canada malting co silos

Toronto silo has a hidden camera obscura projecting a waterfront image

When a large image of Toronto's waterfront appeared on the inside of an old silo, at first the staff inside were confused.

The group was inside one of the old Canada Malting Co silos, which are currently part of a rehabilitation project, says Bryan Bowen, Waterfront Project Manager with the City of Toronto. With the ground frozen on Jan. 26, Bowen and team members went in the silo to document and examine the condition of the inside.

Currently, the whole area is actively under construction —with workers, machinery, security and cameras — as part of the Bathurst Quay neighbourhood plan. The public is not allowed in the area.

Once inside the silo, they saw the image, about three stories tall, on the wall and at first thought it was a mural.

"We were wondering how it is that this image was there on the surface, but then you actually start seeing people outside walking by projected on the wall as well," Bowen says.

The projected image is accidental, caused by just the right size of hole creating a camera obscura, an ancestor of the photographic camera. People created inverted images of an outside scene with a tiny hole in a dark room.

The image in the silo was not what the group expected to find.

"It was a tremendous surprise," he says. "We stopped what we were doing and simply took turns marvelling at this image."

The Canada Malting silos were built between 1944 and 1948 have basically sat unused since 1987. They have been the subject of various development proposals but are now being rehabilitated as part of a public waterfront space known as Bathurst Quay.

They will be restored as an integrated part of the public space with possible future art and cultural uses. The historic structures will be  iconic illuminated beacons visible throughout the waterfront, Bowen says.

Right now, the floor of the silos is contaminated with grain left in there from when mill operations ended in 1987, animal carcasses and waste, says Bowen. It will be pumped out, cleaned and waterproofed.

"It's so unsafe to go in there today," he says.

The restoration work could close up the hole that is creating the image, Bowen adds. But the tweet he put out of the image garnered attention from around the world so Bowen is wondering if the city should consider keeping it or recreating it in the future.

"It's too early to say, but I think it's something worth considering."

In the meantime, he is thrilled about this totally unexpected discovery.

"It's it's kind of fun to think about the fact that this has been occurring in that space for potentially decades, you know, and nobody's probably ever been in there to take notice of it."

Lead photo by

Bryan Bowen


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