On 1st October 1997, our family walked out into the cool early morning air at Pearson International airport with our fifteen pieces of luggage. We stood silently waiting on the kerb for an almost stranger, now become one of my finest friends, to pick us up. We had flown from Africa to Canada for the first time on a mission.
Half an hour later we drove for the first time on the famed 401, but nothing could have prepared us for this highway that grew from eight lanes in Mississauga to something like eighteen or more in places as it snakes its way across the city. The intertwining of core and collectors was fascinating as car lights wove into each other like yellow and red ribbons riding a gentle wind. It made an indelible impression on our minds both compelling and unforgettable.
There has hardly been a time since when while traveling on it that I have not felt the urge to truly photograph its strange beauty. This huge arterial vein through the center of Canada’s largest metropolis bears the shine of beating sun and the scars of winter blizzards. It ebbs and flows with the rhythms of each day and night without ceasing, and reflects the story of this city’s resilience to global economic disaster and to seasons of plenty. The stats themselves are quite staggering for my provincial African mind: more than five million people travel to work every day on this highway that some claim is North America’s busiest. To the Canadians, however, who will spend some hours resigned to a slow worming of their way to work, it is their lifeblood, as well as the city’s – the means to their employment, and their economic secret. They thus pay it grudging respect.
On this day, as we returned from a day’s work, the setting sun cast its crimson hue over the full span of the Fall evening sky. This oft-repeated daily spectacle greets the evening 401 travelers like a caress on a weary brow. It does not fail to lift them up out of the day’s busyness. Here and there gradually crossing the reddened sky are numerous skeins of geese flying in V formation. The travelers, who sit among their fellow home-goers, cannot fail to appreciate the moment, for soon, the cold must come, and with it, the winter blizzard to replace the lines of geese in the sky with pelting snow, but still this highway will pulsate with life. While not the city’s raison-d’être, it is its facilitator! It cannot stop. I saw this first hand once in a blizzard, when ahead of me pulled in six towering snow-ploughs staggered at 20-meter intervals and traveling at 80 km/h, clearing the snow from one side of the highway to its outer edge by throwing it progressively into each other’s path. Behind them were still the red and white ribbons continuing, and continuing, for life on the 401 must go on if this city is to breathe. This too is part of the allure. The Canadian travelers must live with all that the 401 gives them, in cold, rain, blizzard, or sun…
11th April 2013
Dedicated to Eric and Jan Kalish