News

Press Release: Toronto must reject the application by Infrastructure Ontario that would turn Ontario Place’s West Island into a spa for the rich

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

November 25, 2022

The City of Toronto Must Stop the Vandalism of Ontario Place

Ontario Place for All is calling on the City of Toronto to reject the application by Infrastructure Ontario to redevelop Ontario Place’s West Island. The application would take the entirety of the West Island out of public hands and turn into a private spa for the rich.
 
“This is not the vision Ontarians have for Ontario’s most iconic urban park,” says Co-Chair Cynthia Wilkey. “Turning over public space to a private spa is unacceptable. Other cities around the world are more farsighted and are embracing the civic and economic value of spectacularly designed parks.” Wilkey said.  “City Council must turn down this development application and insist the Province produce a plan that better serves the people of Ontario.” 
 
Ontario Place for All is concerned that  the Ontario Government appears to be positioning itself to violate long-standing environmental and heritage protections in its efforts to destroy the West Island. Bill 23 threatens the statutory heritage protection for Ontario Place and the Province has exempted the West Island from the Ontario Place Environment Assessment that would put the plan to bulldoze all the trees and natural landscape under scrutiny.
 
Instead of celebrating this rare example of mid-century modernist design, the Ontario Government is promoting plans by a private (Austrian) company that flagrantly disrespect the innovative integration of architecture, engineering, landscape and water that is key to the cultural heritage value of Ontario Place. The threat of redevelopment has garnered global attention for Ontario Place and placed it on the World Monuments Fund 2020 Watch list for endangered places. 
 
“This proposal undermines a multi-generational effort to make the waterfront available to all when there is a dire need for public space to serve a rapidly expanding population”, says Ken Greenberg, one of the founders of Ontario Place for All. “How does leveling Michael Hough’s ground-breaking landscape design and replacing it with acres of greenhouses and tropical vegetation align with the Provincial commitment to preserving the rich cultural heritage of Ontario Place?  What has happened to the original intent that Ontario Place both democratize access to the waterfront and showcase the best of Ontario? 
 
Ontario Place for All says now is the time for Toronto City Council to reconsider its cooperation with the Province over Ontario Place and insist the park’s future incorporates important lessons from the COVID pandemic.  “We all saw how important open and publicly-accessible parkland is for preserving the health of a community,” says Co-Chair, Norm Di Pasquale. “Any significant shift to “pay to play” attractions would be a serious misstep.”
 
Ontario Place for All will continue to advocate for a long-term vision for Ontario Place that respects the core principles supported by thousands of Ontarians.
 
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For more information or for interviews
 
Cynthia Wilkey              (416) 892-8941
                                    wilkeycj@gmail.com
 
Norm Di Pasquale         (647) 917-3198
                                    info@ontarioplaceforall.com
 
Our Core Principles

  • Ontario Place must be for ALL and kept publicly accessible.
  • There must be a thoughtful, comprehensive public review before any changes, with a full and robust public consultation that:
  •  conforms to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report’s call for informed, respectful and meaningful consultation with Indigenous peoples over economic development.
  •  recognizes the diverse communities that use and contribute to Ontario Place.
  • Public interest, not commercial interest must drive the new vision. 
  •  Future plans must:
  •  acknowledge the waterfront’s Indigenous heritage and incorporate meaningful Indigenous consultation.
  • maintain Ontario Place as part of Toronto’s waterfront park system. 
  • be integrated with the revitalization of Exhibition Place. 
  • celebrate Ontario.
  • be guided by a collaboratively developed Strategic Conservation Plan that sustains Ontario Place as a recognized cultural heritage landscape. 

Making your voice heard about Ontario Place

6 things to do in October

  • Vote, if you can, in the Toronto Municipal Election on October 24th 
  • Register for the Provincial consultation event on October 27th  **Alert: keep trying to register – today the website says registration is closed.**
  • Complete the Provincial online consultation opening on October 25th
  • Send the new Ontario Place for All letter to Premier Ford, Ministers Lumsden and Surma and Mayor Tory
  • Amplify critical voices from the community and media through Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and TikTok 
  • Donate to Ontario Place for All and help fund the fight

Election Day is Monday

Don’t forget to vote on Monday October 24th.  Consider supporting candidates that have pledged to keep Ontario Place a place for everyone. 

