A look inside the wacky art maze that’s taking over Honest Ed’s this weekend

By Samantha Edwards| Photography by Gabby Frank

Honest Ed’s was for everyone—a place where a newly arrived immigrant from the Philippines could buy his first pair of jeans, or where a broke university student could stock her kitchen with pots and pans. When Hungarian artist Tibor Hargitai arrived in Toronto in 1993, he sought out Honest Ed’s because of its welcoming reputation. Now, just weeks before the store’s demolition, Hargitai is one of more than 100 artists and community groups celebrating the beloved department store’s legacy with An Honest Farewell, a weekend-long last hurrah for the blinking landmark at Bathurst and Bloor.

“We don’t often have the opportunity to say goodbye like this,” says Adil Dhalla, the executive director of the Centre for Social Innovation, the organizers of the fest. “We thought, what would happen if we created a space for that?” The CSI began speaking with Honest Ed’s customers, former employees and neighbours to better understand its significance. “On the surface, the love affair that Torontonians have with Ed’s is about the signage, the self-deprecating humour and, of course, the turkeys,” says Dhalla. “But the underlying magic is that it brought dignity to so many people. It was a community hub.” Accordingly, the four-day festival is actually the beginning of a new campaign, Toronto For Everyone, which will support individuals and organizations working for inclusion and diversity.

On top of the art maze, which features installations from more than 40 multidisciplinary artists, the festival also includes a marketplace—“one final opportunity to get a bargain at Ed’s!” says Dhalla—and a series of free town halls, panels and lectures about gentrification, bike lanes on Bloor and the history of Mirvish Village. “We’re paying testament to the Ed’s experience. It’s different and it’s eclectic, and you’re going to get a bit lost,” says Dhalla. Here, a look at our favourite installations.


The Honest 6ix Residency (Alicia Payne, Ana Jofre, Laura Barrett, Ming-Bo Lam, Paul Moleiro, Romana Kassam) This is just one part of a massive art project by a group of six artists from diverse disciplines (such as contemporary dance, visual art and music). Their homage to Honest Ed’s features interactive video art, an abstract recreation of Ed Mirvish’s first store and these giant deconstructed signs. They made the signs from foam, hand-painted them and then lit them up with marquee-style lightbulbs.



Dais Multi-disciplinary media company Dais built a collaborative piece that’s equal parts sculpture, light installation, mural and collage. Artist MissMe wheat-pasted her drawings of women onto one wall, while the signs on the other were collected from actual protests in Toronto.



BirdO x Getso Street artists BirdO and Getso created this space to explore the birth and death of Honest Ed’s. The “Create” side is supposed to have a heavenly aura, while the “Destroy” side, with its Slayer-esque font, represents the end of an era. BirdO and Getso sourced all the props—like a bicycle wheel, ladders, mannequin and cat statue—from the store after it closed.



The Walk

Tibor Hargitai In 1993, newly immigrated Hungarian-Canadian Tibor Hargitai met Ed Mirvish, who invited him into the store. Now, more than two decades later, Hargitai is celebrating how welcomed he felt during that encounter with The Walk, a kilometre-long plastic pathway that spells out “Love.” It’s stamped with 3,000 footprints, which took Hargitai and his son more than eight hours. Visitors are encouraged to take home their own piece of the pathway to show how art can be inclusive. On the final day of festival, what remains of the pathway will be reconfigured into the word “Life.”


Time and Place

Ness Lee and Tessar Lo Presented by the art auction non-profit Timeraiser, this mural by Toronto artists Ness Lee and Tessar Lo doubles as an interactive art canvas. Visitors can make their own relief drawings by rubbing crayons over raised illustrations on the mural. Those compositions will be repurposed for Timeraiser’s auction at the Power Plant on May 24.


Faded Stories

Lauren Vaile
Faded Stories reflects on Toronto’s evolution through archival images of iconic spaces like Sunnyside Beach, the CNE, the Eaton Centre and Sneaky Dee’s, as well as photos from Occupy Toronto and the 2017 Women’s March. Artist Lauren Vaile transferred faded versions of the photos onto the pages of roughly 100 books.


A Soft Mirvish Village

The Soft City Collective (Rose Bianchini, Jason Van Horne, Catherine Stinson, Sarah Couture McPhail, Yvonne Ng) The Soft City Collective is known for its plush cityscapes like this one. It includes a stitched mini Mirvish Village (complete with an adorable, bedazzled Honest Ed’s), a stuffed CN Tower and the Royal Cinema.


Life After Utopia

Alexandra Hong, William Pemulis and Sheraz Khan Visitors fill out colourful slips, each of which has prompt for sharing a memory, and then tie them to balloons. The artists hope their piece creates a conversation about the stories, experiences and places that connect Toronto.



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