Once an unremarkable passage to Toronto’s East End, the Queen Street Viaduct, fondly dubbed the ‘Riverside Bridge’, has become an iconic landmark, thanks to the public art projects by the Riverside BIA in partnership with the City of Toronto, artists and others.
As you come along Queen Street East from Toronto’s downtown core, you enter Riverside as you come over the Queen Street bridge. Formally named the ‘Queen Street Viaduct’ and affectionately called the ‘Riverside Bridge’, the Viaduct, represents the past, present and future of Riverside. It has always been an important passage to the East end, originally built in 1803 as a wooden bridge operated by the Scadding family, which owned all the land east of the Don from the lake to present-day Danforth. In 1911, the bridge was updated to the steel truss structure you see today, and you can still see the makers mark on the steel trusses that were imported from England. This bridge is also higher in elevation than previous bridges here, and Queen Street on each side of the river was graded higher to meet this new elevation. The bridge greets those who venture into the once-wild east side, where tanneries, glue factories, brick yards and slaughterhouses were sited away from the genteel noses in the west end.
In 1996, the Riverside BIA commissioned a public art project and Eldon Garnet (among others) contributed their artistry to Riverside with the installation of the ‘Time and a Clock’ series. Most notably, “This River I Step In, Is not The River I Stand in” was installed atop the Riverside Bridge. The artwork not only made this an iconic landmark in Toronto but sparked a revitalization of the Riverside neighbourhood and unified the people within the community. The art references the Greek Philosopher Heraclitus’ notion that you cannot step into the same river twice.
On June 5th of 2015, the Riverside Gateway Bridge Project, a 3-year $500,000 capital improvement project was completed to stylishly illuminate the bridge, including the iconic art, each night. The colourful Riverside wayfinding art on the posts you see on each side of the bridge was also added at that time. Here’s the story behind it all:
Riverside Bridge Comes to Light…..
The Riverside Bridge was illuminated for the first time by Riverside BIA and partners on June 5th, 2015. “Everyone knows ‘The River I Step in is Not the River I Stand in.’ My kids knew that when they were little,” said Paula Fletcher, City of Toronto Councillor for Ward 30 in June 2015, when discussing the Bridge Beautification project. She is referring to the phrase that spans the western edge of the bridge and sits atop the clock. The famous and beloved art installation, created by world-renowned artist Eldon Garnet, underwent a transformation and one that was not taken lightly, no pun intended.
The bridge was illuminated as a result of almost three years of planning that came to light in time for Riverside to host the world, during the 2015 Pan Am Games. The Riverside BIA worked alongside City of Toronto Culture, City of Toronto Capital, Councillor Paula Fletcher, Artist Eldon Garnet, Lighting Designer Paul Boken, Banner Designer Rebecca Houston and Lighting Technician Nick Iozzo – to name a few key team members – to make the project happen. Corporate sponsorship was also essential to funding project completion: Streetcar Developments Inc. was the project’s Gold Sponsor, Hullmark Developments and Downtown Automative Group were Silver Sponsors. HarHay Developments, Ashlar Urban Realty, Bank of Montreal‘s Riverside branch, Brightworks, The Avro and Il Ponte all supported as Bronze Sponsors.
“We really have to thank the BIA for their resolve in making this happen,” said Councillor Paula Fletcher, “I’ve been happy to help in any way I can but it is their resolve to make the entrance into the east end even more special that made this project possible.”
It began when then Executive Director, Perry Lupyrypa, joined the Riverside BIA in 2010 and the BIA Board of Directors stepped back and asked, ‘What can we do to get Riverside on the map?’ They knew the Pan Am Games were coming and were aware that the Riverside Bridge, with its beloved artwork, was already a huge asset to the neighbourhood. “We knew that with the CIBC Athletes’ Village was coming, and the world would be on Riverside’s doorstep,” said Lupyrypa. “There was a window to get help and all these windows presented themselves and all seemed to work out.” Riverside BIA Board Members including Dale Sonier of macFAB, Natasha Varjacic of Nell & Natasha Real Estate Homeward, and Rachel Conduit of Table 17 advocated for the BIA in the countless meetings that were required to get the project off the ground. Councillor Paula Fletcher was on board, the City was supportive and meetings with the artist were held to go through project planning and implementation.
Behind the Scenes
Nick Iozzo, an Illumination Engineer with DPM Energy worked regualrly with the Economic Development group at the City of Toronto to support Business Improvement Areas with lighting projects. However he said, “Working with a bridge was unique for us. It is not every day we do bridges.” What they did was to use lighting to “highlight the architectural features” of the bridge. DPM Energy handles all the installation, tenders, contracts, wiring, etc. They basically get the job done. During the process he worked alongside Paul Boken, Lighting Architect with Mulvey and Banani, and who Nick referred to as the “creative muscle” on the project.
Paul’s team was very careful about the way they proceeded in considering the lighting. Given that the the Time and a Clock public art was already installed and the clock portion of the art was already lit, Paul’s team thought, “Let’s finish what was started and illuminate the text.” With tiny linear LED lights available, Paul’s team was able to subtly outline the letters. The next step was to determine how to best illuminate the structure. They asked themselves, “What can we do with directional light to illuminate what you don’t usually see?” They highlighted some internal components and main beams in their plans.
Paul was particularly excited that the bridge illumination included the introduction of dymanic (programmable) coloured lighting. “We light for the public,” Paul said, “Colour is a great way to tie in to an event and adapt to the neighbourhood.”
As Councillor Fletcher put it, “The bridge will become a beacon for the east end.” She adds, “It is about connecting. It is a gorgeous bridge and one of the only ones with public art on it. It needs to be treated specially.” As part of this special treatment, the Riverside BIA had to look into updating existing bridge banners: spirals of steel that carried on the ribbons from the Time and a Clock series. As it turned out, these were not created by artist Eldon Garnet but rather by artist Jim Houston. In a wonderful twist of synchronicity, and completely by coincidence, the artist who recreated these banners is Jim Houston’s daughter, Rebecca Houston. A then masters student in sculpture and a metal worker, Rebecca met Perry through one of Rebecca’s many community work projects and she ended up being the ideal person to take on the redoing of the banners.
Rebecca described the banners as being “ribbons of steel that spiral around the pole and that reference the river and the ribbon.” Here too, colour was introduced and Rebecca said “the profile looks like the letter R for Riverside.” Rebecca felt that introducing colour would bring the work into the vocabulary of modern sculpture; however she kept to colours that reflected the brick of the historic neighbourhood. “I chose vermillion, or orange peel. I wanted it to be a colour with an industrial feel.”
Rebecca said “lighting brings an ephemeral element” and her thoughts are echoed by the man behind the lighting plan, Paul Boken who said, “It definitely transforms the bridge. Previously at night it is just kind of dead. It makes a drastic difference and walking through, it is now a memorable experience.” Thanks to the hard work by all team members on this project, generations to come will know the Riverside Bridge as not only a place that speaks to them but also lights their way.