It’s easy to imagine that place is stable. A definite somewhere, that you can point to on a map. A place’s coordinates are easily found with a quick search on Google maps.
But is place really somewhere you can point to on a map?
Under that big Google A, I think there’s less of an ability to track down where exactly HERE is.
Consider a dramatic case, Gibraltar Point on Toronto Islands.
Gibraltar Point is the south-western most part of Toronto Island, and is where I’ve spent a lot of time. The point is formed from the southerly and westerly current of Lake Ontario pushing up sediment from land eroded from the Scarborough Bluffs to the east.
In this most technical of definitions, Gibraltar Point is this south-westerly most point of Toronto Island, where the currents meet each other almost perpendicularly. Taking this definition, we can find Gibraltar Point easily. Go there today and you’ll find a small structure marking the Point – a public bathroom.
If you venture past the bathroom and stand at the Point, you will feel the wind coming at you from your left and right with the waves coming from all directions. This is where the weather blown in from Lake Ontario first makes its landfall on Toronto.
But, looking at historical maps of the Island, you’ll see that it is an ever-changing sand bar, transforming shapes with every passing storm and year.
Understood by the definition above, and taking into consideration the yearly transformation of the Island, Gibraltar Point would appear to be roving, changing places with every year and every storm.
When John Graves Simcoe first saw the harbour protected by a sand bar, he declared it the site of Toronto, and built a lighthouse at what was then, geographically speaking, Gibraltar Point (named to evoke the Mediterranean rock that similarly protected a British Colony in Spain). As a result, despite being inland and covered in forests, the site of the lighthouse is now known as Gibraltar Point. Ask an Islander how to get to Gibraltar Point, and they’ll lead you there (and to the art centre across the road), leading you astray from the actual point (technically speaking) which is several hundred feet south and west of the lighthouse.
Similarly, a plaque at was is now known as Hanlan’s Point refers to its former life as a Gibraltar Point. This is very far from both the lighthouse and the bathroom that marks the technical point.
Gibraltar Point is not one, but potentially three different places.
During my time spent there, I have found a candidate for a fourth Gibraltar Point – one that carries the weight of this Place in spirit. It is a magical place – a forest grown right to the water’s edge – trees growing out of a beach – a sandy forest. Here, the waves crash against solid ironwoods that protrude, some horizontally, into the lake. The sands of the beach layer on top of each other, creating impressions of slow waves in the yellow and brown and red sands. Driftwood is lodged into the beach and is sculpted smooth and seamlessly into the sand. The dogwood at the edge leave their roots hanging into the water, dried to be yellow and stringy.
I know this to be Gibraltar Point because of the shared acknowledgment of the specialness of this place. There are always footprints leading to and from this place – signs of temporary dwelling, fires, ash and embers. This sand forest is wedged between two beaches and form a fulcrum for the Island’s southwesterly most point. This, Gibraltar Point in spirit, carries the spiritual weight of splendour that such a grand name and important place merits. It is where the flows of Lake Ontario meet and react and beckon. It is an undeniably sacred space, a temple in the forest, a definite articulation of the Island’s healing energy.
Gibraltar Point is many places at the same time. Place is dynamic.
I wrote this post in April 2014, long before I read the fantastic Unruly Places by Alastair Bonnet. It seems that Gibraltar Point is undoubtedly an Unruly Place – a place that does not fit our neat understandings of space as searchable on Google Maps.