An Urban Mediation on Dundas: the Square that is a Pentangle

Updated: Jul 12, 2018

Dundas is of Gaelic derivation. It means South Hillfort (Dun = hillfort or Atlantic roundhouse & deas = south).

The land is defeated here. It slumbers deep beneath us. An awareness that surfaces in unexpected ravines and glacial valleys; but is hidden more often than revealed.

I avoid the space. I avoid the miasma of the square. Not, as the urban planning architects would have you think, because the space intended for collective democratic gathering has become Times Square North of 49. Not because the advertising is of such intensity that it appears daylight, long after evening has fallen on the Longest Night. I avoid it the way that one keeps a wary eye on the man who is engaged in a vigorous, angry conversation with beings that one cannot see; pretty sure they are not there, but being careful just in case. “Step respectfully around with a wide berth.”

Whatever ill resides within those granite slabs of desolate emptiness, it has been driven out into the night time hours by the noise and the crowds. Hawkers of faith and buskers, jostling for sidewalk real-estate, for attention, for belief in what they strive to bring out of the realm of imagination and conjecture, into the chalk “Girl with a Pearl Earring’ on the corner, or the semi-articulated bellow of “BELIEVE” from an aging preacher. It is selective in whose eyes it chooses to watch from. It monitors, it learns and slowly, so softly, it inhabits and commands.

You think, perhaps, that the spirit of which I speak is some metaphor for the gross consumption and capitalist consumerism that pulsates across the space, being continually echoed back by the buildings until it is all but knee deep with waders on to make it across and break free of its pull.


Though that may be what currently haunts the planners and the architects, it is not what haunts the land.

It is not what haunts me.

The fountains march in regimented rows across the sun-heated granite. Spraying up to give the square’s humans a false sense of playful connection to one of the elementals.  I do not know why they bother. Such domesticated water has no real relation to its wild sisters buried under layers of human contempt for the land’s waterways but still carving their ancient pathways, out of sight, to the Inland Seas. It is the perfect water for the humans gathered around it; domesticated, tamed, harried, haunted, cut off from roots.

Toronto’s buried rivers they call them.

Lost Rivers.

Ghost Rivers.

Rivers that were but are no more.

Rivers that were and still are, though hidden in the deeps.

Burke Brook, the Lower Don River, Garrison and Taddle Creeks and more, and none of these their true names. None of these what the land named them. None of these what the Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island know them by and continue to mourn and stand guard for.

I wonder how much effort it took to turn this acre of soil and its waters soulless? How long did it take before memory fled, like a limb that has lost its body? Does the limb also feel phantom pain?

I love the City but I do not love that acre. It suctions like a black hole at energy approaching its event horizon.

They are the busiest intersections. Every day 127,000 vehicles and 96,000 pedestrians flow across in four directions. Tourists come here. I do not know why. Except perhaps that it is a space that must be traveled through to go somewhere other. Down into the depths and onto the rails, through the tunnels to somewhere that is not here. They pass through. Only a few, by comparison, stay. Do the people who sit there know?

I have sat in other concrete plazas where the land is not dead despite the weight of concrete on its back. Where the land still sings and if you sit really still, with your eyes closed, you can hear the Old Ones calling on the summer breeze and the winter gales.

But not here.

Not this acre.

What happened here that drove the light from the soil, rich, once upon a time with old growth Carolingian forest and woodland life?

So much buried here beneath our feet. Silent, hidden, untold stories. But the land, even though it slumbers, the land remembers. And someday, that slumbering rider of the night will awaken, rise up and shrug off its concrete blankets to share its memory and the truth will fly like an arrow into the heart of all that we thought we knew.

We sang here once, a thousand plus strong, late one May evening when the promise of summer was only a hint on the breeze. We sang When Doves Cry in three part harmony. We sang to the land and to the people scattered around the edges of that acre. We sang in tribute, we sang in restoration, we sang in community, we sang in mourning and in remembrance. We sang for ourselves and we sang for people around the world who did not yet know we were singing. 1,900 voices sounding out in the hour where the land turns, not back, but forward to the sunrise. We sang as the night reached its peak and for those five minutes, the land awoke and remembered.

What would happen, if a 1,900 strong choir sang to the land every evening and every morning, in all the ways in which we sang that night, and beyond?

In the land of my ancestors, all the waters had a local goddess or spirit that guarded the waters, guarded the hills and the peat and the mists and the moors and the high lands. And as in the Highlands of my childhood, every land knows its Guardians. Before she awakens, there are things we must quieten, things we must lay to rest, and things we must sing and dance and speak back to life. We must re-member all that we have buried beneath concrete and dark towers, beneath bright lights and cacophonies of consuming. We must remember that once we were all Wild and that somewhere in our blood, all of humanity, from all seven seas and five oceans know what we are called to be again to save the only life that matters, the Earth who is mother to us all.


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