Roadside-attraction showdown: Toronto’s giant thimble

It’s nearly 10 feet tall, weighs five tonnes — and now stands as a monument to a once-thriving local industry
By Josh Sherman - Published on Aug 04, 2021
The thimble stands on the northwest corner of Richmond Street West and Spadina Avenue. (Courtesy of Stephen Cruise)



Maybe you’ve already been to Niagara Falls or up to the top of the CN Tower. But have you made a pit stop near a giant goose? Or snapped a selfie next to a giant wheel of cheese?

Those are just a couple of the roadside attractions on offer in towns and cities across Ontario, which have devised unusual and eye-catching ways of setting their communities apart.

If you’re looking for summertime fun close to home, you can hit the road and check out these local legends. If you’re looking for summertime fun even closer to home, you can check in with over the next two months — each week, we’ll be bringing you profiles of the weirdest, wackiest, and largest objects gracing Ontario’s roadways.

At the end of August, you’ll get the chance to pick your favourites when we open up the voting brackets. So travel Ontario with us, and get ready for a showdown.

Check out the other contestants here.

When, in the late ’90s, Stephen Cruise applied to create a piece of public art that represented Toronto’s Fashion District, he wasn’t thinking of it as a memorial.

But that’s how he’s come to view his work, which has stood on the northwest corner of Richmond Street West and Spadina Avenue since 1997. The once-thriving fabric and textile businesses in the neighbourhood south of Queen Street West were already hanging by a thread when Cruise proposed a nearly 10-foot-tall statue of a bronze thimble atop variegated concrete buttons. “It really was not the beginning of an industry — but the signing off of it,” he says.

a giant thimble structure
“uniform measure/STACK” took about a year and a half from conception to installation. (Wikimedia/Michael Dolan)

Entitled “uniform measure/STACK,” the installation was part of a program involving the TTC, the city, and the business community to feature artwork along the then-new Spadina streetcar line from Bloor Street West to the harbourfront. Artists could throw their hats in for specific locations; Cruise was drawn by the Fashion District, he says, because that site involved not just a statue but also a parkette. “I thought there was a little bit more room there to come up with something,” he says.

So, in addition to the statue, Cruise, 72, carved an oversized tape measure into the parkette’s pavers and brought in two additional cement buttons, from each of which a tree sprouts. The artist was, however, limited when configuring the pieces, he says. The statue, which weighs five tonnes, had to be placed on the corner nearest the intersection. “That’s the only position on that little triangle of land that that amount of weight can fit,” Cruise explains, noting that the thimble is supported by a floating underground slab. 

Cruise found inspiration for the piece after visiting abandoned textile buildings. Poised to be taken over by tech firms as office space, the brick-and-beam structures still housed relics of the industry that had defined the neighbourhood since around the turn of the 20th century. “I can remember seeing some of the desks and whatnot where you could tell by the wear and tear… that somebody had worked there for 30, 40 years doing some hand process,” he recalls. “That sort of was my beginning in coming up with something simple and attaching a thimble to it all — which relates to the hand — and some buttons.”

The project took about a year and a half from conception to installation, and there were considerable challenges along the way. The thimble, for example, is made up of 28 separate brass pieces that had to be “stitched together,” says Cruise, and custom-making them was labour intensive. 

photos of sculptures of animals on top of lampposts
Stephen Cruise’s “Place in a Book (6 chapters)” is located from one block south of Bloor Street to one block north of College Street. (Courtesy of Stephen Cruise)

To cut costs, Cruise volunteered at a foundry near Niagara Falls, helping the owner with his own projects for a discounted rate. “I was sleeping in the car out there during the week,” he says. “We’d pour all day.” At the same time, Cruise was doing bronze work for other Spadina pieces he had been commissioned to complete — including an alloy rooster, a dog, a University of Toronto crest, and a milk bottle. The pieces are part of a connected work called “Place in a Book (6 chapters)” and can be found on poles between Bloor and College Street. “That was many trips down overnight stays at the Days Inn [hotel] at Vineland.”

In at least one way, the effort paid off — even though uniform measure/STACK went over budget. “It’s great that they’ve embraced it,” the artist says of the community response, “and it’s become part of their neighbourhood.”

Previous instalment: Chesley's Big Bruce.

Next up: Sault Ste. Marie's Giant Baseball.

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