The Garrison and the Gardiner

The Garrison and the Gardiner is a two-player roleplaying game in which you roleplay a conversation between the Garrison Creek, a buried river that runs through downtown Toronto, and the Gardiner Expressway, an elevated highway that has shaped the development of the city since it was built in the 1950s. The game is meant to be played at the Bentway, an art venue under the Gardiner Expressway; specifically, players should play the game at the place where the Garrison and the Gardiner meet.

I created this game as an independent commissioned project for the Bentway‘s Playing in Public summer exhibition in 2021. The criteria for this project were very strict: designers had to make games playable without any props or objects, and the instructions had to be 200 words or less. Furthermore, I wanted my game to express my deep frustration and sadness at the gentrification of Toronto’s downtown core. The decision to pave over the Garrison Creek, and later to build a highway bisecting the city from Lake Ontario, has had an immense, immeasurable impact on the shape and feeling of Toronto as a city. By inhabiting the “minds” of these structures, I hope that players can better understand the breadth and timescale of this impact, and perhaps imagine what the city might have been like had other choices been made.

You can read the rules of The Garrison and the Gardiner here, or below.

This is the map of the Bentway’s Playing in Public exhibit. The Garrison and the Gardiner can be played at location nubmer 13, near Bathurst street and Fork York boulevard, just under the Gardiner Expressway.

You stand at the intersection of the Garrison Creek and the Gardiner Expressway. Together with a friend, roleplay a conversation between them. 

First: choose who will play the Gardiner Expressway / Garrison Creek. 

For the Garrison: You once flowed up Trinity Bellwoods, through Christie Pits all the way to St. Clair. You’ve been buried for a century, but destroying a river isn’t easy. You return during storms; as water levels rise, you become powerful again.

You have been gone too long. You are (pick one): 

  • Furious
  • Dismayed
  • Disoriented

What do you say when you first awaken? 

What did it look like when you were last here? 

What do you miss? 

For the Gardiner: Your construction demolished neighbourhoods and paved over parks. Now, you carry commuters and stand between the city and the water. The view from atop you is beautiful, but people can only admire it when stuck in traffic.

All you do every day is watch construction and listen to car radios. You are (pick one):

  • Bored
  • Serene
  • Resentful

Catch the Garrison up on what it has missed. 

Together: Take turns describing your surroundings: construction sites, animals, or objects that feel out of place. 

Soon, the Garrison will flood this place. Do you want to destroy these things? Preserve them? Create something new? 

How does the Gardiner feel about this? Find one thing you agree on. 

How would things be different, if you were not built or buried? 

You get along like old friends, but you know that one day the Garrison will wash away the Gardiner. Do not acknowledge this until you leave.

When you leave: Thank the Garrison and Gardiner, or apologize (your choice).