Select City Highpoints

On May 11, 2017 · 5 Comments

I’m not much of a highpointer, and a begrudging one at best, although I maintain a kinship with those who follow this pursuit. I like the concept of highpointing more than the actual climbing of summits. That’s why I find myself occasionally visiting sites like peakbagger.com and examining things like its Peak Lists. I admit, I lifted many of the ideas for today’s article from its Selected World City High Points, and I’d do it again. City highpoints never got much attention. They fell way down on the pecking order behind national, state and county highpoints. I decided to give a few city highpoints the attention they deserved. I ordered my list from lame to grand.

Unnamed


City of Toronto Highpoint
Toronto, Ontario Highpoint
via Google Maps 3D, 2017

Toronto didn’t appear on that peakbagger list. Nonetheless I felt I should take a look anyway. The Canadian city with its largest population certainly deserved some attention. A great city in a great nation undoubtedly marked its highest elevation with a spectacular monument. Well, no, not really. Toronto’s maximum elevation of 212 meters (696 feet) barely rose above the surrounding terrain. Trip reports described an underwhelming experience, essentially walking onto a field (map) directly across the road from York University. I did notice that a regular Twelve Mile Circle reader posted one of the trip reports so that was a nice bonus.

The generally flat field covered a large reservoir of underground oil tanks. It seemed odd, as I considered it, that sports fields would be built atop oil tanks, although I supposed it must have been safe or they wouldn’t have done it. The fields served as home base for the Toronto Azzurri Soccer Club, with the specific highpoint found on what they called the West Fields. I can never remember where people call the sport Soccer and where they call it Football. Apparently Canada went with the soccer variation, or at least one club in Toronto did. I’m sure the Canadian 12MC audience will correct me if I’m wrong.

I doubted that any kids kicking soccer balls across a field atop oil tanks appreciated their exalted location upon Toronto’s summit.


Chancery Lane at High Holborn


City (High Holborn, 22m)
City (High Holborn, 22m) Junction with Chancery Lane. Photo by diamond geezer on Flickr (cc)

Peakbagger suggested a highpoint for London, England although I disagreed. It focused on Greater London and I’ll get to that in a moment. I wanted the actual City of London, a very tiny area of barely more than a square mile. The possibility of an exciting highpoint within such a small urban footprint seemed remote. It met my paltry expectations and nothing more. The actual spot registered maybe a notch better than Toronto only because it fell within a fairly busy, seemingly dynamic area. The highpoint could be discerned on the eastern side of Chancery Lane near its junction with High Holborn (map). It registered a measly elevation of 22 m (72 ft).

People who "climbed" to the summit recorded some interesting trip reports. One person said, "I’d walked across this pavement summit several times whilst working in London, without realising it was a high point." Another offered a recommendation to future climbers, "Suggest you do this one from Chancery Lane tube station, then at least you walk slightly uphill to it." Everyone seemed rather unimpressed.

Westerham Heights appeared as the highpoint on the Peakbagger list (map), at 245 metres (804 ft). However, that applied to Greater London, comprised of all 32 London boroughs plus the City of London. It wasn’t much more spectacular either, at 245 m (804 ft), "A rather unpleasant high point opposite Westerham Heights Farm; on a blind bend, the verge of a fast dangerous road, the A233."


Mount Lukens


Mount Lukens, view from Beaudry Loop
Mount Lukens, view from Beaudry Loop. Photo by Vahe Martirosyan on Flickr (cc)

A similar situation appeared in Los Angeles, California although the highpoint was much more prominent. I didn’t want the Los Angeles county highpoint, Mount San Antonio (aka Mount Baldy) at an impressive 3,068 m (10,064 ft). I wanted the city highpoint. The summit of Mount Lukens (map) reached 1,547 m (5,074 feet). While it didn’t reach quite the same stature as Mount Baldy, it still hit a pretty good altitude. At least it was a real mountain, too. It sounded amazing.

Mount Lukens stands majestically above the Crescenta Valley as the western most peak of the San Gabriel Mountains front range… It’s western flank drops over 3,000 feet affording terrific views of the San Fernando Valley to the southwest and the Verdugo Mountains and the Los Angeles Basin to the south. On exceptional days both the south and west facing beaches can be seen.

That made Los Angeles the city with the highest elevation of the 50 largest cities in the United States.


Montmartre


Montmartre
Montmartre. Photo by heroesbed on Flickr (cc)

However, Montmartre, the highest point of elevation in Paris, France, impressed me the most (map). A highpoint should look like this. It actually fell outside of the city limits until 1860 when it was annexed to become part of the 18th arrondissement. While the summit climbed only 130 m (430 ft), French authorities took full advantage of the situation. What does one do with such a prominent peak? Stick a basilica atop it and make it look even taller! The Basilica of Sacré-Cœur, dedicated to the sacred heart of Jesus, underwent construction on Montmartre between 1875 and 1914. What a lovely setting. No wonder artists such as Pablo Picasso, Vincent van Gogh and Claude Monet spent time on Montmartre.

