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Art at Yonge & St. Clair by Zebra

I didn’t know whether to post this under the TO or arts blog but wanted to highlight this public-art project by Alex and Fay. This is on til November 30.

Photo provided by Zebra.

Many people may never set foot in a gallery space. Art can be viewed as intimidating, or as something without reach. Something that may make us feel alienated, finding it hard to comprehend and the topic of buying art is a complete separate topic – something that is considered only wealthy people can do.

Our goal for this project was to bring art to unexpected spaces and in particular, everyday spaces. We wanted to interrupt the greyness of the everydayness with colour and beauty, spark imagination and creativity.

ZEBRA wants to bring art a little bit closer to people, making it accessible, within reach, less intimidating…and at the same time, contribute to bringing people and the community together, provoke discussions, and provide a platform for emerging artists to display their work, outside of the standard boundaries such as gallery spaces.

Link to interview about this project:


Co-founded by Yifat (Fay) Ringel and Alexandra Correia, ZEBRA brings artful experiences to the public in public spaces. ZEBRA is a public art consultancy and management firm, taking charge of all stages of public art installations from conception to implementation. Additionally, ZEBRA curates and produces art exhibitions and festivals. They also create platforms such as workshops, talk series and team building events with an art flavour, to expose art to people in an everyday setting. ZEBRA engages processes that bring the worlds of creativity and commerce to enhance the experience of place through art.


THE WARD MUSICAL: Songs and Sounds of a Lost Toronto Neighbourhood

If you try to imagine your way back into the early 20th century streets and laneways of The Ward — the dense immigrant enclave razed to make way for Toronto’s City Hall — you might pick up the sounds of newsies and peddlers hawking their wares, the clanging of the area’s junk and lumber yards, and shrieking children playing on the Elizabeth Street playground north of Dundas.

Those streets would also reverberate day and night with a jumble of languages — Italian, Yiddish, Chinese. The dialects and accents of these newcomers were considered to be not only “foreign,” but also proof (to the keepers of Toronto’s Anglo-Saxon morality) of the area’s worrisome social and physical failings.

But despite the fact that many mainstream Torontonians saw The Ward as an impoverished blight on the face of the city, the neighbourhood resonated with energy and culture and music — evidence of the resilience of the stigmatized newcomers who settled there in waves from the late 19th century onward.

Photographers recorded fiddle players and organ grinders with their hurdy gurdies, playing as mesmerized children listened. After their shifts ended, one 1914 account noted, labourers whiled away their free times playing mandolins or concertinas as they sang rags and the Neapolitan songs so popular at the time.

“When sleep in crowded rooms seems all but impossible,” journalist Emily Weaver observed in The Globe and Mail in 1910, “the people of ‘The Ward’ are astir till all hours, and the Italians amuse themselves by singing in their rich sweet voices the songs of their far-away homelands or dancing their native dances to the music of a mandolin or guitar in the open roadway beneath the stars.”

Some residents brought music into their homes. In a 1955 memoir about growing up in The Ward in the 1910s, Marjorie Johnston recalled the day her father brought home a new gramophone and three records – all British dance hall standards. Years later, she wrote, “I have a nostalgic memory of a cozy little parlour with fashionable red paper on the wall, a hanging lamp of ruby glass, and a little girl on her father’s knee listening to that record pouring forth from the brass horn.”

The Ward’s sound was sacred as well as profane. Celebratory music could be heard at weddings, bar mitzvahs, baptisms, and confirmations. On days of worship, the area’s synagogues and black churches (the Agnes Street Bapist and the British Methodist Episcopal) resonated with liturgical music – gospels, hymns, cantorial songs: a medley performed in religious buildings located scarcely metres apart.

In a telling example of The Ward’s social dynamism, several Jewish businessmen in 1909 bought the black church at the north-east corner of Dundas and Bay and turned it into the Lyric Theatre, which performed Yiddish plays and concerts. (After the Lyric let out, the theatre-goers would head over to Altman’s, a Yiddish bakery at Elizabeth and Louisa, for a late-night snack; the City Hall parking permit office is located at that spot today.)

The location of Altman’s

Music could also be heard in factories. Joseph Shlisky, a young Polish Jew forcibly brought to Toronto to perform in a cantorial choir, was singing at his sewing machine in the Eaton’s factory one day when Lady Eaton overheard him. Enchanted, she offered to pay for his musical education. Shlisky later made his way to New York, where he went on to be one of the great cantors of his generation (A socialist choir of Eaton’s factory workers formed to perform Yiddish folk songs with political inflections).

Meanwhile, at Central Neighbourhood House, an immigrant settlement agency on Gerard St. near Bay, the staff in 1915 set up a community music school for children as a means of improving their civic education and social development. The school produced concerts featuring the sort of Western classical music considered, at the time, to be crucial to the Canadianization of foreign-born children.

