Graffiti in Toronto

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For a more general discussion of the subject, see graffiti

File:Graffiti Here Please.jpg
A lonely garage door in a Toronto alley way.

Graffiti in the City of Toronto, Canada’s largest urban capital, is cause for much disagreement. The graffiti is seen by many as an art form adding to the city’s culture.[1] However, many individuals also look at graffiti as a form of vandalism causing damage to property, and giving Toronto a look of a city of crime.


It is believed that the Toronto graffiti movement started to become truly active in the late 80s and all throughout the 90s. It is very eye opening and interesting that Toronto’s graffiti landscape has been heavily influenced and shaped by New York City (NYC) and its graffiti artists.[dubious ] One blogger remarked that pieces on Toronto buildings, walls and overpasses embrace the culture of New York City[2] and what it contributed to Toronto’s graffiti scene, however there are some[who?] who believe that Toronto has a unique flavor to its work because it often represents various cultures

File:Sneaky Dees Graffiti.jpg
This mural is located at Bathurst & College and has been up for years.

There are several reasons that Toronto has such a rich history of graffiti: the city has a lot of controversy over graffiti, the city has many visible spots for artists to show their work (such as graffiti alley), as well as willing artists that challenge the city. Artists[who?] believe Toronto is the perfect size for the art to begin a discussion on matters, spark conversation and set roots for a new generation of graffiti artists. The schism created by these artists is the reason why many believe Toronto’s graffiti scene is so dynamic and influential in its circles.[3] In earlier years, many works were original and told an important story from the artists’ point of view.[citation needed] Many still hold themes of love and family, tell stories of their lives, or use graffiti to share with the city the artists’ never-happening dream.

A piece, in the east side, representing an innocent artist painting his art on a canvas for all to see.

It is hard to describe the history of the city’s graffiti without acknowledging the emotion infused within each piece.

Types of graffiti

There are 3 main types of graffiti:

  • Tags: This is a writers quickest way of getting their name up in as many locations as possible. Tags can be found on mailboxes, streetsigns, electrical boxes and many other locations. A tag can vary from simply writing your name to wild, intricate "one-liner" hand-styles.
  • Throw-ups: This is just a quick design done by an artist, usually improvised on-the-go, and "thrown-up" quickly.
  • Pieces: A piece consists of very elaborate letter flow, colour, style, dimensions and other features to make it stand out. A piece takes much more time to do, making them harder to paint on private property. Pieces may be referred to as a wild-style or a burner.

Notable Toronto graffiti artists

In an attempt by the City of Toronto to clean up graffiti while not differentiating between art and vandalism, many graffiti artists or “writers” are only identifiable by their signatures in order to remain anonymous.[4] Serious and experienced writers follow unwritten rules amongst each other in order to maintain a hierarchy of respect within the community.[5]

A former City of Toronto graffiti writer named Zion owns a graffiti supply shop on Spadina called The Bomb Shelter. He has been quoted as saying, “I know everyone, but I don’t know anyone.”[6] This is evidence that Toronto graffiti writers enjoy their anonymity from the public but also enjoy the respect and awe associated with their work among those immersed in the culture.

In respect to Alpha, a graffiti writer who is said to have died while painting, there has been a mural painted around one of his “throw-ups”, which is an example of deferred respect among writers in the City. respected writers who frequent and may be Toronto locals include Bacon, Elicsir, Causr, Jafar, Focus, Kane, Kwest, Miscr2, Skam, Globe, Looter, Mediah, Ren, Teck, Sent2, and Sight,Rons,Vektr,Mozie,Sohoe.[7] more currently, Toronto has been frequented by notable writers such as Anser, Glare, Ekwal, Gewn, Orek, Herbs, Serius, Fario, Forte, Mokyt and Manr, Local, well-known writers in the Toronto graffiti scene display and post their work online in portfolio fashion. Examples of their work are found on sites such as SensesLost and Sight1 and multiple groups on Facebook.

Artwork vs. vandalism

There has been a lot of debate lately regarding this issue in Toronto, especially with recent Mayor Rob Ford vowing to remove the city of all its graffiti.[8] The City of Toronto describes graffiti as "One or more letters, symbols, figures, etching, scratches, inscriptions, stains, or other markings that disfigure or deface a structure or thing, howsoever made or otherwise affixed on the structure or thing, but, for greater certainty, does not include an art mural" and defines an art mural as a "mural for a designated surface and location that has been deliberately implemented for the purpose of beautifying the specific location. Mural work also serves as a platform to create and link communities, document history and tradition, and to facilitate purpose and voice to its collaborators. Mural painting is not simply about making something "pretty" to look at, the majority of active mural artists create work that captures the human experience and transforms intangible words and emotion to something that can be seen and touched. This is actualized through not only paint and brick but also the process of mural making. It is an art form most misunderstood and misused. It is equivalent to graffiti in its purpose and importance and should be seen and discussed as such.

Efforts to curb graffiti

There are many coalitions that have been created to deter and remove graffiti in Toronto. These organizations or groups agree that graffiti has many negative effects on the city. The official website for the City of Toronto has stated that graffiti can promote a belief that community laws protecting property can be disregarded and that graffiti creates a sense of disrespect for property that may result in increase of crime.

The Graffiti Transformation Program is an annual community investment program which hires youth to remove graffiti and resurface the walls with attractive murals. Since the program’s start in 1996, over 9,000 tags have been removed, over 300 sites cleaned, and 430 murals created. The program has provided jobs, training, and skills to approximately 1,276 youth.

The Toronto Police Services have also undertaken the Graffiti Eradication Program which is defined as “a service-wide initiative focusing on the reduction of crime, fear, and disorder as it relates to graffiti.”


The Council of the City of Toronto has also put in place a graffiti bylaw. This bylaw lists definitions, prohibitions, and the cost of the offense. Individuals and businesses under this bylaw must remove graffiti on their property at their own expense or else the city will remove the graffiti for them and send the bill.


  1. "10 Toronto graffiti writers worth knowing about". BlogTO. 
  2. Kefentse 2009
  3. Senses Lost 2009
  4. White 2011
  5. Alcoba 2001
  6. White 2011
  7. Alcoba 2001
  8. Nou Spique 2011


External links