Triangle

On November 17, 2016 · 3 Comments

With a name like Triangle, I expected some actual triangles. I pondered that possibility as I sat on Interstate 95 during heavy weekend traffic, returning from an overnight trip to Richmond. I found plenty of time to consider that notion too as I traveled through Triangle on the interminably slow route on a notoriously congested highway.


National Museum of the Marine Corps
National Museum of the Marine Corps. My own photo.

In truth, I already knew about Triangle although I never thought about its name before. It stood just beyond the gates of Marine Corps Base Quantico. The Marines built a wonderful museum bordering Triangle that I visited a couple of years ago. I guessed Triangle must have been roughly triangular. That seemed to be the case when I checked later (map). No online source confirmed it definitively, though. The source of this triangle remained a mystery.


Research Triangle Park, North Carolina



That didn’t keep me from finding other triangles. A famous one sat just one state farther south at Research Triangle Park in North Carolina. The triangle in question referenced three local cities anchored by three major universities: Raleigh (North Carolina State University), Durham (Duke University) and Chapel Hill (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill). The state government, local governments, the universities and private interests banded together in the 1950’s to create a research-friendly area managed by a non-profit organization. Their foresight worked spectacularly.

Today, we share our home with more than 200 companies and over 50,000 people with expertise in fields such as micro-electronics, telecommunications, biotechnology, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and environmental sciences. Industries invest more than $296 million in R&D at the region’s universities each year – double the average R&D investment for innovation clusters elsewhere in the nation.

Identifying triangles only got more difficult from there.


Junction Triangle, Ontario, Canada


Junction Triangle map
Junction Triangle map on Wikimedia Commons (cc)

Canada offered a recent example with Junction Triangle. It didn’t have much of a name nor much of a presence during most of its history, an isolated parcel on the western side of Toronto. Industry clustered there, and then so did immigrants that worked in the factories through much of the 20th Century. They came from places like Italy and Poland, and later from Portugal. The Portuguese came in such great abundance that soon they dominated the area. Factories declined precipitously and so did the neighbourhood as the century came to an end. However, conditions changed once again in recent years as young professionals began to covet its inexpensive, conveniently-located housing. The neighbourhood needed a fancy new name to match its changing fortune. A contest in 2010 resulted in hundreds of suggestions. The name Junction Triangle (map) won after officials tallied the votes.

Why Junction Triangle? Railroads hemmed the neighbourhood in on three well-defined sides. They formed a fairly decent approximation of a triangle.


Triangle, Zimbabwe


Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe Sugar Cane Train. Photo by Ulrika on Flickr (cc)

Teasing out the triangle in Triangle, Zimbabwe took a great deal more effort (map). Nothing of roughly triangular shape could be discerned anywhere on the nearby landscape. The town existed solely to service a collocated sugar refinery operated by an agricultural conglomerate, Tongaat Hulett Sugar. It processed up to sixty thousand tonnes of white sugar per year along with related products such as molasses and fuel-grade alcohol. Sugar cane was grown there since the 1930’s on a large property called the Triangle Plantation. Logically, the name of the town derived from the name of the plantation.

I discovered the source of the plantation’s name from Murray MacDougall and the Story of Triangle. Murray MacDougall was a fixture in the area and was primarily responsible for developing the sugar industry there.

They named the property Triangle after the registered cattle brand which Mac purchased from a fellow farmer named Van Niekerk, as the poor chap was going out of business and had a very simple brand which almost defied alteration in a period when rustling and brand-changing was not uncommon. For a few pounds Mac purchased both the registered brand itself, in the shape of a simple triangle, and the branding irons to go with it.

MacDougall followed a number of agricultural pursuits including ranching before striking success with sugar. He used the name of the brand that he purchased for his property and retained the name as his enterprise grew.

Last Places in Commonwealth Countries

On July 6, 2016 · 0 Comments

The series of Last Places continued. One should feel free to consult the previous articles, Last Place in England and Last Places in Asia, to understand the premise. I found it more difficult to uncover examples this time so I broadened the base, extending my search to the entire set of the Commonwealth of Nations countries. Most failed to produce any results although a few offered nuggets of goodness.


Last Place in Australia to Hunt Whales


Albany Whale World
Albany Whale World by denisbin on Flickr (cc)

This one surprised me. I knew that many nations hunted wales from the Eighteenth Century until well into the Twentieth Century, and a small handful never gave it up. It made sense to me that Australia, with all that seacoast, pursued whaling commercially too. What surprised me was the Australia didn’t stop hunting whales until 1978. I would have guessed a much earlier date given its fierce opposition to whaling today. The Cheynes Beach Whaling Company shut its doors in that fateful year, closing an Australian tradition that dated back to its earliest colonial days. That new direction marked a different tradition though, and one much better for the whales.

