The Don, Frozen in Time
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The Don, Frozen in Time

A photography series captures the Don in winter and one photographer's connection to his new home.

When Reginald Balanga knew he was going to move to Canada from the Philippines, he developed an interest in photography to capture what was special about the country he was leaving behind.

“I decided to take more pictures to document my home,” says the 28-year-old photographer.

Balanga moved to Canada in 2009 and first settled in Regina before relocating to Toronto’s Flemingdon Park neighbourhood in 2010. His interest in photography continued, first with photographs of Saskatchewan, and then with the diverse photo opportunities Toronto offers.

He did an early photo project on Chinatown because it reminded him of home, but also to use photography to explore the core and suburbs of his new home. But it was an aspect of Toronto that is fairly unique for a major city that made Balanga want to explore more.

“I started to appreciate how much natural space Toronto has,” he says.

He was particularly drawn to the Don River, which is near his home. When budget cuts threatened various city programs and services early in the Ford administration, Balanga worried about the Don and wanted to get involved.

“I felt like I had to do my part, just get conversations alive about the Don River,” he says. “Just to remind people that we have something special there.”

In 2011 Balanga wanted to join the Task Force to Bring Back the Don, a volunteer committee that advised council on matters relating to the river and watershed. But the committee, along with several others, was shuttered in the early days of the Ford administration. Instead, Balanga expressed his interest in the Don through photography. In January, he exhibited the photo series Don River Winter at the Northern District Library. The exhibit shows the Don covered in ice and snow, a look at the waterway that he feels is underexplored.

“I don’t think a lot of people hike or explore it in winter,” he says, explaining why he wanted to share this side of the Toronto river.

Balanga hopes to eventually turn the photographs into a book.

CORRECTION: February 5, 2015, 1:05 PM This post originally indicated that Balanga was part of the group Bring Back the Don. While he wanted to, the Ford administration shut down the organization before he had the chance. We regret the error.