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Nuit North: The Leona Drive Project

November 2, 2009


No, the Leona Drive Project is not a band. As war-era houses in my middle class ‘burb continue to fall away in the face of condominium development, a consortium of artists recently turned derelict picket fences into found artistic currency.

A strip of five bungalows in Willowdale, Toronto were transmogrified into a giant contemporary art exhibit; essentially a mini-nuit blanche in the middle of North York. Having grown up and spent my entire life in this area, I felt compelled to check out this admittedly rare oasis of culture in an otherwise straightforward ‘hood.

leonadrive3As much as I love the downtown core, I often find attitudes about the suburbs can border on xenophobic when talking to my trendy Parkdale residing friends. Don’t get me wrong — if I had the money I’d probably move down there too. The arts, music and vibe of our fair city are nowhere more alive than the neighbourhoods south of St. Clair.

This is not to say however, that North York is some sort of barren wasteland where we all drive around drinking Big Gulp slushies. To say Lisa Rochon’s review of the Leona Drive Project was uninformed would be an understatement — and I’m no defender of suburban sprawl.

Admittedly, there’s no art in the suburbs. I know this when aiming my camera at the patched, potholed sidewalks, photographing the narrow, mean space allowed for people to manoeuvre, heads down, against the harsh wind created by the tunnel of towers at Yonge Street and Sheppard Avenue in one of Toronto’s suburbs. Other than Wimpy’s and beleaguered-looking sushi joints, I’m unable to find fresh food. Dark chocolate at the gas station doesn’t actually count.

First off, there is some excellent food in the immediate area if you know where to look. One of those “beleagured-looking sushis joints” was probably Inakaya, which is one of the better new Japanese restaurants anywhere in Toronto right now.  Second, how are the wind towers in North York any different from the Tundra’s of King St? But I digress.

leonadrive2It can be infuriating defending a place I don’t even want to stay myself, but North York is like my family — you sometimes hate them but you can’t ever forget who you are or where you’re from.

I’m not going to argue that there is not a hopping arts scene around here, but there’s more that defines a city than just cars crashing through run-down buildings and pretentious people wearing scarves talking about how holes in a wall are like “a cartography of existentialism.” Believe it or not, North York is still Toronto — no matter what some might have you believe.

With all this underlying context, I went, saw, and thoroughly enjoyed the Leona Drive Project. It was refreshing to see a neighbourhood so close to my own home get a chance to show that even though suburbanites by-and-large have different priorities, if you look hard enough, there is art to be found in the community. Just because we choose not to frame and analyze it doesn’t make us any less cool.

Yea, it was pretentious and the artist talks were frankly ridiculous in only the way artists talking about contemporary art can be. But it showed that North York is definitely in a state of transformation as a whole. These five houses are just a literal start, but for anybody who lives around here, you’d know that the soul of our fair patch of T.O. has been evolving for many years now.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Jessekg permalink
    November 2, 2009 6:26 pm

    Nice read Simon. Eye Weekly ran a good piece about this as well. One without the snobbish downtown centric tones you mention.
    As for artist talk, I once listened to a guy explain his double exposed black and white photos as reflections of the moment while looking back in time and towards the ……zzzzzzzz. I think what he meant was “It looked really cool to expose the photo twice, so I did.”

  2. Simon permalink*
    November 2, 2009 7:19 pm

    The oddest part to me is that none of these houses are actually bungalows, although everyone keeps calling them that, and so I did in kind since the curators insisted on doing the same. Bungalows have one storey people!

  3. Dust permalink
    November 3, 2009 10:22 am

    I’ll be sure to check this one out some time soon.

    Remember that it was Mel Lastman who kick-started and supported most of North York’s growth, both economically and spiritually. For all the flak that man gets, we have him to thank for much of the original development on yonge st. & sheppard ave. It wasn’t until Miller became mayor that the corrupt OMB was able to approve all those silly condos, clogging our streets with ridiculous traffic, and displacing our historical builidngs.


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