The Longest Road in the World

Jon Greben

View south from College Street in Toronto

Toronto’s Yonge Street has been referred to as the longest road in the world. It originates at the lakeshore, continuing north of the city as Highway 11, 1896 km northwest to the town of Rainy River at the Minnesota border. Yonge Street was built over old paths established by First Nations peoples long ago, extended in sections to its current terminus. This book maps segments of this very long road from its southern origin through Rama, Huntsville, Burk’s Falls, North Bay, and Thunder Bay to Quetico Provincial Park in the District of Rainy River. These images have been captured from a corridor surrounding the road itself.

I have chosen to depict this very old path using a novel photographic technology, specifically, a mirrorless infrared camera that renders images in unique ways as it is predominantly sensitive to infrared light. As such, this medium visualizes what is there that our eyes cannot see, symbolic of the overwritten path that lies hidden underneath the modern paved highway that traverses the same trajectory. Modern, ancient and in-between, urban and rural, natural and manmade; all are seen to come together as one journeys along this route north then west from the lakeshore at the base of Canada’s largest city. Herein, select images rendered with the otherworldly tones for which colour infrared imaging is known, seek to capture hidden beauty that lies cryptically within that which is visually more familiar. This serves as a photographic reminder that there may be layers of history in a road as familiar to us as Yonge Street. A second glance through a less familiar lens may reveal novel richness.

Conceptually, an imaging technology that can visualize that which one doesn’t see with the naked eye parallels the subject matter, a modern road where its antecedent path lay in prior centuries. The reason for this technical choice is to convey the concept of seeing the unseen. The relationship between the modern road and the First Nations path it is built upon reflects a subtheme of this book, that of colonization. Background research identified accompanying stories which seek to capture various meanings of this route, in both its current form and historical underpinnings.

Old car by the roadside
Rama Airport
Huntsville train station
Big Bend at Arrowhead Provincial Park
Deer in a cemetery
Rail crossing at Melissa
Statue of arm wrestler Greg Boyes
Covered bridge in Burk's Falls
Gateway sign in North Bay
Co-op store sign right off of highway 11 in Thunder Bay
Looking east on Highway 11 from Thunder Bay in the direction of Toronto
Jon Greben

Jon Greben

Jon Greben’s journey as a photographer sprung from his love of nature and the challenge of wildlife imaging. His foray into landscape photography soon overlapped with his discovery of the novel beauty and creative potential offered by monochrome and colour infrared film. A search for a modern such medium led Jon to obtain a digital infrared camera. With time, he has learned to work with the unique aesthetic and technical characteristics of this medium to develop his own creative style, which he has applied to his landscape and cityscape images. Jon looks forward to expanding his use of this medium into other photographic domains including portraiture.