Archives for category: imageability

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Driving along the 401, it’s hard to miss the new cluster of towers that come into view just before the highway rises east toward the DVP/404 interchange. Towering over the 401 at Leslie Street is Ikeatown, one of Toronto’s newest neighbourhoods.

Just as the St Lawrence Market was the commercial heart of early York, Ikea’s energy brings life to the new precinct, attracting visitors from all over Toronto and much further afield.

For now, Ikeatown’s borders seem to be Sheppard to the north, Leslie Street to the east, the 401 to the south and Provost to the west, though with the completion of upcoming condominium projects, the neighbourhood will expand west to Bessarion Street.

Ikeatown

Okay. I admit that the neighbourhood isn’t officially called Ikeatown. It’s formally dubbed Park Place by its developers, probably due to its proximity to the East Don River valley. The name seems a bit contrived, however, as the immediate area has a lot less Park and a lot more Ikea.

The increasingly popular use Ikeatown – or Ikeaville – to refer to this part of town may alarm some Torontonians concerned about the appearance of corporate names on the city’s map. However, just as the Don and Humber Rivers have supplanted themselves in so many of the city’s neighbourhood and street names, it’s legitimate that that an area be named for the most dominant feature of its landscape.

Though Ikea has brought life to the brownfield site since the early late 70s, the residential towers were only built in the last few years, demonstrating an early application of “leading with landscape“. The urban design principle has since been used in other large scale redevelopments like the Sherbourne Common in Toronto’s revitalized Waterfront.

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I visited Ikeatown a few weekends ago to explore the city’s newest neighbourhood. Beyond anchoring the district, Ikea’s influence has made its way into other parts of the neighbourhood’s daily life.

Like the Liberty Village Express, the district has its own micro-transit line. A free shuttle (funded by Ikea) regularly operates from Leslie station, terminating in central Ikeatown, that is, right in front of the Ikea. As I rode the bus, I spoke with a few passengers. Many were residents of the neighbourhood who take advantage of the service to access the TTC as part of their daily commute.

Ikeatowners take advantage of the neighbourhood's micro-transit line

Ikeatowners take advantage of the neighbourhood’s micro-transit line

During my visit, I spoke with many Ikeatowners about their neighbourhood. Confirming my suspicions about how much furniture in their apartments came from Ikea, the answers ranged from “about 50 percent” to “almost everything”. I craned my neck upwards to let it sink in. The neighbourhood’s towers, visible on the horizon for kilometres – are literally full of Ikea furniture.

Even the neighbourhood’s public art is Ikea-ish. The public realm is decorated by enormous framed images of flowers that evoke the ready-to-hang stock images of Manhattan and Amsterdam that adorn apartments worldwide.

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Ikeatown is a name that is just catching on, but its novelty shouldn’t undermine its legitimacy. Toronto’s neighbourhood names are traditionally unstable.  Cabbagetown was originally called Don Vale until changed its name in the 1970s to evoke nostalgia when its neglected Victorian housing stock once again became fashionable. Across the river, Leslieville turned into South Riverdale before reverting back to its original moniker. The Upper Beaches and Junction Triangle, and now perhaps Ikeatown, are more recent cases of Toronto growing, re-inventing and re-naming itself.

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I had a meeting today at Jimmy’s Coffee in Toronto’s Kensington Market, a newish coffee joint in the former Roach-A-Rama space.

While considering the selection of pastries, muffins and sandwiches on offer, I recognized a very distinct bold hand-lettered signage, that I knew I’d seen before. The signs looked exactly like the ones at Java Blend, my favourite coffee shop in North End Halifax.

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Seeing a similar kind of hand-writing wasn’t too surprising. For the last few years, tall, thin block lettering has been popular, and it was no surprise to see this style in a self-aware and hip coffee shop in Kensington Market.

But things got stranger when I looked up to order my coffee and made eye contact with the very same barrista I had gotten to know at Java Blend.

Java Blend

For a moment, space was bent.

Everything around me – the smells, the sites of the hand lettered sign, the friendly face across the counter – the warm lighting and amber colour scheme – the harsh churn of blending beans – served to collapse my sense of space bringing distant geographies face-to-face and space-to-space.

I snapped out of my space-bent daze and realized the recognition was mutual. We chatted.

