Artwork for King Street pilot project creates 'window into the past,' designer says

Toronto designer of a new art project adorning the concrete barriers lining the city's King Street pilot project says each image shows commuters a "window into the past."

Barriers to protect streetcar riders from traffic are decorated with art that reflects the neighbourhood

The city decorated the concrete barriers along King Street that protect streetcar riders from traffic with three distinct art pieces created by a local designer. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

The Toronto designer of a new art project adorning the concrete barriers that line the city's King Street pilot project says each image shows commuters a "window into the past."

The barriers unveiled Sunday feature three different colourful designs, but they all contain one common theme — each portray one moment from the history of King Street. 

Designer Christopher Rouleau says his art is 'my little way of sharing that history with Toronto.' (Martin Trainor/CBC)

Christopher Rouleau, a Toronto graphic designer, letterer and visual artist, created the artwork for the three neighbourhoods along the route from historical images in the City of Toronto Archives.

"It's my little way of sharing that history with Toronto," he said, noting most people haven't seen what the street used to look like. 

"There's just incredible records of the city and the streets and businesses and the people ... and I just wanted to put the history front-and-centre in these designs."

Toronto designer Christopher Rouleau created the three different art pieces adorning the concrete barriers along King Street. (Submitted by Christopher Rouleau)

King Street is one of the most historic corridors in Toronto and has always been a major downtown thoroughfare. It was one of the first streets built in the Town of York more than two centuries ago. York was incorporated as the city of Toronto in 1834. 

The roadway now moves upwards of 65,000 people on the King streetcars every weekday, the TTC says. 

Rouleau explains the goal of his designs is for commuters riding the streetcar, cycling or driving to see what King Street used to be like and what the future holds with the conversion of a stretch of the thoroughfare from Jarvis Street to Bathurst Street. 

"It's an ode to history as we move into the future," he told CBC Toronto. 

This archival photo was taken at King Street near Bay and York streets in 1926. (Toronto Reference Library)
Art in the entertainment district between Bathurst and Simcoe streets. (Christopher Rouleau)
Art in the St. Lawrence Market area between Yonge and Jarvis streets. (Christopher Rouleau)

For example, the artwork on six barriers between Jarvis and Yonge streets and eight barriers between Simcoe and Bathurst streets features a photo of businesses in 1926 between Bay and York streets. 

To the west, the photograph in the background of the artwork on six barriers between Simcoe and Yonge streets is from 1911.   

King Street as seen from Yonge Street in 1911. (City of Toronto Archives)
Art in the financial district between Simcoe and Yonge streets. (Christopher Rouleau)

City staff installed the concrete barriers at intersections where the King streetcar stops to protect riders from traffic and keep cars out of the curb lane, TTC spokesperson Brad Ross explained. 

It's my little way of sharing that history with Toronto.- Christopher Rouleau, designer

The King Street pilot project extends along six kilometres and crosses through three areas of the city — St. Lawrence Market, the financial district and the entertainment district. 

Fiona Chapman, manager of pedestrian projects for the Toronto's transportation services, says city staff originally planned on having three artists design the three different art pieces, but landed on Rouleau's art submissions because each one reflected the different character of the neighbourhoods. 

"He's got sort of a consistent theme, but some variance on it by area," she explained. 

She describes his artwork as bright and lively.

"It's a nice view on your way," said Rouleau. 


Amara McLaughlin

Senior producer, CBC News

Amara McLaughlin is the senior producer of social media for CBC News in Toronto.