Buried Creeks & Ways of Remembering
Published Date: May. 26 2022
Image: photo credit: Cordeley Samuel
A beautiful nameless mural adorns both sides of an underpass, located on Shaw Street just north of Dupont. The piece evokes a sense of serenity with its fluid, colourful lines that run parallel to the sidewalk. At the top of the mural, the night sky—with a profusion of stars depicted by white dots—pokes out. A collection of brown lines with varying widths and shades denote soil at the bottom. The silhouettes of animals and plant life interrupt the flow of the wavy, colourful lines—a bison nourishing its body with water, a pack of wolves running, a mother bear following her cubs, and birds spreading their wings among intervals of plants. These living beings animate the nameless mural, portraying one of the liveliest times of the day cycle. Two large masses of mixed yellow, orange, and red paint on each side of the underpass suggest the sun rising or setting. It is either dusk or dawn.
The mural is the legacy of visual artist and educator Paula Gonzalez-Ossa, in collaboration with the Na-Me-Res, an organization that creates safe spaces and opportunities for Aboriginal men. A white font on the Northwest side of the mural calls out to the teachings of Anishinaabe/Mushkegowuk Cree educator Eddy Robinson, the team who was involved in bringing this visual concept to life, and a dedication. The writing also mentions “our medicines,” likely suggesting that the plant life depicted in the mural relate to Indigenous healing practices.
Gonzalez-Ossa and the Na-Me-Res community have created a beautifully balanced representation of life with this elongated mirrored mural in the Davenport neighborhood. Its particular location in the city enriches the reading of the artwork further, displaying how important land awareness can be in our everyday lives—especially as we strive to build resilient communities, take accountability, and build a more equitable society. Below the mural that gracefully embellishes the underpass runs Garrison Creek—a stream that flows into Lake Ontario and whose history is important for settlers to remember and acknowledge. Waterways such as Garrison Creek are of great significance to Algonquin peoples and other Indigenous nations who gather(ed) in their vicinity as Julie Madeleine Nagam writes. By the 1950s, this particular stream was buried by the provincial government as urban development polluted it and made it “a nuisance” to those who resided in its vicinity. Nearly four decades later in the 1990s, artist Robert Houle “traced” the waterway with an aboveground installation, publicly restating the importance of waterways in relation to land and memory. Today, even the City of Toronto actively acknowledges the buried waterway with Discovery Walks, markings, and public art.
Garrison Creek continues to flow below the busy pothole-ridden roads and concrete sidewalks. Much like Houle’s work, Gonzalez-Ossa and Na-Me-Res’s “marks” the waterway and reinforces remembrance of it—the layers of colour relate to the layers of land and history. The presence of this mural at Dupont and Shaw beautifies the Davenport neighbourhood but it also brings awareness to the relational histories of cultures that reside in and around T’karonto/Toronto.