Jane’s Walk: Public Art Toronto

jane's walk

Who walks alone in the streets at night? The sad, the mad, the bad. The lost, the lonely. The sleepless, the homeless. All the city’s internal exiles. – Matthew Beaumont, Nightwalking

Recently, my sister reintroduced me to the wonderful city that is Toronto through an organization called Jane’s Walk. As the website says,

“Jane Jacobs called Toronto home and so do we. Here, in our city of many distinct neighbourhoods and diverse cultures, we keep her legacy alive by walking together. This year, the Jane’s Walk festival is on May 1st, 2nd & 3rd!”

Discovering Toronto Through Walking Tours

My sister and I wanted to sign up for everything, but we restrained ourselves, and signed up for the Public Art walk that started in front of New City Hall at 10am on Saturday, May 2nd.

The extremely knowledgable guide, Natalie Frijia, started off by telling us the history of where the City Hall stood. And asking us a question. Everyone knows that there are two City Halls in Toronto, old and new, but did you know that St. Lawrence Market used to be a city hall as well? I had no idea! Mind blown.

I also didn’t know that private developers requesting rezonings greater than 100,000 square feet are required to put 1% of the cost into a piece of art that should be accessible to the public.

“It started in the late 1980s in Toronto, encouraging developers to contribute 1% of the their costs to art. But it really started in the U.S. in the 1960s. There was a reaction against stripped-down modernist buildings. The public started saying they didn’t like these empty barren plazas in front of office towers,” Ms. Mills says.

This is one of the millions of reasons I love Toronto!

Some Details From Our Extensive Tour

I wanted to put down in this post all that I could remember from the tour. If you have more questions about it or want more details, feel free to message Natalie Frijia on her twitter page.

1. Natalie started off the tour with chat about the area on which the old and new City Halls were built. Apparently, these areas used to be occupied by poor immigrants, who were given 2 years notice to clear out. Not very nice.

2. She also took us into the new City Hall to talk about the mural in there, built with hundreds of nails: David Partridge’s Metropolis. It is supposed to represent an eye – the city hall watching over the residents of the city to ensure their safety and security. The size and shape of the nails give the mural its distinctive 3-dimensional appearance. Fun fact: If you use a nickel, you can run it across the mural to create music.

Controversial Sculptures And More

3. Outside the new City Hall, is the controversial sculpture by Henry Moore. People say it looks like a tooth, or a bum. But in actuality, it is supposed to be a bow and arrow. Interestingly, the city didn’t like the sculpture. They thought it was too risque for the City Hall. But the residents of the city appreciated the sculpture and they fought the city with petitions and protests to keep it. Finally, the City relented, on one condition. That the residents would pay for it! Fun fact: In order to show his appreciation for the city’s support, Henry Moore donated a lot of his art to the Art Gallery of Ontario.

5. Next we went over to the old City Hall to be regaled about the best revenge story ever – E. J. Lennox was commissioned as the architect for the Old City Hall. He was given 10 years, and $10 million(?), and he went over both time and money. The City told him they wouldn’t allow him to put his name as the architect on the building as he had taken so long. In revenge, he sculpted each of the different parliament members at the time and put them in grotesque poses on the building. He also put his own face on it, with a dignified handlebar moustache (if you look up from the front of the building, you will see it).

The History Of A City In Its Buildings

In addition, he put his name across the top of the building, melding it with the building so well, that it took the City a few years to realize that he had put his name down as architect on the building. Amazing!

6. Next to we walked up to Bay and Adelaide (333 Bay St.) to look at Straight Flush by James Turrell (2009). As described below:

“America’s Turrell is a huge name in the world of light art, with works that make insubstantial spectra seem solid while evoking spirituality. In Straight Flush(admittedly more poker-themed than pious), five tall rectangles of light morph through a 188-minute cycle; beautiful blues, greens, oranges and pinks coalesce at varying speeds, almost always to mesmerizing effect. The one downside is there’s no seating area to complement the meditative mood, which is also challenged by Bay St.’s busy buzz.” He was paid $3 million for this art installation (1% of the cost of the building).

7. Next we walked up to Bay and King street, into Scotiabank. There we saw the most magnificent mural – Waterfall by Derek Besant. 15 storeys high and 15 metres wide! An exact 1 to 1 replica of a waterfall in Alberta. There are 72 pieces of canvas. You have to see this to believe it and to be awed by it. The bank is really great about letting people in to see it during the week and weekends. The only caveat – we were not allowed to take pictures.

Elephants Sculptures Anyone?

8. We walked up to the Elephants sculpture next, Tembo. Read up on the history and details about it at Camera Lucida’s blog. Natalie told us a great story about this. There used to be a zoo by the waterfront that everyone hated because it stunk. In order to publicize the zoo, the owner bought in a whale that had beached to the waterfront and left it there on ice for months (until the flesh had completely rotted away). So Natalie says once the zoo closed down, the sculpture shows the elephants walking away from the water towards the current Toronto zoo. Nice story!

5. St. Lawrence Market is where we ended our tour – my favourite indoor market. The only thing I remember about the market is that the floor slope towards the water (the Lake used to lap close to the back entrance of the market), so that the blood from the animals slaughtered would seep towards the lake water. My sister and I had a delicious meal at Buster’s Sea Cove to end off the tour – Delicious. We had the Halibut and Chips and Grilled Sardines. You have to try this place if you ever get a chance!

Were you able to go a Jane’s walk tour? Please try one if you can. They are all free and absolutely amazing!

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