Archives for posts with tag: geography

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.

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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!

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As you may know, I recently moved to Guelph, and am spending lots of time getting to know another corner of the Southern Ontario industrial lands.

Guelph is made up of many neighbourhoods that each have their own distinct feel. (Dare I say, Guelph is a City of Neighbourhoods?)

I live in The Ward.

The Ward was first developed to house factory workers and is characterized by humble brick houses scattered between factories.

Some of these factories are still active, like Owens Cornings Reinforcements on York Road, which putters and sputters all day manufacturing something I still don’t quite understand. Other factories have been long decommissioned, and remain semi-abandonded, with only a barbed wire fence signalling anyone still cares about them. Others have been demolished, leaving behind huge brownfields that have yet to be remediated, subdivided and developed.

Compared to Guelph’s wealthier neighbourhoods, The Ward has always been a bit neglected — but this is a good thing. Without much attention paid to it, its obvious from its ramshackle built form that The Ward was left unzoned for the better part of its existence. This left a lot of space for its historically Italian residents to expand their homes willy-nilly to accommodate their needs – whether that was to add extra bedrooms to their upper floors, or an entire front edition that would house a store front.

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The result is an incredibly eclectic neighbourhood, where every house is completely different from the next, each DIY renovation facilitating a need, each random addition representing a very specific human desire.

In The Chronology of City Repair, Mark Lakeman talks about how we are all villagers, and modern city development with its homogenous, top down plans and developments prevent us from expressing ourselves in the places we live, taking away our “villager” status.

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Its evident from its ad hoc shacks, its piece-meal additions and its random store front editions, that the villager spirit is very much alive in The Ward.

At least it was alive, at a certain time. With many of the commercial additions now inactive, and many unimaginative new homes, it’s hard to say if the villager spirit still remains as strong as the marks it left in its historic architecture.

Like many neighbourhoods similar to it in cities across the world, The Ward is changing. Its Italian residents are aging, their families living in other, shinier parts of town. Young families are moving in, and housing prices are rising.

Will the new residents of the Ward continue inhabiting this place in an ad-hoc basis, and be able to express their specific needs in the architecture? Do the by-laws, the DNA of the city, allow for a continuation of The Ward’s independent spirit?

Even if the by-laws changed, I believe that the places we live strongly effect who we are. And if there’s anything we can learn from the ramshackle, ad hoc architecture of The Ward, it’s that we can make our architecture work for us.

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.

This post originally appeared on the Jane’s Walk blog

Geomancy, Fortune Telling with Maps, is a practice I developed to invite consideration on how our lives are affected by Toronto’s landscape. It goes deep into place-based identity, inviting reflection on how topography, ecology, history, cardinal orientation, infrastructure and the grid affect our existence and well-being.

For example: The Don River affects a lot of Torontonians, the same way the train tracks we pass over and under every day, the highways we travel along, the city’s waterfront, its buried rivers, and all its hills, valleys and hydro corridors do.

The Don is Toronto’s central river. Its creeks and tributaries criss-cross most of the central city before reaching Toronto Bay, where its flow embraces the electrically charged density of downtown Toronto. It has been home to a distinctly exuberant kind of Toronto culture; the city’soldest neighbourhoods have long perched at the edge of its wide valley. The Don has been the site of most of Toronto’s industrial growth too, especially when we tried to straighten its meandering curves, channelizing it to become a working canal. Further upstream, the Don has been where utopian visions of the city like Don Mills andThorncliffe Park have been dreamed up and realized. Today, it’s again a major site of development, with the construction of the Pan Am Athletes Village and continued efforts to re-naturalize the river’s mouth.

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Image of Toronto’s watershed system by Daniel Rotsztain

I think when people talk about Toronto, they’re talking about the Don River. Yet many Torontonians have lived their entire lives along the Don without realizing it. The ways we commute, on bridges over the ravines that keep the geometry of the grid intact, or in subway tunnels deep below the surface of the city, make it easy to forget that the river even exists. But the worldview the inhabitants of central Toronto has been shaped by the wind, water, climate and electric spirit that is undeniably Don.

Compare this to the Humber—the river that flows through the west Toronto suburb of Etobicoke. Though arguably more important to the city’s history (the site of the First Nation’s route to Lakes Simcoe and Huron, and the first French forts), the Humber has resisted the same kind of industrial exploitation. Its energy is calmer, and reflects the culture and atmosphere of Etobicoke’s bucolic inner suburbs.

Geomancy reminds us that you can’t opt out of geography. The paths we trace with our feet in the city, the ways we get around, the watersheds we live in, affect our perspectives and world view. What parts of your city’s landscape affect you?

