“Les Canadiens sont plus amicaux, plus ouverts que d’où je viens.” (Canadians are more friendly, more open than where I’m from) – Phillipe, 31, France
I first found myself drawn to graffiti and street art in Istanbul, the discovery of Leo Lunatic’s pandas sending me through the streets and alleys of the Karakoy neighbourhood, guided by the friendly pointing and nodding of the locals. It’s no wonder, then, that I find myself seeking out the best in the cities I visit while travelling across Canada.
I became familiar with Toronto’s graffiti alley watching Rick Mercer. If you don’t know the name, Rick Mercer is a Canadian comedian with a penchant for skewering our government, regardless the party, and a talent for poking fun at Canadian idiosyncrasies. He has a weekly show on CBC with a segment called “Rick’s Rant” where he monologues about the latest foolishness while stalking through the art-laden back alleys between Queen and Richmond Streets just west of Spadina Avenue.
It’s the reason I’m in Toronto.
From the building painted like an aquarium with its phone and coffee wielding fish to the slightly cubist mural framed by brickwork, the alleys offer a colourful and eclectic outdoor exhibition drawing photo buffs from around the world. Some pieces are brilliantly coloured, geometric tags, while others take a more traditional artistic approach.
Every so often, I’m caught by images from my childhood – a bright Pink Panther leaning against the wall or Tom and Jerry up to their old tricks, along with some new favourites, like POSER’s bunnies that seem to multiply through back alleys or Bacon’s brilliant murals. There’s even an homage to George Orwell’s 1984 painted high up on the corner of a building and near impossible to photograph from the ground.
The artwork has leached into the neighbouring Kensington Market area just north of Queen with it’s funky clothing shops, vegan restaurants and pungent aroma wafting through the streets. It fits there, blending with the alternative shops and lifestyles.
There’s even a nod to controversial former-Mayor Rob Ford, infamous for his addiction issues and off-the-cuff remarks to members of the press that made him a favourite target for political pundits like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.
There are other things to do in Toronto. Take in a baseball game (or hockey if it’s winter), visit the CN Tower, go to the Hockey Hall of Fame housed in a former Bank of Montreal building, or just check out the restaurants and clubs in the entertainment district.
Maybe next time. Right now my only interest is . . . did she say yes?