30 public art works to check out in the GTA

LIVE together | 15 MIN READ | 2021-07-05

Toronto is a city with a vibrant arts scene. Across the many galleries and museums in the city, you’re bound to come across notable collections from local and international artists alike. Toronto is also rich with public art, harbouring nearly 400 works of public art. The city currently has three public art programs: The Public Art & Monuments Collection, Percent for Public Art Program, and StreetART Toronto (StART). These programs are in place to help celebrate the transformative power of art and enrich the character and experience of Toronto’s communities. For example, StART was initiated to support and further the creation of art specifically designed for streets and public spaces in an effort to showcase local artists, encourage active transportation, and promote community engagement.  

To celebrate the local public artworks and artists that make up an important part of the culture and diversity that make Toronto what it is, mayor John Tory announced that 2021 would be the Year of Public Art. Launching in September of this year, ArtworxTO will be a year-long initiative focused on creating more opportunities for artists, as well as providing more opportunities for Toronto residents to engage with free public art. ArtworxTO will be working with artists and arts institutions throughout the year to deliver art projects and commissions. 

However, it is not just Toronto that is home to exciting public art installations and programs. In cities all across the GTA, you can find exciting public art installations and murals. The growing collection of public art within Toronto and surrounding cities helps to enrich the community and does a great job of making art more accessible to the masses. Therefore, in honour of Toronto’s Year of Public Art, we’ve compiled a list of 15 public art works you need to check out all across the GTA!

Toronto

Red Canoe

Tom Tomson's Canoe by Douglas Coupland | Photo Credit: Nicole Egan

Tom Tomson's Canoe

Where: Canoe Landing Park 

Artist: Douglas Coupland 

Located at Spadina Ave. and Lake Shore Blvd W., Tom Tomson’s Canoe is a large, red canoe created by Vancouver-based artist Douglas Coupland. This piece pays tribute to Canadian painter Tom Tomson, who drowned in a canoe in Algonquin Park. Although his career was short, Tom Tomson is considered to be one of the most influential Canadian artists and is associated with the Group of Seven, a famous group of Canadian landscape painters. Standing tall over Canoe Landing Park, people can sit or stand in Tom Tomson’s Canoe, getting a nice view of Lake Ontario over the Gardiner Expressway.

I.T

Where: Distillery District

Artist: Michael Christian

Created by California artist Michael Christian, I.T. is a steel sculpture in the Distillery District. At 40 feet tall, this sculpture resembling a massive spider is hard to miss. I.T. features a moving head and oscillating eye beam, giving the piece a sci-fi feeling. 

The Audience

Where: Rogers Centre 

Artist: Michael Snow

Blue Jays fans or people who frequent the Rogers Centre are probably familiar with this memorable sculpture by Canadian artist Michael Snow. Originally unveiled in 1989, The Audience portrays gigantic, cartoon-style sports fans inspired by the dynamic between the fans of opposing teams. There are 15 statues in total, which represent the different types of fans commonly seen at sporting games, such as the hecklers or the father and son. These statues are painted gold and can be found both on the northeast and northwest corners of the Rogers Centre.

Graffiti Alley

Where: Between McDougall Lane and Augusta Avenue (near Queen Street West and Spadina Avenue)

Artist: Multiple

Although now an iconic part of the city, there were previously fights over whether Graffiti Alley was vandalism. However, in 2011, the laneway was named an area of municipal significance. This decision is what led to the creation of StreetART Toronto. Today, Graffiti Alley is known for its vibrant collection of murals depicting various themes. It is also a place for artistic activism and addressing the social, political, and cultural movements of the times. Graffiti Alley has been the backdrop for numerous music videos and street festivals. It is a popular tourist attraction in the city and you can even take guided tours of the colourful laneway.

Elevated Wetlands

Where: Taylor Creek Park 

Artist: Noel Harding

Elevated Wetlands is a series of sculptures in Taylor Creek Park, which runs from Don Mills Rd. in the West to Dawes Rd. in the East. This project was commissioned by the Canadian Plastics Industry Association. With Elevated Wetlands, the goal of the artist was not only to create an interesting work of art, but to create structures that are also functional. This piece consists of animal-like sculptures with wetland environments inside. These structures use a solar pump and recycled plastic to purify the water from the Don River. 

