By Sean O’Malley
When Sarnia, Ontario native Brandon Vickerd moved to Toronto’s west end 16 years ago, he didn’t know much about CAMH. But as the professional sculptor explored his new neighbourhood near West Queen West, he heard a lot about the legend of the white squirrel.
“That was one of my first experiences of Toronto, running into people and having conversations about whether we had seen the white squirrel,” says Vickerd, who is also a visual arts professor at York University. “It was a way of breaking down social barriers. I remember having conversations about the white squirrel with people I would have otherwise not been in contact with.”
In the intervening years, the legend of the white squirrel became part of CAMH lore. It was believed by some that the possibly albino white squirrel—that had been sighted in the neighbourhoods immediately surrounding CAMH—was the only one in the world. When a grainy photo of what appeared to be a white squirrel electrocuted by power lines above nearby Trinity Bellwoods Park appeared in the media, some residents of West Queen West thought that was end of the legend.
Reports of the white squirrel’s death, however, have turned out to be exaggerated. Turns out that there was not just one white squirrel in the neighbourhood, and that white squirrels do exist elsewhere in Canada and the United States.
But by then the legend had taken on a life of its own. It became the unofficial “mascot” of CAMH. In 2006, CAMH named one of the new roads on the Queen street site White Squirrel Way.
Flash-forward to the present and thanks to a winning design submitted by Vickerd to CAMH’s Therapeutic Art Installation project for the third phase of the Queen Street Redevelopment Project, a six-foot tall sculpture of a white squirrel now permanently graces the new TD Commons at CAMH.
“If you are on the streetcar passing Queen Street West you will have the perfect eyeline to see it,” says Vickerd. “It really pops because it is so big and white and surrounded by all this greenery. I don’t think anybody is going to be able to miss it.”