This past weekend brought a celebration that’s awaited with great anticipation each year in Toronto, and other cities around the world. It’s White Night — or Nuit Blanche, in French — an event that fills the city with art installations from dusk to dawn, drawing thousands out into the streets to mingle in a carnival atmosphere.
This year, as usual, I set out with my friend Linda for a night of fun. But White Night 2017 wasn’t all that much fun. In fact, it came close to being a dud. Reacting to the shoulder-to-shoulder crowds of past years, the city had decided to move a lot of the installations out of the downtown core, scattering them across the city.
That meant the attractions were sparse downtown where I live. But we started out hopefully anyway. The first couple of installations were underwhelming, so we headed for city hall, always good for a spectacle or two — one year a zip line shot people across the square, wearing angel wings. And arriving, it seemed promising; the square looked like a carnival. But it soon became clear we’d have to line up for an hour to look at a collection of political installations inside old shipping containers. We moved on.
Things didn’t pick up much from there. An exhibit down the street at the historic Campbell House (seen here) had another long line-up. And on we pushed, through empty streets that in previous years had been filled with exhibits and happy people.
Finally, starting to head for home, we passed an old industrial building with a sign in front. We were at 401 Richmond, an arts colony that has been in the news lately, threatened by a tax increase that would put it out of business. Wandering in, we found a cornucopia of art installations put on specially for White Night 2017. We spent an hour, and before leaving, we dropped into the printing studio to watch as visitors tried their hand at printing the white “Save 401” logo on black t-shirts.
White Night 2017 was saved — by the skin of its teeth. Yes, we could have run all over the city to see other installations; there were many hours left before dawn, and the subway was running all night. But it had been a long day, and frankly, I liked the old, downtown vibe of White Night — especially before the lineups got this long.
So, with a short stop at Union Station to see a collection of immigration stories told through huge family photos, we ended the night at an early hour — unbecoming, but what can you do? At least I did get one memorable photo from our visit to city hall, which you see at the top of this post: a hot air balloon taking visitors high above the crowds, for an eagle’s-eye view of city hall and the square. Roll on, 2018.