The Gardiner Expressway separated my apartment complex from Fort York. It’s particularly ugly in what it does to the urban landscape, driving a wedge through it, but it serves an essential purpose, to move through traffic past the city center without tying up city streets. Viewed from underneath, it becomes a ribbon of patterns in concrete. Goes to show you that you can find beauty in even the most utilitarian of things.
As you can probably tell from my past postings, I love historic buildings. Especially old military buildings. Medieval city walls, castles, forts, palaces, you name it, if it’s stone and old, I like visiting. There is a small chunk of 18th century history in the middle of downtown Toronto. Fort York was the original master defense for Toronto, perched as it was on the shoreline of Lake Ontario and guarding the mouth of the harbor of York (as Toronto was then known). Today it sits a good three hundred yards or more from the shoreline, landfill having been created to expand the salable real estate in the city.
As you can see, the city has considerably encroached upon the fort.Today it is hemmed in by rail yards on the north and an elevated expressway to the south. A typical 18th century fort, it has low walls of stone on the interior and rammed earth on the exterior, in response to the changing military technology of the period. Before, you wanted tall walls made out of stone to make it hard for enemy infantry to get over them. With the advent of more powerful, accurate cannon, tall stone walls made for a very easy target that became a weapon itself when struck by cannon balls.
The fort itself is remarkably well preserved, given all it has been through. It was the site of a major engagement in the War of 1812, when several thousand Colonial troops took on the British Army units stationed at the fort. Ultimately, the colonials defeated the British, who, in a forced retreat, blew up the stone powder magazine to prevent the gunpowder from falling into Yankee hands. The powder magazine as it stands today was built in 1815, otherwise all the buildings on the property are from the late 1790s/first decade of the 1800s.
Here is a photo of the front gate to the fort, through which visitors enter today. I’m assuming that the wood is (relatively) modern, but the ironwork is original. The gate has a door within a door, large enough for a single soldier to stoop through, or to point a canon out of. This is the latch to that door-within-a-door.
I took the guided tour of the fort, which largely focused on the enlisted and officers living quarters. There was a vast difference in quality between life as an enlisted man and life as an officer. The enlisted men were shacked up two to a bunk, roughly 100 to a room. If you were married, you and your wife could share a bunk, and when the kids came, they could sleep on the floor under the bunk. Officers had suites of rooms to themselves, a parlor and a dining room with catered food service and a bar.
The guide was excellent and very knowledgeable, and he came complete with early 19th century period uniform. He was one of the few people I met in Toronto who had even a hint of a “Canadian” accent – he spoke with the characteristic rounded vowels, and had a little bit of a lilt to his speech pacing. Regardless, he painted a very clear picture of what life was like in the fort for someone in the army.
I have my blog cross-post on Twitter and Facebook. This is the power of the internet – you get seen in places that twenty years ago, heck, even ten years ago, you never would have. The post I made about the Fort York branch of the Toronto Public library was found on Twitter by someone who worked there, and who re-tweeted the post with a very kind and appreciative comment. Before Twitter, what would the odds be that you take a picture of a building in a foreign country, and someone who works there would see the picture and acknowledge it? I think I owe them a print.
The building I stayed in at 231 Fort York Boulevard is a thoroughly modern 28-story high rise, composed of glass and steel. At street level, however, the architects softened the impact with a still thoroughly modern, but decidedly more organic, approach. Twisting ribbons of blackened steel, undulating concrete, and dense vegetation combine to give it an almost Antoni Gaudi feel.
A loveseat style bench, formed out of an undulation in the concrete:
A canopy formed out of steel ribbons and the branches of trees shade another larger seating area:
The building entrance is a riot of steel ribbons, twisted into organic shapes that bring to mind ocean waves and seashells:
As an architectural critic, I question the use of these shapes because they really don’t relate to the building at all – they’re found only on the street side, and only at street level. The courtyard entrance where vehicle drop-off and pickup occurs has nothing at all like this, and nowhere else at any higher level is this style repeated. None of the upper balconies have ribbon-like railings, just typical glass and steel flat planes.
As a pedestrian, though, I’m quite pleased that it exists – it certainly makes the sidewalk level more interesting and in the summertime, more pleasant!
Just around the corner from my apartment, on Bathurst Street, there is a branch of the Toronto Public Library. As I was passing it, I saw this scene of a lone reader, sitting by the window, deeply engaged in his book. There isn’t any real “action” going on here, and the subject of the photo is actually a very small part of the total image, but I think sometimes that kind of subtlety is important and beautiful, and actually makes for a stronger image – you have to think about it a little and really examine the image.
This scene struck a chord with me as I remember doing much the same as a kid, going to the public library and finding a corner in which to curl up with a book. While I don’t go to the public library as much any more, the love of reading is still very much alive, and I have my own personal library now- over 2000 volumes and growing.
Two different portraits I took of my friend William, who toured me around Toronto on Sunday of my weekend visit. Both were taken at the Distillery District, one black-and-white, the other, color. I cropped the black-and-white one because there was some lens flare in the upper corner, and I think the vertical crop is not only complimentary to a portrait in general, it is flattering to the sitter.
Both images, of course, were shot on my Rolleiflex. It makes for a great environmental portraiture camera. One of these days I’m going to get the Tele-Rollei to do some tighter head shots, but for now, this is just fine. The b/w image was shot on Kodak Tri-X, and the color on Kodak Ektar 100. I’m normally brand agnostic when it comes to film – I shoot whatever produces the look I like. For a slower b/w emulsion, I’m happy with Ilford FP4+, and for a really slow emulsion, Ilford PanF. For years, until they discontinued it, I was a huge fan of Fuji Reala when it came to color. Since it went away, I’ve shot Kodak color emulsions almost exclusively, though. I used to like the super-saturated colors in Fuji slide films, but now I prefer a somewhat more subtle palette, which I get from Ektar (which is still a saturated, contrasty emulsion) or even moreso from Kodak Portra (mostly Portra 160, but the 400 and 800 also have their uses).
Just a quick onesie to add to the Ordinary Objects series:
A pair of CanadaPost mailboxes on a street in downtown Toronto. I would have thought they were power transformers or something if it weren’t for the wrappers that say Canada Post on them. We have weird ersatz mailboxes here in the US that are green and have no slot, and are marked US Government Use Only. I’ll have to look around for one of those – THEY’re becoming extremely rare as well.