120 Mirrors

Where: Lee Lifeson Park

Artist: Public Studio & Anna Friz

Commissioned by The City of Toronto, 120 Mirrors is a three-piece sound installation by Public Studio and Anna Friz. This installation consists of a series of horn-shaped sculptures using materials referenced in the historical Toronto Purchase, such as brass. The sculptures play with a different aspect of human communication, specifically, the acts of listening, speaking, conversing, and reflection, prompting visitors to become more mindful of the act of listening.

The Original People Leading to the Eighth Fire

Where: Garden Avenue at Roncesvalles

Artist: Philip Cote and Jim Thierry Bravo 

Well-known mural artist Philip Cote, a First Nations artist, and Jim Thierry Bravo, a first generation Canadian artist, were commissioned by Roncesvalles Village BIA in partnership with StreetARToronto (StART) to design this mural at 149 Roncesvalles. Both artists have lived on Roncesvalles Avenue and witnessed how the neighbourhood has changed over the past 30 years. 

Dreaming

Where: Outside the Richmond-Adelaide Centre

Artist: Jaume Plensa

Standing three storeys tall and weighing more than 2.5 tonnes, this giant sculpture in the financial district has been turning heads. Designed by Spanish sculptor Jaume Plensa, Dreaming portrays the image of a young girl with her eyes closed. This striking sculpture made of white marble and resin looks different based on where you’re standing, creating an optical illusion. Jaume Plensa is a world renowned artist known for his large-scale public art installations, such as Dreaming, that can be found in major cities like New York and Tokyo.

Berczy Park Fountain

Where: Berczy Park on Wellington 

Artist: Claude Cormier

Designed by Claude Cormier and Associates, the Berczy Park Fountain is a playful, classic Victorian-style two-tiered fountain. Part of the redesign of Berczy Park, this fountain pays tribute to the dogs who frequent the park and the growing number of dog owners in the neighbourhood. The fountain features sculptures of dogs all looking at a bone that tops the fountain. 

Oshawa

Crown by Douglas Bentham

Statue: Crown by Douglas Betham

The 88 Keys Project

Where: Northview Community Centre, South Oshawa Community Centre, and Civic Square 

Artist: Marnie Packman, Monique Ra Brent, and Urban Art for Social Change (U.A.S.C.) Graffiti School 

The 88 Keys Project in Oshawa is a collaborative initiative of Culture Counts: Oshawa's Arts, Culture and Heritage Plan. For this project, three local artists - Marnie Packman, Monique Ra Brent, and a collection of high school students and mentors from Urban Art for Social Change (U.A.S.C) Graffiti School - were selected to turn donated pianos into art. These pianos can be found at three different locations within Oshawa and there is even a 88 Keys Bike and Drive Tour map you can follow outlining the best routes to take to see the installations. Visitors are encouraged to play the pianos located at South Oshawa Community Centre and Northview Community Centre. The interactiveness of these installations helps to inspire community engagement.

River Tree/Bench 

Where: Rear of The Robert McLaughlin Gallery

Artist: Reinhard Reitzenstein

Created by German artist Reinhard Reitzenstein, River Tree/Bench is a twenty-foot-four bronze sculpture of a tree lying on its side. Reinhard Reitzenstein is known for playing with the interconnection of nature, science, culture, and technology in his work, and in this piece, the shape and design of the tree’s spine and roots is thought to speak to a beauty in nature that can only appreciated when we understand what has been lost. 

Group Portrait 1957

Where: Front exterior of The Robert McLaughlin Gallery 

Artist: Douglas Coupland

In the spring of 2010, The Robert McLaughlin Gallery commissioned Douglas Coupland to create Group Portrait 1957. Group Portrait 1957 is a sculpture that pays tribute to Painters Eleven, a group of Canadian expressionist abstract painters. The Robert McLaughlin Gallery has the largest collection of works of Painters Eleven. In Group Portrait 1957, the abstract forms and colours are meant to represent each member of the group of painters. 

Crown

Where: Rear of The Robert McLaughlin Gallery

Artist: Douglas Bentham

Originally from Saskatchewan, Douglas Bentham has achieved international recognition with over 40 solo exhibitions and over 100 groups shows over the course of his career. Coupland’s piece, Crown, was first loaned to The Robert McLaughlin Gallery in the 70s and was eventually donated in 1986. This welded bronze sculpture has gained attention for sparking conversations about the practice and creation of art.

