Life at the top of Toronto: Canada’s tallest crane operator shares his amazing view with the world
Robert MacFarlane arguably has one of the best views from his workplace in all of Canada.
From his perch in a construction crane cab in downtown Toronto, he can easily see all the way from the city of Niagara Falls to Canada's Wonderland and on a clear day the Darlington Nuclear plant. That's about 80 kilometres away.
He could keep this spectacular view for himself, but he shares it with the world via his Twitter account every day. MacFarlane works 214 metres above the ground at the top of the L Tower construction crane at Yonge St. and Front St. He is using the tallest free-standing crane in the country to put the finishing touches on the building.
"I've done a number of shifts on tall cranes...but this is the tallest building from the bottom to the top," he said to Yahoo! Canada News as we looked up at the structure that pierced the sky. "I've been startled a couple of times, but I don't scare easily, I don't panic. Height is to respected, not feared. I think if you fear it that's where you're going to run into trouble."
He Tweets using the handle @SkyJacked793, which comes from the fact raising a crane is said to be "jacking it up" and 793 is his local union.
And while many would be scared just riding up the elevator on the outside of the building or walking the catwalk to get from the building to the crane, there are many more just like MacFarlane across Canada, especially in Toronto.
Currently, there are about 300 tower cranes working in Canada's largest city. Developers don't need a permit before erecting one so there's no central database to track it. There are 189 high-rise buildings in the works in the city making it more than Mexico City (88) and New York City (82) combined. Toronto has the most high-rise cranes for any city in all of North America and 45 per cent of the residential construction in the Greater Toronto Area is happening in the downtown rectangle of Bathurst St. to the Don Valley Parkway and from Dupont St. to Lake Ontario.
This large number of cranes is something that has changed a lot in the 20 years MacFarlane has been operating one. He said he used to remember seeing about six cranes or so, now if he looks out his cab, he can see about 80.
The massive building boom isn't just going on in Toronto. Calgary, Vancouver and Mississauga all placed in the top eight of this list of most high-rise cranes from 2011.
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What make's MacFarlane different from other operators is his newfound enjoyment of photography and Twitter. Armed with two point-and-shoot cameras and a Smartphone, he gives Torontonians a whole new perspective on their own city. MacFarlane said his initial interest for taking pictures began when people would take pictures of him in the early days of the project.
He wanted to know where the pictures were ending up so he did an online search and found a whole thread of images. After about a year of looking at images, he started posting pictures himself and people seemed to like them.
"I worked my way to Twitter through Commander (Chris) Hadfield. I wanted to follow his stuff. I figured I'd just tweet a picture and it got quite popular so I kept doing it and now it's part of my day."
He now has more than 2,600 followers. He posted his first picture in October 2012 and has probably posted a couple thousand since. "It's enjoyable, people like them so that's why I enjoy doing it."
So what is it like behind the pictures? MacFarlane is tall and at 6'5", he said there isn't a lot of extra room in the cab. He gets to work by taking an elevator to the 55th floor then walking across a catwalk before climbing up the inside of the crane and into the cab. He works by himself most of the day with the longest shift being 21 straight hours. There is no bathroom in the cab, so he uses a container, but it is heated and cooled. He said he used to feel temperatures of about 60 degrees Celsius in the middle of summer, but a few years ago the Ministry of Labour got involved and required all cabs to have air conditioning.
We spoke one afternoon during an April storm when people were having a hard time holding their umbrellas because of the wind and MacFarlane still went up and worked.
"It recoils and bounces around quite a bit," he said. "But it's remarkably robust." If he doesn't feel it'll be safe, he doesn't go up.
Those days seem to be view and far between, which is lucky for us because MacFarlane really has a good view when storms roll in over the lake.
(Top photo by Jordan Chittley/Yahoo! Canada News)