Riverside BIA 40 Years, 40 Stories: ‘A Time for Pollinators’ Mural

As part of the ‘Riverside BIA: 40 Years, 40 Stories’ series, we’re putting a spotlight on the serendipitous story of the Riverside Pollinator Mural by Nick Sweetman at 777 Queen Street East in the heart of Riverside.  

The Riverside Pollinator Mural called ‘A Time for Pollinators’ was created by artist Nick Sweetman. Completed in 2016, the mural’s references to clocks and time continues in the theme of the ‘Time: and a Clock’ series in Riverside by Toronto artist Eldon Garnet, while celebrating Albert Edelstein, a founding member of the BIA, who was a local jeweller and watchmaker. The pollinator mural also highlights the many natural, hidden places in Riverside and the importance of pollinators (e.g. bees, people) in the community and environment.

Fun Fact: The Pollinator Mural is one of the stops on our Riverside Public Art Self-Guided Walk, and check out our Virtual Public Art Tour to see amazing footage of the mural and an interview with Nick Sweetman (around 18:00 min)!

riverside pollinator mural

Photo from August 2016 taken during the mural production by artist Nick Sweetman adjacent to what was once an unassuming parking lot.

The west-facing wall of Elbers’ Antiques at 777 Queen Street East, owned by one of our most enduring local business owners, Ron Elbers, was a long a neglected spot targeted by graffiti. For years, Ron and the Riverside BIA had been in agreement that the wall would be the perfect spot for a mural.  In 2016, the time was right (no pun intended), and the old wall was revitalized thanks to a City of Toronto mural grant, the amazing work of local resident and mural artist Nick Sweetman, and project management by the Riverside BIA.

The mural was launched in late summer 2016 on a rainy day. You would never know it with the vibrant colours of the mural shining through, along with all the smiles of those in attendance in this incredibly proud moment for the BIA and community. BIA founding member and former long-time Chair Albert Edelstein was on hand with wife Ruth and many generations of family members, along with artist Nick Sweetman, local elected officials from all levels of government and current BIA members.

Caption: MP Julie Dabrusin, MPP Peter Tabuns and City Councillor Paula Fletcher stand with Riverside community members including Riverside BIA Board chair Mitch Korman and Executive Director Jennifer Lay.

MP Julie Dabrusin, MPP Peter Tabuns and City Councillor Paula Fletcher stand with artist Nick Sweetman (at back, right), Riverside community members including Riverside BIA Board chair Mitch Korman and staff Jennifer Lay and Anjuli Solanki, and former BIA Chair and founding member Albert Edelstein (middle), his wife Ruth and many other family members.

As the mural launched, almost simultaneously there was another plan in motion. The owners of the parking lot at 771 Queen E (adjacent to the mural) had received interest from a landscaping company Queen Landscapes to create a garden centre in the derelict lot. With their expertise and resources, the team created the Queen Garden Centre. In 2018, it was launched with a focus on native perennial plants and remains so today, which in turn supports pollinator populations all over Toronto…talk about serendipity!

riverside pollinator mural

2020 Photo of the Queen Garden Centre with the Pollinator Mural as the backdrop. (Photo credit: Lana Malykh

About the Mural

The mural’s ‘Bees and Urban Pollinators’ theme recognizes Riverside’s hidden green spaces that maintain wildflowers and local hives, as well as the area’s growing bee-keeping culture in the east-end. Pollinators are essential for food production and the health of a city’s ecosystem.

riverside pollinator mural

The Riverside colourscape is used artfully with time and clock themes

The pollinator mural’s time and clock theme is an homage to Albert Edelstein, a long-time clockmaker and jeweller in Riverside who was integral to founding the Riverside Business Improvement Area (BIA) in the 1980s. Edelstein is also a personification of ‘The Pollinator’:  someone working hard on tiny things with thousands of moving parts, but the whole of the fruits of their work has an enormous impact. In the same vein, the ‘Gears’ in the mural represent small things working together to make big things happen – like bees in a hive, or a community in a neighbourhood. Like clockmakers, pollinators are important members of society and their toils must be given proper respect, as they play an essential role in allowing people to thrive and exist.

The ‘Time’ theme also continues in line with Riverside’s architectural and artistic history, referencing Eldon Garnet’s ‘Time & A Clock’ public art series that has been iconic in Riverside since 1996. The ‘Clock’ in the mural also mirrors the Ralph Thornton Centre’s iconic clock tower just west across the street, designed by famed Toronto architect E.J. Lennox. Meanwhile, the pollinator mural’s colours and style portray Riverside’s ebbs and flows through time and its vibrancy today.

About the Mural Artist 

Nick Sweetman is an independent, multidisciplinary artist living in Riverside. He holds an MFA from OCAD University, and has led and contributed to numerous mural projects around the city, collaborating with many of Toronto’s best artists. His studio practice is based in painting, but over the years his work has explored photography, video, installation, and mixed media. He is interested in drawing attention to physical and conceptual sites of fracture and intersection between natural forces and human-designed objects and spaces. By this he hopes to encourage consideration of our relationship with the planet and its non-human inhabitants.

Thanks to Community Partners

A special thanks to property owner Ron Elbers, who provided the wall space, and Vivienne Grace Ziner from Urban Quest for access to her property to complete the mural. The Ralph Thornton Centre and the Toronto Public Library Queen/Saulter Branch were instrumental in engaging the community in the mural’s design. The STEPS Initiative and Wipeout Specialty Cleaning donated mural materials and time. Thank you to the City of Toronto for providing funding toward this project.

The ‘Riverside BIA 40 Years, 40 Stories’ Series is part of how we’re celebrating the 40th anniversary of this incredible neighbourhood of community-builders.