From Crane Girl to Dart Guy, massive new mural is one 'giant inside joke'

Toronto muralist Uber5000 tackled the five-storey building at Richmond and Spadina on Canada Day weekend, peppering the project with "Easter eggs" only a Torontonian would understand.

A local muralist painted this portrait of Toronto — including its oddballs, legends and idiosyncrasies

Toronto-based muralist uber5000 paid tribute to Toronto's quirks and characters with this new mural near Richmond and Spadina. (Barry Smith/CBC)

It started off as an extension of the coral reef animating the other three sides of the five-storey building at 534 Richmond Street West.

It evolved into a recognizable portrait of Toronto, where much like an underwater reef, "life forms of all kinds can thrive," said the mural's maker.

But as the artist, who asked to be identified only by his artist's alias, uber5000, worked — raised up on a scissor lift on weekends, slogging through brutal 16-hour days — the prolific urban painter added Toronto's most notorious stories to the busy scene.

"I wanted to seed it with Easter eggs," he said, so Toronto residents could nudge and wink at each other as they passed by.

On the far right, Crane Girl perches high up on her stomach-dropping platform, looking bored and aloof even in reproduction.

Just below her, Dart Guy's proud visage keeps watch over the city, still dreaming of the day the Toronto Maple Leafs bring home a Stanley Cup.

"We added him last weekend, and posted a photo on Instagram. Dart Guy actually got back to us," uber5000 told CBC Toronto, laughing. "He was so excited."

The Ikea monkey, determined as ever, scales the CN Tower, where a tiny Drake sits overlooking "The 6ix."

Even "that red helicopter that's always zipping around downtown" made it onto the mural, the artist said.

The artist kept adding "Easter eggs" for passers-by to discover — that is, if they're privy to the city's recent past. (CBC)

Building owner and mural commissioner Sam Dennis said the pair will add other iconic Toronto figures before the project wraps up at the end of August. He's thinking Gord Downie would make a good fit.

Conspicuously absent is the late Rob Ford, whose exploits gripped the city in recent history. Dennis says they've got plans to include him in the menagerie. "We would do it classy. Something iconic but tasteful," he said.

Dennis's 10-year-old daughter stars in the mural, secretly memorialized amongst uber5000's many creatures and characters.

"It's a substantial commitment," he said, outlining the time and money needed to lift the artist 12 metres into the air to cover the vast canvas. He estimates the entire building cost just under $30,000 to transform.

Uber5000 painted the other three sides of the 534 Richmond five years ago, going with a bustling coral reef theme. The portrait of the city, he says, reflects the dynamism of an underwater colony. (Supplied by Uber5000)

But Dennis said he felt a duty to the structure — and the neighbourhood — when he bought it five years ago.

"It's unique. It has no address — it's literally on two alleyways," he said. "I wanted it to stand out, pop a bit, instead of being this awkward building."

The newest mural became a kind of game for Dennis and uber5000: they wanted a "Where's Waldo" vibe to the piece.

But uber5000 thinks locals alone will fully grasp the meaning and humour threaded throughout the work.

"I wanted to do something where, if you live here, you'll get it," he said. "It's one gigantic inside joke for the people of Toronto."