Winter. Toronto. And the streets are right now home to a certain free-range whimsy known as Torontoland and embodied by 8 foot tall GIANT SNOWMEN.
All for a good cause, even: for every photo of you captured posing with a snowman that is sent to the Torontoland website, $2 will be donated to the Starlight Children’s Foundation Canada.
It all began on Facebook. Not in the “social media is connecting us WOW what an age” kind of way. More of a “I have a friend who’s too lazy to call or email but who is in the know about super cool things like Torontoland.”
Here is what she wrote:
OMG Who wants to do this?!?! We’ll get a TTC daypass and hop around the city looking for them! SO FUN! Anyone? Anyone? Pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeease!
Here is how this story starts:
It already has.
Here is how it ends:
We find the Snowmen but, alas, not all. Sad face 😦
Here is the stuff that happens around the middle:
There’s a part with FREE ice cream. Happiness 🙂
This is not a story that is art critique in bad disguise. My stance on art is that I love it. So there? This is a story about a bunch of people galavanting through big city nights, having gadabouts. This is a story of The Hunt.
Here we go!
1. The Jingle Inn by TADO – The Beaches
The Jingle Inn
This Snowmen should have been a clue or, perhaps, a harbinger of things to come. Stephen and I took Lou to see The Jingle Inn in the morning because it’s on our end of town. What a 2 foot dachshund thinks of an 8 foot snowman I do not know but Lou, in his own Lou way, seemed to appreciate the humungous “not food” Thing we had dragged him to.
It was, actually, luck of a sort that we even found The Jingle Inn. The online map we consulted listed TADO’s work in the middle of a rather large park that turned out to be a good-sized ravine that turned out to be closed off to the public, which turned out to be full of poo and wood chips when we ignored the caution tape in favour of a look-see. We followed it up and down and finally, with a dog covered in burs and mud and poo and failure, we called it quits.
It was mad trickery, but in giving up we found success: The Jingle Inn magically appeared at the opposite edge of the park as we trudged our way towards Queen Street East. The antithesis edge, because I like fancy pants words sometimes.
The Jingle Inn is a work by artists Mike and Katie who, according to the Torontoland website, are “two happy and rather small people who stay up too late, work too much and drink too much coffee”. They “aspire to one day own a zoo of miniature animals.”
I believe that.
2. Yule Zones by Patrick Kyle – Nathan Phillips Square
It took a short bus ride and a longish subway commute to get to our agreed upon hunting grounds. Stephen – being a real adult with a job and all – went back to work, while I – in all my nojobness – was free to carry on. Still, up until I left, I had waffled back and forth on whether I should even join The Hunt at all. In the end, I decided to go because it was becoming such a decision to decide whether or not to go.
The Path of Least Resistance triumphs again.
The Plan: start in downtown Toronto and meander south then north to bag our snowman prey.
As I arrived – late as always (I blame my poor upbringing?) – at Nathan Phillips Square (a.k.a. the skating rink/fountain/no man’s land that forms that front of Raccoon City’s City Hall), it occurred to me that I was a bit of a tag-along. This was my friend, Rosena’s, brilliant brain child after all, and I was the last among her friends to sign up.
Luckily, the people I know know people I would like to know, and three sets of eyes are better than one.
People seemed to love this Snowmen, Patrick Kyle’s Yule Zones, but a little too much at that. Its nose had been torn off and re-plastered. It was a ramshackle job that just about did the trick. But the lady who tried the inevitable though crowd-pleasing “grabbing the snowman’s nose” pose didn’t know that, and it was a giddy thrill to see her face crest with abject horror as she very nearly tore off the yule from Yule. We laughed. She…ran away.
It was glorious.
3. Native Muskokan Chickadee by Melinda Josie
Native Muskokan Chickadee
A short jaunt from City Hall and we found ourselves standing next to Toronto-based artist Melinda Josie’s Native Muskokan Chickadee. An “ode to Canadian winter”, in all its thick wool, hot, hot cocoa and mitted goodness, the title alone validated my ornithological know-it-all-ism as I had long identified the bird as (indeed!) a chickadee, while others – who I can only surmise must have had lazy biology teachers and/or had succumbed to Dreamworks fantasy making – thought the bird was a penguin.
But penguins aren’t chickadees.
Chickadees can fly. Like real birds. Penguins, from what I can surmise, kind of…waddle around in a pudgy, clumsy, futile parade of intelligent design.
Or maybe it’s a pageant.
