Luke Swinson’s Zhashagi mural “Blue Heron” in Anishinaabemowin. NICK STANLEY PHOTO

Hyperlocal Travel: Largest Outdoor Art Gallery In KW

There’s an art gallery in downtown Kitchener that’s been around for more than 80 years. This collection of sculpture, murals and statues contains works that were commissioned as early as 1909 and as recently as Oct. 2020. The gallery is open 24/7, every day of the year and there is no admission fee. 

If you’re scratching your head, wondering how you could have missed a gallery this significant for so many years, I suggest you think a little more broadly. Look around when you walk down Ontario St. or Queen St. or stroll around the Kitchener Market; I think you’ll find that art, truly, is all around you, hidden in plain sight on building walls, alleys and parking spaces. 

Nicole Beno’s colourful road-way mural Market Walk on Eby Street outside the Kitchener Market. NICK STANLEY PHOTO

In October, downtown Kitchener BIA published its first-ever Field Guide to DTK’s Art Walk, which maps and highlights over 50 diverse works of public art in the downtown core. Hundreds of people attended the Saturday afternoon launch event on Oct.14, and the first run of 500 printed booklets disappeared that day. Additionally, a digital version of the guide was downloaded 2200 times. 

“It’s the perfect activity during a pandemic,” Stefanie Golling, the Art Walk project manager from the Downtown Kitchener BIA said. 

“It was such a beautiful day, people needed to get outside, and they felt safe and comfortable outdoors with lots of space to move around.” 

The choose-your-own-adventure style of the Art Walk allows people to see sections bit by bit, over time or gobble it up all at once in a marathon day of creativity. With no prescribed route, visitors can wander at their own pace.

A recent study published in the journal Emotions, older adults who took weekly ‘awe-walks’ where they purposely looked at their surroundings with a fresh perspective, experienced greater joy, positive emotions and stronger feelings of social connection. 

I want you to take an ‘awe-walk’ with the Art Walk field guide in hand. Here’s your assignment. Find a work of art that:               

  • Suits a Friday afternoon mood. 
  • Stretches your understanding of art.
  • Makes you smile and brings joy.
  • Gets you curious about the artist’s personality.
  • You could spend an hour looking at.
  • Inspires a visit in every season of the year. 
  • Moves you to dig out a pencil and sketchbook. 
  • Motivates you to learn more about the artist.
  • You could visit 100 times and never tire of.

In essence, the DTK Art Walk is an exercise in looking, noticing and appreciating visual vibrance downtown. Look for the smallest detail. Look for something new. Can you find the oldest work of art? Can you introduce a friend to your new favourite artist? 

I spend a lot of time in downtown Kitchener and I find my sense of awe about it has not dulled one bit. I hope it never does. 

The Downtown Kitchener BIA expects to print a revised version of the Field Guide sometime in November. Copies will be available at local downtown businesses. The digital version is always available from the downtown Kitchener website and has the most up-to-date information. 


Juanita is a freelance travel writer and community engagement professional based in Kitchener. As a traveller, she is partial to slow travel and holds high regard for community bulletin boards and actually talking to people as the richest sources for tapping in to local experiences. Juanita is a regular contributor to several neighbourhood blogs and websites focused on community development. Find her on Instagram @juanita_metzger