Skip to content

Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Event Guide: Toronto Free Gallery heads west with Creative Activism

Read more articles by

The Toronto Free Gallery, our favorite indoor space that examines all things Toronto, has moved west, but not to where you think. Their new space on Bloor at Lansdowne is opening on Thursday night with and exhibit called “Creative Activism” and is packed full of urban themed art pieces and documentation of various public space interventions. The opening reception will be followed by a party with DJs Dorian & Dorian to celebrate the opening. Since the gallery opened four years ago at Queen and Broadview, it has been the most active critical art space in Toronto consistently programming urban themed work.

WHEN: Thursday March 20, 8-10PM

WHERE: 1277 Bloor Street West (Just east of Lansdowne)

A new form of creative activism has surfaced within urban centres across the world. No longer interested in marching with signs and negotiating with bureaucratic structures, this new wave fosters stewardship for one’s neighborhood and community. People are taking their issues to the streets and engaging in interventions.

United by the cause of individual and collective self-determination their new form is engaging in creative interventions to make our cities livable places. By taking it to our streets they are directing their energy towards collaboratively building new visions for livable cities they are taking civic improvement into their own hands.

People are: painting their own bike lanes where before there were none, guerrilla gardening in orphaned spaces, mapping surveillance free walks in downtown areas. Some artists, activists, architects, urban planners and other creatives have stopped asking for policy changes from their governments and are creating change through social engagement and intervention.

The goal of this exhibition is to begin creating an archive of this changing movement, to inspire new projects and to create a broader awareness for creative activism. -Curated by Heather Haynes

Artists include: Jennifer Delos Reyes, Yvonne Bambrick, February Group, Maxime Hourani, Deborah Margo, Barbara Menely, Dave Meslin, Markus Miessen & Patricia Reed, The Movement Movement, October Group, Darren O’Donnell & Natalie De Vito, Planning Action, Resident Rising, Neighbourhood Action and East Scarborough Storefront, Kerri Lynn Reeves, Auriane Sokoloski, Streets Are For People!, Nick Tobier, Urban Repair Squad and Elinor Whidden.

The Creative Activism exhibition runs until April 19

Image by Urban Repair Squad



  1. I’m excited about this. Should be a really great exhibit.

    It’s to have this gallery open up so close to home too. We could use more stuff like this on Bloor St. Though I do miss the hardware store!

    Somewhat related is the DIGIN To Docs film screening series happening in the neighbourhood. First one just happened, but the next few films/discussions promise to be quite interesting too.

  2. Regarding the hardware store, TFG said this:

    History of the Space:

    In October 2007 TFG made a decision to relocate to Toronto’s West End. Due in part to rising rents, Director Heather Haynes made the decision to purchase a commercial storefront in order to provide a secure and stable space free from the pressures of gentrification on cultural production. The new space has a dedicated gallery space as well as an additional space for screenings, discussions and performance. The new location will also provide 2 low cost studio spaces for working artists in Toronto.

    After a difficult search, director Heather Haynes met Walter and Sophie, owners of Dominion Hardware. After 61 years of business Wally and Sophie made the decision to retire in order to spend more time with their grandchildren. Heather purchased the space from them on November 1st 2007 and took full possession on January 15th. Wally and Sophie along with their family took an extended holiday in Florida and Walt Disney world, while Heather organized the All Girl Demo Crew to begin construction on the space. With a great deal of hard work and a lot of volunteers the TFG will open our doors on March 20th.

  3. I hope this is the start of a trend for this area! There are a lot of empty storefronts between dufferin and lansdowne… it would be great to see galleries opening up (spurring development of some nice bars & cafes) instead of more dumpy convenience stores, furniture stores and “vintage” clothing stores.

  4. Yes, this is amazing for the hood. Wonderful that they have purchased the location too, before the neighbourhood gentrifies too much and they get booted out by rising rents. Good luck!

  5. Well, you can’t have galleries, bars, and cafes that cater to the hipsters without having vintage clothing stores to keep them clothed. 🙂

    Some of the low-cost stores (vintage clothing, cheap furniture, etc.) are somewhat necessary for the neighbourhood. It would suck if the only place to get anything affordable in this corner of the city was at Zellers (Dufferin Mall, and Dundas St.). A good mix of stuff would be ideal.

    There are already a few excellent little restaurants in the area. South Indian Dosa Mahal and Vena’s roti place come to mind. An the big Portuguese restaurant….

