As published in The Cliffhanger (Nov. 27).
by Jennifer Schleich
The urban environment is an amazing place; it’s a shining example of human technological accomplishment. Skyscrapers, rooftop gardens, concrete highways and soaring overpasses cover vast acres of land. Perfectly manicured lawns and gardens are interspersed with brand new parks and neighbourhoods. It’s an environment rife for exploration and a new species of adventurer, the urban explorer, is mapping it with photography.
Shiny though urbanism may be on the surface, the closer you look the more you see the cracks. There are always weeds creeping up through fissures in the well-worn sidewalks or vast expanses of climbing plants clinging to the sides of bridges and sound barrier walls. Human ingenuity may be great, but nature is endlessly perseverant.
Abandoned buildings are intriguing places. Found in both the urban and rural regions of Ontario, ruins that were once shiny and new now crumble under the slow growth of new life. Tiny vestiges of their former glory remain in the form of forgotten belongings, tarnished hardware and peeling wallpaper. Though eerie in one sense, setting my eyes upon a man-made structure that has been reclaimed by nature always gives me a feeling I can only describe as peaceful, like the world has come full circle. It sounds strange, and sure, it’s sad to see something deteriorate with age, but it’s also amazing to watch how life takes root in even the most inhospitable environments.
You know those scenes in post-apocalyptic movies where a ragtag group of survivors come to a pause in their journey when the road they are travelling upon drops away into an abyss? Suddenly the camera pans back to show half of a monstrous highway overpass hanging in the sky. For some reason I really like those scenes. Abandoned buildings make me feel the same way.
Theatres, gas stations, hospitals, homes, schools, hotels, the list is endless. If it’s been built somewhere, it’s decaying somewhere else
If you Google Urban Exploration Resource Ontario you will find a forum dedicated to urban ruins in the province. Ontarioabandonedplaces.com is a data bank of locations. These aren’t the only websites, but they are a good place to start. There’s a whole subculture out there, of people exploring abandoned places.
On Flickr there is a group called Ontario Rural Ruins and the photographers who post there have managed to capture a time gone by. Their photography conveys not only a sense of loss but also of beauty.
“Derelict, abandoned, ruined buildings, places or things in rural Ontario. Old farm houses, abandoned commercial buildings, rusted out vehicles/machinery, old barns, ghost signs, old signposts, whatever you stumble upon,” is their mantra. “Take only photos; leave only footprints.”
Go looking for abandoned places, be respectful when you find them, and experience part of the past preserved in the present. The world may have moved on, but when you step through the doorway the outside world fades away and you are transported.