Archives for category: psychogeography

Every day this month, I’ve biked from central Malmö to Alnarp, as small rural community just outside the city and the home of SLU, the university I’m currently doing an exchange at.

The bike ride takes about 45 minutes, and in this short distance, I pass through many distinct landscapes: neighbourhoods within Malmö itself, a highway interchange zone, industrial Ärlov, a bird reserve, and rural fields, all before getting to Alnarp.

Despite being within biking distance, because of all these landscape changes, Alnarp feels very, very far away from Malmö. And phenomenologically, it is. As I’ve explored before in past posts, distance matters less than feeling in determining how “far away” a place is.

Like the short ferry ride between downtown Toronto and Toronto Island, whenever a change in material reality is experienced, places seem very far away, no matter how far the distance.

And on my bike ride from Malmö to Alnarp, I experience many changes in material reality.

The city drops out, and then I peddle through the land of highway interchanges. The bike path weaves up, down and through bridges and overpasses, floats over the expressway and in between unkempt shrubs. At night, hundred of rabbits scurry between the vegetation, lending this landscape an even more ethereal quality.

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The land of highway interchanges

Then, there is the land of the sea – the bike path borders a bird reserve, and the horizon extends infinitely. The smell oscillates from the salty murkiness of the coastline to an almost candy-like scent from the nearby garbage processing plant. The matted grasslands and water channels, the hawks, ducks, geese and crows flying around – this is a wholly distinct material reality where my thoughts expand as my breath shortens to keep up with small inclines.

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The land of the sea

Finally there is the land of the fields.  Naked patches of deep black soil envelop the bike path, and linear bands of trees, bent in the wind add directionality to this change in material reality.

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The land of the fields

I arrive at Alnarp tired, dazed and feeling distant. Despite this being the distance of roughly the distance of Toronto’s Ferry Terminal to Davenport Rd  and Dufferin (still very much in the city, and a commute I made often last I lived in Toronto), the many changes of material reality make Alnarp very much a distinct place, and my life in Southern Sweden is characterized by inhabiting many places at once, despite occupying the footprint of a tiny portion of the City of Toronto.

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Map comparing distances in Toronto and Malmö – the red line represents my bike ride, and the short distance that takes me through so many changes in material reality. 

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This post originally appeared on Spacing Toronto

Plan of York Surveyed and Drawn by Lieut. Phillpotts, Royal Engineers. Map courtesy Library and Archives Canada and accessed from http://oldtorontomaps.blogspot.ca/

While gazing over old maps of Toronto, I often long to experience the city before its landscape was so significantly altered. What was it like when the water went right up to Front Street, before infill extended the shoreline by almost a kilometre? How did the Lower Don River feel when it meandered into a vast marshland at its mouth, before it was straightened and channelized?

That’s why I was so excited to visit Long Point last week. A sandy peninsula protruding into Lake Erie, Long Point feels like going back in time to an earlier version of Toronto Island — when it was a wild, sandy and ever-changing spit still connected to the mainland.

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As Lake Erie shares Lake Ontario’s crumbly shoreline, Long Point is the result of almost the same geologic phenomenon that created Toronto Island — eroded sediment swept by the currents of the lake to create a sandy peninsula and protected bay. The most notable difference is size. While Toronto Island was originally a 9km spit, Long Point is about 40 km.

Unlike Toronto Island after 1858, Long Point is still connected to the mainland. It briefly enjoyed island status after a powerful storm in the 19th century severed a channel through its middle, but was reconnected when sediment washed back to fill the gap. The same would have probably happened in Toronto if there weren’t so much interest in maintaining the Eastern Gap, giving ships easy access to Toronto’s deep harbour and the markets beyond.

Long Point on Lake Erie. Image courtesy of canmaps.com

Beyond its tentative connection to the mainland, Long Point’s form has not been significantly altered by human activity. Whereas Toronto Island was largely fixed by depression era infill projects transforming its ever-changing fingers of sand and marsh into the archipelago of islands we know today, Long Point has maintained its fluid form as a constantly shifting (and hard to map) sand bar.

