East Side Icon Project Celebrates Lighting the Riverside Bridge
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East Side Icon Project Celebrates Lighting the Riverside Bridge

How a pin-up calendar helped light up an iconic piece of infrastructure, and celebrate a community in the preocess.

For years, bar owner Rachel Conduit envisioned a project that would unify the residents of Riverside and Leslieville. Three years and nearly $500,000 later, hard work from her and the community has finally paid off.

On June 5, the East Side Icons Project brought light to the Riverside community—quite literally—by illuminating the once-barren Riverside Bridge. With two former coworkers from her now-defunct Queen Street East bar, the Avro, Conduit and various stakeholders created a legacy for the community.

“We were waiting for the right initiative to truly be memorable and inclusive for all. What better than to proudly illuminate the bridge that welcomes people to the East end,” said Avro co-owner Bruce Dawson on the Riverside TO website.

In the summer of 2011, Conduit and Avro staffer Emily O’Brien spearheaded the ESIP, and, with the help of Dawson, discussed a 15-month, firefighter pin-up-style calendar of celebrated community men. Four months, 1,500 votes, and 42 nominations later, the top 22 male nominees posed for the East Side Icons Calendar, which were sold locally in stores for $20 each. They ultimately raised $5,000 for the ESIP and the illumination of the Riverside Bridge.

In July 2013, Councillor Paula Fletcher (Ward 30, Toronto-Danforth), backed by Councillor Sarah Doucette (Ward 13, Parkdale-High Park), motioned for the authorization of Section 37 funds, directing $50,000 for Public Realm improvements toward the Riverside District BIA. The remainder of project costs were covered by private donations.

“We really have to thank the BIA for their resolve in making this happen,” Fletcher said about Riverside TO. “I’ve been happy to help in any way I can, but it is their resolve to make the entrance into the east end made more special that made this project happen.”

And on Friday, June 5, the Riverside Bridge was finally illuminated, with hundreds of Riverside and Leslieville residents taking to the streets in celebration. Attendees paraded from McCleary Park along Queen Street East toward Broadview led by a torchbearer and samba band, while elsewhere, local Italian restaurant Il Ponte held an award ceremony congratulating project donors and supporters for their diligence and hard work. At 8:45 p.m., the celebrators gathered at the foot of the former Queen Street East Bridge and watched, for the first time, as the lights to the bridge were switched on.

“I think the lighting of the bridge is a beautiful way to welcome people to our community,” Conduit wrote in an email. “As a resident, crossing that bridge to come home brings a sigh of relief and comfort. My mood changes and I know that I’m home, back in my community.”

She added, “This will become a beacon for the East End.”