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Civic Impact

New St. Lawrence Market area artwork reminds us where the city used to end

Nowadays, it’s more than a kilometre’s walk from Church and Front to the shore of Lake Ontario. But less than a century ago, the corner was right where the water met the land.
A new art installation unveiled this month celebrates the city’s historic shorefront. Evocative limestone steps hint at what might have been, while a glowing glass orb set on a bronze tripod evokes a surveyors’ instrument used in creating the city. Called Shoreline Commemorative, the work by Toronto-based artist Paul Raff is a public art contribution by Concert Properties, the developer of The Berczy, a 13-storey condo on the intersection’s southwest corner. The brick wall to the south is inscribed with the text: “For 10,000 years this was the location of Lake Ontario’s shoreline. This brick wall stands where water and land met, with a vista horizon.”
“It’s about the ongoing evolution and transformation of the city, a remarkably fast evolution and a remarkably massive transformation,” says Raff. “To think that less than 100 years ago, standing on that site, you’d be standing on the shoreline looking at the lake is very difficult for most people to imagine.”
It was in the 1920s that the massive waterfront landfill took place. Though he’s studied Toronto’s urban geography for years, Raff did extensive research before he came up with the idea for the installation, working with a writer to go through old documents, maps, photos and stories. Raff realized that not only was the site the shoreline for 200 years of the city’s urban history, it was the shoreline for 10,000 years of natural history and thousands of years of Aboriginal history. “I emptied my mind of ideas of old Toronto—Victorian and pre-Victoria architecture and old industrial wharfs—and thought about 10,000 years of shoreline,” says Raff. “I’m trying to make things that are invisible visible.”
Tucked into a small site in a niche in the Berczy development, the piece doesn’t feel like a typical piece of public art. Nor does it feel like a typical work by Raff, who has worked on national and international projects including the multi-award winning Cascade House. “It’s always hard when it’s still a drawing on paper to say, This is an awesome idea, because the fact of the matter, I have no idea how it’s going to come off and how people are going to react. The unveiling was a pretty happy day to see people touching it and walking around it and getting it and appreciating it.”
Writer: Paul Gallant
Source: Paul Raff
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