Turns out Kate had moved from Halifax to Toronto a few years ago, and yes, she hand-lettered the signs.

It was a particularly strong case of geognitive dissonance.

Geognitive dissonance occurs when a combination of senses temporarily transports you to another specific space on the surface of the earth. It’s when notions of linear space collapse, and you can feel the connection between two places separated by vast distances.

It’s a phenomenon I’ve felt before, and every now and then it sneaks up on my, collapsing my notions of contiguous geography. It makes far-away places, past-homes, feel here and now and comfortably close.

This post originally appeared on Spacing Toronto and accompanied the most recent edition of the Learnt Wisdom Lecture Series in downtown Centreville.
People coming from the city were met at the ferry by Jimmy Jones, a lifelong Islander who grew up scurrying around Centre Island’s main drag. He shared anecdotes and history as we walked across the Island and down Manitou Road. Downtown Centre Island was repopulated for a few hours last Sunday afternoon. Read more about Learnt Wisdom here, and look out for our next event! 

Main Street Centre Island, Manitou Road in the early 1950s, from A Toronto Album 2: More Glimpses of the City That Was

At the peak of it’s population in the 1950s, homes, cottages, and mansions lined the entirety of Toronto Island from Ward’s Island in the east all the way to Hanlan’s Point in the west.

Toronto Island map at the peak of its population, from Derek Hayes' Historical Atlas of Toronto

At the time, there were also many Island-side amenities to serve its full time residents, including a movie theatre, a bowling alley, grocery stores, and dance halls. Most of these services were concentrated on Manitou Road, then the main drag of Centre Island.

A 1953 parade on Manitou Road, from A Toronto Album 2: More Glimpses of the City That Was

With its businesses and active street life, Centre Island was a bona fide, full-service small town abutting one of Canada’s largest metropolises.

When Metro Toronto decided to convert the Island to uninhabited parkland in the early 1950s, they began a program of demolishing Island homes starting from Hanlan’s Point and slowly moving east.

Before homes were demolished, Metro Toronto razed Manitou Road, the heart of the Toronto Island community. According to Sally Gibson’s More Than an Islandthe Island’s services were eliminated to make it easier to convince Islanders to give up their homes. How could they live on the Island, especially through the winter, without a grocery store?

With main street extinguished, Metro easily began expropriating houses and demolishing them. As we know, the city only got as far as Algonquin Island before they were halted by protests and a peaceful uprising.  With their main street demolished more than 60 years ago, today’s Island residents continue to rely on city-side grocery stores, movie theatres and dance-halls.

In 1967, Main Street Centre Island was replaced by the Versailles-style gardens of the Avenue of the Islands and by Centreville Amusement Park down the road. Along with its rides and petting zoo,  the amusement park includes a full size replica of Small Town Ontario, complete with a Town Hall, town square and Ontario heritage homes with decorative bargeboards.

To add insult to the displacement of most of Toronto Island’s residents, it seems the city demolished a living, breathing town and replaced it with a bogus version of itself.

Downtown Centreville replaced Manitou Road, from Chuckman's Toronto Nostalgia blog

Keep this in mind next time you find yourself at Centreville. It gives new meaning to the idea of a ghost town. A ghost town is usually a place that has been abandoned, but has been left largely in tact. Centreville is a stranger kind of ghost town, not abandoned, but replaced with a toy copy of itself. Centreville is an echo of history distorted by historic grand plans and visions of the future. It’s a simulacra of the town it replaced, barely able to speak for itself and its history. This feels especially true when it is doubly abandoned in the quiet winter months.

Downtown Centreville is a town doubly abandoned when the amusement park closes for the winter.

To bring attention to the strange history of Manitou Road and Centre Island, the next edition of the Learnt Wisdom Lecture Series is being held in Downtown Centreville this Sunday February 1st at 2pm. Join us for an afternoon of story telling as we consider the theme “Reckless Abandon.” Catch the 1:10 boat to Ward’s Island and take the half- hour walk through the beauty of the winter Island, all the way to Downtown Centreville.

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Where on Earth?

It’s easy to imagine that place is stable. A definite somewhere, that you can point to on a map. A place’s coordinates are easily found with a quick search on Google maps.

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But is place really somewhere you can point to on a map?

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Under that big Google A, I think there’s less of an ability to track down where exactly HERE is.

