Paulette Touby: The prayer that is Ireland Park

Toronto becomes a bit of land on the edge of the sea to where the Irish fled

By Paulette Touby –

2.1002442.IMG_0046It was with its usual swirl of pomp and self congratulation that the city made a flowery announcement this St. Patrick’s Day that a direct pathway from Queen’s Quay to Ireland Park had been forged. They called it a promenade. It did elicit a visit to find a very modest bit of gravel between Lake Ontario and the Canada Malting silos. Some muck had been taken off the silos to make it safer to walk beside them hence the announcement.

But the most extraordinary thing happened, taking this new direct route leads you to the most evocative bit of land on the edge of the sea. Akin to falling down a rabbit hole, Toronto melts away.

Small, intimate and solemn this Druid village of the poor Irish, some of whom are standing there with you but not speaking, the work of sculptor Rowan Gillespie; so thin, so in need; the final cold reality that this new land is as harsh as what they left so etched in their bodies.

One sculpture, a young vulnerable girl has pockets and in one pocket someone, moved to relieve her discomfort, has dropped Canadian coins. It looks as though another has followed in the other pocket and there they remain, unspent.

This frailty is in contrast to the backdrop of two very powerful architectural elements that form an L shape protecting these folks as a large cliff from an inhospitable world. The silos themselves, that have to be seen up close to appreciate their strength and grainy grandeur and  very strong dark walls of limestone constructed with spaces in between as stacking a book on a shelf. These mark the names, still being added as they are known, of  the Irish who died here.

Intriguingly the names aren’t etched on the “spine of the book” where it would be easy to read them, they are on the wide sides of the walls as on the cover of the book, so you have to squeeze inside to read them, hard to get to and strangely intimate like the space itself.

It is a prayer.