Rising Stars

Where: Inside the main lobby of City Hall

Artist: Ron Baird 

Rising Stars, by Canadian artist Ron Baird, was installed in the first-floor lobby of Oshawa’s City Hall in 2011. This sculpture is made with stainless steel reflective glass to reflect the movement, light, and shapes of those who walk by it, representing Oshawa’s past, present, and future. 

Gambrel Journey

Where: Markham Museum facing Markham Road 

Artist: kipjones

The City of Markham commissioned Toronto artist and educator kipjones to create this 21-foot sculpture. Made of Corten steel and aluminum, Gambrel Journey tells the story of the journey to settle in Markham. With the Gambrel barn roof representing how established residents and newcomers built a sense of community through barn raising, and with the upper aluminum part of the sculpture nodding toward an optimistic future, Gambrel Journey is a symbol of Markham’s past and future. Next to the sculpture there is a bronze bench, providing a place for contemplation and reflection. 

Quarry

Where: Too Good Pond

Artist: Mary Anne Barkhouse

Quarry is a piece by Mary Anne Barkhouse that plays with the contrast between the domestic and the wild. Mary Anne Barkhouse is a Vancouver-born artist belonging to the Nimpkish band, Kwakiutl First Nation. Barkhouse is interested in looking at contemporary issues and the evolving relationships between human life and nature from an Indigenous and ecological perspective. There are various elements in Quarry that touch on these themes. The form of the stone represents how French architects tried to impose order over nature during the Age of Enlightenment, while the rock represents that order being disrupted. Finally, the dogs, which were typically bred by European aristocracy, are positioned looking at a squirrel on the rock, alluding to tensions between predator and prey.

Cloudflower: Reflecting Community

Where: First and second floor walls of the Cornell Community Centre and Library 

Artist: Douglas Walker

Cloudflower: Reflecting Community consists of two murals by Canadian artist Douglas Walker. These two murals were designed to reflect the themes and activities of the floors they are located on in the Cornell Community Centre and Library. On the lower level, where the gymnasium and aquatic centre are located, the mural portrays a picture of a dynamic garden. On the upper level, where the Older Adult and Youth Centres and Multi-Sensory Room are located, the mural portrays the picture of a calm cloudscape. Both murals are intended to represent the diverse spirit of the community centre and those who pass through it. 

Pan Am Public Art Project

Where: Markham Pan Am Centre

Artist: Multiple

The Pan Am Public Art Project celebrates the TO2015 Pan Am/Parapan Am Game. The project consists of a collection of Pan Am themed traffic control box wrap designs and street stencils, as well as two additional designs for Markham’s heritage districts. The Pan Am Public Art Project was created as a collaborative effort between eight students from Unionville High School under the mentorship of the Visual Arts Department Head, Shane Clodd, and designer/creative director Laurence Roberts of Forge Collective.

Shifting Landscapes - Henderson Bridge Mural

Where: Under the CN Rail Bridge on Henderson Ave.

Artist: James Ruddle

Shifting Landscapes was created by artist James Ruddle with the help of local students and alumni. This mural was commissioned by the City of Markham and draws attention to the shift from natural environments to urbanization. Shifting Landscapes pulls from styles reminiscent of the Group of Seven and merges them with graffiti art.

Monument to Benjamin Thorne

Where: Entrance of the Thornhill Community Centre and Library

Artist: Les Drysdale

True to its name, Monument to Benjamin Thorne is a bronze statue honouring Thornhill’s founding father Benjamin Thorne. Monument to Benjamin Thorne was created by Canadian artist and sculptor Les Drysdale and is a legacy project for the 150th anniversary of Canada. The statue is also a symbol of Markham’s motto: “Leading While Remembering”.

Oakville

Octagon for Trafalgar Park

Statue: Octagon for Trafalgar Park by Laura Marotta

Something for Everyone (vinyl wrap)

Where: Queen Elizabeth Community and Cultural Centre

Artist: Emily May Rose

Something for Everyone is a mural that covers the generator at Queen Elizabeth Community and Cultural Centre. This bright and colourful mural, created by Toronto-based artist and illustrator Emily May Rose, combines aspects of culture, recreation, nature, and the history of Oakville to embody the community centre. You can find more of Emily May Rose’s murals and public installations all across the GTA, often recognizable by her signature motif of a raccoon, such as on a traffic box at College and Dovercourt. 

