People waiting for a bus or walking by Dawes Road and Victoria Park Avenue on a weeknight last week had plenty to say about Dawes Crossing, the new art project that officially opened there on Saturday.
Built with oak beams, the piece looks something like a two-storey barn frame with lower wings on either side.
Besides two roofs – one glass and one aluminum – the frame is equipped with giant rain-catching funnels, a vertical wind turbine and a pair of solar panels that track the sun like plant leaves.
“It’s amazing when you go by and see the different colours,” said Michael Lucente. LED lights on the structure change colour depending on the wind speed.
Sitting at a super-sized picnic table with his wife and son, Sam Adatya said the added shelter is a help on hot or rainy days. It could use a drinking fountain, he said, and his wife would like more flowers in the garden.
“Next summer it will be more beautiful,” he said.
Walking by, journalism student Ira Lamcja had a more critical take and two big ‘W’ questions about the piece – what is it for, and why is it at Dawes and Victoria Park?
“I think this is a really weird location to put something like this,” Lamcja said. “This is a suburban area, and just a few blocks over is Scarborough.
“I would put something like this in downtown Toronto maybe – here it’s kind of wasted because I don’t think people know what it is or what its function is.”
Speaking from his studio in Caledon, artist Noel Harding said it was partly because of the unusual site – an overlooked green space in a heavy transit area – that he answered the City of Toronto’s call for proposals.
“It called for a mentality of place-making,” Harding said.
On one level, he said that simply meant designing a stand-out landmark where people might say, ‘Meet you there’.
“I wanted to generate a gathering space, not for masses of people, but a space that would allow, for example, a woman who knits all winter and wants to make a little money to sell something,” he said. “A place people can play cards or hang out without it being a crowd.”
Harding said he also found that Dawes Road has an interesting, if little-known history. As the easiest way down through the hills to the natural port of Toronto, First Nations, then fur traders and then farmers going to St. Lawrence Market all used what became Dawes Road as a trading route.
Harding said that history of trading things from the land is reflected in the way the structure gathers rain water, sunlight and wind and then distributes them to a nearby garden, the city power grid and its own playful lights.
“That unique history wasn’t known,” Harding said. “Some identifier was wanted, to cause the questions so that historical answers can be given.”
Regarding question of what Dawes Crossing is for, Harding said it has very practical elements – as well as shelter, there are electrical outlets and free WiFi, and its rain spouts are designed to gradually improve the soil there.
But more important than the “practical fact” of all that activity, Harding said, is the aura they create.
While it’s interesting that Dawes Crossing generates a little money by selling solar power, Harding said he is more interested in the emotion people feel when they see lights run on sun power.
“It’s mystical,” he said. “You get this really tangible feeling about how amazing that is.”
To learn more about the project, visit dawescrossing.ca.