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Consider a dramatic case, Gibraltar Point on Toronto Islands.

Gibraltar Beach

Gibraltar Point is the south-western most part of Toronto Island, and is where I’ve spent a lot of time. The point is formed from the southerly and westerly current of Lake Ontario pushing up sediment from land eroded from the Scarborough Bluffs to the east.

Island Flows

In this most technical of definitions, Gibraltar Point is this south-westerly most point of Toronto Island, where the currents meet each other almost perpendicularly. Taking this definition, we can find Gibraltar Point easily. Go there today and you’ll find a small structure marking the Point – a public bathroom.

Bathroom

If you venture past the bathroom and stand at the Point, you will feel the wind coming at you from your left and right with the waves coming from all directions. This is where the weather blown in from Lake Ontario first makes its landfall on Toronto.

But, looking at historical maps of the Island, you’ll see that it is an ever-changing sand bar, transforming shapes with every passing storm and year.

Island Changing

Understood by the definition above, and taking into consideration the yearly transformation of the Island, Gibraltar Point would appear to be roving, changing places with every year and every storm.

When John Graves Simcoe first saw the harbour protected by a sand bar, he declared it the site of Toronto, and built a lighthouse at what was then, geographically speaking, Gibraltar Point (named to evoke the Mediterranean rock that similarly protected a British Colony in Spain). As a result, despite being inland and covered in forests, the site of the lighthouse is now known as Gibraltar Point. Ask an Islander how to get to Gibraltar Point, and they’ll lead you there (and to the art centre across the road), leading you astray from the actual point (technically speaking) which is several hundred feet south and west of the lighthouse.

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Similarly, a plaque at was is now known as Hanlan’s Point refers to its former life as a Gibraltar Point. This is very far from both the lighthouse and the bathroom that marks the technical point.

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Gibraltar Point is not one, but potentially three different places.

During my time spent there, I have found a candidate for a fourth Gibraltar Point – one that carries the weight of this Place in spirit. It is a magical place – a forest grown right to the water’s edge – trees growing out of a beach – a sandy forest. Here, the waves crash against solid ironwoods that protrude, some horizontally, into the lake. The sands of the beach layer on top of each other, creating impressions of slow waves in the yellow and brown and red sands. Driftwood is lodged into the beach and is sculpted smooth and seamlessly into the sand. The dogwood at the edge leave their roots hanging into the water, dried to be yellow and stringy.

I know this to be Gibraltar Point because of the shared acknowledgment of the specialness of this place. There are always footprints leading to and from this place – signs of temporary dwelling, fires, ash and embers. This sand forest is wedged between two beaches and form a fulcrum for the Island’s southwesterly most point. This, Gibraltar Point in spirit, carries the spiritual weight of splendour that such a grand name and important place merits. It is where the flows of Lake Ontario meet and react and beckon. It is an undeniably sacred space, a temple in the forest, a definite articulation of the Island’s healing energy.

Sandy Forest

Gibraltar Point is many places at the same time. Place is dynamic.

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I wrote this post in April 2014, long before I read the fantastic Unruly Places by Alastair Bonnet. It seems that Gibraltar Point is undoubtedly an Unruly Place – a place that does not fit our neat understandings of space as searchable on Google Maps. 

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As you may know by now, I’m spending some time in Naples, Florida.

A lot of other Torontonians are here too, escaping the North-East cold for the sunshine and warmth of Florida’s coasts.

I’ve noticed that, when a group of Torontonians gather in Florida & refer to Toronto, they say “here”. But “here” is Naples, Florida. Toronto is, by most measures, “there”.

This geographic conversational blip has further convinced me that “here” is a state of mind. “Here” exists in the psycho-geographic space between us. Perhaps it’s a little geognative dissonance. But it’s enough to prove that “here” may be there. It may be everywhere.

This post originally appeared on Spacing Toronto

With the L Tower nearing completion, Toronto’s horizon has been pierced by another iconic skyscraper. The L Tower’s semicircular form is instantly recognizable, joining the CN Tower as a structure that will further distinguish Toronto’s famous skyline.

The L Tower’s shape could be interpreted in so many ways, making me wonder why we don’t nickname more buildings in this city.

