Extended Field Trip Day 1: Stable City


As part of our Extended Field Trip #001, we’re in Peterborough staying at the artist-run-centre, Artspace. We’re hoping to conduct some intercity research where we’ll attempt to understand the similarities and differences between Peterborough and Windsor and hopefully find some intersection thereof to which we can respond. We arrived in Peterborough in the late afternoon and did some exploring immediately. We’ll be posting more of our general observations and assumptions about why we saw what we saw later, but for now, we thought we’d give a visual introduction to this city.

Above, a path that follows the Otonabee River, which sits tucked away beyond the visual border of the downtown core. Somehow, this describes the general sense of Peterborough—nice, strangely well-maintained, and a place that just seems to work.

The city is considerably different than Windsor, and we’re hoping to figure out why it is that this city of 75,000 north of Toronto is a place that few people want to leave.

Basically, this post will present most of what we saw, much of which we’re still trying to reflect on and figure out. The discussion we had last night with some of the Artspace folks helped to frame and confirm what we saw—this place is okay and stable.


On the way up the 401, some strange cellphone towers.


Our arrival at Artspace—Iga, Justin, and Liz in the gallery preparing to embark on our first explorative walk.


The front side of Artspace, an older building that they’ve recently moved into.


Hunter street.


An alley, pretty clean.


Some of the mixed-use space.


While this street does have some apartment spaces, apparently this is an oddity.


There are people on the streets.


Justin looking on the George St N heading south.


The row of buildings that marks the edge of the downtown concentration of older architecture.


The ice cream factory that, according to legend, makes ice cream only for Canadian Solders in Afghanistan, across the street from Artspace.


Looking North on Alymer St N.


Posters over once-windows, relatively tame.


Another alley, decorated, leading to a parking lot.


An example of some of the patches in the older facades… parking lot followed by apartments.


Just a nice building that makes this feel like a functioning downtown next to a building that’s kind of tragically been painted over, for the most part.


“Murals” next to a parking lot.


What appears to be some kind Bell Telephone headquarters. Some people are reportedly “happily” underemployed, the largest employers seem to be government (or once-government).


Things are pretty clean, in general. This gum sort of stood out where we’d be used to seeing tags or the light pole itself falling apart.


An echo of an attempt at greening the downtown core.


There weren’t a lot of fences to speak of, but unfortunately this one kind of scars a block of the edge of downtown.


Through the fence you can see some commissioned graffiti.


An Events board that seems to be kept up to date and fairly well-organized.


More of the commissioned graffiti, with some leaks of stencils that seem non-commissioned.


Alongside the contained murals, stencils that are actually kind of interesting.


Graffiti that sits on the border of commissioned and non-comissioned, though it seems that it could be indicative of what the general sense of the city is.


Is this for real? Signs of the hippy population that apparently remains strong here.


At the end of the wall though, we see some of the “sponsors” of the wall.


And around the corner, some of the very little tagging we actually saw anywhere, but still fairly sterile.


Josh looking at the happy robot with telephones for its feet.


These murals were on the side of this law office and next to the Bell parking lot.


Some overflow, but still generally tame for advertising.


How to park bikes in Peterborough—misleading because there are actually a lot of cyclists.


Lovely buildings like this frequently occupy the corner of downtown streets.


Near the edge of most downtown streets, these brown pillars stood in twos or threes. We are not sure of their purpose, but they might be barricades.


There were a very considerable amount of people walking around downtown. Apparently some of them just pass through to get to the mall, but it’s still nice to see.


We were told that this mall has been a bit of a failed project since its creation.


This is another example of the divide between architectural styles.


It’s nice to see so buildings like this one used for a variety of shops, restaurants, and offices.


Here is the only broken window we found on our trek.


This theatre reminded us of Windsor’s Capitol Theatre.


Peterborough apparently has a pretty healthy theatre and performance scene.


This is the mall’s “courtyard” which faces the river. Here are a few planters that resemble metal trash bins.


As usual, the mall forbids skateboarding, which I’m sure they feel degrades the mall and potentially endangers its patrons.


Here is an illustrated example of what a skateboarder could look forward to provided he was allowed to use the area.


This elongated figure sculpture reminds us of the work lining Windsors riverfront.


Innocuous mall entrance sign against brick that marks the edge of the downtown.


Outdoor seats—it’s obvious that the neglect here is considerably more than in the rest of the downtown where it at least appears as though local shop-owners take better care of their space than any large mall-owning development company has.


