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2005 08 23
Written Toronto, pt. 1
Over the next few days, I'll be posting excerpts from works containing seminal (or just plain interesting) descriptions of design features in the city. Michael Ondaatje's sombre meditation on the construction of the Viaduct (and its aftermath) is certainly one of the most well-known. I knew this particular passage by reputation even as a university student in Alberta.

(Note on copyright: These excerpts are designed to fit the category of "fair dealing" under Canadian copyright law, as they are part of a running commentary on how Toronto's design has been represented in the city. I realize, however, that copyright law is vague on this matter. If any authors, or owners of these authors' copyright, object to having their work included here, please contact Robert Ouellette to have it removed.)

Bloor Street Viaduct, 1915
(National Archives of Canada, PA-070098, photo by John Boyd)

From Michael Ondaatje's In the Skin of a Lion (McClelland and Stewart, 1987):

The bridge goes up in a dream. It will link the east end with the centre of the city. It will carry traffic, water, and electricity across the Don Valley. It will carry trains that have not even been invented yet.

Night and day. Fall light. Snow light. They are always working—horses and wagons and men arriving for work on the Danforth side at the far end of the valley.

There are over 4,000 photographs from various angles of the bridge in its time-lapse evolution. The piers sink into bedrock fifty feet below the surface through clay and shale and quicksand—45,000 cubic yards are excavated. The network of scaffolding stretches up.

Men in a maze of wooden planks climb deep into the shattered light of blond wood. A man is an extension of hammer, drill, flame. Drill smoke in his hair. A cap falls into the valley, gloves are buried in stone dust.

Then the new men arrive, the 'electricals.' laying grids of wire across the five arches, carrying the exotic three-bowl lights, and on October 18, 1918 it is completed. Lounging in mid-air.

The bridge. The bridge. Christened "Prince Edward." The Bloor Street Viaduct.
[email this story] Posted by Jeremy Keehn, The Walrus Magazine on 08/23 at 11:09 AM

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