Building the Toronto Subway: John DeRinzy’s Art

John DeRinzy, Three Men With Jack Hammers (1950)


Unless you were around when it was built (I wasn’t, by the way!), it’s difficult to imagine how massive an undertaking it was to build Toronto’s subway system.  Shortly before it’s opening in 1954, local artist John DeRinzy, who worked as a graphics designer for Simpson’s department store (later part of the Hudson’s Bay chain), documented the progress of this major public works project in a series of watercolor and charcoal landscapes.  His inclusion of workers in these images helps the viewer to connect emotionally to the scenes depicted.  They are reminiscent of the style displayed by public art of the New Deal era a couple of decades earlier in the U.S.   (DeRinzy’s work also brings to mind Caven Atkins’ painting “Arc Welder Working on Bulkhead” (1943), which can be seen in this 2013 O’Canada post.)

More background on these images can be found in the City of Toronto Archives here.

John DeRinzy, Underground Utilities, Yonge Street (1949)


John DeRinzy, Welder (1950)


John DeRinzy, Men Excavating in Timber Lined Trench (1950)


John DeRinzy, Man With Jack Hammer (1950)


Image Credits: John DeRinzy; City of Toronto Archives

45 responses

  1. There’s something about this that reminds me of William McElcheran’s works, one of which is also featured in Dundas Subway Station. Not entirely the same subject but it’s got the same feel.

  2. I really enjoyed these, and I appreciated to link to DeRinzy’s artist’s philosophy. My favorite is the welder. There is something evocative about a man creating sparks with metal, almost primal.

  3. I just checked out William McElcheran’s scultpures and found them fascinating. There’s a compelling complexity about those portly businessmen that seems to cry out for ekphrastic poetry.

  4. These are wonderful paintings Brett. As one of your other readers noted, they show a really strong and industrial spirit.

    Wouldn’t those who helped construct the subway back in the 1950s be saddened know that the TTC has been in a steady state of decline during the past 10 years or so. As an unwilling resident of this city, I can attest to the daily breakdowns, malfunctions and delays, all the result of inadequate funding.

    For quite some time now, the joke has been “TTC?” It means “Take the Car!”

  5. There must be something “subway” in the air–I just read an article last week about construction of the Chicago Red Line subway underneath the Chicago River. No art, but plenty of amazing photographs.

  6. Pingback: Building the Toronto Subway: John DeRinzy’s Art — O’ Canada – 2 Old Guys Arts and Crafts

  7. Pingback: TRIVIA TRAIL: CANADA’S FIRST SUBWAY | Time Travelling With Kids

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