4. Dusty Rose by CP+B
Wow. This picture was taken a little after 4:30PM and look how dark it got already. It was also here, outside Roy Thompson Hall, that we encountered a scalper, stocky and thick knuckled, who coughed “Justin Bieber! Justin Bieber! Ticketstojustinbeiber!” every time he thought he saw us look askew him him. Which was a lot because it was like, “what is he saying? What about The Biebs???”
A Vicious Circle.
The Snowman is CP+B’s kick-ass, Dusty Rose. I did not intellectually know this at the time but according to CP+B, “Dusty Rose likes to consider herself the Patron Snowman of Torontoland. Her nine faces have seen many things, from the famous Leafs’ playoff runs of the ’90s to the Great Blackout of ’03. But she’d trade it all for the ability to cozy up to a rolling fire, hot cocoa in hand, without turning into a giant pink puddle.”
But, of course, I knew all of this the minute I gazed upon Her.
In my heart.
5. Snowtem by Mark Gervais
As we made our way from Roy Thompson Hall to the base of the CN tower (about a 15 minute walk), we passed an older gentlemen in that space wedged between the tower and the Skydome, who was walking his chocolate lab puppy, ingeniously named “Coco”. The man had a face I and disposition I would describe as “craggily”, while the dog was puppy gregarious. It had a love on for people you would not believe – its owner had quite the time pulling it away from the company of total strangers.
As he dragged poor Coco to yet another heel, I thought “How can such a sour man have such a sweet dog?” and realized that the answer was contained in the question.
Snowtem Snowman (top to bottom: Snowy Owl, Lynx and Walrus) is the creation of Regina born artist, Mark Gervais. It may be my favourite Giant Snowman.
Animals, man! Snowy Owl, Lynx and Walrus. In face form! Have you ever seen a face – any face – so lush and vibrant and vivid anywhere in your whole life?
So much better than Mr. Craggily.
6. Niji Family by APAK
It was as we entered Union Station and hopped a streetcar to the waterfront that things got tricky and the harbingers from the morning, um, harbinged. Rosena had scribbled intersections where our quarry were to be found, but by now it was of little use: we found the spot but not the snowman. Stephen had printed me a pdf. map listing snowman locations, but it was at best vague and at worst a total effing mindfuck: what is the use, after all, of a map with no sense of scale? Where major streets are but mere suggestions and snowmen are the size of landmarks are the size of city blocks?
No Effing Way.
It was at that point that we ducked into the Harbourfront Centre (located in front of the ice rink where our snowman was supposed to be) and asked the information guy for help. We even showed him our “map”.
His words: “I don’t know where THE HELL this [loud thumb jabbing on snowman icon] is supposed to be! Where is this?!” He suggested going east, back toward the way we came. “I dunno. It might be by the Second Cup, over on the next pier. Maybe.”
So we found it was, after a bit of fumbling around in the dark and the wet. The centrepiece of a cobblestone spotlight.
Niji Family! Crafted by the husband and wife duo, APAK (Aaron Piland + Ayumi Kajikawa Piland, see?). I see this snowman and I dream of Better Days. If Stephen and I ever get married, I hope we’ll make a fantastical snowman like this of our very own (this is not a metaphor for a baby).
7. ilavskan Porenut by Noel Middleton
Back on the streetcar and into Union Station where our sexy snowmen threesome became a full-on snowmen posse with the addition of another of Rosena’s cool friends. Three girls, one guy, four pairs of glasses.
Amid Rosena’s exclamations of, “Oh my god. Gender!” (as in stereotypes? she was looking at a bus stop ad that featured, I think, a tomato wearing a piece of bow tie pasta as a bow tie and a mushroom wearing the pasta as a bow on “her” head), and our growing conviction that the snowmen were becoming harder to find on purpose now came the realization that the snowmen were, in fact, more difficult to find. From King Street Station, we ran around the St. Lawrence Market area (Yonge and Wellington Streets), desperately using eyeballs and smart-phones to locate our precious snowman.
Not having a smartphone, I stood there, eyeballing.
Then, amid the twinkly lights of Berczy Park and after nearly getting run over by double lane traffic, we found him (on a street he was supposed not to be).
ilavskan Porenut by Noel Middleton.
And now the story of ilavskan Porenut (quoted from the Torontoland website):
“In a wooden temple, closeted from the encroaching elementals, sat the four-faced ilavskan Porenut. Seated and quiet in his wooden womb, he tirelessly conjured counter-charms from the Book of Veles, swaying the winds and brilliantly charging the thunderclouds.”