By the 1920s, the Chinese residents who had settled in The Ward began to establish community organizations, such as Gee Tung Tong Club and the Ship Toy Yuen Dramatic Society, specifically to perform highly ritualized Cantonese operas in halls on Elizabeth and Dundas streets, as well as the burlesque theatres on Queen Street, which weren’t allowed to mount peeler shows on Sundays.

Besides these informal street-level sounds, The Ward was ringed by major commercial performance venues (e.g., Massey Hall, Shea’s Hippodrome, the Pantages and Victory theatres, etc.) that played a critical role in connecting Torontonians to international musical trends, everything from dance hall and vaudeville to opera and Klezmer. The performers walking those boards were locals, too. One Chinese dramatic society rented the burlesque theatre at Queen and Bay for operas on Sundays, when the strip tease dancers weren’t peeling.

Come the 1940s and 1950s, the locus of performed music in The Ward shifted north to the cafes and clubs of the Gerrard Street Village, where young people congregated at intimate venues featuring the folk and jazz musicians who later came to be associated with the Yorkville hippie scene.

This sustained urban symphony eventually drew to a close as municipal officials in the post-war period began expropriating and redeveloping The Ward to make way for hospitals, offices, and Toronto’s new city hall.

By that point, the area’s dominant sounds emanated from that quintessential instrument of post-war progress: the bulldozer.

“The Ward: The Songs and Sounds of a Lost Toronto Neighbourhood” will be performed at Lula Lounge on April 26. Co-presented by ERA Architects, The Metcalf Foundation, Coach House Books and Spacing, the show will feature a band led by David Buchbinder, Michael Occhipinti and Andrew Craig, playing music linked to The Ward and the period when it was Toronto’s most visible immigrant neighbourhood.

The line-up includes selections from a sheath of klezmer sheet music given to Buchbinder by Stella Barsh 20 years ago. Barsh’s grandfather had a band that performed in Toronto a century ago. Many were standards, but a good number of them seem to be original songs written and perhaps played in that lost neighbourhood. Stella Barsh attended the first workshop of the show at Soulpepper last spring.

The tickets are $20, and available at the Spacing Store (401 Richmond St. W.) or on EventBrite.

Art in the TTC

Tuesday, February 14, 2017


January 21 – May 21, 2017


Tuesday, February 14
Public Art in the Subways
This map, created by The Artful City in collaboration with the Martin Prosperity Institute and presented in partnership with the Art Gallery of Ontario, is the first comprehensive visual view of public art in Toronto. It reveals important patterns of production, ownership, and networks linking artists over time.

Over the last 50 years Toronto’s public art landscape has grown dramatically, embracing new artists, mediums, policies and funding sources. However, this development has been concentrated in particular neighbourhoods and has prioritized certain forms of practice over others. This map shows who has access to the vast majority of the artwork and who does not. It also illustrates what type of work has received the most support.
We invite you to explore and help complete this evolving map by identifying areas in need of public artworks. What does public art mean to you? What can it look like in the future?

Community Gallery

The Community Gallery in the Weston Family Learning Centre is an exhibition and project space which provides a platform for artistic experimentation and dissemination. Focused specifically on the processes of making art, and those ideas which feed into contemporary artistic practice, the gallery seeks to take risks and push the boundaries of how work is traditionally represented within formal institutions. The space draws also on the voices of those groups, regardless of age, sex, profession, and socio-economic constraints, who are at once represented and marginalized within normal institutional channels. In doing so, the Gallery steps away from conventional definitions of what is meant by the word “Community”, seeking new interpretations and evolutionary paths for the possibilities of art-making. Visit for past projects in the Community Gallery.

The Artful City is a project uniting many of Toronto’s cultural and educational institutions who share a commitment to supporting healthy and imaginative cities. This cumulative research, as well as the public feedback collected over the course of the AGO installation, will be presented in May 2017 at the Public Art; New Ways of Thinking and Working symposium organized by York University’s School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design.

Organized by the The Artful City and the Art Gallery of Ontario
This exhibition is free admission

Above text and image from

This was a morning well-spent. Excellent seminar and field trip with diverse in-subway examples and little-known info about the artists and their pieces from the 1970s onwards.

Cheated a bit by leaving the subway to see Michael Awad in Telus House.

Cosmopolitan Toronto in Photos

Cosmo portrait

Documentary photographer Colin Boyd Shafer’s book Cosmopolis Toronto: The World in One City is a collection of photo stories about 195 people who have immigrated to Canada and settled in Toronto. Their portraits are accompanied by brief commentaries. But most poignant are the smaller photos which display each subject’s most treasured object, a memento which still ties them to their past and their origins.

Boyd Shafer’s portraits are candid but accessible and certainly illustrate the diversity of our city’s people and locales. With so many people represented, the photographer chose well to keep the texts brief: while lengthy bios would likely have been fascinating, he keeps the pace of the book clicking, so that it’s an excellent coffee table book and it echoes the mood of our ever-changing city.