Daniel Rotsztain is a Toronto-based urban geographer. Check out hiswebsite and his Geomancy blog to learn more, and say hello onTwitter!

Where on Earth?

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.

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But is place really somewhere you can point to on a map?

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Under that big Google A, I think there’s less of an ability to track down where exactly HERE is.

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Consider a dramatic case, Gibraltar Point on Toronto Islands.

Gibraltar Beach

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.

Island Flows

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.

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.

Island Changing

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.

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.

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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.

Sandy Forest

Gibraltar Point is many places at the same time. Place is dynamic.

Sandy forest

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. 

I just finished reading Unruly Places and am feeling mighty inspired to explore the world of inscrutable geographies the same. Please enjoy the first in a series. 

Grid

In the 1950s, a plan emerged to build the Everglades Jetport in South West Florida. With 6 runways long enough to handle not-yet-realized thousand passenger jumbo jets, Everglades Jetport was to be the largest airport in the world.

The Jetport was never a reality. Environmental activists predicted the massive degradation to the Everglades the Jetport would cause, outweighing any of the positive benefits of the recently founded Everglades National Park. Environmentalism won, and along with the conservation of Rookery Bay, the Jetport was cancelled.

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The precarious nature of the Jetport proposal wasn’t enough to stop developers from speculating on the land surrounding it. As the Jetport was to support a new city of 1 million inhabitants, adjacent land values rose 4-fold.

One developer actually began to sell plots of land – inviting prospective buyers for free weekends in the area, he would take people on plane rides over the land and drop flour from the cockpit, declaring that wherever it landed could be theirs (Source: anecdote from Rookery Bay Reserve staff).

Beyond purchasing the land, the Deltona Development Corporation began to develop it, draining the Everglades and creating a vast grid just east of Naples. They called it Remuda Ranch.

Remuda Ranch went the way of the cancelled Jetport. It remains largely undeveloped (other than a homestead here and there), but the grid remains and can be seen starkly from Google satellite imagery (leading image). Deltona went on to develop Marco Island which has become 100% urbanized, and, based on the satellite imagery below, is over developed.

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We are also left with a legacy of a vast portion of the Everglades drained, leading to myriad problems including dry soil leading to dust storms, and panthers and other mammals unable to negotiate the fractured landscape. Further, the goldilocks combination of fresh and saltwater that makes the Everglades estuaries so productive became unbalanced. Fresh water, which drains via aquifers through the Everglades to the Gulf of Mexico, began to flow in concentrated streams through human built canals, toppling the fresh/salt water balance with its intensity,

Fortunately, the ecosystems of the Everglades have been able to adapt. The lack of fresh water along the coasts ended being good for the manatees and sharks that use the estuaries as their nurseries. Playing with the system more would spoil the balance that has been meticulously created in a healing process stretching over the last half century.

Moreover, recent efforts to “fill in” the canals have been futile. The canals were simply cut so deep that their porous subterranean structure has been pierced, and water flow has forever been altered.

It’s also notable that as it stands, only 70% of the Naples area can’t be developed. All future growth in Naples will be in 30% of its landmass. As the population of South West Florida swells, might we see truly urban intensification in these swampy parts? Might there be infill projects, transit, mid rise developement and connections made between neighbourhoods?

Looking to Remuda Ranch and Naple’s hidden grid, I accept this orthogonal imposition on the landscape. We are nature, and the grid is something we created; its pattern can be seen manifesting in other corners of existence. As I always like to point out, human activity is not “unnatural”. But this doesn’t mean we can’t help a bit. Accepting the grid, why not build bridges between them, to faciliate the movement of the panthers and other mammals? They’re doing it in Alberta, where wildlife corridors stretch along bridges over highways.

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Though the Jetport is an unrealized potentiality of the past, its reverberations have left a mark on the landscape. I’ve been researching hikes to take around my parents house near in Naples and one goes right to the edge of this largely abandoned grid. I’m told there’s a fence there. But that doesn’t stop my curiosity, my desire to wander through a city that is both there and not there: a city that never was.

Thank you to the knowledgable, helpful and passionate staff of the Rookery Bay Reserve for informing me of the history and geography of South West Florida. 

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In an effort to start a conversation with the proliferation of research occurring outside of the academy and facilitated by the internet, the University of Manchester and Hunter College created the Alternative Mode of Scholarship Competition.

Here was the call out:

In recognition of the increasingly diverse ways in which researchers disseminate their research, the UGSG Alternative Mode of Scholarship Competition Committee solicits submissions of blogs, videos and websites by an undergraduate or postgraduate student or group of students. The winner/s of the award will receive $200. Submissions should be in the form of a URL address plus no more than 300 words explaining how the submission contributes to an understanding of urban geography. 

