Our History

When Peter and I first moved to the city we were delighted to live close to the subway. A 15-minute walk through a park and under a bridge, and we were there. We were so excited to be driven by somebody else, we hardly noticed the paintings on the bridge supports.

One day recently the artist was on TV. He is actually quite famous for his murals – walls filled with eye-catching Indigenous art, painted all over the city of Toronto. Since our Indigenous people are very much in the news right now, we decided to take a closer look.

Philip Cote, a graduate of OCAD with an MFA degree, recalls being subjected to anti-racist treatment growing up. He reasoned that maybe it was because his culture was ignored; his people misunderstood. He decided to do something about it, by painting murals which could teach Torontonians about his history. This history is based on a strong belief that mankind must live in harmony with nature. Do the words “climate change” come to mind?

Our first stop was a mural at a railway underpass in south Etobicoke, aptly named the Underpass Mural, 2018.This is one of Cote’s efforts that was painted with a partner, Nick Sweetman. It celebrates the plants and animals that live along the shoreline of Lake Ontario. The two artists painted fish, turtles birds, even adorable blue seals, (although I don’t know anybody who has actually seen a blue seal in the lake). Staring at these colourful creatures, one can’t help but love them.

Next, we visited a mural on Roncesvalles Ave, also painted with another colleague in 2018, to celebrate Roncesvalles Village. This painting depicts the shared values of the first nations who settled in this area thousands of years ago, and who believed their role was stewardship of the land for future generations. Surrounding the name of the village, one can see nature’s rich variety of fish, birds, plants and animals that form healthy ecosystems.

Then we drove to Spadina and Dupont to see The Indigenous History Of Our Land, 2017. Symbols of first nations culture are illustrated here. Medicines – tobacco, cedar, sage, and sweetgrass – can be seen. The moccasin and the canoe reflect the thousands of miles the original settlers travelled to find the land that is now Toronto. Important animals are depicted as well: the eagle soars, coming close to the spirit world; the beaver is a symbol of progress as a builder of dams and the focus of the fur trade industry.

Finally we went back to the subway to take a closer look. The vibrant series of images painted in 2017 is called: Resurge – First Timeline and show some history in more detail. The image that caught my eye illustrates a man and a woman enfolded in the arms of a great Thunderbird, a powerful native symbol representing the bond between heaven and earth.

When thinking about the various first nations groups that settled here – the Anishinaabe, the Wendat, the Mississauga, and the Haudenosaunee – one can’t help feeling that they were on to something. They managed to thrive in a harsh climate for over 130,000 years before the Europeans arrived. This is an impressive record, one that is worth celebrating. One that is worth repeating.


6 thoughts on “Our History

  1. Thank you for introducing me to Cote and showing us the paintings. Lovely.
    People, especially the natives, used to understand the land and the environment. They knew how important nature is; but now since we move into houses built by others where the climate is controlled by a heating/cooling system, where we buy fruits and vegetables grown by others, walk and drive on roads built by others and no longer made by our own feet, we have lost our focus and concentrate on our present comfort and wealth (money wise) and have forgotten about the wealth nature gives us and how to protect that and be intone with it.


  2. Oh boy….you guys really get around. Next time we are on the subway, etc. I’m going to pay more attention.
    Great photo shots…thanks


  3. We saw this interview too. He’s quite the artist, isn’t he? Interpreting the artwork requires a lot of help in my case!


  4. Thank you once again for a great read. When are you going to start giving guided tours of our city? I will sign up!


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