RavinePortal: Art exhibit sheds light on Toronto’s untapped wilderness

On November 12, 2014 by ejoveski
Visitors at the launch of DTAH's RavinePortal exhibition on September 26. Image courtesy DTAH.

Visitors at the launch of DTAH’s RavinePortal exhibition on September 26. Image courtesy DTAH.

 

Finding your way into one of Toronto’s ravines isn’t easy. The trails are often unmarked and difficult to spot from the road, and they are often poorly maintained. There are few places to park. If you are in a wheelchair or otherwise have limited mobility, exploring the ravines is nearly impossible.

But if you know where to look and you’re able and willing to navigate the sloping, brambly hills, you’ll find yourself at one moment in the midst of a bustling city, and the next in a quiet wilderness.  In the ravines, the car noise recedes into the distance and we can imagine what Toronto once was – a vast unbroken wilderness of rivers, hills, and dense forest, when colonists were just beginning to beat back the forest and carve out a home for themselves.

 

Footpath across the Don Valley, 1908. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 1257.

Footpath across the Don Valley, 1908. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 1257.

Toronto’s ravines, primarily centred around Humber River in the western part of the city and the Don River to the east, constitute nearly 26,000 acres of largely undeveloped green space in the city.

A recent project spearheaded by DTAH, an architecture and landscape design firm in Toronto, is aimed at bring awareness to Toronto’s ravines through art and design. RavinePortal brings together artists, architects, environmentalists, and the public in conversations around the future of the ravines. The centrepiece of the exhibit is a projected visual display at DTAH’s office at 50 Park Road, which combines the work of local photographers and information about the ravine system.

Many people living in the city may not even know that these ravines exist, much less where they are or how to access them. The ravines remain largely unmapped, unmarked, and disconnected from the rest of the city.

“You can live quite happily in Toronto without ever accessing the ravines, but once you go down there for the first time, I think something happens where you become attached to them,” says Megan Torza, and architect and partner at DTAH and the curator of RavinePortal. “It provides you with space that is quiet, and kind of removed in a way that’s hard elsewhere to find the city.”

Views of Toronto from space, taken by astronauts aboard the International Space Station, provide insight into how the ravines carve through the city. Source: NASA

Views of Toronto from space, taken by astronauts aboard the International Space Station, provide insight into how the ravines carve through the city. Source: NASA

As of 2014, over 2.79 million people call Toronto home, and that number will inevitably continue to rise. As our city’s population grows, there is an ever-increasing need for public green space in the city. Toronto’s ravines are poised to take on this role, but poor accessibility, environmental concerns, and a lack of public awareness are still major obstacles to public enjoyment of these spaces.

“Often times there’s a huge fear factor about being in these places that are still a bit wild,” says Torza. “There’s a perception that this place is more dangerous and more polluted than it is.”

Torza is interested in the role that art can play, and wanted to bring artists into the conversation to create a bridge for people to engage with the issue.

Local artists whose work is featured in RavinePortal include street artist Dan Bergeron, photographer Aaron Vincent Elkaim, Digital Media artists Michelle Gay, as well as students from the Etobicoke School for the Arts.

Andrew Davies is the Executive Director of No.9 Contemporary Art and the Environment, an arts organization participating in RavinePortal. For Davies, public art is a key part of raising environmental awareness. “People don’t necessarily have to search [art] out, they come by it in their daily routine, and it has a kind of cultural impact in their memories,” says Davies. Art draws people in, Davies explains, and creating a opportunity to engage directly with public spaces.

 

DTAH's storefront at 50 Park Road featuring the RavinePortal visual display. Image courtesy of DTAH.

DTAH’s storefront at 50 Park Road featuring the RavinePortal visual display. Image courtesy of DTAH.

Toronto’s ravines have the potential to be a defining feature of our city, just as Central Park or the High Line is to New York City. RavinePortal shows us that designers and artists have an important role to play in opening up a dialogue about our ravines and how we can develop them into a space that is accessible, but still preserves the essential “wildness” and natural beauty of these areas.

You can view the RavinePortal exhibition at DTAH until November 21, 2014. DTAH has also assembled comprehensive maps of both the Humber and the Don Valley ravine systems.

Be sure to also check out Love The Ravines, an interactive map where users can contribute their own photos taken throughout Toronto’s ravine system by using the hashtag #lovetheravines on social media.

Watch “RavineTalk: Possible Futures” below, a talk presented by DTAH which discusses a future vision for the Don Valley as a sustainable public park.

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