City Living: Toronto’s Public Art

There are winter sports people, and then there are the rest of us. And the rest of us, when the temperature dips below zero, flock to the same places: the movies, the mall, maybe the ROM or the AGO (and we’ll be honest, the bar). On the next sunny weekend, why not avoid the crowds and take your own little art tour of Toronto? Dress warmly, pick up a tea and take a stroll to enjoy the great public (read: free) art our city has to offer. 

Thanks to Toronto’s Percent for Public Art plan, 1% of the cost of significant construction projects in Toronto must be spent by the developers on art for the public. This has resulted in significant, million-dollar works of art gracing the streets of Toronto. These are a few of our favourites.

Tembo, Mother of Elephants

These guys were the first to Occupy Toronto.
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Bob Barker says that Toronto isn’t suitable for elephants. Don’t tell him that we have a second herd nestled between two buildings at Commerce Court Courtyard (King & Bay, south side). This bronze sculpture of a mother elephant with her two tiny, adorable babies is by sculptor Derrick Stephan Hudson.

Monument to the War of 1812

 Not children’s toys.  
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A favourite of anyone driving along Lakeshore, did you know that this sculpture is actually a military monument? In a CBC interview in 2008 artist Douglas Coupland said “I wanted to create something that was just a quick haiku moment for people driving by or walking by to think about the War of 1812.” Got it? Not toy soldiers, although it was built by a company that makes dinosaurs for theme parks. Find this piece in front of the Malibu at Harbour Front Condominiums (Bathurst & Lakeshore). 

Straight Flush

An image doesn’t really do a light installation justice. 
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Head to the Bay & Adelaide Centre to experience James Turrell‘s $3-million light installation for yourself. The installation features shifting light playing on glass panels. This can be viewed through the outdoor windows, but for optimal viewing enter the lobby. If someone asks, tell him or her you’re there for the art. 

Woodpecker Column

A tourist took this photo – have you noticed this before? 
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10 points if you’ve noticed this gem outside of the Metro Convention Centre (222 Bremner Blvd.). Made of steel and glass and over 100 feet tall, the sculpture by Toronto’s Fastwürms is a tribute to nature.

Canoe Landing

If this were in Europe, you’d make a point of stopping.
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Another piece by Douglas Coupland, this giant red canoe at 95 Fort York Blvd. overlooks the Gardiner. Climb in (it’s allowed) and wave to everyone parked in traffic.  According to BlogTO, it’s also one of the ten best makeout spots in Toronto, perhaps an incentive if you’re art-seeking with a reluctant companion.

The Audience

 Look carefully at all the various facial expressions.
You’ve probably noticed this sculpture when strolling around downtown. Celebrated Toronto artist Michael Snow was commissioned to create this for the city and it’s one of the most interesting pieces to spend some time gazing at. Make sure to check out both sides. Pretty cool that we have a piece from one of the men who’s been named “one of the most significant artists in contemporary art and cinema of the past 50 years.” 

Learn More

There are hundreds of pieces of artwork lining Toronto’s streets. Keep your eyes open and stumble upon it naturally, or seek it out with a few of these resources:

The City of Toronto has put together an Art Walk brochure detailing 22 public works of art downtown. If you prefer driving or live in the north part of the city, try their North York Public Art driving tour.

Let a professional lead you to the city’s hotspots. Walk TO offers an Art in the City tour for groups of 10 or more all year round. Get a few friends together and contact them to book a tour on a sunny winter weekend.

While researching this post, we found a great series of posts by Brian McLachlan looking at Toronto’s art on Read them here.

We also found Toronto Sculpture, an amazing database and gallery of sculptures in Toronto. Search by location and plan your own route in a new neighbourhood.