Life In the North

Image of Lake Nipissing in the north of Ontario in winter

I have an affinity for “the north”, as varied as it is. I hail from the north of England – Liverpool in the north-west, to be specific – and last week I was back in the north of my adopted country, Canada. Specifically, Garden Village on the edge of Sturgeon Falls in northern Ontario.

Image of sunrise over Lake Nipissing in the north of Ontario, in Winter
Winter sunrise over frozen Lake Nipissing

I will say though, as the temperature dropped to a daytime high of -13 celsius, I was only there for a few days. I may not have the stamina, or the equipment, to survive a full winter in Canada’s north but I love to visit it any time of year. On this occasion, before the temperature drop, there was a fresh snowfall covering the land in a beautiful, crisp white serene blanket, fit for any winter wonderland. You might not think it but it can be a very invigorating experience, though also harsh at times. I like to just stare at the vast expanse until the cold bites viciously at my extremities well enough to send me scurrying back indoors.

Image of two dogs playing in snow in the north of Ontario
Winter Play. Cold temperatures mean nothing to two dogs romping around in the snow.

Lake Nipissing is frozen solid enough to take the snowmobiles and the ice-huts are appearing, ready for winter ice fishing. The trees and ground are gloriously reflecting the glittering highlights of the snow as the bright sun shines down on it from early in the day. Giant dogs, made for this type of climate, bounce around playfully and strike fear in me as they come bounding over in my direction, ready to play. I’ve managed to not get knocked over by them so far.

 

We’re only just into winter but I know it can fly by quickly (I won’t be saying that by March….) so it’s good to make the most of it.

Image of West Nipissing Power Dam in Sturgeon Falls, in the north of Ontario
A view of the bridge on West Nipissing Power Dam in Sturgeon Falls

I’ll be out taking winter pics at different locations in the next few months, so please keep a look out for more postings.

Winter is Coming……

Winter in Canada

2016 has been a great year on so many fronts including the weather, but now there’s no escaping the fact that Winter is coming.

I remember when I came to Canada many years ago, the winters were long, cold and arduous. I was built for the more temperate, if cool and damp, UK climate and it was quite an adjustment. Not being a sporty person, I wasn’t out revelling in winters sports, though over time I did try skating, cross-country skiing, tobogganing and even curling! I do have vivid memories of working late into the evening and learning the art of how to coax an old Buick Century to start in minus 20 degrees.   I’m glad to say it’s been a while since I’ve had to do anything like that.

Winter snow blizzard
Farmland near Meaford, Ontario during a winter blizzard

That all said, from the beginning I loved to get out into the cold crisp winter air and tread on the crunchy fresh fallen snow to hike around street or field. Being dressed for the occasion always helps! And, it’s an excellent time get out and take some really atmospheric photographs.

Winter scene
Winter scene, in black and white

Everything looks so different from season to season and some places really excel in the winter. Niagara Falls is one of those places, to my mind. All the ice formations and the water cascading down over the partially frozen falls is beyond dramatic and so picturesque. Can’t beat it.

Niagara Falls
Niagara Falls in Winter

Winter over more recent years has seemed milder, or at least not as consistently cold, but it does still get there. I wasn’t able to get out as much to do autumn shots this year but I know I was still doing them up until just a few weeks ago, well into November! Now the temperature is dropping and snow is creeping into my mind. Time to prepare, because as we know……Winter is Coming.

Evergreen Brick Works

Evergreen Brickworks

Toronto’s Evergreen Brick Works is a rare place that has something to appeal to most people, and it’s definitely a place I love to visit.

Evergreen Brickworks
Looking through a tunnel at Evergreen Brickworks

Previously know as Don Valley Brick Works, even the old brick-making kilns that have survived from as far back as 1893 are an intriguing sight to behold. If you’re in any way interested in the remnants of the industrial era these kilns and mini rail tunnels give you a good sense of the dark closeness and grime of their working days even though they’ve been cleaned up and out of use for many years. The graffiti that decorates the building is a reminder of the later years of abandonment when they provided a creative playground for adventurous youth.

Evergreen Brickworks
Contrast of old and new. You can look down the tunnel to see what currently stands there.

There’s also much more to Evergreen Brick Works than just this. The focus since the early 1990’s has been on renovation, regeneration, recycling and reuse. Added into the mix is conservation and a focus on local produce through the farmers market and the cafe. Set in the beautiful Don Valley in the heart of Toronto, you can wander along walking paths in a conservation area in full view of the brickworks with the last remaining chimney looming overhead. The additional modern angular office space is a nice contrast with this and the old brick buildings. My favourite though, apart from the kilns, are the metal sculptures perched on the side of the old brick buildings, especially the giant coneflower, or echinacea flower to be more specific. There’s also and the metal (copper?) waterfall, with the both of which I find mesmerizing and love to photograph over and over again. They fill em with some kind of gripping sense of curiosity and joy every time I see them.

