A canoe covered in geometric mirrors floating in Toronto’s Harbour Square Park basin is bringing the traditional Haudenosaunee story of the Peacemaker to new audiences.
The piece, which is part of Waterfront Toronto’s Temporary Public Art Program, was designed by Jay Havens.
Havens, who is Mohawk from the Grand River territory, mostly did theatre and costume design but when the COVID-19 pandemic hit he lost the majority of his upcoming work for the year.
He decided to pursue public art in the meantime as a way to share stories while reconnecting with his Haudenosaunee history.
“I see myself as a storyteller, so it’s been really nice to be able to tell my own story for a change,” he said.
In Haudenosaunee history, a diplomat travelled on a shining canoe to deliver a message of peace to the world through a system of government that saw chiefs and clan mothers working together. The Peacemaker brought together the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga and Seneca Nations, forming the Haudenosaunee Confederacy.
The piece itself is made with a 4.6 metre canoe covered in aluminum tiles.
Havens said since the Peacemaker’s Canoe was installed, he’s received many messages on social media from folks saying they love the piece and never knew that history before.
Joyce Lam from Toronto heard about the piece through a friend and wanted to see the installation for herself. She has a sea kayak located at the harbourfront so she had a chance to get up close to the artwork.
“I was overwhelmed by how beautiful it was, as I approached it,” she said.
“At that moment, I thought about the history and origins of canoes and was inspired. I also reflected on what’s been on the news lately about the horrific discoveries at the residential schools.”
Waterfront Toronto focuses on waterfront revitalization with the goal of reorienting the city to the water. Spokesperson Andrew Tumilty said public art is an important part of that goal.
“Our vision is for an active and dynamic space along the waterfront where people are able to engage in community in that space and the public realm,” he said.
The organization put out a call for Indigenous artists to submit their ideas and Havens was selected.
“I saw lots of people snapping pictures of the little plaque, lots of people starting to read the plaque to each other,” said Tumilty.
“That’s part of what art should be: a conversation, an opportunity to enlighten people.”
Peacemaker’s Canoe will be at Toronto’s Harbour Square Park basin until September.