Author and Myseum of Toronto tour leader Adam Bunch.
Bridges are inherently romantic. They connect two pieces of land in time and space, offering a permanent and steady bond. What better location to hold hands, share a kiss, or place a lock — as many lovers do at bridges all over the world.
Toronto has its own love stories to tell and you’ll find many of them hidden around the picturesque Humber Bay Arch Bridge in the Humber Bay Shores neighbourhood. This is the site of the upcoming Love Stories of the Humber walking tour, presented by Myseum of Toronto and hosted by me.
I start the tour at the Humber Bay Arch Bridge — a structure that reminds me of the romantic history that stretches back to a time long before the city was founded — and it ends at the QEW monument. Also known as the “Lucky Lion” or simply “The Monument,” it was created by two of our city’s greatest sculptors. Frances Loring carved the majestic lion at the base of the obelisk, while Florence Wyle carved the relief of the king and queen that rests above it — both highly symbolic images at the time the work was unveiled in 1939, just months before the outbreak of the Second World War.
If you Google the monument, Wikipedia will tell you about its history, design, specs, and materials. What it doesn’t tell you is that the women who sculpted it met in art school in Chicago and spent the rest of their lives together, most of it living in and working from a converted church in Toronto.
Referred to in a CBC program from 1965 as “companion artists” and in other articles as “life-partners” we are reminded that this was a time when same-sex couples could not speak openly about their sexuality. But it’s clear that the two shared immense love for each other. Not only did they work well together professionally — as evidenced in this monument, their most spectacular piece — but in their personal lives as well. Together, the two helped make Toronto a less conservative place — supporting the local arts scene, befriending the Group of Seven, throwing legendary parties, and challenging traditional conceptions of gender and romance.
When the monument was nearly destroyed due to the expansion of the Gardiner Expressway in the 1970s, an outpouring of love and support from the community saved the Lucky Lion and it was moved to its current location. Toronto might not have been ready to name their love for what it was, but many of its residents supported these women and their work. Times were changing.
Over the course of their lives in Toronto, Loring and Wyle saw shifts not only in the physical landscape of the city, but in its cultural landscape as well. You can still find evidence of that evolution in the landmarks of Humber Bay. This story is just one of the tales of romance, longing and heartache you’ll hear on this tour.
Once you start looking, love is everywhere. Romantic histories are embedded in the places that surround us every day — and have helped shape them in the process. I hope you’ll join us on Oct. 1 and 2. More details about this and other walking tours at myseumoftoronto.com.
Written by author and Myseum of Toronto historic tour leader Adam Bunch as told to Kendra Thompson, writer for Myseum of Toronto.