Evergreen Brickworks
Coneflower sitting on the side of a building

There’s also the farmers market, the restaurant, small businesses, child care and gardens added into the mix. If you haven’t been to Evergreen Brick Works, an even if you have, you should pay it a visit as there’s always more to see and do.

The Strange Story of Centralia

PA Route 61

I’ve driven through different parts of Pennsylvania over the years but never to Centralia. That might be because Centralia is not easy to find, by road or by map.

Centralia was a small coal mining town in the Appalachian mountain area of Pennsylvania, dating from 1866. With coal mining at its peak in the 1890’s the population reached 2,800 but subsided after that to a more consistent 2,000, where it stayed for quite a while. The real decline though, started later in the twentieth century.

Centralia PA
Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic Church overlooking the remains of Centralia PA

In 1962 there was a fire at the local landfill that changed the whole future of the town. I’ve read several explanations but the most popular seems to be that the fire department deliberately set the fire to clean up the landfill, which was a common practice. However, the landfill was on top of some mine shafts and not only was the fire not extinguished, it actually spread into the mine shafts where it was impossible to reach. The result was that it continued to spread throughout mines, and worked its way beneath the town itself.

In the 1980’s there were clear signs that carbon monoxide from the fire in the mines was having an effect on people’s health and there was significant subsidence going on. This set off the real demise of the town as people moved out (taking buyouts) and by the nineties, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania used “eminent domain” to take control of the town and move out the rest of the residents. There are still a few people left as they refused to move but there’s very little left of the town. The roads remain, a couple of well-cared-for graveyards, and a white church sitting radiantly on a hill surrounded by trees. Buildings have been demolished and a more natural habitat has grown up in their place.

PA Route 61
The abandoned section of PA Route 61, now covered in graffiti and providing a playground for locals with their 4x4s

One road that attracts some attention is the abandoned section of PA highway 61 (the road was rerouted) which has severe subsidence and can often be seen with smoke from the underground fire making its way up through the broken surface. Combined with all the colourful graffiti that covers it, it can be quite a strange sight. A strange sight to match a strange story. And still the fire burns on.

Centralia PA
Graffiti-covered guard rail along the abandoned section of PA Route 61 in Centralia

You can find more info about Centralia at

http://www.centraliapa.org/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Centralia,_Pennsylvania

Eastern State Penitentiary

Image of cell block at Eastern State Penitentiary

Eastern State Penitentiary is an uneasy sight when you first approach it. Its thick, high grey stone walls and medieval fortress look don’t betray the fact that it was built to keep people in, rather than out.

I visited Eastern State Penitentiary while travelling around Pennsylvania and making a stop in the lovely city of Philadelphia. Standing in the popular Fairmount area of the city it seems like an odd place to have a prison, but there it is, looming eerily since it was first opened in 1829.

 

Eastern State Penitentiary
The upper balcony along one side of a cell block.

ESP was the first prison of its kind, bringing in a new approach in dealing with prisoners. Moving away from the old prison system where men, women and children were all thrown in together and left to their own devices, this new system focused on rehabilitation through isolation and penitence. While prisoners had relative luxury (flush toilet, central heating, running water, and even their own small exercise yard) they were locked in their own cell alone, with only a bible to read, no interaction with others and even having a hood placed over their head on the occasions when they were allowed our of their cell. The idea was that they would have time to think about their crimes and how bad they were, leading to penitence. Hence the coining of the term penitentiary. Of course now, this seems like a form of severe deprivation, if not torture, but at that time, this Quaker inspired system seemed quite radical and forward thinking.

 

Eastern State Penitentiary
Looking from one cell across to another. Note how small the doorways are.

 

The actual building of Eastern State Penitentiary, with its cell blocks radiating from a central observation area, has served as a model for hundreds of other prisons all around the world including South America, Europe and Asia.

 

With additions to the building and changes to the way prisoners were treated over the years, ESP was finally closed in 1971. ESP is now in a derelict state, but serving as a museum. You can wander around and see the cells, originally with small, secure doors, and the “Eye of God’ skylights in the original cells. There’s even an opportunity to see the rumoured luxury of Al Capone’s cell!

 

If you’re interested in finding out more about Eastern State Penitentiary, you can go to https://www.easternstate.org