October 27th - Ontario Place Virtual Consultation Event

One year later – Another frustrating round of public realm consultation? Still important to participate and let the Province know you are watching.

On October 27th 5:pm-7:00 pm, Ontario will be hosting a virtual consultation event on:

  • the proposed public realm design options for Ontario Place, and
  • the Public Work Class Environment Assessment (Class EA) for Ontario Place is currently underway

Register here**Alert: keep trying to register – today the website says registration is closed.**

We are very concerned about how much open access the public will have to Ontario Place and who will be responsible for designing, maintaining and controlling it.  

The Province has hired an excellent team (including the designer of Trillium Park) to develop a Public Realm Master Plan for Ontario Place.  Unfortunately, it seems that the Therme’s occupation puts the whole of the West Island off-limits for that team.  This is unacceptable. 

The Public Realm Master Plan was expected to unify the publicly accessible open space – that is what is normally meant by the public realm.  Instead, a preliminary presentation to the  Waterfront Design Review Panel in July 2022, raised concerns that a) public space on the West Island is not included in the Master Plan (because it falls within the Therme lease?) and 2) the lion’s share of what is left to the Master Planning team is taken up by the massive parking lots and paved event space.

Not much left to the talented landscape designers and not much left of Ontario Place for the Public to enjoy.  See the image at the end of this bulletin for an illustration of the problem. 

Online Consultation

An online consultation on the public realm design and Class EA will be open on the Province’s https://engageontarioplace.ca website as of October 25th.  

Ontario Place for All reviewed and provided some suggestions for working around closed-ended questions for the online consultation one year ago.  We will be doing the same with this new survey so stay tuned.

OP4A has a new letter for you to send from our website

Click here to send a letter from our website to Premier Ford, Neil Lumsden – the new Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport, Kinga Surma – Minister of Infrastructure, and Mayor Tory.  

This letter urges the Province to rethink its plans for Ontario Place in light of the devastating impact of Therme on the Cultural Heritage of Ontario, including its natural environment and its legacy of democratizing access to the waterfront.

Amplify, Amplify, Amplify

Keep up the great work of amplifying your voice and the voices of journalists, urbanists, heritage experts and all those who care about the future of Ontario Place – share on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, TikTok and your personal networks.  

The rumble of discontent is getting louder.  We need to make it roar!!!

Donate to Ontario Place For All

No matter how small, your donations help our work.  We are all volunteers, but we still need financial resources to fight on your behalf. Donations are handled by Park People, one of our partner organizations.  

Donate here!

Recent media pieces of interest

More detail on the Public Realm Master Plan vs the publicly accessible space

This is an image From the joint Infrastructure Ontario, City and Public Realm Team presentation to the Waterfront Design Review Panel in July:

  • The orange lines represent the areas that the tenants, Therme and Live Nation will occupy as gated areas.
  • The purple lines around the West Island indicate areas that are or are proposed to be leased to Therme but must be “publicly accessible”.  The Province has not defined public accessibility to this area.  The Design Review Panel has raised concerns about the inadequate size of the publicly accessible zone. 
  • The green area is what has been given to the Public Realm Master Planning team.  Not much to work with: 

Ontario Place for All Summer Update

Ontario Place for All Summer Update

  • Walk and talk Ontario Place – Sunday, September 11th
  • Provincial plans squeeze out the public
  • Therme erases Ontario Place’s iconic design
  • Should the future of Ontario Place be a municipal campaign issue?

Mark your calendar!!! Sunday, September 11th, walk and talk with:

Journalist/Urbanists John Lorinc and Shawn Micallef will be leading a walking discussion at Ontario Place on Sunday, Sept 11th at 10 am.

They have both called for the future of Ontario Place to become an issue in this fall’s municipal election campaign issue.  What do you think?  Come, join the discussion and pick up an Ontario Place for All pin.  Meet at the East Entrance to Trillium Park, light rain or shine.

This just in: Écorécréo backing out of Ontario Place proposal

The Globe & Mail reports that Écorécréo, the Québec-based adventure tourism company, is pulling out of its tentative deal at Ontario Place. No plans have been announced by the province in response to the departure, but it opens the opportunity for supporters to press for more public open space and parkland to be provided at Ontario Place.

