These mysterious art installations are taking over the waterfront right now

By Samantha Edwards| Photography by Gabby Frank
These mysterious art installations are taking over the waterfront right now

During Toronto’s frigid winters, the once-bustling waterfront goes into a long hibernation. This year, to lure Torontonians out of their cozy Netflix dens, a group of architects, artists and business leaders have turned the shore into an artsy destination with Ice Breakers, a neighbourhood-wide exhibition. The show consists of five installations, each inspired by the harbour’s commercial history, and is put on by the Waterfront BIA and the people behind Winter Stations (the annual art competition in the Beaches). The pieces are littered along Queens Quay between Yonge to Bathurst Streets—in spots like the Music Garden, HTO Park and the Harbourfront Centre—and will be on display until February 26. We asked the designers to share the stories behind their installations.

Leeward Fleet
Harbourfront Centre • Raw Design
Aaron Hendershott.
Aaron Hendershott.

Aaron Hendershott, of Raw: “Leeward Fleet is inspired by the iceboats that used to sail on the harbour during the wintertime. When we looked into the history of the waterfront, we came across an archival photo that showed dozens of iceboats—essentially sailboats on skates—out on the frozen lake. They were used recreationally and for commerce. We got the sails from a shop in the east end that was going to throw them out. They are mounted on a metal mast and seated on a plywood platform. The platforms rotate when the wind changes directions or when people move them. They are essentially weathervanes you can ride. Our hope is that people old and young won’t hesitate to hop on and give them a try. This isn’t gallery art.”


Winter Diamonds
Toronto Music Garden • Platant
Ellen O'Gara.
Ellen O’Gara.

Ellen O’Gara, of Platant: “The Winter Diamonds are inspired by snowflakes. The installation is a complex, fragile structure built from a number of the same simple module. It’s a configuration of 15 individual diamonds—each is a wooden structure with triangular polycarbonate sheets. In each diamond, there is a light and, together, the 15 lights form a diagonal grid that emits through the polycarbonate sheets. When you move past or around the structure, it looks like the lights are flickering.”


Rees Street Parkette • Jaspal Riyait and Curio Art Consultancy
Justin Ridgeway.

Justin Ridgeway, of Curio: “The inspiration for Incognito comes from WWI warships and the camouflaging technique known as ‘Razzle Dazzle.’ The pattern was not intended to make the ships disappear, but to generate misperception. When enemies fired at the ship, they would be off target. It’s also inspired by architectural massing models. We put these two things together for Incognito: a super-sized massing model with a Razzle Dazzle facade. It required a lot of careful planning to achieve the illusion of altered planes, corners where there are none, distorted faces and angles. The materials are very basic: fibreboard, wood and paint. Essentially, we created a mini city and placed it within a small winter forest.”


Tailored Twins
Peter Street Basin • Ferris and Associates Inc.
Tomek Chwieszczenik.

Tomek Chwieszczenik, of Ferris and Associates: “The Peter Street Basin bridge has two lookouts, which act as staging areas for the installation. I spent a lot of time looking at New York and how it juxtaposes wild natural forms and strict geometric architecture. In the same way that the Statue of Liberty is seen as a symbol of arrival for migrant works and immigrants, I wanted something within view of the water that might elicit a similar response. The installation consists of two 12-foot wooden hands with gold palms. The hands themselves are made of high-quality plywood, and the palms and wrist are covered with a gold vinyl wrap. The concept is more aesthetic than tactile. With the reflective surfaces and nighttime lighting, I think the installation will lend itself well to people looking to capture a more gothic side of the city.”


HTO Park • Polymétis
Michaele McLeod and Nicholas Croft.
Michaela MacLeod and Nicholas Croft.

Michaela MacLeod, of Polymétis: “The Canadian winter is a time of contrasts: cold exterior spaces versus warm interior spaces, shelter versus exposure, bright short days versus long dark nights. In contrast to the exterior landscape of white, snow, and cold, Icebox is a mysterious dark object, providing a moment of respite. The installation is a wood-framed structure with a black outer chamber, covered in acrylic plexiglass to subtly reflect the surrounding landscape. As visitors make their way through the space, they discover a doorway to the expanded, inner chamber—a courtyard clad in chain link fence to collect ice and snow, and mark the passage of winter.”


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