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Whale-watching in Toronto

in Arts & Culture/Featured/Multimedia/Video by

In Toronto, the air hangs thick at sunset. There is no breeze, and now that the full of summer has hit, the hot dank air clings to you like a veil of steam. Today there’s not a cloud in the sky, and as the sun sets somewhere beyond the distant haze, even the branches of the maple trees find it too oppressive to move.

As I stroll along Bloor Street the noisy bustle of cars and trucks provides the only breeze as they speed by in a sort of lazy 9pm post-dinner rush hour. But my eyes are glued upward, as I’m scanning the buildings for the sight of a whale.

July 6 marked the launch of ‘Projecting Newfoundland and Labrador’, a new initiative launched by the Department of Tourism, Culture and Recreation together with Target Marketing. It will feature giant projections of the icebergs, whales and clotheslines of Newfoundland and Labrador onto prominent Toronto buildings and cityscapes, drawing attention to the attractions of a destination which is in many ways the total opposite of this city of skyscrapers, grime and smog.

“We want to remind people of the reasons why Newfoundland and Labrador is an ideal escape vacation destination away from the daily grind,” the Department said in a press release Tuesday. “Just as a hiker strolling along a coastal trail here might look up and be surprised by an unexpected iceberg or a breaching whale, we want residents of Toronto to feel that same sense of surprise and delight.”

It’s not the first time the province has launched creative campaigns directed at Toronto. The province, together with Target Marketing, has won national and international awards for its unique campaigns: one of which featured an actual clothesline suspended over the Gardiner Expressway.

The large-scale projection films will run from July 6-8, from 9:30-11:30pm each evening, simultaneously running at three locations in the downtown core: Bloor east of Spadina, Richmond west of Jarvis, and Eglinton east of Allen Expressway. There, passers-by will be greeted and offered bags of popcorn and tourism information about Newfoundland and Labrador.

Gone whale-watching in Toronto

At 9:15pm, I arrive at the corner of Bloor and Spadina, looking about for some sign of the projectors or popcorn-distributors. I don’t see any sign of activity, but I do see several familiar faces: Newfoundlanders – some of whom I didn’t even know were living in Toronto – are sitting all about the benches in the little park by the intersection. One of them comes up to shake my hand.

“I heard there was some sort of Newfoundland event happening here,” he says. “Do you know where it is?”

I do not, precisely. We chat and mill about for a while, meeting other Newfoundlanders living in the city. Eventually, with 5 minutes to show-time, we collectively conclude that this is not the location, and our motley crew sets off eastward along Bloor Street, laughing, getting to know each other and scanning the rooftops for the sign of a whale. The buildings are getting bigger. Finally, as we approach the corner of Bloor and Huron, there we see it. Along the side of a 20-storey apartment building drifts the faint projection of a pale blue sea, with the outline of a whale upon it. It’s still a bit too bright to be fully visible, and the tech crew are still trying to position the giant projector atop their white van.

While they adjust their machinery, I chat with one of the tourism staff, a young Torontonian who was hired for the campaign. Although she’s never been to Newfoundland herself, she’s excited to be part of the event.

“I think it’s awesome,” she says. “I think the pictures really draw attention, projecting it on the streets like that is definitely drawing a crowd. People are really excited to see it, and already just the pictures of the whales and stuff has been bringing in people and they’re asking questions. It’s definitely awesome, it’s a creative campaign.”

The whale stretches the full height of the 20-storey building, and against that backdrop even the office towers of CIBC in the background look rather scrawny for once.

The province’s tourism campaigns have been so successful, she said, that even her grandparents are planning to make Newfoundland and Labrador their destination when they return to visit Canada next year.

“They were here a couple of months ago, and they saw one of the ads on TV. They don’t even live in Canada, they live abroad, but the beautiful scenery and everything, it’s kind of hard not to want to go there.”

I wander over to a hefty fellow who’s strolled up and is munching popcorn with his girlfriend as they watch the show. I ask him whether he’s ever been to Newfoundland.

“Oh yes,” he says. “Several years ago. I got screeched in, and then I went skiing. I’d love to go back, but it’s just a matter of finding the time.”

As the reel ends, a small cheer goes up from the group of Newfoundlanders I strolled over here with.

“But seeing something like this, makes me think it’s time to get around to it,” he adds, looking around and smiling.

As the reel continues on repeat, I find myself competing with a Global News reporter for the best video angle. The keen young reporter turns his industrial-grade camera on the audience nearest him, to ask what they think of the campaign.

“Majestic,” says one of them.

“It really brings out the beauty of Newfoundland and Labrador,” says another one.

The Global reporter laughs when he discovers everybody he’s interviewing is a Newfoundlander.

“But what about the accent?” he says, laughing at his joke. “It doesn’t really represent your famous accent, does it?”

The crowd looks at each other, but there’s nothing really to be said to that.

Having had my fill of popcorn, and with contacts for several new Newfoundlanders living in the city, I turn about to leave. After walking westward along Bloor for a few moments, I pause and sit down on the grassy slope of a vine-enshrouded Victorian building that forms part of the U of T campus. I look back. Now that the sun has fully set, the projection is indeed dramatic: the whale stretches the full height of the 20-storey building, and against that backdrop even the office towers of CIBC in the background look rather scrawny for once. I decide to take one last video from this angle, and as I flip on my camera, two young men walk by, one with hipster sideburns and the other with a large Sikh turban.

“Hey man, there’s a whale on the side of that building,” says one of them.

“A whale? Where?”

“Over there man! For real!”

“Oh, you’re right. Well, it’s Toronto. What do you expect?”

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