A commemorative art installation is currently decorating the construction site of the new Toronto courthouse project, located in the city’s downtown core, as part of work honouring the site’s rich history.
Infrastructure Ontario (IO) celebrated the unveiling of the installation, called “Picturing the Ward”, at the site that was once part of St. John’s Ward (the Ward), one of the city’s earliest immigrant and migrant settlements. The installation is meant to catch the interest of pedestrians and provide insight into the region’s past.
Last year, IO led an archaeological dig of the site, which had previously been used as a parking lot. The successful excavation project recovered tens of thousands of artifacts, many of which were from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These artifacts include children’s toys, shoes, perfume bottles, dentures, glass soda bottles, ceramic pitchers and dominoes, among other items.
The exhibit showcases a collection of images of the recovered artifacts, as well as the personal stories and photographs from six Toronto residents that can trace their ancestral roots to the historic St. John’s Ward neighbourhood. The exhibition explores issues of belonging, family, labour, citizenship and identity; experiences all felt by the migrants that left their home countries to look for new opportunities in Toronto.
IO is one of the first organizations in the city to produce a large-scale, original art installation that features historic material. The installation was conceived following a recent municipal bylaw requiring new construction sites to use art on hoarding to deter vandalism while helping to beautify public spaces.
IO has commissioned The STEPS Initiative (STEPS), an award-winning public art organization, to manage the exhibit’s design and installation, which it is doing through its associated public art consultancy, PATCH. IO and STEPS have recruited PA System, a local artist duo, to create the work. The Toronto Ward Museum collected and curated the oral histories and archival research for the exhibit.
“I would like to recognize the tremendous teamwork, dedication and ingenuity that went into developing Picturing the Ward,” said John McKendrick, EVP of project delivery for Infrastructure Ontario, in a press release. “A more formal and permanent commemoration plan is being developed with our Heritage Interpretation Working Group over the coming months and we are excited to see how that will look in the final design of the new Toronto courthouse.”
In October, IO issued a request for proposals to pre-selected teams to design, build, finance and maintain the courthouse. Construction is expected to begin in late 2017.