the humber river soundscape project (2008) was created by a group of students and artists interested in exploring the sounds, spaces, and places of one of southern ontario's largest watersheds. borrowing the idea of attentive listening from the discipline of soundscape studies, the project aimed to draw public attention to the river as an important, yet overlooked, part of the region's ecological and cultural heritage.
from playing on nearby baseball diamonds as children, to walking some of its many trails as adults, each of us spent a great deal of time in and around various parts of the river. somehow, it's always had a quiet presence in our lives. so the project represented the opportunity for us to actually listen to it which, coincidentally, was precisely what the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) named their 2007 annual report on the health of the humber watershed. "listen to your river", reads the front page of the report.
in both sound and images, we documented parts of the humber river: from its northernmost beginnings at the niagara escarpment to its mouth at lake ontario. some of the results are available to view and listen to below.
by thinking in and through sound, we asked, what are some of the sounds that surround the humber river? for how long have they been heard in these spaces? and are there others who've also taken the time to listen to them? we thought about toronto's urban geography today, and that in most places, the commotion of the city silences the sounds of the river. and we also thought historically, about the people who lived alongside its riverbanks long ago. we thought about their need for access to fresh water, that the fertility of the watershed allowed for the cultivation of agriculture, and how the river enabled mobility, making it an integral part of the social life of the region. surely, listening to the sounds of the river meant something quite different then.
this project was our modest attempt to recover some of the sights and sounds that still today remain so important to the ecology and to the cultural heritage of southern ontario, even if—or, particularly because—many of its residents aren't aware of it.
design and photography by Leonardo Tamburri