The Art of the Spit

30 December 2014 – I know Leslie Spit is an active clean fill dumpsite and weekend park, but I insist it is also an art installation.

One created initially, and still primarily, by nature; adorned by passing human hands; and facilitated (to its credit) by the City, which hadn’t planned for it but chose to run with it when it took shape anyway.

Clean fill gives endless materials for random acts of sculpture. Especially for every possible variation on the inuksuk — symbol of wayfinding & welcome.

inuksuk, Leslie Spit, east side

I’m out the Spit yet again, and maybe I’m establishing a year-end tradition. I came here for my last walk in 2013 as well. (But what a contrast! Mild, dry & grey today; bright sun bouncing off ice-storm surrealism last year.)

Here’s what you get if, in the 1950s, you start dumping dredged harbour materials & construction Leslie Spit, from Tommy Thompson Park websiteclean fill into the waters just off the end of Leslie Street … and keep doing it … and plan to use the resulting land for additional port facilities … but then in the 1970s decide you don’t need additional facilities … and notice that while you’ve been dumping, nature has created a thriving eco-environment all over the rubble … and you finally decide to continue dumping, but to start developing a park on-site as well … and manage the remaining years of dumping to serve the park that eventually will take over the entire site.

You get 5 km. of headland into the lake, covering some 500 Hectares in all, with more than 23 km. of multi-use trails in Tommy Thompson Park, currently open to the public weekends & holidays.

I come out here at least a couple of times a year, any season, always eager for the wildlife (birds & waterfowl especially), as well as the rubble-art that visitors add to the nature-art already so generously spread before us.

painted cement blocks, Leslie Spit

This is unusual. Typically, people add artwork to bare blocks of material; these I think are rubble from a mural on some wall, somewhere, that was broken up & carted away.

It’s the mix of nature & art on the Spit that is so beguiling. This little pedestrian bridge (“Cyclists please dismount” says the notice) is a good spot to hang around & look at birds. Mallards & Long-tail ducks are plentiful right here, swans as well.

pedestrian bridge, Leslie Spit

I get a swan-lesson from a couple of friendly birders. I’m a little farther along by now, nearing some of the ponds being sculpted on the east side of the Spit, designed to meet current disposal needs in a way that will serve future park & environmental purposes.

east-side ponds on Leslie Spit

The birders are flipping between binoculars & bird book; I ask my usual open-ended question, “Anything interesting out there?”

They are watching migratory Arctic swans, they have decided, not our year-round (but also white) Mute swans. “The Arctic swans have a much straighter neck,” they say, peering into the distance. “These guys have straight necks. And they’re hanging out with Canada geese, and that’s something Arctic swans like to do.”

I don’t walk all those east-side trails, I keep fairly close to the main road out to the tip. Dumping is much newer out here; materials not yet broken down by wave action — cement blocks become gravel beach quite quickly — and not yet as robustly covered by plant life.

Humans can impose their designs on a starker landscape.

nearing tip of Leslie Spit,looking east

As I approach the tip, I think about some of the spectacular creations I have seen out here — the rubble-&-brick “bed,” for example, with poetry neatly incised on its flagstone pillows. (Magic and Found Poetry, I called the post that celebrated that January 2013 walk.)

This visit, another inuksuk, of course, balanced so carefully on one of the great waves of fresh rubble at the tip of the Spit.

inuksuk at tip of Leslie Spit

As I walk toward the lighthouse, I see some bricks arranged in the grit. At first I think them random, I have to climb halfway up the path to the little lighthouse to read their message. Which still takes some deciphering! The author had a wobbly hand, I decide — perhaps from nerves, because the message is: “Heather will you marry me.”

We’ll never know.

The Leslie Spit lighthouse is the ugliest one I have ever seen: forget your romantic notions, this is a squat little pillar, atop a very modest mound of land, surrounded by rusty chainlink fence. This photo does it far too much credit …

Leslie Spit lighthouse

… but I show it to you, because I want it in your mind for the next two photos.

Until now, all I’ve ever seen through the chainlink fence is scrawled obscenities. This time — a pleasant surprise.

lighthouse dish, Leslie Spit

I know, not exactly high art, but possessed of a certain energy, and a whole lot better than f*** you.

And then this, on a utility box panel, signed “Jutra”:

within lighthouse compound, Leslie Spit

Now let me walk you back to that inuksuk, perched on its wave of rubble, staring out over the lake.

In fact let me walk you onto that wave of rubble. We will — well, this one of us will — feel how unstable the material is, and drop into a spider-walk. More bluntly, a bum-walk. You know: bum on the ground, with arms & legs fore & aft. Totally inelegant, but it works: neither I, nor the rubble, slide into the lake.

I do all this, because I want to see the inuksuk from the other side.

inuksuk at Leslie Spit tip, with Toronto skyline behind

This makes me very happy.

Here is an inuksuk, created by anonymous hands so patiently & carefully, the symbol (as I said above) of “wayfinding & welcome,” with the Toronto skyline tucked under one arm.

As we make our separate journeys through 2015, may we all travel safely, in health & peace, and help each other as best we can.



Next Post
Leave a comment



     /  30 December 2014

    Hope you weren’t out there when they were exploding the Dynamite found in the house on Sackville today. Talk about local ordinance.
    Sent from my BlackBerry® smartphone

  2. What a great final post for 2014 and I was amazed at the contrast when I clicked back to your last post of 2013! I had no idea that this was still an active landfill area. Your final photo of the skyline and the urban inuksuk is just perfect – one of your best (and you have some beauties) and well worth the gymnastics to take it…I second your wish for 2015.

    • Yes, they’re meshing the two activities well. I’m not sure when the entire site will be parkland, but meanwhile we can enjoy it every weekend. I’m glad you liked that final photo, I also felt rewarded for all that clambering about.

  3. Thank you for your usual interesting post and showing us that not all rubble is intrusive.

    Always look forward to your view of Toronto


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


    "Traveller, there is no path. Paths are made by walking" -- Antonio Machado (1875-1939)

    "The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes" -- Marcel Proust (1871-1922)

    "A city is a language, a repository of possibilities, and walking is the act of speaking that language, of selecting from those possibilities" -- Rebecca Solnit, "Wanderlust: A History of Walking"

  • Recent Posts

  • Walk, Talk, Rock… B.C.-style

  • Post Categories

  • Archives

  • Blog Stats

    • 89,242 hits
  • Since 14 August 2014

    Flag Counter
  • Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 1,645 other followers

%d bloggers like this: