On Saturday the Tar Sands Exploration Station found itself parked in the heart of Yonge and Dundas square at the Intersection festival for contemporary music. Beautiful and complex contemporary/experimental music served as the perfect backdrop for the cacophony of sounds and experiences that dominated the day.
Modeled after Time Square in New York, Yonge and Dundas Square is a privately owed “public space” located across the street from Toronto’s largest shopping mall, the Eaton Centre. When I first moved to Toronto in 2002, the square was non-existent. It was a regular urban intersection with a few sketchy stores, some nicer chain operations and $1 hot dog stands. Today the square is a carefully crafted attempt at a park that is actually just a frame for an inordinate amount of advertising. TVs, billboards, flashing signage, promo teens and flyers fill the area with impossible amounts of imagery. It feels a little bit like Vegas without the camp, like an Adam Smith dream sequence in a 50s era movie about the of a capitalist future. The public programming in the space is often invigorated but consumed by the advertising which surrounds it.
Perhaps the most curious aspect of the square is the combination of people who are present on any given day. Tourists are dropped off every 20 minutes by a flashy “hop on, hop off” tour bus. They are eager to see, to pose and to document, but few stay more than the obligatory 20 minutes, jumping onto the next bus that rolls in. They are entertained by street performers located just outside the square, careful not to cross into the closely monitored space where uninvited performances are strictly forbidden and often shut down by security.People who are in the space specifically for the programming of the day are also present, usually congregated near the stage, awaiting the action. Aside from a few weary shoppers the vast majority of other people in the square are transient and under housed adults. Many of them appeared to be regulars, greeting each other and settling into familiar seats, some even calling to security guards by name. Of this population at least half presented as though they were in an altered state, many more of them exhibited outwards signs of mental health issues.
During the most interesting moments of the day, the multiple actors in the space came together, narrated by the complex music, on an endless backdrop of advertisements. The conversations we had that day were quite different than those we have is most places we open our doors. Though most discussions began by addressing tar sand, they last longer and drifted onto other topics. We discussed hunger, transit, addiction, the real, comedy and Indigenous history. We spent a lot of time listening to people who seemed to need much more support than our brief chat could provide. The tones of the music shifted with each performance, creating a whole new atmosphere, scoring our conversations with staccato instance, peaceful meandering soundscapes and dozens of other technical and trippy sounds that our educated ears cannot describe. The changing music mimicked the unpredictable turns our discussions kept taking. The day was challenging, informative and amazing.
Are you in Toronto tomorrow? Come out to Yonge and Dundas Square where the Tar Sands Exploration Station will be participating in the Intersection music festival. Bands will be playing throughout the day and performances and installations will be scattered throughout the square. Hope to see you there
Protesters blockaded the pipeline construction site in North York for nine hours, protesting plans to boost and reverse the flow of controversial Line 9.
This past weekend we at the Tar Sands Exploration Station were lucky enough to participate in the Big on Bloor Festival- a local street fair in our west end Toronto neighbourhood. We got a ideal parking spot, right at Bloor and Dufferin, beside the ice cream truck and across from the Churro stand. We were just steps away from all our favourite local haunts, surrounded by businesses, crafters and community organizations from our home town. The weather was apparently unaware of the amazing festival taking place below and drizzled a seemingly endless chilly rain for the entire weekend.
As we at the TSES has noticed in the past, poor weather often leads to wonderful conversations. Ever the hopeful host we were all too happy to house soggy travellers seeking a place to wait out the storm. Too many people came by to count, all eager to share their thoughts about oil sand and how it impacts our city. Many of our guests wanted to discuss Line 9, a proposed pipeline reversal that would transport tar sand “dilbit” (diluted bitumen) across the North end of Toronto, just metres away from Finch subway station. It was interesting to learn about the impacts that people predicted such a close relationship with tar sand would have on the city. Residents expressed concerns about breaks in the line, job safety for workers and the process by which the reversal of the over 30 year old line was approved. Others who stopped by talked to us about their experiences working on rigs and at mine sights in Alberta. We were wowed by the environmental and economic knowledge of even our youngest visitors. We tackled some pretty tough questions throughout the weekend and it left us at the TSES wondering if there are enough formalized opportunities for citizens in potentially impacted areas to speak and learn about oil sands. We want to encourage all of our Toronto neighbours to contact their city councillor and express their thoughts on this topic, as well as any suggestions that you might have about how the city, the province and the country can improve future consultations on energy proposals. You’ve got such great ideas and we think our governments would really benefit from your insights!
Praying for the land
I was in Fort McMurray again this weekend for the fifth and final Healing Walk past a Syncrude upgrader and tailings ponds. Hundreds of people came to gather, to reconnect with each other and the damaged land and to pray for healing.
Rupture of Aging Tar Sands Pipeline Beneath Great Lakes Would Devastate People, Planet and Economy
Because the strong currents in the Straits of Mackinac reverse direction every few days, a rupture of the oil pipeline beneath the channel would quickly contaminate shorelines miles away in both lakes Michigan and Huron.
Higher Cancer Rates and Tainted Local Foods Linked to Tar Sands Operations
A new study released by two Alberta First Nations communities in partnership with the University of Manitoba reports that certain carcinogens released in tar sands operations are being found in high levels in local wildlife.