This is a Life's Work

IMG_2318.jpegA long life, at that.

About a month ago, I was surprised by an e-mail from Howard Levine, whom I'd never met, but who I knew as a prominent councillor from Metropolitan Toronto back in the 1990s, and an individual who worked with Steve Munro and other grassroots Torontonians to save the city's streetcars as part of the Streetcars for Toronto Committee in the early 1970s. He wanted to let me know that a friend of his, Richard Glaze, who came to Toronto decades ago from Dayton, Ohio, was in poor health and had to vacate his apartment for a retirement home. Mr. Glaze had been an avid railfan for most of his life, and also a photographer, and a collector, and could somebody come and take on his collection of slides and transit memorabilia, to ensure that the items received good homes and were not wasted.

I didn't fully comprehend the scope of what I was taking on until I met with Mr. Glaze's friend Bruce Jones, as we arranged a time and date to pick up the material. Jones noted that the boxes filled up two bookshelves. I hadn't realized quite how large those bookshelves were, and I have to say the photographs didn't do it justice. I'm not sure the photograph above does it justice, as this is most of the collection, now relocated to a corner of my home office. It took two trips, over two Saturdays, with much ferrying back and forth with a dolly Jones provided that I was grateful for.

Those metal briefcases you see in the background? They are full of 2-inch by 2-inch slides. The boxes in the foreground? Slides. What aren't slides are a few boxes of 16mm film, a selection of transfers, and a few boxes of photographs and negatives. Some were purchased from noted slide collectors/sellers like Al Chione, or are official TTC photographs shot by Ted Wickson. Most are from Glaze himself, and not just of Toronto transit operations, either, but transit agencies around North America including Montreal, Dayton, San Francisco, and more. There are even two 7-inch film reels of streetcar operations in El Paso, Texas from the late 1950s. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of individual 2-inch by 4-inch negatives covering the last days of streetcar operations in Detroit.

And mixed among them are personal photographs from the time Mr. Glaze was stationed near White Sands, New Mexico, of his work for General Motors in Michigan in the early 1960s, and his time settling in Toronto in the 70s and the 80s. From what Mr. Jones and Mr. Levine have told me, Mr. Glaze has no surviving family to give these to.

As I look at this 70-year pile of experience and memory, I'm struck by the question of, what am I supposed to do with all this? I know this is a question that many my age are wrestling with, as they consider their parents with their large homes, and wonder what to do with the materials, and the memories they hold, once the time comes and the parents pass away. I know a few online friends who've had to deal with this, and it is a struggle.

But as I look at this pile, I am struck by the fact that I do feel a responsibility to do something with it. Because it's a life, a long one and, by all accounts and considering the quality of his friends, a full and good one. And the material he collected, because they offer a remembrance of what he experienced along the way, deserves preservation.

And since there is nobody else, I'm going to start.

I'm not doing this alone, oh, no.

The slides, films, and negatives of streetcar and transit operations outside the Greater Toronto Area and southern Ontario are beyond my purview to include in Transit Toronto, but I know there are railfans and historians out there who can use this material, and I've already reached out to one or two who should give certain parts of the collection a good home. I'm asking that they work to preserve the material, digitize the slides, photos, negatives, and film, and put them online, and to make sure that Richard Glaze is credited prominently, either as a photographer or as the collector, depending on his contribution. So I am hopeful that we will see this material posted sooner, rather than later.

That still leaves me with a lot of work to do, digitizing the remaining material and making it available online. Then there will be the question of what to do with the material once it is digitized. It can't go into a landfill. Here, though, I am hopeful that I can work with various rail and transit museums, and perhaps the Toronto Archives, to preserve the physical materials so we don't rely on online alone.

All in all, it will be a long and daunting task, but a satisfying one, and I'm hopeful that some local railfans can also help out in doing it.

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