A tirelessly, brilliantly charging Snowman.
He may also be my favourite.
Back (again) to Union Station to catch the northbound subway. Rosena’s friend from Nathan Phillips Square bid us adieu at the Yonge/Bloor Station, thus bringing our posse to an all femme three.
A quick stop at the Eaton Centre food court (Crazy Burger! Sesame Chicken Combo! Big Mac ‘N Fries!), and off it was, back out in the cold and all up in the glitz and glam and shams of Yonge Street, off, off it was to…
Wait! Stop! LOOK!!!
Hell-o? What goings on and happenings at the Marble Slabbery do we do spy?
BLACK RIMMED ASIAN GIRL GLASSES YOU’VE DONE IT AGAIN:
What the WHAT??
Getting mines never been so good.
The catch was that in order to get a free ice cream (Birthday Cake or Sweet Cream with Sprinkles or Crushed Waffle Cone) we had to fill out a form, complete with email address and a big ‘ol check in the “YES send me promotions and crap from your store”.
A few of fake IDs later, out the door we went with real FREE ice cream.
The FREE ice cream turned out to be our consolation prize: Snowman 7 (8 for me) was nowhere to be found. After calls to Boys (our respective boyfriends who are at home, computers at the ready), the “help” of unhelpful staff at a nearby pub and a back alley detour to a “park” I’ll fondly remember as “Stabyourface Patch”, we discovered that our coveted Melty McCrybaby (by Chicago artist, Travis Lampe) had been moved from the dark and desolate wasteland outside the Chelsea Delta Inn to the more upscale asphalt surrounding The Royal York Hotel.
Sliver lining: determined to see at least one more snowman, we pumped tried legs up and down to Church and Wellesley streets where we were treated to:
8. Happy Sparkles Snowman by Tara McPherson!
Happy Sparkles Snowman
Thank you, Tara, for your yummy glorious pretty, though badly placed Happy Sparkles Snowman!
Tara tells us that he “is made out of a special pink candy snow with frosting on top! He is your friend and will feed you yummy pink snowballs when you are hungry, and give you hugs!”
I LOVE YOU HAPPY SPARKLES SNOWMAN!
I say “badly placed” because in cahoots with the day’s end garbage lining the sidewalk, Happy blocked up sidewalk traffic, causing a bottleneck of people to form as we took our non-ironic photos of love. When questioned about our actions by one couple, our “but it’s for the children!” invoked gleeful and pitiless laughter.
Could it be?
New friends for life.
9. cloud mayne by Alex McLeod – Greektown (a.k.a. The Danforth)
It was late at this point, around the 10 o’clock mark, which is a genuine kind of late when you’ve been running around the city for hours and hours. I was by my lonesome now, headed eastward, towards home.
Still, the temptation of JUST ONE MORE snowman was too much to resist and it was located in my old neighbourhood, Greektown, besides. A virtual trip down memory’s lane.
Why not? My legs were already hurting anyway. A little more of the same seemed a small price to pay.
There was none of the usual hustle and bustle one usually finds in Greektown at that time of night. No Old Greek Men boisterously sharing small coffees at the Tim Hortons. No tinny Greek music streaming from the open doors of restaurants. No Little Greek Ladies, taking their Sweet Time. Nope. Just a few people and their dogs, out for “last chance (to poop!)” stroll.
And a couple sitting very closely together in a romantically lit restaurant that I first thought were and then fervently hoped were not father and daughter.
But it was there, almost as if waiting on the edge of Logan Avenue: cloud mayne by Alex McLeod.
How I do miss you, Greektown!
6 hours and 9 Snowmen later it, The Hunt, was over. Sad but satisfied face 😉 (couldn’t figure out the icon for this, so I went with winky face).
THANK YOU ROSENA AND CO!
There are more Snowmen Out There that we did not manage to capture that night. In our defence, one of the missed Snowmen is in Brampton. Another is located inside the Toronto Zoo, and I’m just not made of zoo admission, OK? Still another is somewhere in Mississauga, and I’m just not made for Mississauga.
Unfortunately, Torontoland only runs until December 22, 2011. It is already, however, a success: the maximum donation of $50,000 has been reached. Here is more information than I have provided, which explains the exhibit in more detail and how you too can find the Giant Snowmen:
For those of you who can, GO!
Do it now!
Don’t look back.