I was especially excited to enter the contest, as research outside of academia is exactly how I define the activities of this blog. The internet has truly facilitated my emerging career, and has connected me with collaborators and like minded people world wide. The University of Manchester also happens to be the home of one of my favourite geography professors, Erik Swyngedouw, of the Urban Political Ecology literature.

Entering the competition was an opportunity to define my approach to blogging, and is one version of how perceive my contributions to Urban Geography, and its role in the world.

I didn’t win the scholarship, but I present to you my submission anyways. Enjoy.


 

My blog, TheUrbanGeographer.Wordpress.com, has been an invaluable venue to design my own research programme after the completion of my Undergraduate degree in Urban Geography at McGill University.

Using the blog, I have extended Swynedgedouw and Heynen’s theories of Urban Political Ecology(2003). Via art work, photography and writing, I have applied their theories to Toronto, a city that has an evocative relationship with its ecology.

One project that has emerged has been an exploration of Bioregionialism and its application to Toronto. Carolinia is a hypothetical post-national region that encapsulates the northern tip of the Eastern Deciduous forest, southern Ontario and Upstate New York. It is a region that shares watershed, commutershed, culture and ecology. I presented my research at the 2013 Urban Ecologies Conference, arguing that emphasizing Toronto’s ecology in its identity is an important step toward achieving social and environmental justice.

Though inspired by academic research, my blog has become a venue for crafting theories that are very accessible. The blog has also encouraged the use of visual aids (photographs, drawn maps, diagrams). Clarifying my writing and making it more accessible has lead to my writing for other blogs and magazines such as SpacingVolume and the Pop-Up City.

Perhaps the blog’s greatest strength, however, is that it exists within a network. My blog has connected me to other academics, planners, entrepreneurs and artists engaged in the topic of Urbanism. We are all working toward inclusive and sustainable city building. The blog has lead me to a number of employment opportunities including working on the establishment of a Greenbelt for Halifax.

I will continue to blog as my career grows and transforms. Whether I am engaged in academic, artistic, economic or political work, my blog is an invaluable and connected depository of my theories, thoughts and practice.

 

The following is a guest post by Urban Geographer brother, designer and artist Jonathan Rotsztain. He is the publisher of the West Dublin Monitor and is currently training in cartooning at the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vermont

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Jonathan aboard a visiting Japanese warship in the military
Halifax Harbour, 2011

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Halifax/Dartmouth from above

Halifax, Nova Scotia was laid out in the interests of Empire. Following the successful English conquest of former French and Mi’kmaq lands—but before the expulsion of the Acadians—conquering army engineers superimposed a neat street grid over the lands west of the Halifax Harbour up until the Citadel defensive position. According to Halifax Street Names: An Illustrated Guide, “Town was laid out in squares or blocks of 230 by 120 feet, the streets being 60 feet wide; each block contained 16 town lots, 40 feet front and 60 feet deep, the whole divided into five divisions or wards.” How proper.

It may be apocryphal, but it’s said that the Halifax street grid was superimposed by surveyors looking at maps from London, England who never even set foot in the garrison during its 1749 founding and planning. The legend goes, that the powers-that-be didn’t anticipate the very steep hills up from the harbour and that during the cold Atlantic winters horses pulling heavy carriages were known to lose their foothold on the ice and go pummelling from the Citadel in the freezing water below. Whether this is true or not, having spent much time on the Halifax peninsula, it’s clear that its original architecture was indeed entirely military and that its civilian character has only evolved in that powerful echo.

Beyond its violent imperial roots, I spent much of the last four plus years living in Halifax marvelling at it’s apparent total lack of planning. Like much of North America, haphazard civic, industrial, business, retail and residential space butt-up and jut-out against each other. The impression I drew from navigating Halifax streets was one of short-term priorities triumphing over longterm planning, where consideration of how regular folks move and thrive in urban settings has been totally ignored.

This continues as the Halifax Regional Municipalities ignores its own design and regional plans and continues to encourage unbecoming sprawl. The result is areas like Hammonds Plains, where along its main artery, the Hammonds Plains Road exists as a kind of area I struggle to describe as sub-rural. On the outskirts of urban Halifax, it’s too agrestic too be properly suburban and yet it has many of the hallmarks of that kind of space. Residential sits atop business with many forests, fields and farms in-between. This is the outcome of a sparsely populated outpost growing for the sake of growth without thought to how different land uses interact with each other and the whole.

