It's like night and day...

Toronto in 2000 remains one of North America's most vibrant and liveable cities. Its diverse population and tourist trade supports a wide array of businesses large and small, offering a range of products and services typical of large, cosmopolitan cities. Despite competition from the sprawling suburbs of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) and surrounding regions, the cultural and economic heart of Canada's largest city still beats most strongly at its geographic centre: the City of Toronto proper. Colloquially called "Downtown", the area described by that term nevertheless encompasses thriving neighbourhood shopping districts and residential areas beyond the soaring skyscrapers of the city's commericial and financial core.

Surface transportation in Downtown Toronto is still dominated by trams, invariably called streetcars. Toronto's major streets follow a grid pattern, hacked out of the Upper Canadian wilderness out two centuries ago by British colonial authorities. Most of the central city's key arteries are served by trams running on conventional street trackage, and the lines using this trackage are among the system's most heavily-trafficked surface routes. Cars packed with standees are common throughout the day. Toronto of old was noted for its slavish devotion to the Protestant work ethic at the expense of fun and frivolity--"New York run by the Swiss," Peter Ustinov once called the place. No more. Latter-day Torontonians like to party after hours with a fervour equal to their workaday toil, and true to form, large numbers of them take transit right up to the end of regular day/evening service.

Unlike many LRT systems in North America, which do not operate during the overnight hours, the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) maintains service on a scaled-down network of streetcar (and bus) routes between roughly 1:30 am and 5:00 am, when the subway system is shut down. Headways on these lines are, in TTC parlance, 30 minutes or better, and moderate-to-heavy loads are not uncommon; overnight peaks result when the bars and clubs close up shop, and again as shift workers from various businesses make their way to and from their jobs.

Above and beyond the technical skills required to successfully produce the highly-prized and dramatic "night shots," streetcar buffs will appreciate the logistical and safety concerns encountered on the streets of any large city at night. Night-time photography remains a difficult but rewarding pursuit. Chasing the ghost of the perfect shot has found me stalking the darkened streets of Toronto on many a night--despite living a tiresome four hour drive away. For me, however, there's more to these trips than just honing my photographic technique. It's all about listening to the nocturnal rhythms of this fascinating city, not quite asleep yet not fully awake. Climb aboard, and enjoy my attempt to capture the spirit of the trams that prowl the streets of Toronto by night.

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