At River: The Queen Street Bridge
"Oh look, the clock is working again," exclaims Eldon Garnet, clearly pleased.
He's the Toronto artist whose enigmatic three-part work flows along Queen St. E., starting at the 100-year-old bridge over the Don River, moving to the sidewalks at the corner of Broadview and ending just past the railway overpass at DeGrassi St.
"Time: And A Clock" greets those who venture into the once-wild east side, where tanneries, glue factories and slaughterhouses were sited away from the genteel noses in the west end. Bandits who hid out in the Don Valley would harass all those who passed. And there wasn't much money for the constabulary back before the town of Riverdale was annexed to Toronto.
The clock, almost two metres in diameter, stopped short sometime after it went up in 1995. It has now resumed its heavy rounds, illuminated at night like a moonrise over the horizon.
Above it, a graceful crown of text: "This river I step in is not the river I stand in."
"Most people get it in the emotional sense," says Garnet, adding that he borrowed the phrase from the Greek philosopher Heraclitus, who understood that change is a constant.
And change this area has, time and time again.
The original bridge was operated by the Scadding family, whose 1794 cabin, the oldest building in Toronto, now sits at the CNE. They owned all the land from the lake to just north of present-day Gerrard.
When that bridge proved insufficient, yet another river-level bridge was built. But, in 1906, after a Queen St. car met a Grand Trunk freight train in a most unfortunate fashion, the city thought it wise to build a viaduct over the railway tracks.
And so the present-day bridge went up in 1911, lasting until 2002 when it was rebuilt, almost from scratch.
Garnet's artwork was preserved, once again giving passersby something to ponder.
"I was really proud to get text in the city," he says. "All the text you see tries to sell you something, or orders you to do something, like stop. This is poetic text in the city."
At the intersection of Broadview and Queen sits the historic hotel that houses Jilly's, the strip joint at the end of the career-line for professional peelers. Opposite, a convenience store on one side, Dangerous Dan's cardiac-arrest-inducing diner on the other. Kitty-corner is The Real Jerk, the colourful Caribbean restaurant that belches the smell of curry and coconut into the street.
Embedded in each of the four corner sidewalks are Garnet's 48-centimetre-high steel letters, cutting into the concrete and curving into the curbs. They announce: Better late than never; Time = distance x velocity; Time is money: money is time; and finally, with a boarded-up funeral home in view, Too soon free from time.
The words have worn well, all seasons considered.
"Maybe when I'm 85 and have nothing to do, I'll come here and scrape the gum off my piece," laughs Garnet.
From here it's a short stroll past the newly opened boutiques and restos that have replaced the seedy stores and pawnshops of the newly rechristened Riverside District to the south end of Jimmie Simpson Park.
Four steel poles stand guard, their steel banners forever frozen in the pretend wind. Coursing, Disappearing, Trembling, Returning, they say, their messages now partly obscured by the yellowing leaves of the nearby trees.
"Nature is taking over my piece," says Garnet, who has had a second welcome surprise this morning. "It's integrating with the environment."
But it always had.
For on this storied section of Queen, where the streetcar has rumbled past for more than a century, it has always been about passage: from farmers to working-class labourers to urban professionals with several hundred thousand to drop on one of the lofts now taking over the area.
How much of Toronto has flowed through here?
How much water under the bridge?
Artist Eldon Garnet's "Time: And a Clock", a trio of art installations he created for Queen Street, starts at the bridge over the Don River.
STEVE RUSSELL/TORONTO STAR
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