve ever seen the movie UP! and seen the speaking collars the dogs were provided with, you’ll know what I mean.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Bathurst Street bypass

About a year and a half ago, I was up in the Holland Marsh area exploring a section of Bathurst Street that was closed to traffic in 1995 because of the bad condition of a particularly rural section of it, and a one-lane bridge across a creek along it whose guard rails were nearly completely gone. In recent years, there's been an increasing need for York Region to reopen Bathurst Street to accommodate the traffic, and so they announced the construction of a bypass to facilitate that.

The two times I was there, in July and September of 2013, that work hadn't begun yet. Since then, it has, north of the closure. Yesterday, I, P-Doug, and Larry took a quick drive up there to see how far work had gotten.

The video below shows two views... the first half is driving down Bathurst to the north end of the closure and then back toward Yonge Street back in September, 2013. The second half is the same drive taken yesterday, in March, 2015. I didn't look at the photos or videos I'd taken in 2013 before I went, and so some of the impact was lost on me when we were there because I hadn't reminded myself what it looked like, though it's clear from the comments that I did recognize some changes. The road is considerably wider all the way down (something lost on me yesterday), and now makes a marked last-minute 20-yard deke to the west to avoid the hillside it once climbed. I'll be extremely interested to see how the work progresses, and if the lost little bridge is spared. I'm inclined by the reclamation status of the land it's on to think that it will be.

Some photos, then and now, for comparison.

Then (facing south):


Then (facing north):


The only thing that took the wind out of my sails was that P-Doug found a dead cat at the right side of the end of the road (you can kind of see him noticing it in the first "now" image, above). A big fellow; head tucked down. He absolutely looked like he was sleeping; there wasn't a mark on him. The dried run-off on the downslope side of his body led us to surmise he'd been entombed in the snowbank and exposed by the thaw in just the last day or so. My guess is he was either caught up by snow clearing equipment or had fallen asleep outdoors by the side of the road and frozen to death. My curses on people who let their pets wander outdoors.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Getting closer

I still can't just reach out and touch Harlequin but he doesn't shoot out of the room any time I come into sight at least...

Monday, March 09, 2015

The new guy

It's been nearly two years since Bonnie died. At the time, I expected to do what I've typically done on losing a cat: wait a couple of months till it felt okay, then look for a new friend to provide a home to. Cats need homes, I love their companionship, and starving a cat of a home isn't going to help the cat who's passed away at all. The only thing is taking the time to grieve.

Well, that was the plan. Bonnie died early in May. I figured by July or August, the time would be right. As it turned out, my company announced layoffs in June. I spent the rest of the year trying to land something, then hopping jobs looking for something solid and not two hours away. Having found something that, at least for the moment, fits the bill, I decided it wasn't irresponsible to open my home to a third cat again.

Last week I finally inquired into one who'd caught my eye: a half-year-old male tuxedo cat named Harlequin. He was reputedly very good with other cats, and gentle with humans, but shy because he wasn't socialized properly during the little window cats get used to us. I brought him home yesterday. He didn't made a sound all the way home. He sat like a little guy reconciled to the gallows.

As usual on such occasions, I put him aside in the spare room, to give Ally and Seth about 48 hours to get used to the idea he's here. They seem curious about him, outside the door, and I'm not seeing indications of aggression or fear in them. I remember when Ally came home and Max would do a drive-by hissing as he passed the door. Nothing like that this time.

As soon as I got him home, I opened the cat carrier and waited for him to come out. After a minute or so he did, shot out, look around, and dove under the bed. I left him alone to get accustomed to the place. He slept in here alone, of course, last night. I can tell he used the litter box and when I brought wet food in last night and checked shortly afterward, he'd eaten it. I think he's sampled the dry food as well. But I haven't seen him. I can't even show you a good photo of him. He's currently not just under the bed, but jammed between the corner of the wall and the furthest leg of the bed.

What must he be feeling right now? I really wish we had some kind of mind-to-mind contraption already so I could ease his mind and let him know he's really welcome and in no danger at all. It's sad he's going to have to take weeks, maybe months, to work that out for himself. I sure hope he does. It's going to be a hard thing if I have to spend years feeling like a monster whose very presence terrorizes a small thing.

Friday, March 06, 2015

Old New Testament

Recently I blogged about the place of the Bible (among other books) in society and while looking up this afternoon, I happened to notice the little red copy of the New Testament I was given back in elementary school. I remember a man coming by and standing at the front of the class, distributing them. I didn't know much about the Bible then, but the gift of a book impressed me. Evidently. Thirty-six years later, I still have it, which would mark it among my oldest personal possessions.

Sometime in my teenage years, I made the notation, above, of John 18:36. I had a look. It's where Pilate asks Jesus, "What is truth?".

A certain amount of patriotism was woven into the book. I suppose that's true wherever the Gideons  distributed such materials to schools. God Save the Queen was a little bit anachronistic even then: in my school, they didn't teach us the words to it until her Silver Jubilee in 1977. As far as O Canada goes, the irony here is that when Parliament made it the official national anthem around 1980, they changed "O Canada! Glorious and free!" in the chorus to "God keep our land glorious and free".

My, we certainly did a lot of standing on guard for thee in the old version, too, didn't we? A couple of those bit the dust with the official 1980 version too.

Back when I was in elementary school, all the kids in the school (or pretty much all) took part in the Christmas pageant. When I was in grade three, my class had the project of telling the story of the Nativity from the Gospel of St. Luke. From that day to this, I can still recite Luke 2:1 word for word.

I have a number of religious books and books about religion. I'm not going to lie and say I've read them all, but I've read at least part of every one of them. The two here largely outside my own cultural experience, at the furthest left, are the Qur'an (given to me by a Trinidadian co-worker who'd converted to Catholicism) and The Book of Mormon, which I bought at second-hand store. Closer to home, culturally, from left to right, are two copies of the King James Version, one with the Apocrypha and the other the original 1611 text; The New American Bible, which is the standard translation now used for North American English-speaking Catholics; In the Beginning, which is a history of the King James Version and which I have read all the way through; another copy of The New American Bible, this one with the words of Jesus in red letter; a 1938 Roman Catholic Missal which belonged to my great aunt; the little red New Testament shown above; Olde Charlie Farquharson's Testament, which is a pun-filled revisioning of the Old Testament by Don Harron that I've loved since high school; The Lost Books of the Bible, a fascinating collection of holy writings from Christianity's earliest days that didn't make the cut when the canonical books were determined around the 4th century; and the copy of the Vulgate translation of the Bible , given to my parents as a wedding gift, back when that translation (from Latin, not sources) was used by English-speaking Catholics.

But anyway, I suppose the clear pearl here, for me, is the one I was given way back at the end of the 70s. It harkens back to another age, in a way. It's hard to imagine now anyone being allowed to proselytize in a Canadian public school. And I honestly don't know if they still have Christmas pageants anymore. I have warm memories of them, but that was then. As much as I look back on it with a glow, the idea of non-Christian kids being forced to choose between mouthing apostasy or self-ostracism isn't one I'm comfortable with. A sign of the times, I suppose.