I came across the back-alley filled with Toronto street art by happenstance. I wasn’t even supposed to be in Toronto that day; I was supposed to be home in Calgary. Not a big deal, however, for it was a beautiful sunny day to welcome me back to Canada, and I was more than happy to spend it in Toronto taking pictures of graffiti, drinking coffee, and visiting the Hockey Hall of Fame (yes, very Canadian of me.)
As much as I truly enjoyed the Hockey Hall of Fame, the Toronto street art was what really captivated me. I had stumbled across a huge collection of it just off of Toronto’s funkiest street, Queen’s St. I quickly drew my camera and started snapping away. It was an interesting sensation to be walking around, camera in hand, on a semi-deserted street, and not have to worry about getting robbed. A definite benefit to being back on Canadian soil.
The street art in Toronto seemed to be confined to the specific back-alley, which was deemed a “free zone” for artists to show their work. However, just as it was with London’s street art scene, the walls were squeaky clean outside of the back-alley. The governments of most western cities have a very low tolerance for street art or graffiti. This is one reason I really like the free-for-alls that are Rio, Bogota, and Buenos Aires. I realize that these cities don’t have the resources, nor the will to constantly monitor “vandalism,” but it has made these cities open air museums, where you are the critic instead of the government.
From what I’ve heard of this back alley, they paint over it every year, and then they start from scratch. Part of the reason why all of the pictures of Toronto street art are so vibrant. The alley has become famous around the city. I saw two different wedding parties having their pictures taken in front of the beautifully adorned walls, and even a commercial being shot. I believe the commercial was for gum.
I’ve seen in multiple cities how street art can liven a neighbourhood. It has the power to give part of a city a feel, flair, and funk that wouldn’t otherwise be in that neighbourhood. It also gives a creative outlet to a city’s artists. There are obvious problems with not controlling it at all, but it’s good to see that it’s embraced in certain places. There’s, unfortunately, nowhere in my home city that you can go to find street art. The thing most people think of when they hear “graffiti” in Calgary are the ugly tags that occasionally show up. Calgarians have never been given the opportunity to see how high of a level street art can reach.
I’ve seen the quality that can be attained by having certain standards and regulations in place when I was in London. The scene there is truly spectacular. However, how did those artists reach that level? They needed to practice somewhere. The sort of regulation that is in Toronto has offered people a place to practice their art.
I enjoyed my day in Toronto, which was my first of two unscheduled stopovers this year. (The other being a night in Amsterdam.) Sometimes travel doesn’t go as planned, but if you’re flexible you can make what is an inconvenience into a great day. Maybe you’ll even stumble into some fantastic street art!