Tag Archives: Rural

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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Boiling Sap @Williams_Farm

Sap runs when it runs and nothing–not even an Easter dinner–can keep a maple syrup man from his work. Here are some shots from last weekend’s maple syrup boil.

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Above, John Williams inspects the sap lines for leaks. The sap is “encouraged” by a vacuum pump and, if there are leaks, the suction, uh, sucks. This is a Brigadoon moment. Typically, the stream flows only once a year as the snow melts. Because of erratic weather this year, there have been two Brigadoon moments.

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After Easter dinner, John goes out to the barn and fires up the evaporator. They’ll be boiling long into the night.

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Deer know that something’s up. They appear by the barn’s open door.

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Liquid gold! Maple syrup pours out from the evaporator.

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John’s father, Howie Williams, gives his nod of approval. He’s the man who first got the family into this.

CTV Barrie’s regional news does a clips on local maple syrup producers, including statements from both John & Oliver Williams.

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Williams Farm At Sunrise

Note that the shots in this post are NOT shots of sunrise at the Williams Farm; they’re shots of Williams Farm at sunrise i.e. I took them all within a few minutes of one another on either side of sunrise. Although I didn’t intend these shots as an illustration of anything, I do think they stand as an illustration of the fact that when you’re shooting landscape/nature/rural type shots, the best results happen within a narrow stretch of time when the sun is just below or just peeping above the horizon.

For the sake of accuracy, the 3rd photo is not a shot of the Williams Farm. It’s a shot of the farm immediately to the south. The pinky clouds were irresistible so I popped into the next field. Also, since you asked, it’s a composite of 5 different shots blended using the HDR tool in Adobe Lightroom.

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Early Morning Frost

Here’s a sampling of early morning shots taken at the Williams Farm after a good frost. These come from either side of the 2015/16 winter season. I shot the first two on boxing day, 2015. I shot the second two on the first day of spring 2016. On both occasions, I was inadequately dressed and inadequately coffee’d. Note that none of the images would have been possible without a tripod, an alarm clock, and a good pair of boots.

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Fly Fishing in the Maitland River

On Sunday morning, we went to the Falls Reserve Conservation Area in the village of Benmiller. We assumed we would see some lovely waterfalls or rapids on the Maitland River as it flows to Goderich and out into Lake Huron. We approached the roar of the water, but couldn’t see the river because the bank is high above the water and obscured by a line of trees. We followed a path through the trees and an amazing scene opened before us: men in hip waders ranged across the river and fly fishing. I’ve never been what you’d call an outdoorsman, so I guess I’m easily amazed. Even so, for a city boy, this is a rare sight. It could just as easily have been a herd of moose crossing the river. I would have been no less amazed.

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It struck me that fly fishing is probably a lot like photography. You haul all kinds of gear with you, often to remote or inconvenient locations, just so you can do something you love. You position yourself where you think some magic will happen, but there are no guarantees. You might spend a day and catch nothing. But still you do it.

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Highway 17 Around Superior

I just got back from Thunder Bay, and while I could have flown, I prefer the drive, especially once I get north of Sault Ste Marie and start following the shoreline of Lake Superior. You might think that the reason I like the drive has something to do with stunning scenery. I guess it would if it weren’t for the camera around my neck. Photographically speaking, stunning scenery doesn’t do it for me anymore. In the modern world of HDR images, landscapes have taken on a plastic quality. They’ve stopped being interesting. In my view, what redeems landscapes are the other points of interest happening within them. Landscapes are merely frames. Sometimes pretty frames. But frames just the same.

Pruce's Motor Inn

I enjoy photographing the ruins scattered throughout Northern Ontario. A fire breaks out and, afterwards, it seems to take years to deal with the wreckage. The owners simply walk away. The buildings persist, ghostlike, offering a dumb testimony of livelier times. They challenge our assumptions about the natural rugged landscapes of the north.