Compared to the few patches of forest along Toronto Island, Long Point is a vast wilderness. Designated a World Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO, most of the peninsula is conserved explicitly by the Federal Government and Parks Ontario, and inadvertently by the Long Point Company, a private organization that has maintained the spit for hunting purposes since 1866, strictly limiting public access.

Walking along Long Point’s sandy beaches, you don’t even have to squint your eyes to imagine the feeling of Toronto before it was urbanized. An overgrown Carolinian forest hugs its sandy shore, and beyond the bay, where in Toronto a hulking skyline has emerged, there remains open water, marshland and sky. Port Rowan, tucked into the corner where Long Point meets the mainland has a population of about 1000 – the size of the similarly positioned town of York around 1812.

Long Point marshes. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Toronto Bay, 1793 by Elizabeth Simcoe

Long Point boasts its own community stretching the first few kilometres of the peninsula, offering a living image of another era of Toronto Island’s history: when it was covered in cottages and fully serviced by hotels, grocery stores, laundromats and restaurants. Like Centre Island before its town centre was demolished by Metro Toronto in the 1950s and 60s, Long Point’s year round population of 450 swells to 5,000 in the summer.

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Many of the cottages that dot the peninsula are reminiscent of the homes that used to cover the Island and those that were saved at Ward’s and Algonquin Islands. Built right up to the beach, their plain geometry bespeaks the simple pleasures of living lakeside, where all you need is a place to rest your head before heading back to the beach. A few grander cottages evoke the summer homes of the wealthy that were built along Toronto Island’s Lakeshore Avenue.

Despite never having been to Long Point before last week, the feeling of familiarity and connection to Toronto Island was uncanny. Of course, Long Point and Toronto Island are distinct places with their own histories, and comparing them requires a a stretch of geographic imagination. However, a visit to the largely preserved landscape at Long Point offers a portal into the past, its equivalent in Toronto having been changed beyond recognition long ago.

Alice Street map

There are, perhaps, no streets more different in Guelph than Alice Street and Woodlawn Road.

On Alice, a jumble of brick houses have been built up to the edge of the street. Before the rise of big box, Alice Street was a hybrid residential-commercial thoroughfare and the heart of the Italian community with general stores and shoe shops in its reconfigured houses. Many of these shops have since turned back into houses, but have been forever distinguished by their past modifications. The effect is an incredibly unique streetscape, like I’ve never seen before, a street of houses with unique DIY renovations, where neighbours hang out on front porches, cars drive slow – the feeling of village and the height of urbanity.

Those aforementioned big box stores – well, they eventually ended up on Woodlawn Road, a street at the northern edge of the city and home to Guelph’s Wal-Mart, Home Depot and various other gigantic corporate retailers.

Woodlawn is a street no one loves but everyone must visit eventually. When I first moved to Guelph, I ended up there countless times, dreading my visits but in need of inexpensive home items only sold there. Woodlawn is the typical non-place at the edge of every city in North America – characterized by the bright signs of fast food restaurants and the complete rejection of walking as a mode of transportation. There are no public gathering spaces on Woodlawn.

It’s easy to love Alice Street. It’s not so easy to love Woodlawn.

So I mapped both, trying to extend my love of place in general to a place that’s hard to love.

And of course, Woodlawn isn’t a non-place, it’s a real place. By choosing to create an illustrated map of it, I’m trying to find its essence beneath the concrete and beyond the international corporate crust that has founds its way there. By mapping Woodlawn, I discovered unique businesses, residential hold-outs, beautiful groves of trees and desire lines criss-crossing its railways.

The map of Woodlawn is an invitation to explore the Woodlawn Road of your city.  Once you get out of your car and walk, it’s easy to find magic beyond the highways.

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As my last post explored, Southern Ontario’s physical geography is often ignored, and its landscape is often derided as being flat, monotonous and boring.