Major concerns as the OP Public Realm Plan debuts at the Waterfront Design Review Panel

The Province has released its draft plan for the public areas under redevelopment at Ontario Place. And our biggest fear has come true: after taking away the parts that are being given to Therme, Live Nation and Écorécréo, there is very little left for the public.  

Look closely: in the draft presentation, only the areas outside of the red line will be open to the public.  Aside from Trillium Park, most of what is left are parking lots and the paved event space – little of which is slated to change. (WDRP presentation and meeting video – OP starts at 1:56). 

Shawn Micallef, Toronto Star contributing columnist calls design of the Therme development, “a generational Mistake.”

Therme’s spa is poised to destroy core cultural heritage attributes of Ontario Place. 

Recently released designs show the spa will obliterate the visual and functional relationship between the iconic Cinesphere/Pods at Ontario Place and its natural environment. This technology/nature relationship is at the heart of the recognized cultural heritage of Ontario Place.

The West Island’s carefully designed topography will be destroyed; hundreds of mature trees are going to be cut down. 

Ontario Place’s foundational theme of equity and inclusion has been done away with. Those who cannot pay spa fees will be confined to the outside edge of the island. Therme will even control the west entrance and plans to replace the Ontario Place branding with its own. Ontario Place will be open for business, but not for most people. 

Therme’s rendering of the West Entrance and spa facility – WDRP presentation July 27, 2022

Torontonians need to make the future of Ontario Place a municipal election issue!

Our municipal politicians need to be tougher and come up with more creative ways to ensure that Ontario Place remains a lakeside attraction for everyone. 

Toronto residents have expressed their anger about the plans for Ontario Place, but the provincial government has refused to listen. It is now time to challenge the candidates for Mayor and Council during the current municipal campaign to find a better solution – one that the Province can accept. 

One suggestion has been to move the Therme development to a more suitable location in Toronto, such as nearby Exhibition Place.  Let’s push for those wanting our vote to do just that. 

Ontario Place was conceived as a public park and attraction that would reclaim and democratize access to the waterfront and celebrate Ontario’s identity, culture and economic vitality.  

The Province’s plans completely undermine that legacy.  We should be telling our municipal candidates for Mayor and Council that Ontario Place must remain a resource for everyone.  

What the Media and commentators have to say:

Call to Action for Ontario Place

Put Ontario Back in Ontario Place

The Government says it has a new vision for Ontario Place, but what is it?  Giving pieces of Ontario Place to three businesses who will charge people for pay-to-play entertainment does not amount to a vision!

If you share our concern about this, here are some things you can do:

  1. Register here for a Public Information Session on October 27th at 6:30 pm
  2. Click here to fill out the province’s survey. The survey closes October 28th – but note the comments below about this survey
  3. Forward this email to your network all over Ontario.

A Big Caution about the Survey

The Government’s survey is full of leading questions designed to limit your ability to respond frankly and sincerely. The government has not yet committed to making the results of the questionnaire public. 

The questions are written in a way to force respondents to accept the government’s development decisions. It is mandatory to answer all questions. Only three questions have a box where you can provide your own comments.  We suggest you use those boxes to enter your concerns.  Here are some suggestions: 

Question 2 talks about Ontario’s vision and plan for Ontario Place. 

  • In the comment box you can point out that this is not Ontario’s vision.  It’s a “plan” created for commercial interests without public consultation.

Question 3 says open spaces with free public access will be key to the site. Of course, it does not tell you that most of the site will be privatized.

  • You can use the comment box to say that all of Ontario Place should be accessible and affordable for everyone. That was the original vision. More than ever, we need that vision today. 

Question 4b asks which heritage features are important for you. You cannot say they all are.

  • Again, use the comment box to say something like “Ranking heritage features is like asking us to pick which finger we are willing to lose. They are all important and work together.”

Take a few minutes to fill out the survey and register for the Public Information Session.

Your voice counts!

Pine Trees not Palm Trees at Ontario Place

Pine Trees not Palm Trees at Ontario Place

Ontario Place for All says the government’s plans for Ontario Place are a total insult to the memory of former Premier William Davis, who opened the lakeside park fifty years ago this summer. 

Spokesperson Cynthia Wilkey says when the Ford government first announced its plans to redevelop Ontario Place, Davis said, “It would be a shame and a disservice if commercial gain replaced the public interest on the present site of Ontario Place.” Wilkey says that is exactly what the Ford government has done.