Cheynes got into the whaling game late from its base near Albany, Western Australia (map) in the 1950’s. Blood flowed in the waters for the next quarter century.

In 1952, the Cheynes Beach Whaling Company in Frenchman Bay commenced operations with advice and equipment supplied by the Norwegians. Using the whale catcher boats, the Cheynes II, III and IV, the whalers took an average of 86 humpbacks a year until a ban on hunting that species came into effect in 1963. In 1955, they had begun to take sperm whales, which now became the focus of the whale chasers, and catches steadily began to rise. When whales were plentiful, work went on at the station around the clock, seven days a week.

The old whaling station didn’t simply disappear after it closed. Just two years later it reopened as a tourist attraction, Whale World, now called the Discovery Bay Tourism Experience. The site offered an exact rendition of the station. Workers simply walked away in 1978 and left everything behind, almost as if they expected to return the next day. The site remained perfectly preserved.


Last Place in New Zealand to Cart Wool out on Packhorses


Around New Zealand
Around New Zealand by Coss and Johanna on Flickr (cc)

I wanted to find superlatives truly describing a nation’s fabric whenever possible. Sheep farming seemed sufficiently stereotypical of New Zealand. It delighted me to see Hore Hore Station mentioned as the last place in New Zealand to cart wool out on packhorses, listed in a family history. That didn’t appear to be a particularly reliable source although a 1957 photo series called Life on a Sheep-Station made similar claims.

Probably the only sheep station left in New Zealand where the wool must be carried out on horseback is the Hore Hore Station, 30 miles in from Ruatoria, in the shadow of Mount Hikurangi. The station’s only link with the road is by a tortuous track leading five miles up the Mata River through a precipitous gorge. All supplies are brought in by packhorses, and the wool is brought out in the same way.

Finding the exact spot proved more difficult. Hore Hore came from a Maori phrase meaning "nowhere place" and it described the situation perfectly. I couldn’t find it anywhere. Finally I turned to the New Zealand Gazetteer — I probably should have started there — and located the exact spot (map).


Last Place in Canada to Publicly Execute a Criminal


Ottawa Jail Hostel
Ottawa Jail Hostel by Bonnie Dean on Flickr (cc)

I discovered gibbeting in the England article and now I pondered public execution in Canada. I hadn’t formed a sudden fascination with death so the 12MC audience shouldn’t worry about my mental condition. As I searched for "last" things around the world, invariably the selections fell into common themes; electricity/telephones and capital punishment. Don’t blame me, blame the Intertubes.

The Carleton County Gaol in Ottawa, Ontario (map) offered only three public executions in its 150 year life span, although its final one made history for being the last time the public could watch a man hang in Canada. The condemned man, Eugène Larment killed Ottawa policeman Thomas Stoneman in 1945, the first Ottawa policeman to die in the line of duty.

Detective Stoneman was working on a special assignment attempting to locate a stolen vehicle. The vehicle had been used in a daring theft of automatic weapons from the Canadian War Museum. On October 24, 1945, at 0102 hours Detective Stoneman and a fellow officer approached three youths who were suspected of having just broken into cars. Unknown to the officers, the youths were armed with handguns stolen in a previous break and enter. One of the suspects shot Detective Stoneman… Eugene Larment was charged with murder, convicted and hung for his crime.

The execution took place at the Carleton County Gaol (also known as the Nicholas Street Gaol or Ottawa Jail) in 1946. It closed in 1972. Hostelling International bought the property and converted it into the Ottawa Jail Hostel. Those staying overnight could sleep in a converted cell complete with iron doors and bars. It offered tours each day including the third floor "death row."

I’ll add one small footnote. The last public execution in Canada indeed took place at Carleton. The last execution, not held publicly, happened in 1962 at the Don Jail in Toronto.


Last Place in Kenya Stuffing Animals for Big Game Hunters


King of Beasts
King of Beasts by Thomas Hawk on Flickr (cc)

Another nation, another surprise. I didn’t realize Kenya banned big game hunting in 1977. I thought they still allowed it. An American dentist killed Cecil the Lion in Zimbabwe in 2015 so I figured it was still a thing everywhere. Rich European and Americans used to flock to Kenya to collect all sorts of safari trophies, stuffing their victims for display. Now they don’t.

Paul Carl Zimmerman opened his taxidermy studio in Nairobi in 1929, after first arriving as part of "a zoology research team sent by a German university." His studio grew to become the largest taxidermy factory in Kenya, and one of the largest in the world. By 1973, Zimmermann Ltd. mounted trophies for 400 safaris a year, primarily lions, wildebeests and buffaloes. The business shuttered after the hunting ban. Only the name remained, adopted by the Zimmerman Estate housing complex on the site of the old taxidermy studio (map).

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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