Their roots run deep

An artist and a poet are telling the story of the Alexandra Park community that inspired them

Construction hoardings (temporary fences around construction sites) are nothing new in Toronto, but take a walk through Alexandra Park along Dundas Street West, and you’ll find one covered in a magnificent mural bursting with colour and passion. It tells the story of the neighbourhood and the residents who helped shape it.

The mural is a collaboration between artist Savannah Lavallée and poet Alban Olive, two Alexandra Park tenants who wanted to give back to the community they proudly call home. The project was facilitated by TCHC and development partner Tridel as a community economic development initiative. The hoarding surrounds the construction site for the next phase of the Alexandra Park revitalization, which will include an Atkinson Co-op apartment building and a market condominium.

Savannah first moved to Alexandra Park with her mother when she was two years old and has lived in the neighbourhood for 22 years. She has always been heavily involved in the community growing up, and credits her mother for instilling this in her. When asked about how she got involved in visual arts, she feels lucky she had such a supportive community around her growing up. “The community has always worked so closely with the arts in the surrounding area and there’s a need in the community to have that type of programming to encourage and nurture young talent,” she said. “I’ve been lucky that the people around me saw what I could accomplish, but also that the resources were around to be able to do those things. You can have talent, but you need to learn and you need the skills and mentorship. I’m so grateful to my community for providing that.”

mural illustration of a youth fixing a bicycleThe Alexandra Park mural came about after Savannah sketched some concepts and pitched them to a community working group, who then voted on which concept they liked the most. The winning concept was inspired by a poem written by Alban, a native of Grenada who came to Canada in 1988 after winning several awards for his writing there. His poem is included on the first panel of the mural, providing a nice introduction to the piece.

 “The poem talks about all the people who lived, contributed and passed on, all different sorts of people who helped in the revitalization of Alex Park,” Alban said. “This is a community with lots of history, and the history comes with the people.”

That’s precisely the visual Savannah wanted to convey in the mural. “I used roots for background, because that’s your history, that’s the beginning, and they branch out in many different ways and are very intersectional and diverse,” she said.

“Roots also spring from one point and that one point is our community.” Other visuals include images of things important to the residents of Alexandra Park that they strongly identify with, such as children playing basketball, people riding bikes, and images inspired by childhood memories. The idea is for each little vignette to be pieced together to collectively tell the story of Alexandra Park, and Savannah says this serves a dual purpose: “I feel like I’ve accomplished something the community can be proud of and look at and see themselves in, but also something a passerby can be like, oh, this is what this community is about,” she said.

She hopes the mural gets people thinking about how important their communities are, and about the things that connect them to each other. She also wants to inspire people, particularly youth. “It’s important to make a positive impact and to be a role model,” she said. “Especially as we get older, we should give back to young people and help them navigate the world, because it was difficult for our generation.”

Alban has similar thoughts on inspiring his community: “I get lots of feedback from people who saw the mural and like it and like the work that I’ve done. I like to think it’s inspiring the next generation.”

What does the future hold for that generation? “I think it will be a bright future with more job opportunities through community economic development, which is very important to our residents,” Alban said. “TCHC and Tridel are on board with helping develop the business platform for Alexandra Park, so in the future we’ll have our own businesses and this could be one of the rising communities in Toronto.”

With roots as strong as these, the sky’s the limit.

Are you a young artist or writer living in the Alexandra Park area looking for guidance? Contact the Alexandra Park Community Centre at (416) 603-9603 or email to learn about their youth mentorship programs.

For more information about public art projects in Alexandra Park, contact Filip Filipovic at (437) 922-3772 or email