Winter Stations 2023

For the past five to six years or so I’ve been going to the Winter Stations outdoor art exhibit in the Beaches area of Toronto. Each year there is an international public competition between artists to put up architectural exhibits that include or encompass a lifeguard station that is set up along the Beach. Depending on the year there is, or isn’t, snow on the ground.

Families, children, and dogs all show up to enjoy (and try to understand!) the various exhibits that go up each year. At this point I see it as one of my ‘Toronto rituals’; the exhibition became important to me many years ago and I’ve refused to let that change. This part of the city, for as long as it lasts, is part of my experience of the city of Toronto itself and the ritual of seeing the exhibitions is part of what it is for me to be a Torontonian.

There’s a lot to enjoy about the experience, not the least being the presence of ‘typical’ beach stuff like the Muskoka chairs that people use along with the moderate starkness of the beach in a relatively inhospitable period of time. Some times that I’ve been to the exhibit has seen me shivering despite wearing multiple layers, along with an insulated vest and long wool coat with wool mittens and hat. Others have seen me just get wet with the rain as it pours onto the same kind of outfit. Fortunately it was a relatively balmy -2 degrees (Celsius) with no precipitation and I stayed warm the whole time, this year!

Each time I come to the art exhibit I not only feel a bit like I’m going through a Toronto-ritual I’ve developed but, also, it reminds me a bit of growing up along the Atlantic. The water isn’t salty and the life guard stations are a lot closer to the water, but it’s about the closest I’m likely to get to my historical home as is likely to occur.

One of the things that I always seem to look for when at this event is the kind of starkness or minimalism that is present in the exhibits. They need to stand up to the elements and, also, the destructive nature of children. And so many of the exhibitions are robust without much decoration. Years ago, there was an exhibit that encouraged children to (and I’m quoting) “interact” with the exhibit. It was ruined by the time that I appeared, though kids still liked jumping on all the damaged bits.

I had the pleasure this time of visiting the exhibit with my partner and a friend who generously put up with me making photos while they had conversations with one another. Despite being the person who was responsible for dragging people to the event—though it wasn’t this cold this time!—I was probably less present and/or took too much time doing my own thing than was likely appreciated. Both are long forgiving in their willingness to indulge me in my hobby.

Each time I return to this part of Toronto I’m reminded of my past: this was where I lived, many moons ago, and where some life changing stuff happened in my life. There’s always a sense of renewal—insofar as the art and people are different—along with a sense of the past that haunts me whenever I walked along this part of Lake Ontario.

At the same time, it’s always invigorating: it’s a place that reminds me of what once was and what is, now. And how great that now is!

Some of the images I captured while at the exhibition this year, such as the above image of the empty chairs behind the fence, remind me that this space will be renewed soon with beach goers visiting and a liveliness that belies the current (general) absence of humans. Toronto ebbs and flows, and its residents will soon flow back to this part of the city once the weather improves some. I’ll look forward to returning to the Beaches—and capturing them in photographs—when the seasons have shifted!

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