Disconnected to the subtle features of the landscape by 400-series superhighways, big box plazas and its relentless grid, its understandable that the infinite beauty of the land beneath the concrete would be, for the most part, forgotten.

Beyond the highways, Southern Ontario’s rich glacial soil has been sculpted into dramatic river valleys, cuestas, waterfalls and the rolling hills of drumlin fields by millennia of water movement.

My map (leading image) is an effort to re-assert the geologic features most prominent in these three very connected cities at the western end of Lake Ontario. Happy exploring!

City of Drumlins

Southern Ontario’s physical geography is often ignored – its landscape is often derided as being flat, monotonous and boring.

But don’t let the gigantic highways and big box plazas fool you – this isn’t so! Southern Ontario’s rich glacial soil has been sculpted into dramatic river valleys, cuestas, and rolling hills by millennia of water movement.

In Guelph, the city is characterized by hills – drumlins, shaped by the glaciers. Many of these drumlins, due to their prominence, have been topped by important buildings and landmarks – like the Church of Our Lady, and Johnston Hall at the University of Guelph.

But many have been neglected by Ontario’s relentless grid, with roads cutting straight up the steep side of a hill, unwavering from the grid’s linearity. In recent years, the places of prominence at the tops of these hills have become just another patch of endless development.

In an effort to re-assert Guelph’s hills/drumlins into the consciousness of its residents, I enlisted the trusty power of an illustrated map to emphasize the prominence of the city’s hills in it’s urban landscape (leading image).

Because I’m new’ish to Guelph, I spoke with many longtime Guelphites to make sure every hill was included and properly named — like neighbourhoods, the names of Guelph’s hills are often contested, but after asking many people, I chose the most common names to include on the map.

The map was first released at 2016’s Kazoo! Fest Print Expo – while several Guelphites knew about the city’s hills, many did not know they were drumlins, while many others had never thought of the city’s topography and appreciated the geographic insight.

As your Urban Geographer, I’m motivated to bring the unique and magical elements of the land beneath the concrete into focus. Stay tuned for more maps!

 

Newspapers

I love reading the local newspapers of the places I visit.

Every town, city and region is home to at least one hyper-local publication, and often many. Within their pages are articles about the area’s very specific issues, events and politics.

While I’m in these places, I’m enthralled with the content of their local publications. I read the editions from front to back, absorbing the essence of the place, discovering local landmarks, and visiting interesting places I read about.

News places

Sometimes I keep the newspapers as souvenirs of my travels. But a funny thing happens once I leave a place with its newspaper. When I look at it again, long after I’ve left, the newspaper no longer makes sense. Now that I’ve left the sphere of that geographic influence, I can’t wrap my head around learning the details of the articles, the listed events. My mind can’t commit itself to making sense of the text, putting words to reality. Far from its genus loci, the newspaper fades into nonsense.

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The magnetic influence of place has the power to render things comprehensible.

On the other hand, no matter where I am, media from Toronto always makes sense.  I’m always able to interpret the places mentioned, issues, events and politics even if I’m very far away. We bring our home places with us in our heads.

 

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No, this isn’t a post about the Toronto Dreams Project (though I highly recommend visiting Adam Bunch’s fantastic blog about the lesser known histories embedded in Toronto’s geography).

This is about how Toronto – my home town, the city of my youth, the place that I’ve left and returned to over and over again –  often feels like a dream.

Let me explain –

Every night, I have vivid dreams.

I dream in places. But not fantastical places. Real places, where I’ve visited and lived. When I wake up from the dream, I know where I was, on the surface of the earth, where north was, where the sun set and rose.

I also dream of people – real people, who I’ve met throughout the years. And not just significant people in my life. Those who have played the most minor roles in my past appear as major players in my dreams.

When I sleep, all these place and people mix together so that my dream sequence involves elementary school, high school, summer camp, university dorm rooms and cafeterias, student apartments and street corners, lakes I’ve swam in and cities I’ve visited, all populated with a random assortment of people I’ve known and met and talked to.

