Toronto Through My Lens

Eldon Garnet’s Toronto Sculptures

By creating this blog I’ve discovered the Toronto sculpture works of Canadian visual artist and novelist Eldon Garnet piece by piece. As it turns out, over my years of photographing Toronto I’d been unknowingly capturing shots of Eldon Garnet’s work. Going through shots both old and recent I realized I have enough to publish a post focusing on Eldon Garnet’s collective sculptures in Toronto, soooooo… here we go.

Eldon Garnet is a true Torontonian; he was born here in 1946. His prolific sculptures and photographic work has been held at the National Gallery of Canada, the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art and the Amsterdam Center of Photography. He is also a Professor at the Ontario College of Art and Design located in the city’s core. Eldon Garnet is represented by the Christopher Cutts Gallery in Toronto and the Torch Gallery, Amsterdam

The Toronto Sculptures

To Serve and Protect

To Serve and Protect is a three-part sculpture surrounding the Metropolitan Police Headquarters in downtown Toronto. The three pieces are located at the main Headquarters entrance at 40 College Street, the southeast corner of Bay and Grenville Streets, and the Grenville entrance. The sculptures were erected in 1988.

The first part of the “To Serve And Protect” trilogy is a policewoman with a police radio and trowel in her hands.
“Little Glenn” is the second part of the set. He’s depicted pulling a 22-foot-tall stone obelisk in a four-wheeled cart. On the obelisk are carved the words “To Serve And Protect”, the motto of the Toronto Police Force.
The third sculpture in the “To Serve And Protect” trilogy is a male figure balancing books and blocks on his shoulders.

If you’d like to read my post dedicated to this 3-piece sculpture, click here.


Time And A Clock

This bridge on Queen Street East, which crosses the Don Valley Parkway, bears an inscription across the top which reads:

This river I step in is not the river I stand in

The text is based on a quote from the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus who said: You could not step twice into the same river; for other waters are ever flowing on to you. Basically, change is the one constant in life.

The overall textual theme of the work is Time, its substance and ambiguity. Time And A Clock is 1 part of a 3-site art piece, with the second part appearing as words embedded in the 4 corners of the Broadview Avenue and Queen Street East intersections. The last part of the work appears on 4 metal banners further east at Jimmy Simpson Park. Unfortunately I have no shots of the other 2 pieces of the installation (I’m thinking there just might be a further post on these), but as a whole the work is presented like this:

1) At the location Queen Street East/DVP location:

THIS RIVER I STEP IN IS NOT THE RIVER I STAND IN

2) Each of the 4 corners at the intersection of Queen Street East and Broadview Avenue, bear 1 of the following text embedded in the sidewalk:

TOO SOON FREE FROM TIME

TIME IS MONEY : MONEY IS TIME

BETTER LATE THAN NEVER

TIME = DISTANCE X VELOCITY

3) Near Jimmy Simpson Park (872 Queen Street East) 4 steel poles hold banners which read:

COURSING

DISAPPEARING

TREMBLING

RETURNING

On a less artistic note, this current steel Truss bridge crossing the Don Valley was built in 1911 by the Cleveland Bridge & Engineering Company of Darlington, England. It was higher in elevation than previous bridges at the location and streets on each side of the river were graded higher to meet the level of the bridge. The bridge was opened for streetcars on October 8, 1911, and for other road traffic 5 days later.

The bridge was renovated in the 1990s; Eldon Garnet’s public art was added at the top of the bridge in 1996.


Chinese Railroad Workers Memorial

Created by Eldon Garnet and Francis LeBouthillier and erected in 1989, this monument is located at the intersection of Blue Jays Way and Navy Wharf Court.

The sculpture depicts 2 life-sized Chinese workers precariously moving a beam into place to complete the construction of a railway trestle. The boulders at the base are from the Canadian Rockies. Three pairs of rocks from the original transcontinental rail route are parallel to the pedestrian pathway and contain a small plaque stating One by One the Walkers Vanish.

