Toronto’s Union Station is one of the city’s most storied architectural feats. To many downtown commuters, it has also been an active construction site for some time. But now that the revitalization project has reached a new phase, Union is making the most of its incredible physical space, its fascinating history and its ability to bring together the people that give life to one of Canada’s busiest transportation hubs.
The monthly event programming this year has been designed around a series of central themes that reflect how people experience Union, from transformation and connection to renewal and harmony. As a commuter, you might already be noticing some live music performances or seeing curated fine art exhibits. And there’s much more to come in 2018.
One of the people responsible for events at Union is Syma Shah, director of programming and special events.
“It’s a heritage building,” says Shah, “and I think that has a lot to do with how we program this space because we want it to be all about Union in some sense.”
One of the examples she mentions is the ongoing Union Draws events. Launched in November, this free series takes place the last Sunday of every month inside the station’s west wing. For two hours, attendees follow a guest artist through a sketching session. All materials are provided and an RSVP is required.
“We also did a series called Union Sings,” says Shah. Participants at these events learned to sing with a choir with a guest musician leading the way. Shah says that the last time it happened, “there were about 30 people that didn’t know each other but ended up singing War Is Over by John Lennon together with Brendan Canning of Broken Social Scene.”
Part of the plan for 2018 is to bring more of Union’s rich history to life through partnerships with theatre and dance companies, art exhibitors and a full slate of musicians and singers.
Along with the challenges involved in realizing an ambitious event schedule like this, the Union team is also working to evolve long-held perspectives that this is a place Torontonians would primarily visit on the way to somewhere else, rather than a destination in itself. Since its founding over 90 years ago, Union Station has sought to welcome travellers in style with a range of amenities and services. But heading down to the Great Hall to catch a live set from a band you love? That’s totally new.
“We’re definitely working on shaping people’s minds because historically this has never happened before,” says Shah. Some of the programming, such as contemporary dance, offers visitors the opportunity to access arts culture that can be too expensive for some to see in more formal venues.
“We’ve got a lot of people walking in and out of here, whether it’s coming from their jobs or just coming to the city for a game. But they might see this beautiful choreographed piece that they didn’t know was happening. They’re walking by and stop for 15 minutes. Then they walk away – but they’re asking themselves questions about what’s happening at Union.”
Of course, one of the things Shah and the rest of the programming team keeps top of mind is allowing for the flow of pedestrian traffic to continue through the station no matter what events are going on. Sometimes visitors at Union just need to catch a train – but sometimes they’ll have a moment or two to take in a new experience.
Offering Torontonians an environment that’s both conducive to daily commuting and inspiring is at the core of the new vision for Union Station.
Visit the UnionNOW Digital Residency to learn more!