The Cheesegrater and the Gherkin playfully loom side by side in the City of London

In London, UK, any building that looks remotely like something else is instantlynicknamed. Most famously, there’s the Gherkin (officially the Swiss Re building), and even before completion, the Leadenhall Building has been dubbed the Cheesegrater. The Shard was formerly the London Bridge Tower until criticism that it was “a shard of glass through the heart of historic London” caught on and the name was officially changed. Closer to home we have the Marilyn Monroe buildings in Mississauga. Distracted by their curves, few call these towers by their official moniker, Absolute World.

Beyond providing a memorable shorthand, nicknaming towers brings a playful sensibility to the cityscape, personalizing these hulking masses of steel and glass. The process of collectively naming a tower can bring a sense of ownership over the city to its residents, even with a development process that seems like it’s out of our control.

The iconic forms of Toronto's skyline. Photo by Victor Razgaitis, from UrbanToronto.ca

With the L Tower almost finished, Toronto has a chance to bestow our very own unconventional building with a nickname. (The L Tower is sort of a nickname, but it derives from the first iteration of its design which included a perpendicular podium, making a giant L.)  So, what should we call it? The Swoop? How about the Swoosh? Or the Scoop? The Shark Fin? Or is the L Tower a good enough nickname?

And, without going too far, why stop there. We could call Scotia Plaza the Zipper, the TD Canada Trust Tower could be the Wedding Cake. The Ritz Carlton… the Exacto Knife? What else do you suggest?

Towers in Toronto

Leading image by Sam Javanrouh 

This post originally appeared on Spacing Toronto

A few weeks ago I biked over to The Guild park. Known for its collection of modern Toronto “ruins”, a bonus to visiting the park is its unobstructed view of Lake Ontario. Gazing from cliffs high above the water, far from the distractions of the Bluffs or the skyline, and without the Island and Leslie Spit interrupting the horizon, all that can be seen from the Guild’s vantage is sparkling and limitless blue.

It’s moments like this, high above the water along Scarborough’s cliffs, that confirm it for me. Calling this enormous body of water a Lake doesn’t do it justice. Lake Ontario — it’s a Sea.

When I was showing a friend from Sweden around Toronto last Winter, she looked over Lake Ontario and kept casually calling it “the sea”. In Swedish, sjörefers to both lakes and seas, so she wasn’t technically wrong. The roots of most Germanic languages make no distinction between lakes and seas, and it turns out, among today’s oceanographers, there is no accepted definition of sea.

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A German edition of an atlas map by French mapmaker Jacques-Nicolas Bellin from 1757, from The Historical Atlas of Toronto by Derek Hayes

The same goes for lakes. Though definitions vary, lake often refers to a small, inland body of water. And the way we use it, a lake suggests waters that are knowable, safe and domesticated — calm waters that you can dip your feet in at the cottage.

I know it’s just a matter of language, and may seem trivial. But the language we use says a lot about our relationship with the world, and Toronto could use some help reinvigorating its relationship with the vast body of water along its southern edge. Calling it a lake has made us forget about the water in our ideas of Toronto’s identity and geography. If we started calling it the Sea of Ontario, however, we would be acknowledging the water’s power and mystery, launching it into prominence in our civic mythology.

Over in the Middle-East, the Sea of Galilee is technically a lake. But its importance in the history and mythology of Western civilization transforms this tiny patch of fresh water into a Sea in our minds – a body of water with enough stories and myths that its worthy of its name. (For comparison, The Sea of Galilee is 166 km squared, whereas Lake Ontario is more than 18 000 km squared!)

Stormy Lake Ontario has been known to wreck ships

 Stormy Lake Ontario has been known to wreck ships

Of course, Lake Ontario has its own share of stories and myth. Though a “lake”, this body of water is a powerful force, as mighty as any sea. When stormy, its waves have battered boats and taken lives. Last March, the TRCA hosted Lake Ontario Evenings: Hidden Secrets of the Lake. The audience regaled in tales of Lake Ontario from geographers, historians and marine archaeologists. We learnt of shipwrecks from the War of 1812, and how Robert Ballard, an oceanographer of Titanic fame came to explore a pair of sunken boats, the Hamilton and Scourge. We learnt about the HMS Toronto, wrecked off the shores of Gibraltar Point in 1811, and the Monarch, which sank in 1866 off Ward’s Beach.

