25th Trillium Award

Five Explorer Questions With Jane Fairburn

Share |
Along the Shore - Jane Fairburn

Detailing the rich history and the many changes to Toronto's historic waterfront over the years, Jane Fairburn's Along The Shore (ECW Press) is a perfect companion for our Open Book Explorer tours and we're glad for the chance to speak with her.


What prompted you to write the book and how did you go about the considerable amount of research required for such an undertaking?


Some fifteen years ago, I suffered a bad fall near the top of the Scarborough Bluffs and hurtled down a slope aptly known as Killer Hill.

Stranded on the hillside in mid-February, I experienced the lake in a way I never had before. It was as if I had tumbled into a wilderness ? nothing but the sky, the trees, and the cliffs that plunged down to the great inland sea, some 250 feet below. I could do nothing but wait to be rescued, and during that time, found myself asking: What is this place? Where am I? How did I get here?

Delivered into the hands of a marvelous surgeon, and then restored to the comforts of every day life, my time near the edge of the cliff stayed with me. It stirred a curiosity in me to know something deeper about where I lived and how my experience related to those who had gone before. Along the Shore is the result.

The research process evolved as the book evolved. The book actually began as a series of stories about people who lived along the shore. It was in the process of knitting those stories together that the idea of a more extensive, consistent historical narrative began to emerge.

I realized that each of the communities featured in the book had undergone a similar series of historical periods and transitions. From that point on, I became well acquainted with many of the archival institutions and local history collections across the city! I also had the privilege of interviewing many fascinating individuals who live, or have lived, along the shore, so there?s a strong component of oral history in the book.


During your research, did you come across details that surprised you, or ones that changed your perspective of Toronto?s history?


Like many Torontonians, I was aware that the roots of Toronto are at the water?s edge. What surprised me, however, is how deep that connection actually was. Lake Ontario influenced the habitation and settlement patterns and the way of life, first of the indigenous peoples and later of the European newcomers.

Pioneers mostly settled at or near the river mouths ? the Don, the Humber, the Etobicoke and the Rouge, picking up on earlier patterns of habitation established by the First Peoples. Lake Ontario was the early settler?s lifeline to the outside world, and a mainstay for industry, communication, trade and transportation. Water is in the DNA of this city.


One theme I noticed in the book is the idea of returning to what was, or rediscovering history through renewal. What is the importance of this to you, and what do you see in Toronto?s waterfront that reinforces this?


The past lives in the present. Some of us are more attuned to that, but it is there for us all to see if we care to look. I think successful renewal can happen only if we respect and value our past.

Toronto has gone through a kind of cultural forgetting in recent decades, at least in regards to its waterfront. Work done by Waterfront Toronto integrates the past with the present and that breathes new life into previous industrial zones at or near the lake. I find these exciting, mixed-use developments very encouraging.

Likewise to the east and west, new sections of the Waterfront Trail and Greenway in historic Port Union and in Mimico Waterfront Park, along with the planned naturalization of the Don River, are all projects that are bringing people back to the water.


If you could bring back one thing from Toronto?s waterfront history ? a building or garden or undeveloped area ? what would it be and why?


There are many, but if I had to pick, it would have to be The Islands' ?Main Street?, Manitou Road, on Centre Island. Just imagine what it would be like to walk off the ferry at Centre Island today, amble over the Manitou Road Bridge, and find yourself immersed in the cultural centre of Island life ? the dance halls, eateries, pubs and hotels -- the little Ma and Pa establishments with lodgings upstairs, and some pretty interesting and significant architecture to boot.

It?s a disgrace that all of that was bulldozed under the earth, in the name of progress -- hopefully we have learned from that.


If readers could take one thing away from your book, what would you like it to be?


The waterfront is a living, dynamic entity that is constantly evolving and is capable of renewal and change for the better. As part of the renewal process, we need to psychologically engage with it, and to understand its critical place in the creation story of Toronto. That?s how we?ll be sure to steer towards smart development, and a renewed lakefront that will be enjoyed by Torontonians for generations. If the book enhances our sense of belonging and attachment to the lake, then it will have served its purpose.

Jane Fairburn is a Toronto lawyer and has lived for many years along the north shore of Lake Ontario. She is deeply connected to the ecology, history, and landscape of the Toronto shore.

For more information about Along the Shore please visit the ECW Press website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

Check out our other Five Explorer Questions in our archives.

Post new comment

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

More information about formatting options

By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.

Advanced Search

Humber Writer's School