Toronto

Metrolinx to demolish stretch of community-designed murals in north Etobicoke to build Finch West LRT

A 175-metre-long stretch of murals depicting the lives of residents in north Etobicoke is being demolished to make way for the Finch West LRT. The project organizer said this came as a surprise.

Transit agency says it was 'always clear' murals were temporary but hopes to digitally preserve them

John Del Rosario, special projects manager at Arts Etobicoke, calls the demolition of the large stretch of murals on a north Etobicoke street to make way for the Finch West LRT a 'huge disappointment.' (Paul Borkwood/CBC)

A north Etobicoke neighbourhood is losing a massive collection of community art along Finch Avenue West to make room for the Finch West light rail transit line.

The provincial transit agency Metrolinx says the approximately 175-metre-long stretch of murals that sits on a noise barrier wall between Islington and Kipling avenues is set to be demolished this week — something the display's organizer says came as a surprise. 

"We produced this mural understanding that it would be a permanent piece of public art and it would live on for the community to enjoy and view," said John Del Rosario, the special projects manager at Arts Etobicoke.

In 2019, Arts Etobicoke, a not-for-profit organization, created the display, entitled Augmented Representations: The North Etobicoke Mural Project, with the help of community partners and artists, including 30 female-identifying and non-binary artists.

Composed of 33 individual murals, the display features bold colours and images of the Humber River, Indigenous narratives and personal experiences in the community.  (Paul Borkwood/CBC)

Composed of 33 individual murals, the display features bold colours and images of the Humber River, Indigenous narratives and personal experiences in the community.  

"North Etobicoke has a distinct lack of public art and cultural opportunities to participate in community placemaking," said Arts Etobicoke in a statement.

"This mural was an important opportunity for residents to see themselves reflected in the community and to help redefine the narrative of north Etobicoke."

Bareket Kezwer was the curator and a lead artist of the project. While she said she understands that street art doesn't last forever, "that doesn't mean there isn't some sadness, seeing this incredible piece leaving so quickly."

'This mural was an important opportunity for residents to see themselves reflected in the community and to help redefine the narrative of north Etobicoke,' Arts Etobicoke said in a statement. (Paul Borkwood/CBC)

Metrolinx says it was clear mural was temporary

Metrolinx says the space the mural currently occupies is needed for a bike path and sidewalk expansion linked to the development of the Finch West LRT. 

"It was always clear to us that is was temporary because the walls had to come down, so I'm not sure why the confusion," said Metrolinx spokesperson Anne Marie Aikins. 

She said the LRT will be going right through that space, so the wall needs to come down. "Unfortunately that means the mural comes with it." 

Bareket Kezwer, curator and a lead artist of the project, says she understands that street art doesn't last forever, but 'that doesn't mean there isn't some sadness, seeing this incredible piece leaving so quickly.' (Paul Borkwood/CBC)

Aikins said the display is one of many art projects that the city has supported during times of construction, saying the installations make community life "more livable and beautiful" in the interim. 

While they can be temporary or permanent, they're a way for communities to get involved to celebrate the uniqueness of their neighbourhood, she said. 

Because the mural is painted on concrete, it will crumble once it's moved, Aikins said. Still, she says, Metrolinx is determined to preserve the mural, albeit in a different form. 

The transit agency said it's hired a photographer to document each of the 33 panels to digitally preserve them. The hope is that the photos can eventually become a permanent display in a future location, although nothing has been finalized. 

'A huge disappointment' says special projects manager

Meanwhile, Arts Etobicoke says they were not aware of the demolition plans when they undertook their project in partnership with the City of Toronto. 

"In fact, we were assured that these walls were not set to be altered in any way with the LRT construction project," their statement reads. 

The group said the project was an "amazing networking opportunity" for participants, who developed friendships across cultural and linguistic boundaries.

It also offered a space for women's voices to be amplified in a public forum, the organization said. 

Arts Etobicoke said the project was an 'amazing networking opportunity' for participants, who developed friendships across cultural and linguistic boundaries. (Paul Borkwood/CBC)

"It is a huge disappointment to see these murals come down," said Del Rosario. 

The group said the removal of the display — what it calls north Etobicoke's largest piece of public art — will be a "great sadness to the community" and a loss for the "cultural ecology" in the city. 

Aikins said Metrolinx is determined to find other opportunities for artists in the community. 

Demolition of the mural is set to begin Wednesday, 

The Finch West LRT is expected to be completed in 2023. 

With files from Lisa Naccarato and Paul Borkwood

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