The Rainbow Tunnel

The Rainbow Tunnel

The Rainbow Tunnel, a colourful portal beneath the Canadian National (CN) railway line serves as an entrance to the Moccasin Trail. For decades, I made the northbound drive home from work along the Don Valley Parkway (DVP). Often “parkway” was the operative word because on regular occasions traffic would slowly grind to a halt. Countless are the number of times I crawled along in my car passing the rainbow tunnel thinking I’d like to enter the portal and magically be home already. Though I never noted it on an actual physical list, it became one those bucket list kind of things.

An opportunity presented itself to visit to the tunnel when I had a morning appointment near the trail entrance. I realized this was my time to enter the rainbow tunnel I had driven by for so many years. What would be inside the tunnel? What was on the other side? Had it been bucket list worthy?

I made my start on the west side of the DVP at Moccasin Trail Park. From the park, I walked down a long sloping footpath to the bottom of the 72-meter-deep ravine. Before I began back up the ravine, I entered a pedestrian tunnel leading me underneath the six lane DVP. How different it was to see the DVP from this perspective and not be snarled in the afternoon traffic above. On the other side, the trail led me on a long curving upward hike. When I reached the top of the path, I saw the Rainbow Tunnel. The visual appeal was undeniably inviting.

The rainbow colour bands: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet over the oval opening happily welcome park goers like me inside for a treasured experience. The interior of the 20-meter-long tunnel presented brightly painted murals using colours from the rainbow. The murals depicted families enjoying scenic ravine views during winter and summer seasons.

51 Years Ago

The story behind the Rainbow Tunnel goes back 51 years. In 1972, a 16-year-old Norwegian muralist and artist, B.C. (Berg) Johnson received an inspiration to lift the spirits of weary travellers heading home after a long day’s work.

The CN tunnel would be his canvas because it could easily be seen from the DVP. He chose to paint a rainbow across its archway feeling it would bring smiles to passersby.

His first attempt would have made for a hilarious scene in a Charlie Chaplain movie.  Local reports say Berg fashioned a rope swing-like wooden sitting platform to suspend himself over the tunnel. There he sat on the board painting the top of the archway. Much to his astonishment, a train came roaring over the bridge and chopped the rope he had tied around the rail track.  Berg dropped to the ground with his paint supplies and suffered a broken leg. Later questioned about why he chose to tie the rope around the rail, he said he believed the train no longer travelled on this line.

Appreciating his efforts, students from the Don Mills Middle School took over the project on his behalf and using ladders they completed the mural.

However, the city works department didn’t take kindly to what was then regarded as graffiti. The mural was hurriedly covered with a grey paint. Undaunted, Berg returned to paint his mural. Over 40 times the mural was applied and obliterated with grey paint. The battle with the city carried on until 1994 when following his 4th arrest Berg was served with a no trespassing order.  

So loved was the mural, individuals from the community took up the fight to keep Berg’s dream alive. Joined by Rainbow Hunter, an animal welfare group comprised of 250 members, the mural continued to be cared for in celebration of a cat for which the group was named.

Fast forward to 2012

The city has an idea to revitalize the area’s trail system. They collaborate with the non-profit group, Mural Routes to recognize the Rainbow Tunnel mural as a significant cultural landmark. Since the revitalization, the Mural Routes group have been commissioned to maintain the Rainbow Tunnel. Like colours of the rainbow, the Rainbow Tunnel should be kept in good order and never change.

The colourful flight of urban fancy has been there since 1972, painted by a 16-year-old self-described “caretaker of dreams” from Norway, Berg Johnson. He did it as a sort of guerrilla-action memorial to a friend named Sigrid who died in a crash on the Parkway a year earlier. “I thought [the tunnel] looked like a smile when you look at it from above,” he told a Toronto newspaper in 2012. When Sigrid was alive, Mr. Johnson would tell her that Torontonians never looked up, never smiled too much or responded to greetings. “So, I wanted to make them smile.”

Credit: The Globe and Mail.

B.C. (Berg) Johnson

A self taught visual artist, B.C. Johnson continued with his mural mastery. In a span of over 60 years, Mr. Johnson produced a worldwide following for his art.

Art Meets Art

Scottish painter Peter Doig’s work Country-rock (wing-mirror), a painting of the Rainbow Tunnel underpass has been estimated to be in the range of C$16,000,000. Have you ever looked at a famous painting and imagined yourself in the scene? Here, you don’t need to imagine…enter the tunnel and you might find your pot of gold.

18 thoughts on “The Rainbow Tunnel

  1. I was prompted to visit your blog via # Weekend Coffee Share. What a great idea you’ve had! We all have unconsidered treasures round and about, if only we choose to look. And this rainbow tunnel certainly wakes me up!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Love the story behind this. If I were to walk past this tunnel, I wouldn’t give it a second thought. But you make me realise that there’s more to things than what’s at face value. I need to remind myself of that. Thanks, Kevin!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What a fantastic story Kevin. I absolutely love Berg’s tenacity. And I’m grateful to know he has been recognized for his artistry and especially his desire to shine some happiness. Thank you for sharing his story. Next time I’m on the DVP, I’ll be sure to check it out.
    And thanks for following my blog. 🌸

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Initially, I was going to write about the tunnel and the surrounding parkland. After digging into its origin, I felt all my attention needed to remain on the tunnel. 🌈

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I love this story Kevin!
    Persistent dreams even those derived from tragedy can become inspiration on many levels, lifting spirits, the power of community, and the ever changing perspectives of the law.
    Loving the feel good reads!🌈🌈🌈🌈🌈

    Liked by 1 person

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