When I’m awake and wandering around Toronto, there’s a high chance that I could run into anyone I’ve ever met in on the streets of the city. Someone from every stage of my life, and every place I’ve lived lives in Toronto. (That’s what happens when there are only three major cities in Canada to make a life and one speaks mostly French.)

So, like in my dreams, there’s a possibility in Toronto that anyone I’ve ever met might be on the bus, at the cafe, waiting for the streetcar or subway, biking down the street.

It’s because of this – among other reasons – that for me, Toronto has a dreamy quality.

 

401 north

All my life in Toronto, the 401 has been north of where I’ve lived.

But now, in Guelph, the 401 is south of where I live.

Yet the 401 has endured as north in my mind. I often find myself looking at maps of Guelph, completely disoriented as to where I am, all because I’ve flipped the map in my mind so that 401 is squarely north, where it’s always been.

I am so surprised that this highway — which I often perceive as the bane of my existence — would play such a prominent role in my understanding of geography.

But it undeniably is.

It’s going to take a long time for me to adjust to the 401 being south. Maybe I never will. The 16 lane wide concrete and metal belt stretching laterally across Southern Ontario and through Toronto will prove hard to shift in my mental landscape.

As I continue to negotiate my identity – Am I from Guelph? Am I from Toronto? Am I spending too much time in Toronto when I should be embracing Guelph? – I’ll take thinking of the 401 as south as a sign that my internal geography has shifted.

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How does that old adage go? Ontario is flat- as flat at can be. 

For those who have explored the province, however, you know this is simply not true.

Look at Toronto on a map and all you see is a seemingly limitless grid of streets, extending indefinitely for kilometres in every direction (except to the south – the sea’s there!). But explore a little, and you’ll soon find steep ravines and the dramatic topography of river valleys spread all throughout the city, hidden beneath the grid.

A Harbourfront photography exhibit debunked the concept of a featureless Toronto topography last summer with No Flat City – a series of photos that explored Toronto’s more steep side.

But even for those in the know, that old notion that Ontario is flat is hard to shake.

Visiting Guelph in the past, the city seemed like another instance of even-grounded Ontario – but for a few rolling hills it felt like a limitless plane on which agricultural, suburban and urban development could be built indefinitely.

But as I get to know Guelph – drive down its streets, bike up its hills and walk along its rivers and alleys – I am learning the subtle topography of this place. As I push into Guelph’s topography, those subtle inclines become more dramatic – I understand where the highest bluffs and lowest river valleys are – I know where to go for the best views. (So far, that’s on College street just west of the University of Guelph, where the city looks like it’s emerging from an lush forest).

Whenever I look at a physical topographical map, I’m always surprised to see how unvaried the landscape seems from a large scale. I run my hands across the raised surfaces — even mountains appear like small bumps rising only slightly from the landscape.

There’s a subjective experience of topography that makes the hills appear beneath your fingers. Every huff of breath, every extra push in the pedal, every time your ears pop in the car, you are pushing into topography and making the ups and downs of landscape real and legible.

This post first appeared on the Koffler Gallery’s K-Blog, and was collaboratively written by myself, Mary Anderson, Mariah Hamilton and Jessica Dargo-Caplan. All photos by Mary Anderson. 

On Sunday, May 3, 2015, the Koffler Gallery organized its first Jane’s Walk, which explored the Urban Legends of our West Queen West neighbourhood. Our walk was created and led by Urban Geographer and artist, Daniel Rotsztain.

Inspired by the Koffler Gallery exhibition Erratics, (which explores the tensions between memory and fiction), Daniel introduced the walk by posing the question, “does Toronto have amnesia?”

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Daniel led our group on a 2-hour walk through Toronto’s West Queen West neighbourhood, attempting to reassemble the neighbourhood’s memory by uncovering its histories, urban legends, and everything in between.

