The Toronto Light Festival is Back this Winter

More than 25 light installations come to life after the sun goes down, taking over the historic Distillery District in the city's east end. Travel writer & photographer, Arienne Parzei, shows us around this year's festival.

Light sculptures in front of a historic building.
The Electric Dandelions

The goal of the Toronto Light Festival is not only to liven up the Distillery District but to bring a lighter feeling to the city during these winter months. In the words of the organizers, “we want to create a positive, magical urban world that people of all ages and backgrounds will enjoy and look forward to.”

Cascading across the old Victorian industrial buildings are rotating hues of red, blue and purple. Art and light installations fill the area and can even be found within some of the buildings. New this year is the ‘Red Light District’, an area beside the Mill St. Beer Hall patio that will be serving hot drinks and tasty snacks on the weekends.

The art installations come from local and international artists and are meant to be fun and accessible to the general public. The installations take on all shapes and sizes and are made from a variety of materials including lasers, metal, and even gummy bears.

If you’re entering the Distillery District off Parliament Street, you’ll immediately walk through the Pulse Portal by Chicago artist Davis McCarty. Using a newly engineered material, dichroic acrylic, this 16-foot high archway transmits different colours as each person walks through, giving each visitor a unique experience.

Sure to be a crowd pleaser this year is Heavy Meta, a giant metal fire-breathing dragon. Standing 19-feet high and stretching 30-feet long, Heavy Meta is by a group of Toronto-based artists, tradespeople and DJs. It’s been built on top of a bus and features interactive fire, sound, kinetic and light components.

Large pyramid covered in colourful, artificial gummy bears.
Gummy Bear Pyramid

A tasty addition to this year’s festival is the Gummy Bear Pyramid by Dicapria, a 14-foot tall pyramid light installation made out of more than 200,000 gummy bears. The gummy bears aren’t real, they were hand-casted out of custom moulds, but they’ve been individually placed and arranged into intricate patterns resulting in a stain-glassed window effect. Visitors can even step inside the pyramid and tap into their playful sides.

Some of the installations are interactive, including LightPiano 2.0 by a Netherlands team of artists called Kleurbleur. Both artwork and instrument, visitors can play the piano in which the keys are connected to illuminated cubes set up about 100 feet away. The sound of the piano is then visualized through the corresponding cubes as the keys of the piano are played. Visitors not only then control the sound of the installation but the light as well.

Another interactive installation is Birds Fly Around With You by Japanese artist Masamichi Shimada. The piece is based on the zoetrope, a pre-film animation device, consisting of a cylinder which is spun at a certain speed. As you look through the slits in the cylinder, you see a figure moving. Using this concept, visitors walk into the centre of the installation and activate the machine resulting in the birds illuminating one-by-one. The more people inside the installation, the more the birds will fly around. Kids will particularly love this one!

Peace sign light installation covered in religious symbols.
Symbolic Peace

The Toronto Light Festival is great for families, couples and even group of friends. It runs from January 19th to March 4th and is open every day starting at sundown. It also makes for some great Instagram posts, so be sure to use #TOlightfest on your images.

All photos and video by Arienne Parzei. Last updated: January 23, 2018.

About the Author

Arienne Parzei is a travel writer, videographer and photographer from Toronto, Canada. Her insatiable curiosity for learning about different cultures first-hand has led her to some amazing destinations and experiences, including climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, living in South Korea for two years, and backpacking for eight months through China, Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand. Open to trying just about anything, she shares her adventure activities and cultural experiences on her website,, and hopes to inspire you in the process.

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