September 14th, 2013
The Town Crier
Eric Emin Wood
Since Donna Koegl formed Friends of the Beltline three years ago, the group has cleared away a “road of garbage” and planted more than 250 trees and shrubs. This past summer, Koegl led a group of volunteers in removing 35 bags of invasive garlic mustard from the trail.
Her latest project is turning the concrete walls of its Eglinton Avenue underpass, just east of Spadina, into a work of art.
Koegl has arranged for the painting of two murals on either side of the underpass: one of them depicting the trail’s history as a railroad, the other illustrating the Beltline as it exists today. The work itself began at the end of July and is expected to be completed this month.
Koegl says the murals are a reaction to the underpass’s frequent “really crummy” graffiti – which she differentiates from artistic murals.
“City Transportation paints (the graffiti) out regularly,” she says. “Unfortunately, it comes back regularly.
“I thought, how nice it be would to have a mural under the bridge.”
To create the mural, Koegl approached Paul Aiello, a volunteer with urban art organization Communities Advancing Valued Environments, and together they secured the city’s permission. The final design is a collaboration between Koegl, Aiello and artists Viviana Astudillo and Logan Miller, who had earlier created a mural for the city at Keele Street and St. Clair Avenue West.
According to the Toronto Railway Historical Association, the original Belt Line Railway opened in 1892. It included a route that travelled north from Union Station, along the Don River, through the ravine and across Mount Pleasant Cemetery. Because the railway was never profitable, passenger service was shut down after two years.
CN would use part of the Belt Line for commercial transportation until the early 1970s, when it was blocked by construction of the Allen Expressway. The city later purchased the property and began converting it into a walking trail in 1988.
As of this writing, the mural’s “historic” side depicts a late 19th-century steam engine pulling a train of rail cars, with workers and children along the front and gigantic likenesses of a pair of workers’ faces on the train’s right and left.
The blank “present” side has already been vandalized by tagging, though Astudillo and Miller will be working on the second mural there this month. Because more elaborate graffiti is rarely tagged, it is expected vandals will leave the finished painting alone.
Ward 22 Councillor Josh Matlow says he is thrilled by the mural, and that city staff made sure Koegl’s efforts would be approved as quickly as as possible.
“She’s incredibly resourceful,” he said. “It goes to show that it can really just take a resident in our community to put up their hand and say, ‘I want to do something creative,’ and so long as they have the support needed from City Hall, they can make these things happen.”
In fact, Koegl inspired Matlow to encourage other business improvement areas in his ward to fill their blank spaces with murals. He he says the Mount Pleasant Village BIA is already considering it.
“Murals contribute so much to our quality of life,” Matlow said. “They can reflect our history, the culture of the community, and add colour and life to spaces that were otherwise barren and vapid.”
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