Canada 150 Mural Mosaic

Where: River Oaks Community Centre

Artist: Multiple

The Canada 150 Mural Mosaic project launched in 2015 to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday. Led by artist Lewis Lavoie and his Mural Mosaic Team, the goal of this project was to create a giant mural across all provinces and territories that reflects the history and culture of Canada. Oakville's mural was completed in 2016 and is made out of 750 tiles painted by residents during registered workshops. 

Louis Riel and the Church at Batoche

Where: Sixteen Mile Sports Complex

Artist: Liz Pead

Liz Pead is a Canadian artist known for using recycled hockey gear to make large scale installation paintings. Louis Riel and the Church at Batoche depicts a picture of Batoche, Saskatchewan in the winter. Pead’s work speaks to the histories of textile, legend, sport and landscape painting in Canada.

Octagon for Trafalgar Park (stainless steel)

Where: Trafalgar Park Community Centre

Artist: Laura Marotta

Commissioned for the entrance of Trafalgar Park Community Centre, Octagon for Trafalgar is an 8 foot tall sculpture composed of stainless steel surfaces and geometric lines. Octagon for Trafalgar was designed by Laura Marotta as an innovative seating system and social hub. The sculpture has spaces for people to climb or sit on, encouraging exploration.

Mississauga

A girl playing near a statue

Statue: Contemplating Child by Ferruccio Sardella

Contemplating Child

Where: Mississauga Community Common Park

Artist: Ferruccio Sardella

Contemplating Child, by Toronto artist Ferruccio Sardella, invites visitors to take on the curious and playful perspective of a child. Made of Corten steel and weighing 3,500 pounds, this installation represents the juxtaposition of innocence and complexity in its urban environment. Contemplating Child has become a popular meeting place in Mississauga Community Common Park and children often play on and climb the structure.

Pool of Knowledge 

Where: Living Arts Centre Grounds

Artist: Stacey Spiegel

Created in 1997 by Stacey Spiegel, Pool of Knowledge is a fountain feature on the Living Arts Centre Grounds. This work is made of cast aluminum and concrete and features the letters of the alphabet on the ground. 

Pine Sanctuary 

Where: Entrance to the Riverwood Conservancy 

Artist: Marc Fornes / THEVERYMANY

Marking the entrance to the Riverwood Conservancy, Pine Sanctuary stands tall, acting as somewhere between a sculpture and an architectural object. Pine Sanctuary is inspired by the nature surrounding it and invites visitors to pass through and view the piece from different angles, engaging them in a unique spatial and light experience. Pine Sanctuary utilizes ‘structural stripes’, a building system invented by the designer that involves sandwiching aluminum stripes riveted together for structural performance. 

The Book

Where: Mississauga Celebration Square 

Artist: Ilan Sandler

Commissioned by the Greater Toronto Airports Authority and previously located at the side of Highway 401 near Pearson Airport, The Book now resides between Mississauga Celebration Square and the Central Library. Designed by Ilan Sandler, The Book is a painted steel sculpture of an open book with two pages ripped out. If you get close to the pages, you will see clusters of letters from different symbolic languages.

Lakeview Village Art Installations

Where: 800 Hydro Road in Mississauga 

Artist: Multiple

In collaboration with Artscape, through its Artscape Atelier program, Lakeview Village put out a call to artists to create outdoor installations for the highly anticipated Lakeview Village condo project site. This project was a way to provide paid work opportunities for artists while also encouraging a celebration of art in the community. The completed work spans 1,600 feet on the Mississauga waterfront and includes pieces from 19 artists from the GTA.

Great Bear and the Seven Hunters

Where: Council Chamber – Mississauga Civic Centre

Artist: Sharon McCann 

Painted in 1986 by Canadian artist Sharon McCann, Great Bear and the Seven Hunters was Mississauga's first commissioned artwork. Great Bear and the Seven Hunters is a 30-metre-diameter domed ceiling mural on the second floor of the Civic Centre. The painting is an interpretation of the Ojibway legend by the same name, which depicts how the constellations were created.