Sunday Ride – Part One

Sunday’s ride was only a little over 20 km but was so packed with things that I’m going to have to split it up.

I wake up early Sunday for Hindi class. Today’s class is fairly intensive and focused. We’re working on preparing me to sing a recent Amitabh Bachchan song because one of the milestones for my Doctors Without Borders fundraiser is to do Karaoke – in Hindi. It is going reasonably well though we need to spend about 30 minutes saying the word “चाहतें” which my mouth insists on saying as “चाहथें” but only when singing. It’s especially challenging for me because this particular pronunciation difference is so subtle my English-speaking brain can barely hear it. Eventually I get it. So watch for this video in the next few weeks. And then, if people donate $250 more (bringing the total to $2,000 raised), it will be time to shave my head except for my bangs and dye them bright blue.

My original plan is to jump on my bike after class and go on a long ride – maybe 100 km. But then I see the sky darkening around our house. I look at the weather radar and I see a line of big storms coming. Then I check the forecast: Severe thunderstorm warning with some areas being warned about possible tornadoes. I guess I’ll pause the ride. I resolve to let the storm pass and then figure out what exercise to do. Worst case I’ll go for 5 km run in the rain.

And at around noon the storm actually arrives. The thunder, lightning, high winds and pounding rain make me glad that I’m not on the road. This would surely have me scrambling for shelter. (Of course three years ago I ended up caught in a storm like this with Daegan and we had a great time.

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Watching the storm coming.

A post shared by Sage Tyrtle Storyteller (@sagetyrtlestoryteller) on

The storm passes and I even manage to have a delightful nap and when I wake up it is merely cloudy. Rain looks unlikely. I decide to go off in search of more named places to see who I can learn about. This time I head toward downtown.

I only get about four kilometres before I reach the Bloor Viaduct. There are a number of plaques here and I slam on my brakes and walk back to them. The first one I see looks like the newest:

I hadn’t heard of Project Bookmark Canada before but what a beautiful idea it is. Locations referenced in Canadian literature are marked with a plaque that includes an author bio and a quote from the book. The Prince Edward Viaduct, also known as the Bloor Viaduct was finished in 1918 and its construction was referenced in In the Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje. I haven’t read that but still love the idea of stepping briefly into a book. Moments like this, and doing the same with movies are wonderful – recognizing locations in a film that are meant to be “Gotham” or New York or Gilead. (I have seen clips from The Handmaid’s Tale series with terrifying things happening in my city and I can’t bring myself to watch the show).

The bridge is quite large and busy with traffic, bicycles, cars, trucks pass over the top, subways underneath. And far below is a highway, the Don River, and Bayview Avenue.

It’s hardly surprising, then, that that last sign is needed. However, if you scroll up you can see that jumping from the bridge is no longer as easy as it may have been before. A metal “veil” is installed preventing people from climbing over the edge. At night it is lit up with coloured lights giving it the name the “Luminous Veil”

You can see the lights here

It’s quite beautiful but of course its primary purpose is to save lives. As I turn to get back on my bike another plaque catches my eye:

It says: “This plaque is dedicated to the memory of Al Birney, a man who advocated for the rights of those suffering with mental illness. His tireless efforts resulted in the construction of the Luminous Veil suicide prevention barrier on the Bloor Street viaduct in 2003. The determination showed by Mr. Birney and all those who worked to have the veil erected shall never be forgotten.”

Another person honoured whom I hadn’t heard of before. While “Prince Edward” is very prominently mentioned when this bridge is mentioned, this tiny plaque is more meaningful in my opinion.

Al Birney worked very hard to help get this suicide prevention barrier installed, going to council meetings, speaking in front of them, meeting the mayor, all the councillors, and spending six years of his life working to make this a reality. In one story, he went to a meeting where, thanks to a tight budget, city council was preparing to send the proposal for the barrier back to committee for “further study”. Birney spoke before council, saying “What price a life? Obviously you don’t have mental illness in your own homes, otherwise you’d understand” turning the vote around. There was still a great deal of work to do to get it built but finally in 2003, it was installed.

And what difference did it make? Before 2003, an average of nine people a year jumped to their death from this bridge, putting it second only to the Golden Gate Bridge for people jumping. In the eleven years following its installation, only one person jumped. Based on the previous rate, that is 98 fewer people than would have otherwise. And while some of them, in their distress, may have found other ways or other places, I have little doubt that making it more difficult here, in this very busy and accessible spot, likely gave some enough time to think further, to talk to someone or to find help.

I’m grateful for Mr. Birney’s work and am glad I stopped to find out about him.

4 thoughts on “Sunday Ride – Part One

  1. Can’t wait to hear the Hindi Bollywood song sung by you. Sage’s picture of the thunderstorm is amazing. So is the bridge and the night time look with the lights is even more nice. People actually jumped from that bridge, how stupid is that!

    1. Thanks! I’m excited to share it – I’ll likely record it in the next week or so, perhaps on the weekend.

      Yes – it’s sad that so many have jumped from that spot. Another similar spot is next to our own apartment and every now and again someone jumps. I think it exposes a social and cultural gap we have. I don’t think suicide is something that can totally be eliminated but surely we can do better at keeping people out of that situation.

      1. Great! Will look out for it. True, we can’t stop suicides unless we have an inkling of the concerned person’s mind. But maybe we can do something in small ways like listening more, listening in a conscious way to hear what is not being said (easier said though), and so on.

      2. For sure – I have a feeling that what is needed are a whole lot of different things, listening, reduction of mental health stigma, making mental health care more available, and of course making it harder to actually take one’s life. Of course we need to start much earlier than that last phase as often this just results in postponing things, not actually resolving anything.

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