On the eleventh day of March came the Flood, where the students of Toronto, expelled from the verdant fields of Queen’s Park, were swept up in its current. Spring thawed the accumulated snow, and the narrow footpaths began to fill with water. I was there upon the surging plain, journeying home from my lecture at St. Michael’s, when I saw them all, hundreds perhaps, before the banks of Queen’s Park Crescent, thronging along the fence. In the deluge, a long depression in the ground had become a murky chasm, barring us from the safety of Hart House.
Some quailed at the treacherous crossing before them, but I knew there was nowhere to go if we turned back. The brave, or perhaps those with nothing left to fear, began to form a single-file line gripping the fence, one trembling foot before the other, backs to the torrent inches below. I took my place amongst them. Soon I discovered why the procession moved slowly: first, the thin strip of land on which we tiptoed was not land, but ice; we had to lean entirely on the fence, or else slip and plummet backwards.
Posted by Jacob Harron on Monday, March 11, 2019
Second, this fence was not built to support the weight of even a single human frame. As I and twenty others clung on, it groaned beneath us, and began to teeter ever more sharply, like the nodding head of one battling exhaustion, verging every second on collapse. I knew speed to be my only hope, but the procedure was too delicate. Those in front would not be hurried; those behind surged against me, clamouring for space. My footing wavered. I danced in place upon the frozen ledge in a sort of treadmill motion. The barrier swayed. I clenched my teeth, and inched on, trying to ignore the panic on either side of me, and the dark plummet behind my back. What did not help at all were the snide comments of those who chose simply to walk through the water, and cruelly chided, “It’s only a puddle,” or “Don’t those people own winter boots?” Classists, the lot of them.
At this point, the fence was distressingly malleable. Straining almost parallel to the water’s surface, it offered roughly as much support as a slice of salami nailed into the ground. Just as I prayed that I would be able to reach shore, I slipped. My left foot hurtled backwards, landing upon a small outcropping, which unfortunately turned out also to be ice. Before I knew what was happening, I was ankle-deep in black water, flailing towards shore in desperation and soggy shame. Though I escaped with my life, I relive the experience constantly. I hope never to return to Queen’s Park. I may never attend class again.
I have heard some compare the incident to Moses’ parting of the waters in Exodus, and casting of Pharaoh’s army into the sea. For my part, I left feeling less like a freed slave of Egypt than one of those ugly or abstruse divine accidents that Noah left behind. “Dreadfully sorry,” Meric Gertler calls down from aboard the Ark. “No room for, uh, you lot.” Some of the young, I have heard, go so far as to assert there never was anything behind those fences, and that Queen’s Park was always a metaphorical space, not something literal. Part of me wants to believe them, as I huddle under my blankets for warmth, and nurse my trench foot. Whatever that gated garden is or was, if I must pass it again, I pray less for salvation than survival.