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‘Radiant Journey’ Shines a Light on University Avenue

The shimmering sculpture recasts the once-dreary thoroughfare

By B.F. Dawes
Photography by Arash Moallemi

The start of an urban walkabout coincided with the first pandemic lockdown. Each new day offered up our city’s byways, though not quite barren, empty enough to be remarkable. The days prior, busy and honking. The lack of competition left the cityscape free to be roamed and have its little secrets and uncommon sights uncovered. One such discovery was the grandness of University Avenue, especially the blocks leading north from Queen Street to Queen’s Park. The median, a Galapagos of islands, each with its own unique offering to the urban sightseer, often unfrequented save for a moment of shelter from winter’s chill.

Standing at the intersection of Queen and University facing north, the trek opens upon an active fountain, which is now lit brightly with colour-changing vibrancy, while during the pandemic, it, like most fountains, joined the ranks of the silent and dry. Its waters lead to a cenotaph with a list of worlds-away battlefields where young men were laid to rest. The angel atop holds high a wreath, while another below comforts our fallen Canadians. The whole of the avenue is a beautiful long narrow park, a meander with a poignant presence and reminder. Pushing on there are more memorials honouring more fallen throughout more wars; one a nod to our airmen. Oscar Nemon’s sculpture – a tall, lean figure cuts high into the sky with arms holding a bird aloft – a graphic emotion at the corner of Dundas and University Avenue.

Back on the newly refurbished ground, we find crabapple groves and 1960s terrazzo, oversized planters with oversized flowers. There is evergreen shrubbery and flowing native grasses framing inlaid granite, stone-etched with the names of 26 countries to commemorate their consular services to Canada. Installed in 1952, the section holds nine mature trees along with newly planted ones. This story of the tree-dotted walkways and swinging sixties styling is also about purpose and spirit born of service and sacrifice – themes that are now being felt deeply in this awakened post-pandemic world, perhaps as if grown from the cenotaphs’ etched stone.

North of Dundas, the double row of hospitals, specialty centres and donor-named facilities stands with massive presence – healthcare and wellness. Lamppost signage proudly states that this is home to the best hospital in Canada, the fourth-best in the world. Our strong history of medical research and discovery is also being honoured here.

Today, in front of SickKids hospital, moving north, each oasis has been refreshed with plantings that provide the stage for a new lighting sculpture. Luminous waves flow across double rows of vertical fixtures along the median. The installation, entitled Radiant Journey, was developed by the Friends of University Avenue, a non-profit founded by designer Christine Ralphs from personal experience. The project forever enlivens this once dreary stretch. Each tree is now illuminated along the length of Lightwave, simple white aluminum forms dancing with light synchronized as if by a human heartbeat. An added warmth now flows over Hospital Row, a beacon for patients, families and caregivers on this grand avenue – heroes all, if just for one day. REIMAGININGUNIVERSITYAVENUE.ORG


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