Toronto’s waterfront is currently undergoing urban renewal at a faster pace than anywhere else in North America. Shaped by the waterfront’s multi-layered history, the 2019 Biennial took its cues from Lake Ontario, part of the largest freshwater system on Earth. The majority of the Exhibition and Programs took place at venues along the lake between Etobicoke Creek and Ashbridges Bay.
This stretch of Lake Ontario was active long before Toronto became a city. It has been populated by Indigenous peoples for at least 12,000 years, and was initially a site of trade, migration, and ceremony before it underwent mass settlement and industrialization. Today, the waterfront is host to relics of heavy industry, dense condominium developments, active and decommissioned military bases, manufactured parks, lost rivers, and human-made spits.
The implications of the changing waterfront prompted the Biennial’s inaugural edition: The Shoreline Dilemma. Spanning 72 days during Fall 2019, the inaugural event took place in repurposed buildings, public spaces, and partner institutions, including galleries, museums, train stations, and community organizations, along the lake and throughout the Greater Toronto Area. These connections revealed systems of resistance against and movement away from industrial colonial culture, uncovering polyphonic histories embedded in and around the shoreline.
The second chapter of the Biennial in 2022 – What Water Knows, The Land Remembers – explored a new constellation of locations near above-ground and hidden tributaries that channel water into Lake Ontario, as well as the ravines that shape the city’s geography.