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The Public Art that Lives Under the Gardiner

The Under Gardiner project isn't the first effort to transform the otherwise bleak expanse.

"Yard Stones" by Adad Hannah are situated underneath the Gardiner by Bathurst and Fort York.  Photo: Beatrice Paez

“Yard Stones” by Adad Hannah are situated underneath the Gardiner by Bathurst and Fort York.
Photo: Beatrice Paez

BY: Adad Hannah
LOCATION: 20 Bruyeres Mews, The Yards at Fort York
COMMISSIONED: 2012

The Gardiner Expressway’s crumbling underbelly can’t easily fashion itself as a hangout—even in a neighbourhood sorely lacking in open spaces.

Under Gardiner, a $25-million project funded by philanthropists Judy and Wil Matthews, makes a daring promise to reimagine the area below as a cultural site for residents and passersby to congregate. But it isn’t the first effort to transform an otherwise bleak and desolate expanse.

Tucked underneath the expressway is a courtyard, along Bathurst and Bruyeres Mews, complete with its own set of bicycle stands and public art sculptures. It’s presumably a spot condo residents from the growing community can retreat to. At least, that was the developer’s intent.

Save for the bike racks—shaped as screw hooks in a bright yellow—that add cheer to the dreary corridor, the site remains uninviting. Adad Hannah’s “Yard Stones,” three concrete-like stones of varying sizes, which allude to the nearby Fort York Historical Site, barely enliven what feels like an industrial graveyard. Here lies what was actually once part of Lake Ontario.

The “Yard Stones” are stamped with blue-grey imprints, digital renderings of three Fort York structures: its mess hall, brick storehouse, and stone fortification. But passersby likely won’t know that just by looking at them. At best, notes one passerby, the stones look like slabs that fell from the Gardiner and melded into something equally hideous.

Hannah often takes a site-specific approach when creating public art. For him, the imagery of concrete against a concrete scaffolding above was exactly his intent, given the surrounding area is choked by the imposing expressway.

“It seemed to me that you couldn’t fight against [the Gardiner],” he says. “It was a crazy challenge [to take on]. It’s crazy that cities like Vancouver and Toronto try to build in every nook.”

Still, Hannah wonders whether the courtyard sees much traffic. “It’s hard to know in these new communities,” he laments.

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