The Ministry of Natural Resources—large employer recently added to Peterborough when the Ontario government started spreading its ministry headquarters around the province.


The movie theatre across the street, another building acting as the border of the downtown.


This happens here—people see their friends at a stoplight and go up to the window to chat.


The side of the movie theatre, barren, and one would imagine suggestive of the end of anything worth viewing.


The end of the sidewalk, it doesn’t look promising that there’s much beyond this.


At the train tracks that meet the end of the sidewalk.


But then, just a bit further down the tracks, an entranceway.


That leads to this view.


And this pathway.


And eventually this dock.


And this clear water.


And these ducks.


But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. There are some of the usual suspects abundant in municipally developed public places.


Sculpture of diverse-ish people pulling a rope dedicated to workers.


Nearby a shallow pond.


A sculpture…


The way in which they demarcate memorial benches, notice the benches themselves aren’t made from wood painted pink.


Great bike path.


Peterborough’s answer to the Green Bean cafe.


A broken light in an area that one would expect much worse—below grade, along the river’s edge.


One stencil that’s actually well-done in the same area.


People outside feeding ducks.


The ducks anticipating bread crumbs.


From the edge of the path and beyond the train tracks, you can see Harvey’s.


A strange turnabout at the edge of the No Frills parking lot that’s just beside the trail.


Traffic lights that work alongside the kind of confused identity we heard about in the downtown. Some councillors would like to see the downtown converted back to its somewhat invented historical precedent with oil lamps.


The sponsored map that’s kind of useless alongside the abandoned stripmall.


A parking lot fenced in by a 3 foot fence.


Third storey spaces that are underused and kept vacant because the landlords can make more money than by renting them—sounds familiar.


Back to homebase—Artspace’s sign.


Iga’s dog, Cuba and Josh.


Liz and Paul at our evening roundtable.


Markers waiting.


Paul looking over the rather pleasant “Arthur,” Trent’s student newspaper.


Josh capturing photos.


And organizing folders.


Discussion with Paul and Iga.


Justin asking questions.


Trying to take notes.


After our discussion, lots and lots of notes on the history of Peterborough and why, in general, things seem to work here.

7 Replies to “Extended Field Trip Day 1: Stable City”

    1. It’s really just “nice” here, we haven’t been able to come up with a better description as of yet … everyone we’ve spoken to generally thinks things are OK here, and it’s that enthusiasm alone that has made this trip so interesting because it’s that kind of attitude that’s so lacking in Windsor.

      We’re planning to talk to a lot more people today and hopefully we get some folks out to our town hall meeting tonight. We figure there has to be something that we can translate back to Windsor that’s working here.

  1. That’s most likely a Bell Central Office or telephone exchange.

    Also, it’s easy to figure out why people don’t want to leave. Why live in Toronto when you can live in a nice city relatively close by and just take advantage of Toronto. Sounds good.

    1. A lot of people noted that they enjoyed that Peterborough was somewhat detached from Toronto, and you’re right that the distance is an obvious advantage. People seemed to care about Peterborough in a really intrinsic way, and while some people noted that this has generated a kind of awkward focus on locality, it does seem to be a big part of what make it’s “a nice city”.

  2. really enjoyed your shot and analysis of the confused-identity-traffic lights at sherbrooke.

    there’s also something to say about broken/unbroken cities and language…it may be as good of an indicator as photo images. for example in ptbo, one of the main streets (though not downtown) is called ‘monaghan’, which to any outsider is assumed to be pronounced mon-a-han. but if you’re from ptbo you know that the city collectively defies grammatical rules and pronounces it mon-a-gin. even though it is a major route through town, if you say mon-a-gin, no one will know what you are talking about.

    also, hopefully you saw lansdowne street which is ptbos commercial hub and (hard as it may be to believe) wall-to-wall single-occupant vehicle traffic during rush hour. this is what has largely been behind the push for ‘the parkway’ – a (demographically speaking) far-reaching issue in the community.


    thanks for your work.

  3. Great photos guys- you really made the city look lovely… btw…The Bellaghem building on Hunter, which you guys noted as a rather garishly painted mixed-use space, was a former Artspace location, in the late-80s & 90s… perhaps part of why the arts district in Ptboro seems concentrated around Hunter…Thanks again for coming to ‘our precious city’… Liz

    1. Thank you again for all your help Liz!!!
      And again, thank you for your insight into local history … makes sense as to why Hunter becomes the concentration for arts activity.

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