Graffiti has existed since the ancient times and examples can be found in Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire. The word graffiti itself is derived from the Italian word graffiato which means “to scratch”. Some of the first examples of graffiti were carved into walls with sharp objects but nowadays, the aerosol spray can reigns supreme. Toronto is full of talented graffiti artists and if you know where to look, amazing street art can be seen all across the city. Here is a list of our favourite places to admire graffiti art in Toronto.
Once you step into Kensington Market, you will start seeing street art very quickly down all the small alleys and often on the facades of local businesses. It is evident that this neighbourhood is home to many artists and we recommend wandering around the market to find some hidden street art. The Alphonse Mucha inspired mural at Augusta St. and Oxford St. is one of the most iconic pieces in the market with the Kensington Garden car in front of it. However, off the main commercial streets there is Sonya’s Parkette which features the works of several local artists. Just south of Bellevue Square Park, there is a Dog’s Playing Poker piece by Uber5000. If you go to Graffiti Alley, you will notice his underwater scene has fish playing poker as well.
In the east end of the city there is the Underpass Park in the West Don Lands neighbourhood. It is an unconventional park because it is actually an underused space of concrete pillars underneath the overpass of Adelaide Street, Eastern Avenue, and Richmond Street. Underpass Park was part of a city project to revitalize and create more urban public spaces on the Toronto Waterfront. Over fifty pillars are painted by different artists with many pieces wrapping around the columns themselves. Keep an eye out for renown Toronto artist Troy Lovegates aka OTHER and Labrona’s pieces of members of the local community shown individually on sixteen different pillars holding up the the overpass above them. Art sculptures and unique playground equipment are strewn through the park as well.
Toronto’s official Graffiti Alley is the best place to see a lot of incredible street art all at once. In 2011, Queen Street West residents were fed up with paying for city fines to clean up the graffiti that people left in their back alleys. They argued that the graffiti was part of the cultural identity of the neighbourhood and it should remain as is and because of this, graffiti in this alleyway became legalized. Now you can see many impressive large scale pieces, including a whole building covered by a detailed underwater piece by the artist Uber5000.
Since graffiti is legal for this alleyway, the turnaround of art pieces can be quite frequent so we recommend returning every couple of months if you want to see new street art before it disappears,
The Reclamation Wall
The Reclamation Wall along the Metrolinx railway, just south of Queen St. and Dufferin St. is the largest graffiti wall in Canada. Made up of 65 artists, each with their own unique piece, this wall almost stretches 1000 feet long. The Reclamation Wall was a project organized by the city to decrease illegal graffiti vandalism in the area. The murals themselves spell out “TORONTO” as well as the names of the surrounding neighbourhoods “LIBERTY VILLAGE.” “PARKDALE,” and “WEST QUEEN WEST.” A portrait of George Chuvalo, a heavyweight boxer from the Junction who once fought Muhammad Ali can be seen on the wall. Coincidentally, Muhammad Ali trained at an athletic centre existed on Ossington Avenue and Argyle Street, which is within walking distance from The Reclamation Wall.
In the last few years, the Chinatown Business Improvement Association has put a lot of effort into beautifying the alley ways along Dundas, just east of Spadina. As you stroll down Dundas, be sure to look down the sides of buildings since many large scale pieces have been been painted by local artists. These pieces are on both the north and south sides of Dundas and can be easily viewed from the sidewalk itself if you take a moment to look out for them. An impressive depiction of a traditional Chinese palace and also the Great Wall of China can be seen next to Chinese Bakery.