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He’s the King of his ‘hood:
An artistic comment from Kitchissippi’s favourite spokesperson on our changing neighbourhood
Photos by Justin Van Leeuwen
“Did you know there used to be four movie theatres on Wellington?” Andrew King, painter and historian, asks me when we meet for an interview the day before he launches his District 15 art show, an artistic comment on contemporary Kitchissippi, or Ward 15.
“The Holland Brothers – who were friends with Thomas Edison – showed the first movie in Canada at the Fisher Park fairgrounds,” King continues. A moment later he’s showing me his sketch of what the park – with its outdoor amphitheatre, orchestra pit and forest – at the end of the streetcar line used to look like before the streetcar was extended to Britannia Park and a new fairground at Britannia put Fisher Park’s out of business.
This is a conversation that’s all the more poignant given that current discussions around proposed Western LRT routes are such a hot topic for our neighbourhood.
King and I are seated at high-end see-through plastic chairs that are a playful nod to the phony 48 storey ultra-elite and swanky Wellboron condo development, complete with website and banners featuring smiling couples, that’s part of his show. After sharing a laugh about the over-the-top amenities his fictional condo development boasted of – valet stroller parking, a pet borrowing service and on-call, in-house nanny service – our conversation turns more serious.
“I’m not for- or anti-condo,” says King, who, for the record, lives in a home backing onto the Ashcroft convent development. “The neighbourhood is changing, but we are all neighbours and everyone should have a place in our neighbourhood.”
Before launching his fake condo development in a vague area encompassing Wellington West that he christened the Digestive District, King put a call in to Councillor Hobbs’ office to clear the concept with her. “I’m making a comment, but I didn’t want other people who have nothing to do with this show to get lots of irate calls from angry neighbours.”
Along with the paintings featuring enormous diggers and dump trucks overshadowing King’s iconic houses are portraits of neighbourhood landmarks. The old movie theatres, the factories, the businesses that were once the places where neighbours gathered and worked but have now been demolished or repurposed speak to King. In fact, he’s created a book of these sketches, accompanied by historical information, which is also part of the show.
“It’s a retrospective of the neighbourhood,” he says.
While there’s certainly been a solid dose of tongue-in-cheek humour about the show – King started postering the neighbourhood on April Fool’s Day and readily admits he wanted to see if people would believe in a 48 storey condo with ridiculous amenities – he’s concerned about the potential loss of history and of stories both big and small during large-scale construction: “There’s nothing sadder than seeing an old home demolished…a quarter of the paintings in this show are of little homes being removed,” he says.
District 15 runs until April 30 at 1304 Wellington Street W. For more information on Andrew King’s art: andrewkingstudio.com