Still River Motel

A hundred kilometres south of Sudbury on Highway 69 is a small community called Still River. On the west side of the highway, as you breeze through, is an abandoned motel. In front stands a broken up sign that declares (somewhat prosaically): MOTEL. On our drive up to Thunder Bay, this is where my son and I stopped for our first pee break.

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For me, spaces like this evoke feelings of sadness. They are haunted. I hear voices. I enter a room and see where lovers lay. Maybe lovers is too charitable a word. I hear children laughing, but mostly complaining. After a long drive, their mother wants to get to sleep. She has no patience for their whining. There’s a tailgate party a few doors down. It goes long into the morning. Someone breaks a beer bottle and the sound of glass on the pavement offers up a hint of violence.

Still River, Ontario

The violence never comes, of course. The only violence here is the slow violence of decay. If we could speed up our observations with a time lapse video that matched geologic time, the motel’s fall would seem the result of a hammer stroke. Edgar Allen Poe could do no better. But we don’t experience time as gods do, and so the motel’s fall is languorous, almost stately.

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All the windows are broken. All the doors hang open. Wind whistles down the central hallway. The blinds clack whenever a breeze plays on them.

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In one of the rooms, a mystery. Why is there a ladder here? It’s longer than the room is high. You couldn’t stand it upright to use. Insulation lies heaped in the middle of the room. I surmise that the roof leaked, water accumulated in the insulation until it grew so heavy it brought down the ceiling. The ladder lies on top of the insulation, so it came afterward. Maybe it’s decorative, someone following the aesthetics of abandonment.

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For me, photographing doorways is a challenge. Ideally, the centre of your lens should be aligned with the centre of the doorway and the camera should be positioned in relation to the door at precisely 90 degrees. Otherwise the door doesn’t look square in the photo. I never get it right. But that doesn’t seem to matter here. None of the door frames is square by any measure. If you find things wrong with these shots, blame the building.

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