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This Space-Age Public Art Piece Reveals St. Lawrence Market’s Past

No, it's not a teleportation device.

"Shoreline Commemorative" hints at Toronto's past cityscape. Photo: Beatrice Paez

“Shoreline Commemorative” hints at Toronto’s past cityscape.

BY: Paul Raff
LOCATION: 55 Front Street East

It’s anyone’s guess what the two-toned, green glass orb affixed on a tripod is.

Could it be a floor lamp or structube straight from an IKEA warehouse? Perhaps it’s a spaceship, an energy source to power it, or even an alien robot dispatched to rove around old Toronto. To another person, it resembles a “less intense version of the eye of Sauron from the Lord of the Rings.”

All speculations aside, this otherworldly object is actually a public art piece that hints at the past cityscape of the St. Lawrence Market neighbourhood.

The glowing orb is situated just off of Front Street on Church, which for thousands of years was part of Lake Ontario’s shoreline. “Shoreline Commemorative” is described by the artist, Paul Raff, as a “glass rendition” that represents the separation between sky and water. The bronze tripod itself references the instrument surveyors use for city building to measure distances.

Shoreline Commemorative Paul Raff

The orb is the main prop cast in a setting that recalls the former topography of the city’s edge, with the limestone base sculpted to resemble ripples. On the opposite wall, inscribed in brick, the story is revealed: “For 10,000 years this was the location of Lake Ontario’s shoreline. The brick wall stands where land and water met, with a vista horizon.”

Between 1850 and 1920, the area underwent a period of intense development, with the city encroaching more and more into the harbour. It’s a thoughtful throwback to a lost cityscape.

Photos by Beatrice Paez