Between 1880 and 1885, 17,000 men emigrated from China, most from the province of Kwangtung (Guangdong), to work on Canada’s burgeoning railway. By some estimates, more than 4,000 workers died during the construction. In addition to facing racist discrimination, the immigrants were often given the most dangerous jobs in the already dangerous task of blasting through the Rocky Mountains to lay the Western section of the track. Many were killed by landslides, cave-ins, disease and explosions. Despite the high risk involved in their work, Chinese were paid half as much as other workers.

The Chinese Railroad Workers Memorial was erected to commemorate the contribution and sacrifice of these workers, who remained nameless in the history of Canada. After the railroad was complete, many of the immigrants who survived could not find new jobs. To that end, a plaque on the memorial reads:

With no means of going back to China when their labour was no longer needed, thousands drifted in near destitution along the completed track.


Equal Before the Law

This sculpture is located at 21 Osgoode Lane, behind the Courthouse and adjacent to Nathan Phillips Square. It features the scales of justice on which balances a lamb (left) and a lion.

The text on the piece reads:

Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination

A description from the artist’s website:

The lamb often signifies purity, innocence, meekness. It often represents either pure thought or a just person. The lion is rich in symbolism. In common correspondence, the lion is the “king of beasts,” the “natural lord and master,” the possessor of strength. It also can represent earth and at times “philosophical fire.”

The context in which the lamb and lion appear in this sculpture direct the interpretation of these two symbolic representations. One is large, one is small and yet the scales balance. The mis-weighted yet balanced scale invites us to question why and how. The answer is simple – on the scales of justice each individual is equal. One is strong and one is meek, one is powerful and one is weak, but the law treats both equally.

To borrow some further explanatory text from the McMurtry Gardens of Justice website:

The scales are also represented symbolically. The tower and the platform are constructed symmetrically yet askew. The tower is twisted to a 60 degree angle to the back of the courthouse, to which the platform is parallel. The ends of the platform are cut at 30 degree angles in correspondence to the support tower. The tower is constructed such that the dimensions from the top to the bottom are angled.

Everything about the mathematics of this scale is calculated to be in perfect proportion, balanced, but turned or angled 60 or 30 degrees, as are the proportions designed to range from 1 to 2. The final effect is a scale that is balanced yet in a complicated fashion, possibly a metaphor for the law itself.

The scales are constructed of brushed stainless steel. The lion and the lamb are life size, realistically rendered in bronze.


Inversion

In Inversion, you will see upside down moose, foxes and wolves in front of the James Cooper Mansion condos, 28 Linden Street (Bloor/Sherbourne area). Placed in 2011, they are made of bronze.

But what exactly does it all mean? From Eldon Garnet’s website:

This sculptural work is a comment about our current, local relationship with the age-old Canadian, and particularly urban, interaction with nature. Simply put, nature has now been turned on its head. The threat has gone, the desire is not to fortify our existence against the wilderness which has been tamed to disappearance, but rather, it is now a nostalgic desire to embrace what no longer exists. Our current longing is to return a sense of nature to our environment, not to build walls against its presence, but rather to embrace nature.


Artifacts of Memory

Near the corner of Yonge and St. Joseph Streets stands Eldon Garnet’s sculpture Artifacts of Memory. Unveiled in 2016, it consists of 5 lines of text stretching out into interconnected yet disparate strands:

FROM ONE NARRATIVE TO THE NEXT
IF NOT TOMORROW TOMORROW
LUCKY ENOUGH TO FLY INTO THE FLAME
SLOWLY SURELY DISAPPEARING
FOLLOWED BY MOMENTS OF EQUILIBRIUM

The piece highlights the conditions of living in the modern world with a focus on the passage of time. The sculpture is meant to captivate the observer’s curiosity and reflection as they walk toward and under the artwork.

Eldon Garnet has expressed that Artifacts of Memory materially espouses the difficulty of coming to terms with history, time, and death.

Art critics have commented on Artifacts of Memory:

Sprouting a multiplicity of civic narratives, the sculpture resists the comfortable and easy sense of resolution – of certainty – often dispensed by less playful and less daring public art.


Well, that’s about it for Eldon Garnet’s sculptures in Toronto – at least the ones I know about. If you know of any I may have missed please let me know.

1 Comment

  1. Jody

    Thank you for the background information. I have seen some of these sculptures but never noticed the one dedicated to Chinese railway workers. I will look for it.

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