And I do use the term ‘coffee table book’ as a compliment. In our harried urban lifestyle, it can be rare to have a moment to even sit down on a couch in front of a coffee table with free time. When we do, isn’t it a luxurious feeling to flip languorously through a beautiful book that is enlightening but not demanding? Larger-format picture books force us to turn the pages more slowly and thus to take in the contents with more attention and time. Everything in this book, down to the type and map outlines, makes our encounter streamlined and focussed.

I’d recommend Cosmopolis Toronto as a great gift: for yourself as a Toronto resident; for the bibliophile who seems to have every book you can think of; or perhaps most thoughtfully for a newcomer to Toronto, whether they’ve moved here from Fort MacMurray or France. You can learn more about the project of “Photographing the world, one Torontonian at a time” at

Cosmo cover

The Book Class


On my walk to a client’s office yesterday morning, I struck up a conversation with someone panhandling* because I remembered seeing him a month before; he was memorable because he was reading a book both times I saw him.

It’s amazing how books can bridge divides. We talked about favourite genres, books we’d read, wanted to read, should have read by now. He showed me a 1945 edition of Alice in Wonderland he had been given by a friend. This chap had a degree in Literature. He had received a few knocks in life, but his attitude was not woe-is-me. I suspect that part of his balanced view of his current situation was partially moulded by his love of reading. I certainly read to escape and perhaps he reads while holding out his sign to passersby so that he can escape that reality. He wasn’t sure he’d be back in the neighbourhood the next day, but I said I’d bring him a page-turner I had enjoyed and hopefully it would be left on the stoop for him if he didn’t come.

I felt sobered after that conversation, although I’m not sure why. I took my book to his spot this morning but he wasn’t there. As he had said the tenants were good to him, I left it with a note in a bag on the door handle asking them to give it to him as I wouldn’t be back for a few weeks.

But Scott did mention a book he’d love to have but hasn’t found yet. I know what my most rewarding Christmas gift is going to be this year.



I tried for several weeks before and after Christmas to find Scott again, so that I could hand deliver his gift. Eventually, I just put it in a bag on the doorknob of the stoop where we met, with a note asking the tenants to pass it on to him if they saw him. Maybe our paths will cross again later.


*The fellow in question himself described his activity as panhandling; this is no editorializing by me. He said that OW (that’s “welfare” for you non-Ontarian readers) doesn’t cover all of his monthly expenses and that he pans only when he’s stuck for money. He has a place to live.

The Metro: From ‘Ewww!’ to ‘Woo-hoo!’

20090708-Metro-Theatre from blogto.com

This week, I had the opportunity to meet with Matthew Languay, owner of Basecamp Climbing Inc., a rock-climbing facility which will open this fall in central Toronto, in the space that has been occupied by the former porn-focused Metro Theatre lo these many decades. There has been a lot of favourable media coverage about him taking this project on, the links to which can be found here.

Although I cannot participate in the sport myself, my interest is in the building because my grandfather, Carol C. Wells, had a significant interest in the property a hundred years ago when he was running Wells Bros. Amusements (see the introductory post about the blog’s name for more information.) Matthew was kind enough to share info with me about what he has discovered so far about the structure and what he has planned for it. We met over coffee in mid-town.

An avid climber with a mechanical engineering and climbing-wall building background, Matthew has been part of the interior demolition, so we shared photos and facts and put some visuals to the parts of my grandpa’s written memoirs that deal with the Metro. We will bring you his images and follow up as the building is renovated.

In the fall of 1913, Carol Wells met Mr.s Sher and Zimmerman, who were interested in converting a large store they had at Clinton and Bloor St.s into a movie theatre but were having trouble securing a permit. Grandpa Wells had experience in this, having established a successful business in projection engineering, supplies, repairs and installations. For his help, he negotiated a host of responsibilities but also perks, including working six days a week as the theatre’s projectionist.

Unfortunately, they opened on a very cold January 14th of 1914, and business did not boom: Carol felt it was due to Sher and Zimmerman only having one projector, while other theatres were now running continuous shows with two projectors. He convinced them to keep up with the times’s demands, and business picked up. Eventually, he transferred his permit to Mr. Sher amidst various negotiations. One condition was that Grandpa acquired part of the basement to partition off for a workshop and storage area, about 15 ft. sq., which Matthew photographed by chance, not knowing the background of it. While I don’t have the details about how this involvement at the Metro cinema concluded, it seems he may have left the arrangement as his business expanded in Toronto and across southern Ontario.

It is frustrating that I cannot find more details about my family connection to the theatre, not even its name at that time. It is also unclear why media often report that it was built in 1938, when it is unlikely another cinema was extant at the same intersection and its history started some twenty-four years earlier. If anyone can direct me to evidence about this, please contact me via this site.

basecamp8Photograph of the owner of Basecamp Climbing by Maxwell Summerlee

Matthew and I will share more info as his new venture develops! Personally, I’d like to have the marquee sign, with the ‘girl’ on the front, as a memento of the Wells Bros.’s connection to the cinema’s history. I’ll put a bug in the entrepreneur’s ear….