Throughout the evening, as the Lake Ontario experts shared secrets of the Lake, they kept accidentally calling it a sea.

The waters have brought trouble to more recent ships as well. I recently encountered a boat mechanic who worked on the short-lived ferry connection between Toronto and Rochester. Its failure is often explained as financial, but the mechanic told me that wasn’t the whole story. Apparently the catamaran, designed by an Australian company for ocean journeys in the South Pacific, couldn’t handle Lake Ontario’s waves. The powerful waters lead to mechanic failure, adding to the cost of operation. The ferry is now in Denmark after briefly doing service between Tarifa, Spain and Tangiers, Morocco, where it sailed passed the other Gibraltar Point.

Though the Great Lakes are often referred to collectively as inland seas, individually, they are rarely given the sea treatment. By taking cues from its size, its stories, and its scope, calling Lake Ontario a sea would elevate its status in the minds of Torontonians, enabling us to embrace our identity as a City by the Sea.

map_line 9 Last Spring, the National Energy Board (NEB) approved the reversal of the flow of Enbridge’s oil pipeline 9. It will now carry bitumen from the Alberta tar sands to refineries in Eastern Canada. Line 9, as its commonly referred to, runs through Toronto, and crosses over every river and creek in the city.

Toronto’s rivers, creeks and valleys make up significant wildlife habitats, while providing invaluable resources to communities across the city, not to mention, carrying fresh drinking water from the Oak Ridges Moraine to Lake Ontario. Despite intense protests and backlash against reversing the flow of Line 9 citing the aging pipeline isn’t safe enough to carry such a dangerous material, and referencing the devastating consequences of the pipeline leakage along the Kalamazoo river, the NEB approved the project. We are now learning that Enbridge, the company that controls the pipeline, failed to install adequate safety infrastructure before trying to reverse the pipeline’s flow.

This decision is demonstrative of the lack of democracy in Canada. Our government is essentially an agent for extractive resource industries, and despite opposition, unelected and non-transparent boards make decisions that effect us all.

Another problem, however, is apathy. Most Torontonians, (and most Canadians), are not aware of the major consequences and risks associated with pipeline decisions, or simply don’t care. This leaves me with the impression that we have to start getting better at telling the story of oil in Canada, to get the attention of the disenfranchised and the apathetic, and communicate the risks of Line 9, and the negative consequences of our country’s reliance on oil.

There are many groups that are dedicated to bringing awareness to the issues of pipelines and Line 9 specifically. Some use direct action, while others are hosting events, protests, and lectures about the concerns associated with Line 9. DSCF9898 While biking in upper Scarborough and Rexdale, I passed hydro corridors, where with spray paint, a group has attempted to make it clear where exactly Line 9 runs. The strategy is effective, and you can easily imagine a disastrous leakage if the pipe failed. DSCF9897 I tried to image Line 9 myself, a few months ago, seen as the first image in this post. I tried to focus on the fact that the pipeline crosses every river and creek in Toronto. What do you think of this effort? How else can we get people to realize how close Line 9 is to their lives? How do we effectively image Line 9?

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As many of my readers may know by now, I spent a glorious week of August as a participant artist in the White Rabbit Residency.

Along the shores of the other-worldly Bay of Fundy (where you can experience the highest tides in the world), I joined 16 artists – including my brother, cartoonist and graphic designer, Jonathan – in a week of supportive, nurturing, and inspired creation, responding to the beautiful landscape of Red Clay. The residency focuses on the process of creation, culminating in the White Rabbit Celebration, where visitors come to celebrate the end of the residency in a festival of art and music. Along with illustrating the festival’s map, I spent the week working on my project, Framing Red Clay.

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I initially proposed spending the week wandering around the grounds and creating frames out of found materials, to direct wanderers toward views of specific landscapes. I would comment on the landscape based on the frames’ shape, position and materiality, frames made out of materials ranging from the most natural to the most human-made. I was excited to frame dynamic scenes that would change based on the time of day viewed — especially those views of the swift transformations of the intertidal zone.

But when I got to Red Clay, it was the August super-moon — and high above the Bay, the full moon sat and slowly moved across the sky. The fullness of the moon illuminated the entire landscape, and, I couldn’t look away.

