181212 Water and Sand - matthew piers robertson • photography writing creative toronto

Everything in this photo is artificial.

The light, to start with an obvious point. This was taken on a moonless night with street lamps, and one light that I brought with me, illuminating the scene. The sky glow on the horizon is pollution from a city on the other side of the lake. And while the stars are actually stars, here they're streaks because this is an eight-minute exposure.

The fence is temporary, intended to blunt the wind-driven snow. The sand is also reacting to it; now that the summer visitors are gone, it's no longer fluffy and loose, instead being hard-packed by wind and rain. Footprints will last for days. But the sand itself shouldn't be here.

The breakwater is designed to blunt the wind-driven water, which would otherwise strip the sand from the shore and make the exposed lake too rough for visitors to swim. Just past the end of the breakwater this has already happened, with the sand carved away to reveal the structure of broken concrete and rubble that underlies the artificial shoreline.

Sand for the Toronto Islands naturally came from the Scarborough Bluffs, but that has stopped. The bluffs have been armoured to prevent the erosion that nourishes this former sandbar, and what little natural sediment drift remains is now redirected away from the islands by the Leslie Street Spit. Farther along the shore there's a new project underway to further shape the lake and stop the island itself from being cut in two.

And of course the islands themselves were not always islands. Some of them are completely artificial, being created or significantly expanded by fill, but this was originally a simple sand bar that was connected to the shore. The Eastern Gap that now serves the industrial port of Toronto was created by a storm then shaped by us. Ironically, the gap aligns with Parliament street, which would have allowed our American friends to completely bypass Fort York that once protected the only entrance to the harbour. Had the Islands been islands when Toronto was first being built by the colonial British, the shape of the city they shelter would have been very different, if it was even built at all.


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