Graffiti in Toronto

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Graffiti in Toronto.

Graffiti in Toronto, Canada's largest city, is a cause of much disagreement. Graffiti is seen by some as an art form adding to the city's culture;[1] however, many see graffiti as form of vandalism which is both ugly and causes damage to property.


It is believed[by whom?] that the Toronto graffiti movement started in the late 1980s. One blogger remarked that pieces on Toronto buildings, walls and overpasses embrace the culture of New York City[2] and what it contributed to Toronto's graffiti scene; however, there are some[who?] who believe that Toronto graffiti has a unique flavor to its work because it often represents various cultures.

Graffiti in a Toronto alley from 2005.

There are several reasons why Toronto has such a rich history of graffiti: the city has a lot of controversy over graffiti, the city has many visible spots for artists to show their work (such as graffiti alley), as well as willing artists that challenge the city. The schism created by these artists is the reason why many believe Toronto's graffiti scene is so dynamic and influential in its circles.[3] In earlier years, many works were original and told an important story from the artists’ point of view.[citation needed] Many still hold themes of love and family, tell stories of their lives, or use graffiti to share with the city the artists' never-happening dream.

Debate over graffiti[edit]

A request for art, or an act of vandalism? The question if graffiti constitutes one or the other has become a topic of debate in Toronto.

There has been a debate lately regarding this issue in Toronto as to whether or not graffiti constitutes art or vandalism, especially with recent Mayor Rob Ford vowing to remove all graffiti from the City of Toronto,[4] defining graffiti as "One or more letters, symbols, figures, etching, scratches, inscriptions, stains, or other markings that disfigure or deface a structure or thing, howsoever made or otherwise affixed on the structure or thing, but, for greater certainty, does not include an art mural" [5] and defines an art mural as a "mural for a designated surface and location that has been deliberately implemented for the purpose of beautifying the specific location." Mural work also serves as a platform to create and link communities, document history and tradition, and to facilitate purpose and voice to its collaborators. Mural painting is not simply about making something visually appealing; the majority of active mural artists create work that captures the human experience and transforms intangible words and emotion to something that can be seen and touched.

Efforts to curb graffiti[edit]

There are many coalitions that have been created to deter and remove graffiti in Toronto. These organizations or groups agree that graffiti has many negative effects on the city. The official website for the City of Toronto has stated that graffiti can promote a belief that community laws protecting property can be disregarded and that graffiti creates a sense of disrespect for property that may result in an increase of crime.[6]

The "Graffiti Transformation Program" is an annual community investment program which hires youth to remove graffiti and resurface the walls with attractive murals. Since the program's start in 1996, over 9,000 tags have been removed, over 300 sites cleaned, and 430 murals created. The program has provided jobs, training, and skills to approximately 1,276 youth.[7]

The Toronto Police Services have also undertaken the "Graffiti Eradication Program" which is defined as "a service-wide initiative focusing on the reduction of crime, fear, and disorder as it relates to graffiti."[8]


The Council of the City of Toronto has also put in place a graffiti bylaw. This bylaw lists definitions, prohibitions, and the cost of the offense.[9] "Graffiti art" and "graffiti vandalism" are distinguished. Individuals and businesses under this bylaw must remove graffiti vandalism on their property at their own expense or else the city will remove the graffiti for them and send the bill. Graffiti allowed by municipal permits is called "graffiti art". Graffiti art does not need to be removed.[10]


The laneway south of Queen Street West from John Street to Bathurst Street was named an area of municipal significance in 2011, with programs later created to nurture legal street art.

The first legalization of graffiti was established by the Queen Street West BIA for the area colloquially known as Graffiti Alley (originally Rush Lane). Chair of the BIA, Spencer Sutherland, initiated this movement to protect property owners who did not wish to remove the graffiti street art and were being ticketed. The BIA claimed that the area was culturally significant, citing Rick Mercer's famous walk through the laneway at the start of each show, and argued that it is a popular destination for photography and draws urban tourists to the area on a daily basis. The entire laneway south of Queen St West from John Street to Bathurst Street was officially designated as an area of municipal significance in the Graffiti Management Plan adopted by Toronto City Council on July 12, 2011. Subsequently, a new City-sanctioned program called StART was created to nurture the proliferation of legal street art. In September 2015, Vogue Magazine cited Queen West as the second coolest neighbourhood in the world, crediting the area's trendsetting "street style" to the legalization of Graffiti Alley. The Queen St West BIA and local tour company Tour Guys host walking tours through Graffiti Alley for visitors to experience and learn about graffiti street art. [11]

Notable Toronto graffiti artists[edit]

In an attempt by the City of Toronto to clean up graffiti while not differentiating between art and vandalism, many graffiti artists or "writers" are only identifiable by their signatures in order to remain anonymous.[12] Serious and experienced writers follow unwritten rules amongst each other in order to maintain a hierarchy of respect within the community.[13]

In respect to Alpha, a graffiti writer who is said to have died while painting, there has been a mural painted around one of his "throw-ups", which is an example of deferred respect among writers in the City.

Writers include Bacon, Case, Causr, Durothethird, Elicsir, Eyes, Kane, Kwest, Kwota, Mediah, Recka, Ren, Rons, Sight, Skam, Teck, The Crime Messiahs (TCM), Those Damn Vandals (TDV), Vektr.[citation needed]

Toronto's 2012 StART Program keeps a directory of street artist profiles that has grown to approximately 200 entries as of April 2019.[14]

In popular culture[edit]

The "Rant" segment of CBC Television's Rick Mercer Report features comedian Rick Mercer walking along the graffiti-covered alleys of Queen Street West, in which he discusses his personal views on contemporary Canadian politics. This segment was originally on another CBC Television show This Hour Has 22 Minutes before Rick Mercer Report was spun off.


  1. ^ "10 Toronto graffiti writers worth knowing about". BlogTO.
  2. ^ Kefentse 2009
  3. ^ Senses Lost 2009
  4. ^ [1]
  5. ^ describes
  6. ^ City of Toronto Graffiti Abatement Program
  7. ^ Graffiti Transformation Program
  8. ^ Graffiti Eradication Program
  9. ^ CoT bylaw
  10. ^ Beaton, Bruce; Todd, Shannon (2016). "Reclaiming the Ruins: A Case Study of Graffiti Heritage Interpretation at the Evergreen Brick Works in Toronto". In Lovata, Troy; Olton, Elizabeth (eds.). Understanding Graffiti: Multidisciplinary Studies from Prehistory to the Present. Routledge. ISBN 9781315416113.
  11. ^ City Council, Toronto. "Motion Adopted". City of Toronto. City of Toronto. Retrieved 25 July 2011.
  12. ^ White 2011
  13. ^ Alcoba 2001
  14. ^ "StART Artist Directory". City of Toronto. 2017-11-17. Retrieved 2019-04-20.


External links[edit]