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I promptly adapted my project to a project of chasing, and framing the moon. Building on the vertical ladder tradition initiated by Andrew Maize the previous year, I constructed a ten foot ladder and erected it straight out of the ground, on a spot that affords the best views of the bay — where I initially viewed the moon in its fullness.

Learning from brilliant Red Clay veterans how to sustainably harvest spruce, and latch with rope, I built a small frame with a handle, and hung it on the top of the ladder. Passersby were tacitly invited to climb the ladder. Once at the top, they intuitively grabbed the frame, and began viewing the world from enjoyably high vantage. When the half moon rose on August 17, we gathered around the ladder to enjoy the experience of framing the moon as it hovered across the bay. Ironically, from this high vantage, I ended up framing Red Clay, as I initially intended to.

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As my artist statement in the White Rabbit program put it:

I came to Red Clay with the intention of framing the landscape, but I couldn’t stop looking at the moon, so I tried to frame the Moon. I ended up framing Red Clay. 

It was a pleasure to participate in White Rabbit 2014, and I congratulate my fellow artists-in-residence. Framing Red Clay was a wonderful manifestation of my art practice, emphasizing process but with a physical and interactive end product.

See you at White Rabbit 2015!

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White Rabbit is a week long artist residency on the shores of the Bay of Fundy. Every year, 16 artists are invited to explore Red Clay, and engage in process-based art making in response to the landscape.

The residency culminates in a music and art festival, where visitors are invited to explore the land and enjoy the manifestations of the residency, including installations, workshops, performances and audio-tours. 

Every few years, the organizers of White Rabbit invite an artist to create a map to help festival goers find their way around the land to projects that are often deep in the Red Clay woods. Past map-makers have included Jayme Melrose, Sarah Burwash, and Chris Foster — artists and individuals who have been highly influential to my way of living and art practice. I was honoured to join the ranks of these esteemed creators, having been invited to be the resident Red Clay cartographer this past White Rabbit. It was a pleasure to see people navigate the festival with a map I had created!

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Festival goers figuring out where they are this year at White Rabbit

 

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Toronto’s craft beer scene is exploding. In response, local entrepreneur Michael Stulberg came up with the Craft Beer Passport. For $20, the passport gives you access to $2 craft brews from bars around the city. Just like that you get cheap, delicious beer, support local bars and breweries, and are encouraged to explore Toronto!

The Craft Beer Passport crew used my services as an Urban Geographer to determine how to divide the city into neighbourhoods — Torontonians’ local pride can get mighty fierce, and calling something the wrong neighbourhood would not be good. On top of that, I illustrated a poster for a Pub Crawl that happened in June as part of Ontario Craft Beer Week. Proceeds went to Not Far From the Tree, an organization that redistributes urban fruit harvests.

The map had to be a usable wayfinding device — but  I managed to sneak some local character in there. Enjoy! 

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Exciting news, readers!

This weekend, I am returning to Upper Economy, Nova Scotia, to participate in White Rabbit, an artist residency by the Bay of Fundy. The residency is hosted on a piece of land called Red Clay, a hilly terrain characterized by organic gardens, meadows, ponds and forests.

The week-long residency culminates in a festival, where visitors from near and far will come to enjoy the projects, celebrating with live music,  delicious food and fire spectacles.

The Bay of Fundy has the largest tides in the world, and I am excited to experience this epic, and subtly shifting landscape as we approach August’s full moon. I will be exploring, creating and learning with 15 other artists, including my brother Jonathan — a major support, influence and inspiration in my life.

Toronto Island Framed

Inspiration for the project, on Toronto Island this past winter.

My project, Framing Red Clay, proposes to place seven to ten frames of varying sizes around the land, with an illustrated companion map so visitors can find their way. The frames will be made of found material, incorporating the most natural and the most artificial objects littered throughout the landscape. It was inspiring by my wanderings around Toronto Island this past winter, where blank ferry schedule signs unintentionally left vistas framed for consideration.

Ideally, I hope to evoke laughter with this project. I also look forward to getting deep into ideas of the Nature-Culture binary that has characterized my Urban Geography practice. I am excited to collaborate with others, and am open to the inevitable changes to the project the intersection of the land, my state of mind, the weather and the dynamics of the group will bring to its manifestation.

Here’s to a week of contemplation, good food, friends new and old, and landscape-based art making. And see you next Saturday, at the White Rabbit Open Air Art Festival!