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The Cruise to Nowhere?
Editorial by: Firdous Nizar

Installed on the Don River in Toronto, Nowhere 2, or Nulle Part 2 in French, is an artwork by the Quebec-origin artist collective, BGL (Jasmin Bilodeau, Sébastien Giguère and Nicolas Laverdière). This artwork was commissioned by No. 9, a Toronto-based non-profit curatorial agency, for Earth Day on April 22, 2008. The work was also sponsored by several charitable foundations, including the Harbinger Foundation, which is known for their contributions to the indigenous society in Canada [1].

The work is meant to comment on the site of the Don River, which is now an urban no man’s land hosting an “unappreciated” river polluted by the industry. The installation consists of a military-like cruise liner, made with an ice canoe modified with aluminium, and painted in black. This liner is accompanied by an oversized life preserver labelled “Don River” mounted to an underused bridge above the river. [2]

The Don River has a rich history in shaping and influencing Toronto’s identity, hosting human settlements as far back as 7,000 years ago as well as playing a vital role in the industrialization of the Valley [1]. The official Don River Valley Park website highlights that “where the economy boomed, ecology and culture suffered” [1]. Today, homeless individuals seek shelter under the bridge, and cyclists and joggers barely make use of the bike path. Within this context, Nowhere 2 stands as a social and ecological critique. Nowhere 2 is a unique example of a public artwork whose didactic “activation” depended on social agencies other than the artists themselves – such as No.9 and UoT, among others.The field trips integrated visual art, environmental issues, science and social history of the Lower Don. They concluded with students creating their own sculptural responses to the work using clay from the banks of the river.

Additionally, a symposium on Art and the Environment was hosted by the University of Toronto [5]. The symposium featured the doctoral thesis of Jennifer Bonnell of UoT. Catherine Dean, past collaborator and co-founder of No. 9, clarifies that: “by showing the progression of the Don from a wild, natural area to its polluted and  current state, her [Bonell] talk was enlightening as well as sobering. After decades of treating the river as a dumping ground, it is only in the fairly recent past that we have begun to see the Don as a valuable asset which should be restored to its natural condition.” [5][6]

On the message behind the artwork, Dean indicates: “With their belief in the capacity of art to elucidate the consciousness of an era, BGL are reflecting back to us the conditions of our time, while subtly bringing attention to the eco­logical issues of the site” [1][4]. She adds:  “Art has a role to play in environmentalism. It’s not a solution, but it is a way of raising questions…We are hoping people will go down and see it and appreciate the piece, but also think about the river itself, what made it like that and how it may change." [4]

These institutions can be seen to have clear intentions to address the dire state of Don River and the need for its revival using the key approach of community awareness to local ecological issues. Although the artists playfully addressed these issues using scale, the installation quite literally drowned in its layers of intended themes, missing the opportunity of a more immersive experience for the general public.


  1. “BGL: Project for the Don River.” No.9, http://www.no9.ca/exhibitions/BGL/BGL.php.
  2. “Nulle part 2 • Nowhere 2”, Bgl, http://bravobgl.ca/en/projects/nowhere-2-les-benefices-du-doute/.
  3. “BGL: We’re on a Boat to Nowhere.” Canadian Art, https://canadianart.ca/features/bgl/.
  4. Taylor, Kate. “An Art Collective’s SOS.” The Globe and Mail, 27 Apr. 2018, https://beta.theglobeandmail.com/arts/an-art-collectives-sos/article17984504/.
  5. Dean, Catherine. “Art and Ecology Symposium in Collaboration with No.9: Contemporary Art & the Environment.” School of the Environment – University of Toronto, 26 June 2008, https://www.environment.utoronto.ca/events/art-and-ecology-symposium-in-collaboration-with-no-9-contemporary-art-the-environment/.
  6. Bonnell, Jennifer L. Reclaiming the Don: An environmental history of Toronto’s Don River valley. University of Toronto Press, 2014.

Project Title: Nowhere 2 / Nulle Part 2
BGL for No. 9
Place: Don River, Toronto, ON

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