Shaking and dancing their way down Dowling Avenue at the edge of Parkdale on Saturday, a group of people carried a bright-red canoe over their heads as a samba band dressed in purple blew whistles and drummed out a beat. At the front of the parade, a large papier mâché puppet spun and swooped, a telescope in its hands pointing toward Lake Ontario. Recruiting people along the way, the pageant made its way to the lake shore.
The march was a celebration of the completion of an arts project at the Parkdale Activity Recreation Centre (PARC), a drop-in centre for people with issues related to poverty, mental health, addiction, and homelessness. Since January, PARC has been building a canoe by hand and creating several other projects in an effort to understand memory, loss, and life.
Michael Burtt, the director of Making Room Community Arts, who has a residency at PARC, said the initial inspiration came about four years ago, from SwimmingCities, a New York City–based art collective that builds boats and performs a variety of theatrical and visual pieces on top of them. He immediately thought, “What would happen if Parkdale did this?”
Originally, Burtt wanted to build a raft. But soon he pulled together a team of artists and they set their sights on a canoe.
Building the canoe led to the creation of other projects. Among other things, the artists made shadow boxes of participants’ memories, with cut-out depictions of ice skating, camping, and siblings.
It was an enchanted Saturday afternoon, as people went for a paddle in the canoe and mingled on the lake shore. Someone suggested that PARC should build another canoe next year and host a regatta for PARC members. “A Parkdale flotilla!” she cried.
Burtt said that building the canoe was a way for PARC members to take a retreat in the middle of the city. Many people who live in Parkdale don’t spend much time on the water, he added. The day’s activity seemed like a special moment for all involved. It was a time for them to make memories, and to enjoy where they live.