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“What happens to a city’s notion of history when it has amnesia? A funny thing happens where the lines blur between fact and fiction. Without a strong historical tradition, urban legends emerge to fill the gaps and pass for that history. Strange historical blips, and anecdotal evidence emerge as what we remember. There are zones with strong historical memory, and others that people pass without a thought. But can’t we say that about all history? What distinguishes an urban legend – a story passed down through an oral tradition, from the random facts that become enshrined as historical evidence?” – Daniel Rotsztain

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Our second stop was in front of The Lakeview Diner, where Daniel told us about the legend of the Lake Ontario Sea Serpent, which was named Gaasynedietha by First Nations people.

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Our third stop was at Crawford and Dundas – where we explored the mystery of the green posts. Are they some sort of escape exits? Super Mario pipe replicas? Or are they berating tubes for a community of mole people, dwelling beneath Toronto? As Daniel explored these urban legends, he pointed out that the posts are actually ventilation stacks for a complex sewer system known as the Mid-Toronto Interceptor.

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Our fourth stop was on Crawford Street – the buried bridges of Garrison Creek. Here, we explored the the legends of Garrison Creek, Toronto’s most famous lost waterway, as well as some lesser known facts about the creek including lost visions for its future.

Did you know that you used to be able to navigate the creek by boat, well north of Bloor, and that it was 10 metres wide and 20 metres deep at its largest?

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Our next stop led us through the paths of Trinity Bellwoods to the park’s valley, or what it has become affectionately known as the Dog Bowl.

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We often hear that Garrison Creek is “dead” or “lost” – but is it really? Here Daniel described some of the legends of Toronto’s zombie rivers, rising from the dead. These lost and buried rivers make themselves known quite frequently – re-emerging during rainstorms and leaching ancient dump chemicals into waterways. “The creek is not dead, but was buried alive!”

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We continued our walk through the rest of Trinity Bellwoods to stop at our next location, the Trinity Gates. Just as the topography leave clues of lost rivers, Trinity Bellwoods’ gates are a clue of lost campuses. Here we explored the legends surrounding Trinity College, and other architectural fragments.

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On CAMH’s grounds we recalled the history of the provincial mental health institution, and how the original 1850 buildings were demolished, leaving only its walls. Here we also discussed the legend of failed architecture, and the truth of failed governance.

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Our next stop was at Dovercourt and Sudbury Streets where we remembered 48 Abell Street – an important building for West Queen West’s early art scene. It has since been demolished and replaced by condos.

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We concluded our walk at Queen and Dovercourt, in front of West Queen West’s iconic, You’ve Changed mural. Daniel invited Carrie Lester to lead this portion of the walk. Carrie is a Haudenosaunee storyteller who told us about the meaning of Toronto, the myths and history of the land on which the modern city is built.

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The walk brought to light many kinds of urban legends and histories. Stories were told as we attempted to untangle fact from fiction, and knit together our collective histories.

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I had a meeting today at Jimmy’s Coffee in Toronto’s Kensington Market, a newish coffee joint in the former Roach-A-Rama space.

While considering the selection of pastries, muffins and sandwiches on offer, I recognized a very distinct bold hand-lettered signage, that I knew I’d seen before. The signs looked exactly like the ones at Java Blend, my favourite coffee shop in North End Halifax.

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Seeing a similar kind of hand-writing wasn’t too surprising. For the last few years, tall, thin block lettering has been popular, and it was no surprise to see this style in a self-aware and hip coffee shop in Kensington Market.

But things got stranger when I looked up to order my coffee and made eye contact with the very same barrista I had gotten to know at Java Blend.

Java Blend

For a moment, space was bent.

Everything around me – the smells, the sites of the hand lettered sign, the friendly face across the counter – the warm lighting and amber colour scheme – the harsh churn of blending beans – served to collapse my sense of space bringing distant geographies face-to-face and space-to-space.

I snapped out of my space-bent daze and realized the recognition was mutual. We chatted.

Turns out Kate had moved from Halifax to Toronto a few years ago, and yes, she hand-lettered the signs.

