Simon Pope | Toronto Waterfront artist-in-residence 2023

Tracing the provenance of a granite sett

I'm interested in making the provenance of the granite apparent, linking the blocks underfoot – a material taken for granted as being 'local' and authentically "of this place" – with the quarry and mountain from where they were extracted. Polycor source the light grey granite used on the waterfront from a quarry at Rivière-à-Pierre, Québec. Plans include reconfiguring the granite setts (blocks) stored near Parliament Slip according to the contours of a walk that I would take on the mountain range where the quarry is located.

Paving at Love Park

I began by meeing with Albert and his crew of pavers, with the aim of picking-up some video footage of them laying granite setts – small granite blocks, laid by hand. A. is responsible for the planning and implementation of all the stone paving that surrounds the heart-shaped pond at the centre of the park. This is both intricate and back-breaking work, with the team undertaking 12 hour shifts three days per week over a 6 month period. Each block weighs up to 2kg each and has to be "weighed" by hand and eye before being positioned. These are laid onto a substrate of HPB (High Performance Bedding) – gravel-like, pea-sized pieces of limestone – which the team has to spread and levelled beforehand using a long plank of timber. The paving must conform to the profile of the park, enabling water run-off towards drainage, and also has to neatly abutt both the heart-shaped pool and the grass that surround it on each side. The team are working with two types of granite sett: the first is from a company in Galicia in Spain and comes in flame and high-pressure water, and dark finishes; and the second comes from Quebec, supplied by Polycor.

Spanish granite, spacers, and HPB

These stones are laid in distinct bands around the pool: the outermost is made from the Spanish stone, laid in a 40-40-20 ratio of different finishes; the inner rows are of the Quebec granite which has a rougher, less regular profile. (These are similar to the ones laid along the rest of the Waterfront to form the maple leaf motif.) Each row is laid by hand, with one of the team carrying a small number of blocks to the other two team-members. The two team-members laying the blocks will kneel facing each other but on different, adjacent rows. They each use a levelling block – a piece of timber – to guage the level or incline required, and then weigh a block by eye and by hand before placing it into the HPB granules. The HPB has been levelled previously, but each block demands some additional granules to be scraped or scooped by hand to fit its irregular lower-surface and maintain the level. A rubber or metal mallet is used to tap the block into place.

Albert "weighing" a Quebec granite sett

Albert is from Poland, and trained for six years in masonry and restoration work (as the standard route towards a professional engineering qualification (Pauly, 2017)). He brings an eye for detail to the job, evidenced in the intricate overlapping pattern used to the north of the pool, where the top of the "heart" folds in on itself, presenting a challenge to the task of laying the blocks defined by the outside radius of the pool's curving outline. We talked about the expectation that this work be precise, accurate, and done with care. As an indication of this, A. described the ways in which his team worked from the outside of the radius, using acrylic spacers to hold several rows in place before moving on to the next. The gaps between the blocks are filled with a polymeric sand, which is floated into the gaps, and swept clear. When set it has a rubbery texture, and when dry maintains the width of the gaps, the arrangement of blocks, and the profile of the path. The whole path is tamped down one last time to define its final profile.

My particular interest is in the way that the ground on which we stand along the Waterfront, and that we presume to be fundamental to an authentic "grounded" experience, is itself from elsewhere. The "solid ground" on which we walk and through which we (in theory at least) produce "place", has its own place of origin elsewhere. In another sense, we also see in the video (below) a skilled tradesperson who brings with them traditions, conventions, training regimes, criteria for assessing a "job well done", construction regulations, and so on, from their country of origin, all of which are expressed at many scales: through the handling of the granite blocks as they are being laid, the relationships established within the paving crew, etc. We are seeing the result of the movement of people and materials, ideas, building conventions, construction standards, regulation and legislation. etc etc..

(n.b. This is a rough-edit, with direct sound, recording from the camera.)

Bags of granite setts, on-site at Love Park

Quebec granite blocks, just laid, (with polymeric sand between those laid earlier)

Smooth-profiled Spanish granite setts

Rough-profiled Quebec setts

Setts retrieved from the sidewalk on York Street in a temporary skip

Label from a bag of Spanish granite

Albert at the Love Park site, May 2023

Albert laying Quebec granite setts, next to pool (right)

View from the north west of the park, with paving work in-progress (right)

Irregular granite setts from Quebec

The finished path

Love Park opened to the public in late June. The granite path is now complete, and surrounds the heart-shaped pool.

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