Remembering where we came from (click top-photo for high-res pictures)
I had an unexpected encounter the other day which boosted my spirits and optimism greatly, and reminded me of an important truth we too often forget – even my curious chums active in the creative, journalistic and historical communities. Culture is something which we build for one another, with our applied dedication.
Yes – money always helps things happen, and organization, so that efforts can be brought together with those who can appreciate them – but above all, someone must have an idea to make the world more interesting, and they must find reason and will enough to stick with it, or it simply doesn’t happen.
This is true of art and writing, the creation of a new invention, a company, a strong team, or even an entire town. Imagination, coordination, effort, repeat – result – (or not, depending upon how receptive or hostile the world at large may be – will, while absolutely required, is never in itself sufficient).
Like all sprawling Metropoli around the world, Toronto is composed of many neighbourhoods which used to be remote towns with their own distinct character, and many hold what remains of their past quite dear – but few are quite so appealingly proud as those in the Junction.
The first concentrated activity in the area came with the Ontario’s first rail line, built by the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) in 1853, but the area remained mostly rural for the next couple of decades, until the Canadian National (CN) line came through in 1884, at which point The Village of “West Toronto Junction” (it’s proper name to this day) was incorporated at the still charmingly working class historical intersection of Dundas and Keele.
In Case of Fire
As I noted in a previous article about The Junction, the area was a remarkably fast-growing industrial powerhouse – many Irish immigrants in particular, were quickly put to work here, manufacturing a huge proportion of the latest high tech and industrial equipment needed for the development of Toronto and the entire region.
It incorporated a few nearby villages (Carlton and Davenport) and called itself a town in 1889, but by 1909, West Toronto Junction had itself been incorporated into the City of Toronto. Nevertheless, a hundred and ten years later, the culture and special pride in the area persist quite brilliantly.
Allow me to make the case just a little bit more specific.
The other day I was walking down Keele, just south of Dundas – right in the heart of old Junction, when I saw something that will reliably bring a smile to all but the most hardened heart. Little kids getting a cool (and giggles inspiring) spray of water from the friendly firemen, at the local fire-station. I never photograph kids without their parents permission, but I did linger a moment to enjoy the happy scene, and a fireman noticed my camera and invited me inside the station to take a few pictures.
“You sure you don’t mind?” I asked, still a bit uncertain.
He chuckled, “It’s the city’s truck, not mine. Come on in.”
Where it all began
Of course like many men, I can instantly become an enthusiastic kid again, wherever construction sites, airplanes and fire-engines are involved. So getting to photograph the engines and equipment alone, was enough to make my camera eye (and general enthusiast) very happy indeed – as did his genuine and friendly welcome.
But then I saw more – a fantastic array of historical fire equipment on the walls (and even ceiling) – much of it, directly related to that very station – originally built next door as West Toronto Junction Fire Station Number 1 in 1890, along with a second station on Ford St. Later, TFD station 20, and now Station 423 of the Toronto Fire Department.
The original towers weren’t just for drying hoses – they also housed huge fire-bells, to give warning to the surrounding community. Their original mighty bell was long lost – but now proudly resides on outdoor display, in their award-winning garden.
Cumulative Cleverness (good ideas always add to others)
I suppose my “Wow!” Wasn’t that hard to read. The very kind fireman chuckled again and said, “You like history? You should meet our captain, this is all down to him. Just wait there a second – I’ll go get him.”
My camera was entranced by everything on the walls – and of course I could see an extraordinary amount of dedication reflected – not only in the collection itself, but it’s mounting and labeling, so as to make it as educational and understandable as possible for every curious visitor. Before me was a compact but truly excellent museum of Junction fire history – within a still working and historically sited fire station!
Century old Fire House Alarm Gong (still connected – working backup!)
But the real joy of the day was meeting Captain Greg Shultz himself – because at once I recognized a quality of energy we too rarely celebrate – unstoppable enthusiasm. We talked a little about the role of the fire station in the community now – and indeed he was proud that they had so many young visitors, on an ongoing basis – never too early to inspire fire-safety thinking, and build friendly trust with vital first-responders.
But when we began to talk about Junction history, we really got going – he was pleased that even as a downtown kid, I knew the basics of the tale, and had great respect for the culture and contributions both.
But the Captain (second shift only, he modestly insisted) didn’t just write about his local history, he had gathered artefacts to inspire and inform – and he was still actively learning and sharing more. I was soon treated to fresh images from a ride on a late thirties American LaFrance engine, from a fire history conference from which he’d just returned. And yes, the smile conveyed the thrill of the ride even better than the cellphone pictures!
Display of Great Respect
Now I should say, I have encountered this fine dedicated keener energy at airshows, art exhibits, on nature trails, behind the lenses of cameras big and small, and easels aplenty. I’ve found it (whispering) in libraries, holding nothing back in the isolation booth of recording studios, and of course I always smile silently to myself when I witness it from up on the model stand, while doing absolutely and precisely nothing, just as actively and interestingly as I possibly can.
But only rarely do those camps think to salute each other, for their shared liveliness and dedication to making life itself, a little more interesting and fun for everyone. We can all do this much better, just by remembering to look for the places where our enthusiasms meet easily – and not worrying so much about whether we’re always in our ideal comfort zone or not. Learning, after all, requires a whole lot of not. ;o)
Tools of the Trade
Ever read any Len Deighton? Which one? He’s written many exciting thrillers and spy yarns, but while doing an extraordinary amount of deep research for “SSGB” – a murder mystery set in a Great Britain which lost WWII – he had a conversation with the brilliant and much read historian, AJP Taylor, who objected to Deighton’s modesty, and told him pointedly that just because he wasn’t trained as a historian, that didn’t mean he couldn’t make perfectly valid and useful contributions to the field.
Hearing such encouragement from a figure he so respected, helped Deighton feel authorized to pursue it further – and he went on to create some of the most readable and engaging history books ever written about the period. Brilliantly illustrated, exciting tone. (cool, but dire)
Yes folks – you are authorized – WE are authorized – to make the world more interesting. It’s valid, it helps – and if you stick with it long enough, you can steadily build up something really cool for everyone to enjoy.
Every Wall Speaks (and so does that proud station crest!)
The West Toronto Junction Historical Society has much more about the history of this truly fascinating neighbourhood – and their collection also includes a documentary film about local fire history – one more great reason to drop by the Lovely Annette St library, which houses the collection (very limited hours – 3 – 5 PM Mondays, 6 – 8 PM Thursdays).
Such stalwart citizens who make an extra effort are everywhere – enjoy their treasures and show you can be bothered yourself, by thanking them! They are always glad to know their efforts register, and usually very generous with advice for anyone interested. You might even find yourself inspired to create and then share some new aspect of wonder, respect, excellence or pure all-out inspiration yourself.
My friends – we can always use a little more hope in our great big story of the world. And I thank you sincerely Captain Greg, for offering it to me so very generously. Could not have been more helpful, or better timed!