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Abandoned Spaces in Northern Ontario

If I stopped every time I saw a burnt out motel or abandoned gas station beside a highway in northern Ontario, I’d never get anywhere. In May, I stopped at a few choice locations, and bookmarked a few others for the end of the summer when I’ll be passing that way again. The images are inherently dramatic, they raise questions, imply a story. For example, what happened at the Dorion Inn? This motel sits on the south side of Highway 17 by the township of Dorion half way between Thunder Bay and Nipigon. Interestly, you can still find it listed on TripAdvisor. Good luck booking a room. According to the wikipedia listing for Dorion, the town has a population of 338. Maybe 337 if one of its residents was staying in the room on the end the night the fire broke out. But why would a local need a room? Unless … My imagination gets the better of me.

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Thunder Bay

I drove up to Thunder Bay in mid May. Drove all 1400 km in one day. When I got there, the weather was miserable. They told me it had been sunny for three weeks straight, that it had been a brilliant spring. And then I arrived. It even snowed one morning. I got up early and drove out to Pigeon River to hike the Finger Point Trail. When I got to the highest point on the trail, flakes of snow blew around my head. But for the most part, my stay in Thunder Bay was under a blanket of fog and rain. The gloom and the cold got to me and I think that’s reflected in the photos I took. So, for example, I caught this kite stuck in a tree at the foot of Hillcrest Park and low clouds in the background.

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Maple Syrup @ Williams Farm

The sap is running at Williams Farm in Wyebridge, ON. March offers a sweet spot (so to speak) when the temperature rises above freezing during the day and dips below freezing at night. If the timing works, then the sap flows each day without pouring out all at once and overwhelming the operation. I went up to Williams Farm last week while John was scrambling to get everything in place. I went up again yesterday to watch as another syrup season gears up. I tried to take photos of each stage in the process, though I didn’t get to witness the bottling (or selling) this year.

Sap lines running from tree to tree in the sugar bush.

Sap lines running from tree to tree in the sugar bush.

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Tips For Early Morning Shooting

The best way to get early morning shots is to shoot early in the morning. Sounds like a Yogi Berra-ism. Nevertheless, if you want the best light — long shadows for high contrast, colourful (saturated) hues in the sunlight, and atmosphere — then you have no choice but to get up early in the morning and force yourself outside. For most of us, that’s a tough slog. I’m not naturally a morning person. When the alarm clock goes off, typically I groan, roll over, and fall back to sleep. But on the mornings when I do force myself outside, the rewards justify the groaning. Here’s an example from two days ago on a farm north of London, Ontario. The exif file tells me I shot this at 6:36 am i.e. 36 minutes after my alarm went off.

Barn At Sunrise

Some tips for getting up at first light:

1) Set more than one alarm. Make sure they’re out of reach so you have to get out of bed to turn them off.

2) Organize your gear the night before so you can just grab it on your way out the door. Make sure it includes a water bottle and a snack. Along the same lines, shower the night before. You want to get out of bed and be off as soon as possible.

3) If you absolutely must have a caffeine fix before you go out, adjust your alarm clock accordingly so you have a few extra minutes to make yourself a coffee. Alternatively, have the butler make it for you. Keep your coffee in a sealable thermos because there’s nothing worse than spilling hot coffee over your camera.

4) Depending on when you wake up, pack a small LED flashlight. This is especially true if you have to hike any distance to your location.

5) If dew is an issue at your location, wear rubber-soled hiking shoes/boots. Even with the hiking shoes, I got a soaker taking this shot. I should have worn wellies.

6) Bring a tripod. This may seem kind of obvious, but if you’re shooting in low light, you need to open things up, which means you need to steady your camera.

7) Organize your location the night before. This is the mental part of the exercise. Know beforehand where you’re going and anticipate the conditions you’ll encounter. Early light is fleeting. Just hoping to catch something probably means that by the time you’ve composed your shot, it’s gone.

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