  6. the area’s had many challenges from the crack usage and abusage – that may be the real issue that’s dragging the area down.
    And I don’t know for sure, and of course it’s private property, but is it progress to have women waste good building materials as well as guys have? We trash our built environment all the time as if the three Rs just don’t exist, and there’s an entire new world out there to supply us for a rebuild…

  7. There’s always going to be some waste in renovation, but how do you know they’re being excessive, or wasting anything good? If things are old and broken (60 years old) they need to be replaced.

    Your post doesn’t make much sense, Hamish, in this specific context, without having all the information.

  8. Agreed on the restaurant recommendations Vic! There are a couple of new falafel places too – I can highly recommend the one on the north side of Bloor east of “Duff’s Tavern”. There’s also an excellent and very nicely reno’d Vietnamese place (Pho My Duyen, I think it’s called) further east, near one of the bike shops.

    Apparently the local DIG IN community group is planning some kind of street festival for the summer. I hope Spacing will be there!

  9. Yes! We are very excited to be on Bloor! Since we have been working in the space many people have come by pleased to see a gallery opening up in the area. They often refer to the “clean-up” that will happen once new business arrives. This is a slippery slope that we should all be very careful of. Often “clean-up” means gentrification and anyone who has been recently pushed out of Parkdale or any neighbourhood will know how devastating this can be. This neighbourhood has many issues and many opinions on how to deal with the issues. I like to subscribe to the idea that this neighbourhood belongs to everyone here and we should see ourselves as a community that is willing to be supportive of one another. Cross-cultural conversations are wonderful ways to find the middle ground where we can all agree. Then we can work on the harder issues later. For instance, we are much more interested in working with people who have drug abuse issues and provide support in their neighbourhoods. Who are we to say who can and can not live in a neighbourhood. We should treat these issues with care, mutual respect, and compassion.

    To Hamish:
    Just so you know… Although we did demos we have reused what we could. Also, the place was a major fire hazard. Much of the materials were very dry and brittle 60 year old planks from old crates covered in oil. Those mixed with knob and tube, that in many cases was not grounded, was a disaster waiting to happen. In order to prevent a fire much of this stuff had to be removed.

  10. Also, for those who want to say “hi!” to Wally & Sophie from the hardware store…. they will be at the opening!

  11. Gentrification is a vague term and new people coming into an area is part of a chain reaction that has been going on in every place people gather since day 1. Personally I think the area could use a bit of gentrification and some new energy. And it could use two less strip clubs.

    Being one of the few lower cost areas left in the downtown it is inevitable that the area will change. Like when I moved to the area after 23 years in Parkdale. Hats off to the gallery crew for bringing life to the area.

    I wonder if they were able to save any of the wood countertops that were so beautiful.

  12. Indeed, in Windsor, people would *love* some gentrification, the kind of thing Toronto has overflowing in so many neighbourhoods — because the downside of gentrification would take a long, long time to achieve.

    That said, this “good” gentrification that Bloor and Lansdowne desires probably isn’t called gentrification. Some urban planner type could maybe suggest the correct term. Beautification? Renewal? Upgrade? Though maybe it is the right word.

  13. The interface of the Toronto Free Gallery web site could really use some work. Try for something useable.

  14. Can you elaborate anonymous Amil?

    Or are you willing to donate your time and/or money?

    Dicks who anonymously criticize indie operations….man o man. You do do that but be helpful at the same time.

  15. If you had any idea of what curating a big group show, opening a new gallery, including a complete reno is like, you likely would be re-thinking those comments.

    I think the gallery looks great! Congrats Heather!

  16. it is worth celebrating, and it was a good party.
    there’s no question that urban removal is part of urban renewal, and it’s another level of nuisance, time and often cost to try to apply 3Rs to buildings and their materials.
    If i have an edge, building and materials preservation and re-use for environmental reasons isn’t new to me. Yet here in the City we have major urban oil spills with the trashing of 48 Abell, the 590 Jarvis former police headquarters and the Riverdale half-round.
    And an attitude of putting up or shutting up is a good one – and I may have transgressed.
    It’s quite a major space, and it’s good to have.

  17. My daughter, Elise Hug, told me about your gallery.
    Would you be interested in having a show of fibre art/textile art/quilts that make social statements?
    I’m sure among the quilt artists in the GTA, we could do a pretty good group show of socially relevant wall-hangings.