It was a particularly strong case of geognitive dissonance.

Geognitive dissonance occurs when a combination of senses temporarily transports you to another specific space on the surface of the earth. It’s when notions of linear space collapse, and you can feel the connection between two places separated by vast distances.

It’s a phenomenon I’ve felt before, and every now and then it sneaks up on my, collapsing my notions of contiguous geography. It makes far-away places, past-homes, feel here and now and comfortably close.

This post originally appeared on Spacing Toronto and accompanied the most recent edition of the Learnt Wisdom Lecture Series in downtown Centreville.
People coming from the city were met at the ferry by Jimmy Jones, a lifelong Islander who grew up scurrying around Centre Island’s main drag. He shared anecdotes and history as we walked across the Island and down Manitou Road. Downtown Centre Island was repopulated for a few hours last Sunday afternoon. Read more about Learnt Wisdom here, and look out for our next event! 

Main Street Centre Island, Manitou Road in the early 1950s, from A Toronto Album 2: More Glimpses of the City That Was

At the peak of it’s population in the 1950s, homes, cottages, and mansions lined the entirety of Toronto Island from Ward’s Island in the east all the way to Hanlan’s Point in the west.

Toronto Island map at the peak of its population, from Derek Hayes' Historical Atlas of Toronto

At the time, there were also many Island-side amenities to serve its full time residents, including a movie theatre, a bowling alley, grocery stores, and dance halls. Most of these services were concentrated on Manitou Road, then the main drag of Centre Island.

A 1953 parade on Manitou Road, from A Toronto Album 2: More Glimpses of the City That Was

With its businesses and active street life, Centre Island was a bona fide, full-service small town abutting one of Canada’s largest metropolises.

When Metro Toronto decided to convert the Island to uninhabited parkland in the early 1950s, they began a program of demolishing Island homes starting from Hanlan’s Point and slowly moving east.

Before homes were demolished, Metro Toronto razed Manitou Road, the heart of the Toronto Island community. According to Sally Gibson’s More Than an Islandthe Island’s services were eliminated to make it easier to convince Islanders to give up their homes. How could they live on the Island, especially through the winter, without a grocery store?

With main street extinguished, Metro easily began expropriating houses and demolishing them. As we know, the city only got as far as Algonquin Island before they were halted by protests and a peaceful uprising.  With their main street demolished more than 60 years ago, today’s Island residents continue to rely on city-side grocery stores, movie theatres and dance-halls.

In 1967, Main Street Centre Island was replaced by the Versailles-style gardens of the Avenue of the Islands and by Centreville Amusement Park down the road. Along with its rides and petting zoo,  the amusement park includes a full size replica of Small Town Ontario, complete with a Town Hall, town square and Ontario heritage homes with decorative bargeboards.

To add insult to the displacement of most of Toronto Island’s residents, it seems the city demolished a living, breathing town and replaced it with a bogus version of itself.

Downtown Centreville replaced Manitou Road, from Chuckman's Toronto Nostalgia blog

Keep this in mind next time you find yourself at Centreville. It gives new meaning to the idea of a ghost town. A ghost town is usually a place that has been abandoned, but has been left largely in tact. Centreville is a stranger kind of ghost town, not abandoned, but replaced with a toy copy of itself. Centreville is an echo of history distorted by historic grand plans and visions of the future. It’s a simulacra of the town it replaced, barely able to speak for itself and its history. This feels especially true when it is doubly abandoned in the quiet winter months.

Downtown Centreville is a town doubly abandoned when the amusement park closes for the winter.

To bring attention to the strange history of Manitou Road and Centre Island, the next edition of the Learnt Wisdom Lecture Series is being held in Downtown Centreville this Sunday February 1st at 2pm. Join us for an afternoon of story telling as we consider the theme “Reckless Abandon.” Catch the 1:10 boat to Ward’s Island and take the half- hour walk through the beauty of the winter Island, all the way to Downtown Centreville.

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