Art & About in Toronto, Canada

Downtown Toronto

What Identifies a City?

The Nomads visited New York in 2012. It was a seriously fun trip, but I was somewhat bemused by the city itself.

This was the city everyone raved up?  Sure, there’s lots of stuff do. And there’s the culture. Everyone will remind you of “the culture”.

But…it’s just a city.

When you travel frequently, cities become homogeneous. There are only so many times you can rave about the “culture” of a place before it all starts to bleed into the culture of yet another city in the white western world.

So what is it about Toronto that distinguishes it from other cities I’ve lived in or visited?

The niceness and politeness of Canadians comes to mind.  I’m yet to visit any other city where this gentle and kind nature of its citizens is emulated. In every other way, Toronto is like every other city I’ve been to.

But there is another part of the Torontonian culture that I am struck by every time I walk through this city – the creative and kooky art installations and sculptures peppered throughout downtown.

Positive Effects of Public Art

For a city that is cloaked by winter six months a year (and winter in Canada does not fuck about, as documented in this post), art decorating the city has a range of positive effects on the community.

Winter has a way of depriving your senses. Your body becomes too cold to feel anything properly or to even smell. Sight? We’re too busy squinting from the glare of the sun off the white snow, or to keep the snow flakes and rain out of our eyes.

Art installations invite a broad sensory experience. What we are deprived of from the nature of winter, we can get a sense of from art. Different textures remind us of touch. We can get a sense of warmth from pieces that utilise depth and space. Even sound and the memories of summer can be evoked.

And aside from the personal benefits to individuals in a community, public art encourages tourism and economic development.

Toronto’s Public Art

Paw's Way Toronto

The giant puppy dog at Paws’ Way on 245 Queen Quay West is a much missed figure on my daily wanders. I suspect it’s currently in storage while the harbourfront is undergoing revitilisation and hope Paws’ Way will bring it out again when construction finishes.

If you’re wondering what Paws’ Way  is, it’s a community centre for pet socialisation, activities and exhibitions. Even if you don’t have your own pet, you’re welcomed to visit as a pet lover. 

The cows and elephants are my other favourites.  The cows sit on the lawn outside the Toronto Dominion Centre. Their official name is “The Pasture”. They were created by a Canadian sculptor, Joe Fafard, and bring a sense of serenity to the urban density of Toronto’s Financial District. On a sunny day from a distance, you’d be forgiven for wondering if they were real cows lazily soaking up the sun.

The Pasture Toronto Dominion Centre

The elephants are a short walk away from the cows in the Financial District, over at the Commerce Court Building. Tembo, Mother of Elephants, was created by Derrick Stephan Hudson in 2002 and have been on loan from the L.L. Odette Foundation of Windsor since 2005.


The Distillery District is a fantastic area for a diverse mix of sculptures all in a short walk. And the district is packed with galleries, bars, wineries, shops, and restaurants.

Sadly, my favourite Distillery District sculpture, the huge metal mouth monster, was on loan and is currently enjoying its retirement on the deck of a rich Muskokan’s cottage on the lake.

It sculpture Distillery District

Luckily, I got a photo of him way back in 2011 when I was visiting North Nomad while we were living in different hemispheres. The steel sculpture, Koilos, by artist Michael Christian, was called a “Lovecraftian horror” by Torontoist, but it reminded me of something out of Monsters Inc.

Two of Christians’ other sculptures remain. If you’re a fan of 1980s science-fiction, you’ll appreciate his sculpture, It. The arachnoid structure looks like it’s straight out of The Tripods.

The Tripod Distillery District

Still Dancing, by Dennis Openheim is another prominent feature in the Distillery District. The 38 foot steel spiral structure looks spectacular when lit up from underneath at night.

Spinning Top Distillery District

In the opposite direction down on the harbourfront, the sculptures take on a more indigenous feel. Inukshuk was designed by Inuit artist Kellypalikk Qimirpik. It sits at Battery Park and made from 50 tonnes of mountain rose granite from Dryden Ontario. Inukshuk means “that which acts in the capacity of a human”.  Traditionally, they are Inuit guides for land and sea travellers to orient themselves with.

Inuit sculpture

An ornately carved pole stands above the trees in Little Norway Park  (the southwest corner of Bathurst Street and Queen’s Quay West). Created in 1981 and called The Dream of Whales, the totem pole is covered in mythological Norse icons. While it resembles a totem pole, it’s actually a cosmic maypole.

Little Norway Maypole

The Fort York area has North Nomads’ favourite sculptures, by Canadian author and artist, Douglas Coupland. Coupland created larger than life toy soldiers and a canoe overlooking the harbourfront in memory of the war of 1812.

Toy Soldiers Fort York

Coupland Canoe Fort York

These are some of the sculptures I’ve enjoyed on my winter walks through Toronto.

What’s your favourite city? To you, what defines a city? What distinguishes it from any others?

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2 thoughts on “Art & About in Toronto, Canada

  1. Pingback: Evergreen Brickworks – Toronto, Canada | North & South Nomads

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