2015 Hero: the Toronto Sign
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2015 Hero: the Toronto Sign

Nominated for: providing a symbol and rallying point for the Toronto community

Torontoist is reflecting on 2015 by naming our Heroes and Villains—the people, places, things, and ideas that have had the most positive and negative impacts on the city over the past 12 months. Cast your ballot until midnight on January 7. At noon on January 8, we’ll reveal your choices for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year.

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I’m embarrassed to admit that I found the TORONTO sign cringeworthy at first.

I thought it was garish. That it lacked artistry and finesse. That it was tacky to just shout your city’s name in caps-lock instead of choosing a symbol that could speak to what really distinguishes us as a community.

Maybe it was just that famous self-denigrating Toronto attitude at work—an attitude I felt my duty to adopt when I first moved here. Buy a proper winter coat, begin a love-hate affair with a local sports team, defend your town, but always in a slightly self-effacing way: “I know, it’s Toronto, but there’s actually some great stuff happening here!” It seemed like part of the package.

But then I watched as the sign was immediately embraced by the city. Tourists and locals alike flocked to visit it at all hours of the day and night, flooding Flickr and Instagram with their pictures. Every announcement about its colour changes or planned movements was tracked by the media. Couples took advantage of the spacious O’s for what John Tory reported were “passionate embraces.”

And so I remembered how important symbols can be to a community. They act as rallying points, strengthening our visual association with our environment and bringing us closer to it. When we identify with our city, even through such seemingly superficial means, it strengthens our commitment to improving it. To defending it. And in a city that’s famous for doubling as somewhere else, that’s valuable.

The TORONTO sign has truly become a symbol of what distinguishes us. When I watched it light up in the colours of Remembrance Day, in solidarity with France after the November 13 terrorist attacks, on the Transgender Day of Remembrance, and on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, it was a public proclamation of our values. Seeing us declare to the world, in front of our own city hall, that these were occasions we wanted to recognize reminded me of what drew me to this town in the first place.

Chicago has the bean, Vancouver’s got those laughing men. Plenty of cities have the love. But we live in TORONTO, damnit. Let’s yell it from the rafters.