Don River Mural Celebrates Natural Heritage, Indigenous Peoples of Region

Images of Don River mural courtesy of Peter Gappmayr, Plaston Architect

In 2016 Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) Planning and Development staff were engaged to review the development of a new automobile dealership for Grand Touring Automobiles located at 777 Dundas Street East, adjacent to the Don River in Toronto’s east end.

The new dealership replaces a highly flood-vulnerable building that formerly existed on site. The property floods frequently when the Don River overtops its banks, and strict flood-proofing measures were necessary to obtain planning and permit approvals.

Through the development review process, TRCA required that the lower levels of the building be sealed in order to keep flood waters out. The resulting design, by Peter Gappmayr of Plaston Architect, is a unique, graceful cantilevered multi-storey building overlooking the Don River and the city to the west.

Grand Touring Automobiles flagship location

As part of the design the landowner was encouraged by TRCA staff to animate the blank lower portion of the building, using the Don River Watershed as inspiration.

Recognizing an opportunity to contribute to the revitalization of the Don, Grand Touring Automobiles worked with Mr. Gappmayr to engage artist Bill Wrigley to design and install a 100-metre mural that represents the history and ecology of the Don River Watershed on the exposed structural foundation wall below the cantilevered portion of the building.

Don River mural illuminated by LED lights

The Don River mural is lit with LED lights at night and is visible to travelers on the adjacent Don Valley Park trail and the Parkway.

The result is a striking tribute to the Don River that evokes a spiritual tone, honouring pre-colonial inhabitants of the region. The design focuses on the river and the animals and vegetation that benefit from the river, and includes images of two deer, a coyote, a heron, a beaver, several trout, a canoe, and a dish with spoon.

mural depicts flora and fauna of Don River

The Don River mural establishes a motif that represents the river in a pre-industrial development state, touching upon the benefits the river provides on all levels including environmental (plants, fish, birds fauna, and animals), social (gathering of tribes for water, trade and social interation) and economic (transportation, power, food, source of water and trade among tribes).

The mural complements the adjacent native shrubs and grasses that have been installed between the building and the Don River in an effort to restore greenspace out of a former asphalt parking lot.

artist Bill Wrigley works on Don River mural
Artist Bill Wrigley at work

The Don River mural also evokes images connected to the “Dish With One Spoon Treaty”, a wampum treaty originally made between the Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee, and covering territories in the St. Lawrence lowlands and Great Lakes Basin. This treaty was used in Indigenous diplomacy and refers to the stewardship of shared territories and hunting grounds and the collective responsibility to ensure there was enough game and fish for all to eat.

image of dish and spoon on Don River Mural

The project represents an excellent example of public agencies working together with a private landowner to implement a thoughtful cultural and environmental response on a challenging redevelopment site.


Artist at Work: the Don River mural in progress

This sequence of images, spanning the period from May 23 to June 21, 2018, show the evolution of the mural.

Don River mural on May 23 2018

Don River mural on May 25 2018

Don River mural on May 28 2018

Don River mural on May 29 2018

Don River mural on May 29 2018

Don River mural on June 4 2018

Don River mural on June 4 2018

Don River mural on June 21 2018

Don River mural on June 21 2018