March 11 marks three years since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the viral COVID-19 disease a pandemic. In the weeks that followed, the world as we knew it seemingly stopped. Canadians who were abroad were beckoned home. Not shortly after, the Canadian government closed its border and then, international flights were suspended. Social gatherings were deemed forbidden and over time, friend circles shrunk smaller and smaller, and as the years changed, some friendships diminished completely.
When restaurants were ordered to shut their doors, Ontario’s restaurant community took a financial hit that was so significant, some of the most talented chefs threw in the towel for good, unable to adapt to such a disrupted industry.
“The hospitality industry was particularly ravaged during the most acute phases of the pandemic,” says celebrity chef and restaurateur, Roger Mooking. “No customers, dynamic real estate issues and supply chain issues combined with trying to maneuver through ever-changing public health circumstances made operating a hospitality business extremely tenuous.” Mooking was forced to close Twist, a restaurant he owns that’s located inside of Toronto Pearson International Airport. At the same time, his food television career was put on hold, as it required extensive international travel.
“Around January 2021 I found myself in a very dark place and resolved to help others,” Mooking says. The next morning, he came up with a concept: “The Burn.” A city-wide public art project, the installation features an interactive vessel and cedar wood chips. Torontonians can visit a series of designated locations around the city to place their hurt or frustration on the chips. Then, on March 11, all wood chips will be brought to Nathan Phillips Square and set ablaze for 24 hours, setting flame to the last three years.
The gathering begins at sunset and will include remarks, a moment of silent and a musical tribute with a special performance from singer-songwriter Jully Black followed by “The Burn.”
Attendees will have the opportunity to place cedar spheres directly into one of three fire pit monuments: Letting Go, Transformation and New Beginnings. Each monument is seated within octagonal reflecting pools of water, “representing the deep mind and the gentle and flood aspects of transformative healing.”
Inside City Hall’s rotunda, 24-hour wellness programs will also be available which will include meditation, movement and sound. Mental health and grief counselling professionals will also be on hand for support.
Experience 24-hour wellness programming inside City Hall’s Rotunda with meditation, movement and sound. Support from accredited mental health and grief counselling professionals and specialists from the community will be onsite inside the Rotunda to support residents who may need to talk to someone about their pandemic experiences, as well as difficult thoughts and feelings associated with COVID-19.
The Burn, led by Mooking, was designed by Javid JAH and advisor Elder Catherine Tammaro. The event is co-led by the City Clerk’s Office (CCO) and the Toronto History Museums Department within the Economic Development and Culture (EDC) Division. “What you see now is a combination of relentless desire to help and heal, matched with the power of community,” Mooking says. “We are living through a very dynamic shift in our human experience at the moment and there is so much changing globally. There is unprecedented everything and it is disarming and challenges what we understand of the world. Covid was a major piece of this…hopefully, The Burn can allow us all to be proactive in healing ourselves and each other, individually and collectively.”
The Burn, an interactive installation provides a place for transformation, healing and letting go. The project is part of Stronger TOgether, which provides meaningful ways for Toronto residents to reflect on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. From now until March 12, in an effort to collectively find healing and reflect, residents can set healing intentions on wooden cedar spheres into The Burn’s travelling vessels as they tour the city. For more information, visit toronto.ca/TheBurn.