More recently, moving outside of Halifax and two hours down the South Shore another form of human geography struck me. Living in the LaHave area off Highway 331, I was faced with another kind of organic/haphazard human development. The 331 is given the tourist moniker “The Lighthouse Route” and it weaves its way close to the LaHave river in an organic rhythm that may date back to when the area was capital of French Acadia or even earlier to before European conquest.

The river road stands in contrast to the backroads. These I can best describe as spaghetti. They curve, narrow and bend in an even more organic fashion that was clearly the mother of necessity. As I travelled these often unpaved connectors I would wonder at how I could start in one area and end up in another. That these distant places across Lunenburg County were accessible to each other was one thing, but the journey along such unexpected paths add to their unreal feel.

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The drive from Bridgwater to Petite Riviere takes about half an hour but consists of 10 place names. This stretch of Highway 331 made up my immediate South Shore universe. Note: not all these photos of road signs are taken from the same direction.

When I first started visiting the Shore, trips contained to driving down the river road, I would laugh at the speedy and seemingly hilarious progression of multiple places names. One minute you’re in Pentz and the next LaHave, followed quickly by Dublin Shore and West Dublin. Yet once I relocated to the area and began to travel by the slower bicycle or on foot, I came to realize how reasonable these distinctions are. Indeed traversing the length of West Dublin by foot takes at least 25 minutes and it’s further still to come to the edge of Dublin Shore. In this case, my judgement was obscured by the mode of travel: the car. The original settlers were correct to consider their relatively small areas distinct because indeed they were isolated from each other, especially in the winter.

The South Shore too suffers wayward development, but like rural poverty it’s more hidden, except in the regional metropolis of Bridgewater where lack of planning is glaring on display. This is to say nothing of the relationships between the areas centres: the aforementioned Bridgewater, the town of Lunenburg, Mahone Bay and Chester (because I won’t be addressing them any further, but believe me there’s an interesting story there.)

My experiences in Nova Scotia—in Halifax and on the South Shore—has been one of grappling with the built environment and its organic and inorganic forms. In Halifax a garrison town has unintentionally grown into a minor regional metropolis while in the LaHave area the settlement has for the most part retained its original colonial feel. Both present distinct economic and infrastructural challenges and can be great cultural places to live. I’m glad to have taken this opportunity to share with you as I’ve sketched out some long brewing thoughts.

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As some of my readers may know, I am traveling from Amsterdam to Rome, over land, with the special interest of seeing how the Netherlands turns into Italy.

The voyage is planned, and later this week I will be taking a shit-kicker 30 hour bus-trip beginning in Amsterdam, and traveling through Belgium, Luxembourg, France & Switzerland on its way to Italy.

Preparing for this very extreme journey, I have many questions about what the trip will be like. Here are some of the most pertinent:

  • Who will be the other passengers?
  • Will it be a double-decker bus?
  • How many towns will we be stopping in? For how long?
  • Will we be driving under, or over the Swiss Alps?
  • Will it be dark outside while we’re driving through the Alps?
  • Will Italy be hot?
  • Will i know when i’m in a different country?
  • How long does 30 hours feel like on a bus?

Zwanenburg

I love the existence of “now leaving” signs in between the towns and cities of Europe. Much like their “now entering” counterparts, a “now leaving” sign is simply the name of the town but with a red cross through it.

These signs will often be on two sides of the same post, marking the literal in-between space in the middle of one municipality and the other. For cartophiles, this is an exciting place to be — a place where you can really “feel the map”.

I have noticed a lack of “now leaving” signs in North America. I find that this marks a sort of geographic dishonesty, as if the town, or city or province is too proud to admit that it has met its end. The example I think about most often is at the border of Ontario and Quebec along highway 401. When you’re driving east toward Quebec, you have no idea when Ontario will end — it’s only the <<Bienvenue au Quebec>> that finally gives it away, and in this way, I feel Ontario resisting the reality of its finiteness.

UPDATE: After speaking with my good pal, the Peripatetic Philosopher, I feel a little differently about the above-described “dishonesty” of the lack of ‘Now leaving’ signs in North America.

Here’s what he had to say about the subject:

“I think the root reason why we don’t have these signs in Canada is because we are less concerned with the identity and boundaries of our towns. This used to be a huuuge concern for Europeans since they have had countless disputes over territory. 

“As much as I’d love to see these signs in Canada, it’s also nice to think that our boundaries don’t really exist. Driving to Montreal, I always look out the window and wonder ‘Is this Quebec? Did we pass the sign. This looks like Quebec’…then I realize I’m still in Ontario. Here, the real demarcation between places is by visual differences in the landscape. and our places are more about landscape than towns. For example, I don’t care about Gwimbelberry or Tinkertown or Haliburton, I care about the Canadian Shield and I don’t need a human-made sign to tell me when I’ve arrived.”