IT WAS A BAD WEEK, AND I NEEDED TO TAKE SOME PICTURES. I’d been stuck at my desk with writing gigs and I was watching the last days of decent weather go by, so I had to do something – go somewhere. Then the fog rolled in again. It’s been a foggy autumn, and while I love shooting in the fog, there were deadlines to meet, so I sat in my window looking outside at the weather for days and days until I couldn’t take it any more.
I’d been planning to start a hike with the cameras for my travel photo blog – another hometown travel piece, taking in as much of the Credit River as can be covered on public trails. But the leaves changed and then they fell and I knew I wouldn’t be able to get much more than brown and grey and late autumn dreariness. But then the fog beckoned, and I remembered the Port Lands, a reliable place for finding inspiration for three decades now. Time to get down there now; it was changing, and fast, and it might not be recognizable if I didn’t pay at least my annual visit.
After decades of neglect, and as many plans that never came about, big changes were happening down in the Port Lands. A major landscaping project was restoring the mouth of the Don River to a wetland; acres of industrial brownfield were being dug and moved and shaped and roads were being shifted and bridges were being erected so that the dirty old river could flow into the lake more or less as it once had centuries ago. This was, of course, the prelude to a major redevelopment of the area. As soon as the river ran into its new channel and under the new bridges the condo towers would be going up. My reliable old source of inspiration will disappear gradually, so every visit has come to be a precious thing.
I also had a new toy I was dying to try out. Since I discovered that my Fuji mirrorless camera will take pretty near any old lens I can stick on the front, I’ve been collecting an odd gang of vintage glass. My latest purchase was a Schneider-Kreuznach Curtagon 28mm/f4 lens originally meant for a Kodak Retina Reflex camera. I have a soft spot for Kodak anything, so my purchase was as much a sentimental gesture as part of my ongoing quest to find unique optics that help make the photos I’ve had in my head for years. The big dent on the front of the barrel suggested a hard life, but it seemed to work fine, and as soon as I was able to order an adapter to make it fit my camera, I was desperate to see what it could do before winter forced me back indoors.
I entered the Port Lands as I always have via Cherry Street, but with the two “red bridges” already in place on my right, I was reminded that Cherry will be moving soon, to cross the red bridges over Keating Channel on its way to the new “yellow bridge” already in use, over where the Polson Slip will become the new mouth of the Don. Villiers and Commissioners Street will be the two streets running the length of Villiers Island, a new geographic feature, and a new residential neighbourhood will move in to where businesses like CIMCO Refrigeration, Citiguard Security and Cooper’s Iron & Metal are now. Another new bridge on Commissioners will cross a re-routed Don River – the “orange bridge”, the longest of them all.
Right now, though, the site of the future Don River mouth is behind fences, the site filled with mounds of earth, excavators and cranes. South of this the bascule bridge over the Ship Channel remains, with fresh new sidewalks on either side, its rusted girders and flaking paint still there, the usual motley collection of boats moored on the channel wall. By this point in my walk I’m starting to see how nicely my new lens is working, though it won’t be until I get home and open up my files that I see how smoothly it’s rendering my shots, crisp detail retained despite the fog’s diffusion. (Click on any image to see a larger version.)
Past the Ship Channel nothing seems to have changed much in the Port Lands, so I take a left turn on to Unwin Avenue and walk along the disused railway tracks. There are traces in the grass and scrub of long-gone businesses, from back when this was supposed to be the bustling new port the city imagined, when it was still hoped that the St. Lawrence Seaway would make Toronto a major cargo port. The railway tracks were last used by a single train bringing chemicals to the wastewater treatment plant at Ashbridges Bay, but that line was severed three years ago and the tracks have grown over.
New uses like the sports field took the place of the tank farms, truck yards and warehouses. It’s a pretty melancholy place, with its marginal activity tailing off slowly but steadily every time I come down here. I’m sure it’s an eyesore to a city obsessed with density and development in prime lakeside locations like this, but I’ll miss it when it’s gone. Toronto used to be full of disused post-industrial areas like this; only the Port Lands remain today.
I was worried that I’d miss the fog as I made my way down to the Port Lands on public transit, but a new wave rolled in as soon as I crossed under the Gardiner and headed down Cherry Street. It persisted all the way across Unwin, briefly looked like it was lifting as I passed the empty Hearn Generation Station, and returned again when I got to the Portlands Energy Centre and the two short bridges over the little slip of water by the Outer Harbour Lookout. I don’t know where I’ll go to find landscapes like this on public transit, after the redevelopment of the Port Lands begins in earnest and these brownfields disappear, which they certainly will one day soon.