This weekend a group of Etobicoke residents gathered together to celebrate the official unveiling of two new murals at the Royal York underpass below Dundas Street, with the black of the event held at Humbertown Plaza, a short walk north from where the murals are located. The mood was friendly and intimate: among the crowd hugs were exchanged, and amiable chatter was punctuated with phrases like "so good to see you" and gasps of excited recognition. The artist responsible for the mural, Emilia Jajus, made rounds thanking residents for coming and graciously accepted their congratulations. 

StART, Royal York and Dundas, Etobicoke, Emilia Jajus, public artCommunity members gathered in front of east wall of mural, image John Stevenson

The afternoon began with a speech from Kristina Hausmanis, the project lead at StART (Street Art Toronto), the organization that funded and facilitated the creation of the two murals. StART is a City of Toronto organization that promotes public art to revitalize communities and curb graffiti vandalism. Hausmanis thanked everyone for coming to the unveiling and explained what her organization does and praised Jajus' murals and their reception as prime examples of how StART's mandate to use public art to strengthen communities. After her, Ward 4 Etobicoke Centre councillor, John Campbell came to the microphone. Campbell expressed his pride in the overwhelming local support for the murals which was gauged through a community survey and thanked Jajus for realizing the project.

StART, Royal York and Dundas, Etobicoke, Emilia Jajus, public artPhotograph of Emilia Jajus (Centre) with Emanuel Ciobianca (left) and De Anne Lamirande (right), image by John Stevenson

StART, Royal York and Dundas, Etobicoke, Emilia Jajus, public artPhotograph of StART Project Lead Kristian Hausmanis, image by John Stevenson

StART, Royal York and Dundas, Etobicoke, Emilia Jajus, public artPhotograph of Ward 4 Etobicoke Centre Councillor John Campbell, image by John Stevenson

Last to speak was the artist, accompanied by two of her three assistants, Emanuel Ciobanica and De Anne Lamirande. Jajus' third assistant, Sara Sader was unable to attend. Jajus began by thanking family, friends and her City of Toronto liaisons for helping and supporting her during the three months, June through August, that she and her team worked on the murals. Jajus then changed the tone of her speech from gracious to anecdotal. Jajus explained that she wanted the residents who would walk by the mural to "see themselves represented" in it and detailed how these residents were not only supportive, but actively involved in the final design of the mural by providing suggestions and posing as models.

StART, Royal York and Dundas, Etobicoke, Emilia Jajus, public arPhotograph of mural on the west wall of the mural, image by Tari Akpodiete

According to Jajus roughly 60% of the west wall of the mural had been redesigned as per residents' suggestions. An African Canadian man, walking past the mural had suggested to her that that there be a diversity of people incorporated into the mural. Jajus agreed and asked the man to be the model for a figure walking a dog that she incorporated onto the west wall. She took this idea of diversity and representation further, and went to the James Gardens to photograph people relaxing there, incorporating some into her mural. Jajus also recounted some positive feedback she received while painting the mural: another man stopped while she was painting the east wall where the Old Mill features prominently, and told her that he had been married there 29 years prior and that seeing the mill lifted his spirits. 

StART, Royal York and Dundas, Etobicoke, Emilia Jajus, public artDetail of west wall with man walking dog, image by John Stevenson

After the speeches were completed the group walked down to the west wall of the underpass. The murals, as a plaque there explains, is an amalgamation of the Bloor Street West, Dundas Street West and Royal York Road communities.  Important landmarks from the surrounding areas north and south of the bridge are included. On the west wall the historic Kingsway Theatre is predominates as part of a 1950s era streetscape.

StART, Royal York and Dundas, Etobicoke, Emilia Jajus, public artDetail of west wall of mural, image by John Stevenson

The Kingsway Pillar, Montgomery's Inn, and James Gardens are also featured. At the north end of the mural, the neighbouring community of Humber Village Valley is recalled by a painting of the area's entranceway. 

StART, Royal York and Dundas, Etobicoke, Emilia Jajus, public artPhotograph of detail from west wall of mural, image by Salena Barry

The buildings featured in the west wall reference local businesses in the area, however, Jajus was not allowed to use their real names so instead painted several fictional businesses named after individuals instrumental in making the project possible: the Bank of Emanuel references her artist's assistant Emanuel Ciobanica, and Kristina's Cafe references Kristina Hausmanis, the StART Project Lead, among others. 

StART, Royal York and Dundas, Etobicoke, Emilia Jajus, public artDetail of west wall of mural, image by John Stevenson

The east wall mural, titled "Humber Valley", covers more historical context of the area. It features a portrait of Robert Home Smith, the area's pivotal businessman, financier and civic planner who developed this area of Toronto. Home Smith purchased over 3,000 acres on either side of the Humber from the Lake up to Eglinton, all with the dream of creating "a bit of England, far from England." The Kingsway represents Home Smith's greatest success in dong just that, and this mural incorporates the Tudor Revival architecture of the area. The Old Mill and the adjacent stone arch bridge over Humber—built under Home Smith's patronage—are prominent in the mural.

StART, Royal York and Dundas, Etobicoke, Emilia Jajus, public artPhotograph of east wall of the mural, image by John Stevenson

StART, Royal York and Dundas, Etobicoke, Emilia Jajus, public artPhotograph of mural on the east wall of the mural, image by Salena Barry

The historical content in these murals has been appreciated as much as their overall aesthetic value. A teacher from local elementary school told Jajus that she would bring her Grade 5 class to the bridge as a part of one of their lessons. Another community member, a bus driver on the local 48 Rathburn bus would stop her bus by the mural when she was driving her route so that he passengers could see the mural while it was being worked on. The overwhelming community spirit touched Jajus, who is no stranger to making public art, having completed several murals around the city in the past few years. 

StART, Royal York and Dundas, Etobicoke, Emilia Jajus, public artRibbon Cutting ceremony, image by Tari Akpodiete

Just after the ribbon was cut, it started to rain. The group lingered below the bridge for a while longer before dispersing. It seems that celebrating local history and livening up concrete walls are not the only things this piece of public art has accomplished.