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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Fort York public art competition open house

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Fort York’s formidable fortifications seem small and defenseless next to the great span of the Gardiner Expressway — but our favorite flying freeway actually marks the original shoreline of Lake Ontario. Though it’s possible for one to interpret its blue-green turquoise underbelly as reference to the clean and sparking waters that attacking American ships sailed in on during the War of 1812, the City of Toronto has initiated a public art competition to better mark the shoreline, and the winning and short-listed entries are on view this Thursday during an open house.

Most remarkable about this competition is that the Gardiner itself is being used in the selected artwork. Though it may send shivers down the engineering and roads departments from a technical point of view, this is a major first step in activating the underside of the Gardiner and hopefully more sections will follow. Once that happens, and the underside of the expressway is made pedestrian friendly and welcoming, we might just forget it’s up there.

WHEN: Thursday, February 28, 4 to 7pm (4:30pm — remarks by Councillor Pantalone)

WHERE: Blue Barracks, Fort York — just steps from Bathurst Street via the east entrance bridge

The City of Toronto will host an open house at Fort York National Historic Site to exhibit the winning submission, and the short listed proposals, of a public art competition. Councillor Joe Pantalone (Ward 19 Trinity-Spadina) will join City staff and the public to view the winning concept, WATERTABLE, a light and sound work by Toronto artists Lisa Steele and Kim Tomczak, which will be a permanent fixture along the north side of Fort York Boulevard.

The concept WATERTABLE reveals the original shoreline of Lake Ontario and creates the look of shimmering water, appearing to float under the surface of the Gardiner Expressway. It is a beacon not only for the new entrance to Fort York, but also for the revitalization now underway of its entire underdeveloped 43-acre site in anticipation of the Bicentennial celebrations of the War of 1812. Fort York, the birthplace of Toronto, is being restored and redeveloped to reflect its enormous importance as a national historic site and to provide much needed parkland for the communities rapidly emerging around it.

Toronto Culture initiated the commission of a permanent public art work at this historical site, and for the first time, invited artists to incorporate lighting and new media technologies in their concepts. The other finalists were: Tony Stallard (Brentwood, UK); Robert Youds and Daniel Laskarin (Victoria, BC); Maha Mustafa (Toronto, ON); Melissa Shiff (Toronto, ON). All of the finalists’ proposals will also be on display.

Top photo by worldwidewebdomination — bottom renderings of Watertable by artists.



  1. This story is a joke, right???
    It isn’t funny, the gardiner must come down and the front street extension stopped!

  2. Unless you can come up with $7 billion to take down the Gardiner, this is a decent gesture to make pretty what everybody hates.

    It reminds me of Banksy tagging the separation wall in Israel, actually.

  3. So it isn’t a joke?This city is broke and this is what we are throwing money at,buying votes by doing this????Bringing down the gardiner is a must!It will come down by itself soon anyway.It is falling apart and cuts this city like an unwanted guest.So lets do what this councillor loves to do spend a million at a time on decoration so that we can forget the real problem?Why this councillor wants to build an extension to this falling highway just a few hundred meters the other way.AAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHH this is getting crazy……

  4. Speaking of art, we should amend the columns of the Gardiner to resemble Easter Island Statues. I often wished I could draw a cartoon of Joe, David and Adam in a nice big car going onto a ramp marked “Front St. Extension” and as it rises, you see the Easter Island supports as we drive along to disaster…
    At least the province is boosting GO train size – and that isn’t costing $250M, and/or plus the $600M WWLRT
    As for this text – hello, where does the concept that the 43 acres of Fort York are underdeveloped?
    Oh, from the local Councillor.

  5. I disagree that the gardiner needs to come down. The main impediment to reaching lake ontario’s shore for pedestrians and bikers is not the gardiner, it’s lakeshore Blvd. I think the city needs to focus on making the underside of the gardiner interesting and accessible rather than tearing it down, and this is a great start.

  6. The railway lands also take up much more space and are at ground level.

    People have been talking about the gardiner falling down since the 1960s to present, and there it is, still standing (check 4th floor vertical files at the TRL for years and years of sky-is-falling headlines).

    Make the area underneath nice and it stops being a problem, and could even be a destination, at a fraction of the cost, and the Gardiner can carry cars for a number of years until cars cease being viable modes of daily transit. Many examples of spaces nicely activated under highways all over, like the Westway in London.

  7. The barriers to the waterfront are less maybe the Gardiner excessway and the Lakeshore carterial, but the traffic upon it. The railtracks and the buildings are also a set of obstacles.
    In terms of upgrading the area, there’s a lot of lead contamination from the fall-out from the Gardiner, and the MMT levels are also likely rising – if it’s being measured at all.

  8. well I did attend the “open house” to ask what this project was really about.A Joe Pantalone assistant said that it was all about culture and the money( aprox $115,000 or more)was a good use of city funds.When I pointed out that maybe the money would be better spent on a single mother who is in need of support,she defended the project even further.So while this city is in financial trouble these “penny projects” just keep adding up.Joe defended the hike in property taxes simply by saying toronto residents pay lower property taxes than the surrounding areas.He has forgotten the last election and it seems is ready to spend spend spend again.Old habits die hard.
    I also asked if solar power will be used to power the project.It seems fort york will provide the power and they have no plans to go solar at the moment.The designers also aren’t final in their plans they have to work the kinks out!But they will be building some miniature models.It will be fun to follow this project through completion.But as one constituent asked me “what were they smoking when they thought of this one?”

  9. “When I pointed out that maybe the money would be better spent on a single mother who is in need of support, she defended the project even further.”


    so you would rather the city find some random single mother who may need support and give her $115 000? Regardless, your plea for single mothers is clearly disingenuous, as you later lament rising property taxes. how much of your property taxes do u think goes into a single $115 000 project. Obviously you don’t care about public art, but a lot of people in Toronto do. I’m happy to support this project with my property taxes, just as I support city projects dealing with poverty reduction. On one point I agree. I’d love to see Fort York solar powered.

  10. I think public money should be spend to help people first,including artists who at times live on as little as $10,000 per year.