Toronto

'A city of love': Local artists build sculpture celebrating Toronto

An earthy, wooden Toronto sign now stands on a rocky quay in Humber Bay Park, a vibrant juxtaposition to the concrete and steel backdrop of the Toronto skyline.

The sign, made of driftwood from a nearby beach, stands about six feet tall against the Toronto skyline

The Toronto driftwood sign erected by the water the Humber Bay park near Waterfront Drive and Marine Parade Drive. (Julie Ryan)

An earthy, wooden Toronto sign now stands on a rocky quay along the water in Humber Bay Park, a vibrant juxtaposition to the concrete and steel backdrop of the Toronto skyline.

The sculpture is the handiwork of local artists and best friends, Thelia Sanders-Shelton and Julie Ryan.

It's made of driftwood that washed up on a nearby beach. The pair got the idea when they heard that Toronto and Region Conservation Authority was looking for "driftwood artists" to make a sign for Canada 150.

They didn't get that job, but forged ahead with their own piece: a seven-foot "150" sign for Canada Day. Sanders-Shelton says it was a hit. "People kept coming and taking pictures, it was such a success."

A group of Canada Day revelers taking pictures with Julie Ryan and Thelia Sanders-Shelton first driftwood sign. (Thelia Sanders-Shelton)

But that sign only lasted about a week. "They are driftwood and they're drywall-nailed," said Sanders-Shelton, "so they only have so much life."

Ryan is a graphic designer, while Sanders-Shelton draws and paints. This was their first time working on a wooden sculpture.

The two enjoyed their experience so much, they wanted to keep going even after the 150 sign came down.

"It's beautiful being outside. It's beautiful working on it because each piece is unique, they each have their little idiosyncrasies," said Sanders-Shelton. "Each piece just fits."

The pair spent about five days on the project, sometimes taking seven hours at a time to lug rocks and wood from the beach to put up a temporary monument to Toronto.

One of the artists working on the Toronto driftwood sign. (Denis Calnan/CBC)

Both Sanders-Shelton and Ryan have lived most of their lives in the city.

"We love Toronto," said Julie Ryan. She said they put a heart at the end of the sculpture to celebrate Toronto as "a city of love. It's a place of goodness and kindness."

Their work was helped by locals. One man supplied flashlights that helped them work into the evening and another couple helped them collect rocks.

"Everyone is just so positive and lovely and open," said Ryan. "You don't find that a lot in big cities."

Sanders-Shelton says she loves that the sculpture shows "the softer side" of Toronto.

"The thing with driftwood is that it's very gestural. It's all bendy and gnarly. That, with the skyline of concrete and all the straight lines, I thought it would be a beautiful contrast."

They hope to keep making signs like these.

Sanders-Shelton says both she and Ryan were laid off from an art supply shop many years ago and it would be a dream to start a business building backyard sculptures together.