Here’s what I know about Toronto’s Little Portugal. It’s also called Portugal Village or Rua Açores. You go there to grab custard tarts or watch soccer in a café with the old timers. And there’s a giant Pink Panther painted on a brick wall beside the 7-11.
The street art of Little Portugal says a lot about the neighbourhood’s diverse make-up and evolution. Portuguese immigrants made this area home starting in the 1950s, and maintain a strong presence. But the stretch of Dundas Street West between Bathurst and Dufferin streets is also an enclave for artists of many ethnic backgrounds. In the past ten years, west of Dovercourt specifically has also become one of the downtown west side’s hippest neighbourhoods, with trendy bars and restos.
A walking tour of the street art of Little Portugal is like visiting an open air museum.
So the street art of Little Portugal isn’t all about Portugal. Far from it. From the colourful murals that cover entire buildings thanks to local BIA support to alleyways painted with political graffiti by street artists from Toronto and around the world, it’s an open air museum showcasing a variety of art styles and cultures. (In fact there’s an official Dundas West Open Air Museum website documenting the major murals.)
Here are some of my favourites pieces of street art you can see in Toronto’s Little Portugal.
Lula Lounge Laneway (1591 Dundas at Brock)
You can’t miss Lula Lounge – one of Toronto’s best spots for live music and dancing to Latin and world music. The club and community hub’s street-facing front is covered in bold floral artwork and an illuminated marquee that’s beauty unto itself. Peak the sides though. In 2017, the club and local BIA commissioned a mural celebrating the Indigenous Peoples of South America. One of my favourites is Corn Girl by Shalak, a Canadian-Chilean, which greets you at the entrance. It’s worth walking all the way down to the back to see how the project has evolved.
Terra Nova (1289 Dundas at Dovercourt)
Toronto artists Elicser Elliott and Sight painted this mural on the garage door of the Terra Nova retirement home. The characters remind me of the older Portuguese residents you see on front porches and cafés in the neighbourhood.
Cartoons of Skey Lane (Dundas and Dovercourt)
Across from the aforementioned Pink Panther by L.A.’s Matt Gondek is a small laneway covered in cartoon characters from the Looney Toons, Simpsons, Calvin and Hobbs, etc. Gondek and other pop culture artists have taken your childhood favourites and twisted them. You’ve been warned!
Sully’s Boxing Gym (1554 Dundas at Sheridan)
Something I love about street art is how it often teaches you things about your own city’s history you might not otherwise know. This painting of Muhammad Ali just north of Dundas commemorates when the legend trained at Canada’s oldest boxing gym, back in 1966.
City of Music (1533 Dundas St W at Sheridan)
I must admit that I don’t recognize if the musicians painted on this wall are notable figures, or if City of Music is a tribute to artists in general. Either way, I like the reminder that downtown neighbourhoods like Little Portugal are special in part because of bars and nightclubs that host live music.
If I had a doorway in this part of town, I would surely cover it in colour. I love discovering random artworks every time I walk this stretch.
Frontline workers tribute (alley north of 1230 Dundas)
Many of the murals on this stretch have been there for a few years, and I think it’s important to recognize that street art is a place to comment on current events so I’m always looking for new and newsworthy pieces. So if there’s a line-up at the LCBO, just chill and think about the frontline workers. And admire the painting of a Black woman in PPE and Rosie the Riveter pose (another Elicser Elliott) on the laneway behind you.
Violeta Parra mural (1615 Dundas at Brock)
I’d never heard of the Chilean singer and visual artist Violeta Parra before Google searching this large mural of a woman playing a guitar surrounded by flowers and a hawk. Painted by Chilean artists Paula Tikay and Aner. This intersection also has a large Love Bot and a cool galactic wolf mural, so I do recommend making your way this far west.
Bonus pick: Crab Juice
Confession: I can’t remember where this is, but I think it’s near Little Portugal? I snapped this photo on a walk and couldn’t stop laughing at this tribute to one of my favourite bits of Simpsons trivia on the side of a falafel place. I didn’t try their Klav Kalah though.
The best thing about the street art of Little Portugal (or anywhere!) is that it’s always changing. So get out there, look up, look around, and let me know what you find that I missed.