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The Undertow: The Statue of Peter Pan

Posted by Ian / April 4, 2007

20070404_peterpanstatue.jpgThose who criticize Toronto as a city that exists in no one's imagination probably don't spend much time walking around its streets. Whether it's barely noticed sculptures, traces of buried rivers, or ants crawling up the sides of buildings, there are more than enough different parts of the cityscape to keep the imagination active and running.

In some parts of the city, though, the imagination is engaged not by an esoteric piece of public art, but rather by something so simple it could capture the mind of a child. Take the corner of St. Clair and Avenue Road, where for almost 80 years a 14-foot statue has stood, boasting a figure that is as representative of imagination as any symbol in Western society.

The statue of Peter Pan was fashioned by Sir George Frampton, and is an exact duplicate of a statue that has resided in London's Kensington Gardens since 1912. The location in London is extremely symbolic: it was in those same gardens that author James Barrie met the children who were the inspiration for the characters and the tale that is so well-known and loved.

20070404_faces.jpgThe statue came to Toronto when the city acquired the small square at the north-west corner of Avenue Road and St. Clair, which is now home to Glenn Gould Park. The College Heights Association asked that the park become a children's garden, offering to raise the money to purchase a duplicate of the Peter Pan statue that was so popular with children in London. In fact, Toronto is not alone in boasting a duplicate of the statue; there are at least five others around the world, not including the original. It was installed in Glenn Gould park in 1929.

If you head to the park now you'll see the statue still standing there, with Peter Pan surrounded by animals and other figures from the story. It really is an impressive sculpture: the animals and characters melt in and out of the base like the wisps of a dream, and Peter Pan stands above them all, looking off into the distance.

20070404_jmbarrie.jpgLook even closer and you'll see the signature of James Barrie himself, near the back, on the bottom of the base. It's a nice thought to think that this children's garden bears the writing of a man from whose mind such a popular tale sprang, as if his imagination could spring right out of the statue and spill on to the streets below.

The Undertow is a weekly column that asks the question, "How'd That Get There?" It explores the landmarks in Toronto's public spaces that act as metaphors in the city's story, and run like a current beneath the urban landscape.

All images by me.

Discussion

9 Comments

Alden / April 4, 2007 at 12:33 pm
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Nice Find!
Tanja / April 4, 2007 at 01:28 pm
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love this statue.
newf / April 4, 2007 at 03:26 pm
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we got the same statue in St. John's too - in Bowring Park.

so thanks.. i'll visit this when i'm homesick.
Snowman / April 4, 2007 at 03:56 pm
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My grandparents used to live in the building to the right in the first picture above, so I spent many hours in this park as a child. The statue was always an object of fascination, and it still is today. The level of detail is amazing. I used to think of it as my little secret, but I'm glad that others will now have an opportunity to enjoy it.
Taral Wayne / December 31, 2008 at 11:47 am
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I was just posting on another site a photo taken of this statue by a friend of mine. Deciding to see if I could find more information, I googled the Kengsington Gardens original, and eventually my search led me here. Nice to know that our own chip off the bronze block is also acknowledged.

There's an interesting Peter Pan in Koerremuir, Scotland, not based on Frampton's. So far I'm still looking for details.
Jordan Stevens / April 14, 2009 at 09:55 am
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im a huge peter pan fan...been one since a baby...im really excited to find out that theres a statue in my city...im taking a pic of it and putting it on facebook THAT'S WICKED!!!!
JanieB / September 15, 2009 at 09:57 pm
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like Snowman, I used to think of this as my own little secret. My grandmother lived on the next street and my mother visited her daily - I used to play in the park on our way home each day, and 'adopted' the frog in the statue as my 'pet'. So many years ago! Thank you for posting this picture.
Aaron / December 16, 2009 at 07:09 pm
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Thank-you for this. This is one of our favorite Toronto landmarks. However, we just came across an old family bw photo and we recognized the sculpture from the St.Clair park but when the photos were taken our family had not been to Canada so we were very confused. Finding out this sculpture also resides in London cleared things up.
Marilyn Coady replying to a comment from Aaron / January 27, 2012 at 04:30 pm
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There are several around the world including in Bowring Park, St. John's Newfoundland and Labrador!

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