Tag Archives: Abandoned

Long Branch Hotel

In May, I documented a visit to an abandoned motel in the small community of Still River on Highway 69 about three hours north of Toronto. I returned there earlier this month and the improbable happened. The owners caught me trespassing. To be honest, I don’t think I’d earn the right to call myself a photographer if things like this didn’t happen now and again.

Entrance to Long Branch Hotel, Still River, Ontario

We’d pulled onto the broad stretch of asphalt in front of the motel, weeds sprouting through the cracks. Tamiko was tired and stayed in the car to snooze. As I pulled my gear from the back seat, I heard car tires crunching behind me. I didn’t pay any attention. Cars pull in and out of these places all the time as people stop for a stretch or to run around back for bladder relief. The driver rolled down her window and asked what I was doing. I’m always puzzled by that question. There I stand with a tripod, a big camera bag, and a DSLR slung around my neck, yet people invariably ask what I’m doing. The woman who spoke was older, maybe retirement age, and a man sat beside her in the passenger seat. The man got out of the car and let a big dog out of the back.

Sign for Long Branch Hotel, Dining Lounge, Truckers Welcome

In a brilliant flash of deductive reasoning, it occurred to me that the woman must be the owner of the establishment, so I asked and she nodded: she was indeed the owner of the Long Branch Hotel. The man grinned and asked if I’d be interested in buying. Or maybe I know somebody. In another brilliant flash, it occurred to me that all she really wanted was some assurance that I wasn’t about to smash windows and spraypaint the walls. I surmised (correctly) that if I chatted her up I’d be fine. Pretty soon, I had the story of the Long Branch Hotel.

Interior shot: Long Branch Hotel, Still River, Ontario

Vacuum Cleaner in lobby of Long Branch Hotel

At one point, it had been a going concern. You can still see the faded letters of the sign: “Truckers welcome” with the image of a cowboy in chaps. There was the motel, a place for truckers to park their rigs, and a restaurant, one of the few places to eat on the stretch of highway between Parry Sound and Sudbury. But then all the big chains set up in Parry Sound. Nowadays, it’s not good enough to have a room and a bite to eat. People want hot tubs and gyms, too. Their modest roadside motel couldn’t compete with the big chains so they gave up the business.

Until a year ago, they lived nearby, but then they moved to Elliot Lake. In fact, they were just driving down from Elliot Lake when they noticed us pulling in. Since they moved away, people had been sneaking onto the property and vandalizing it, though they’ve never been able to catch anyone in the act, notwithstanding the OPP station immediately to the south. I assured the woman that I wasn’t about to damage her property and politely asked if it was okay to photograph it. She asked what I meant to do with the photos. I told her and she said: feel free.

Interior shot of Long Branch Hotel

She and her husband watched me for a bit as I fiddled with my tripod, fiddled with my lenses, fiddled with my filters, fiddled with my settings. Fiddle fiddle fiddle. Watching a photographer capture an image is bloody boring. I guess they got bored of watching me and drove away. I’m just glad Tamiko didn’t drive away, too. It’s a long walk from Still River to anywhere else.

Rear door, Long Branch Hotel, Still River, Ontario

Behind the Long Branch Hotel, Still River, Ontario

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Pruce’s Motor Inn

At the 1224 km marker north of Sault Ste Marie on Highway 17 there is a small community called Heyden. One of the most notable buildings in Heyden is (or was) Pruce’s Motor Inn, but 3 or 4 years ago it was destroyed by fire. Ironically, the motel stands next to Heyden’s only other notable building, the fire station. I posted images of the motel last September. It wasn’t a hard winter, so there are no great changes since then, only a subtle drift into dereliction. Unlike my previous post, I chose to present this ruined motel in colour. I’m undecided which is a better mode for ruination: black and white, or colour. However, I do think a yellow chair needs to be in colour.

Pruce's Motor Inn

Pruce's Motor Inn

Pruce's Motor Inn

Pruce's Motor Inn

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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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