Artist Noel Harding's 'Dawes Crossing' has  residents of the busy East End neighbourhood guessing about what, exactly, it is.

New art barn at Dawes Road ‘confusing’: residents

At the corner of Dawes Road and Victoria Park Avenue, a nearly completed barn-like structure stands at the centre of a small island of grass.

The structure, installed under the city of Toronto’s public art program, pays homage to the older days of the area when this corner of East York was all farm land, not a busy urban intersection.

“This neighbourhood was a farming area, originally. It was a orchard and the Dawes Road was the crossing, or the route, that the farmers used take their products to the market,” Ward 31 Councillor Janet Davis said.

Dawes Road residents comment on Dawes Crossing

Now, the area has been renovated with one of the newest additions to Toronto’s public art installations, costing the city $350,000.

In September 2011, the city of Toronto offered an opportunity for landscape artists to design a piece of public art on an inconvenient, unloved island of grass at the intersection of Dawes Road and busy Victoria Park Avenue.

Toronto artist Noel Harding entered a contest for Dawes Crossing public art, basing it on the classic shape of an old Ontario barn. But, to bring it into the modern era, Harding’s old barn boasts power generating solar panels and wind turbine and a functioning rain water harvesting system, which will be used to water a planned garden for the small island of grass.

“It’s suggestive of having a capacity to harness environmental consideration,” Harding said. “Also, there’s an aesthetic factor to things… things could be aesthetically interesting and provide a kind of visual delight and also a kind of knowledge and understanding.”

Harding included many unique qualities and symbolic elements into the piece to better represent East York, he said. He believes these visual stories create a critical component of public art.

“The oak tree planted in the middle of the frame work is the same oak the frame of the structure is made of,” Harding said. “The frame is made from 100 to 250-year-old trees and amongst it is a little baby of 15-16 years.”

However, some neighbours are puzzled by the structure. Doris Gaw, who lives nearby, doesn’t think the investment was money well spent. The installation cost $350,000.

“We couldn’t figure out what it was,” Gaw said. “Many people have asked. And to us we thought it was a waste of money. But (Coun. Janet Davis) told us it’s art. So that’s what it is.”

Davis said she believes the entire crossing renovation, including the new public art, has created a safer and more productive area.

“I’m thrilled that we were able to find funds to help animate and improve Dawes Road,” Davis said. “It’s a neighbourhood that needs investment, a priority neighbourhood.

“It’s part of an overall strategy to help refresh a neighbourhood that has challenges,” she said.