“The public has clearly identified the post-COVID need for more open and accessible parkland, but the Ontario government is instead turning two-thirds of Ontario Place over to commercial interests.”

Ontario Place for All says the plans of the three winning companies, Therme Group, Live Nation, and Écorécréo Group, desecrate the original vision of Ontario Place.

“It was supposed to celebrate Ontario,” says spokesperson Suzanne Kavanagh. “But under the current proposals, we are getting a spa with palm trees, instead of pine trees. There’s also no word on how they are going to preserve the award-winning landscape at Ontario Place. How does this celebrate Ontario?” asks Kavanagh.

Another member of the Ontario Place for All coalition says the government is treating the current facilities, such as the Cinesphere and the Pods, as orphans.

“There is no Conservation Management Plan,” says planner Ken Greenberg, “and no indication about how the new facilities are going to be integrated into what is already at Ontario Place.”

Ontario Place for All says supporters need to get ready for a new and critically important phase of the battle to save the lakeside park. It begins on September 6, Labour Day, with a World Monuments Fund “Watch Day” at Ontario Place sponsored by the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario and The Future of Ontario Place project. Visitors and supporters will be invited to explore Ontario Place and participate in a scavenger hunt and match drawing of Ontario Place with their memories and hopes for its future. More details can be found at https://acontarionextgens.ca/ontario-place-watch-day/.

Ontario Place Turns 50!

ONTARIO PLACE TURNS 50!

We want to thank the hundreds of you who signed on for our online rally last week kicking off the 50th-anniversary celebrations of Ontario Place.

For those who missed the rally or had trouble signing in at the beginning, you can view the entire event here

Many more Ontario Place videos can be viewed on the Future of Ontario Place YouTube channel.

The government is expected to soon make a major announcement about the future of Ontario Place. Here are some ways that you can help ensure that it is a future that includes all of us:

  • Send this letter to Premier Ford, Minister MacLeod and Mayor Tory demanding that the public and heritage values of the site be respected.
  • On May 22nd, join with us to celebrate Ontario Place’s 50th Anniversary. Here are some ideas:
    • Make a safely distanced visit to Ontario Place and post a selfie with the hashtag #HappyBirthdayOP.
    • Photoshop yourself into an image of Ontario Place and post it on Instagram.
    • Share your ideas for Ontario Place on Twitter and Instagram.
    • Tweet your favourite Ontario Place memory.
  • Watch for Minister MacLeod’s announcement later this month and see if it respects the core principles developed by Ontario Place for All, The Future of Ontario Place and the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario.
    • Ontario Place must be for ALL and kept publicly accessible.
    • There must be a thoughtful, comprehensive public review before any changes, with a full and robust public consultation that:
      • conforms to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report’s call for informed, respectful and meaningful consultation with Indigenous peoples over economic development,
      • recognizes the diverse communities that use and contribute to Ontario Place.
    • Public interest, not commercial interest must drive the new vision.
    • Future plans must:
      • acknowledge the waterfront’s Indigenous heritage and incorporate meaningful Indigenous consultation.
      • maintain Ontario Place as part of Toronto’s waterfront park system.
      • be integrated with the revitalization of Exhibition Place.
      • celebrate Ontario.
      • be guided by a collaboratively developed Conservation Management Plan that sustains Ontario Place as a recognized cultural heritage landscape.
  • Make sure to use #HappyBirthdayOP as a hashtag.

Congratulations – You Did It!

Congratulations – You Did It!

Ontario Place for All (OP4All) wants to thank all its members and supporters for the important victory they won yesterday – the Ontario government’s announcement that there is not going to be any wholesale destruction of Ontario Place.

Thousands of you joined OP4All in demanding the government preserve Ontario Place’s unique heritage landscape, including the Cinesphere, the Pods, Trillium Park and the William G. Davis Trail.

Yesterday, Lisa MacLeod, the Minister of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries agreed, and in a White Paper, promised that “key heritage and recreational features will remain, such as the Cinesphere, the pods, Trillium Park and the William G. Davis Trail.”

Bill Greaves, with the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario, says the government has come a long way from its “nothing can be saved” talk of 2019. “We look forward to working with the Ministry to develop a Conservation Management Plan to manage change and build on the value of what is already there. That’s what governments around the world have done in similar circumstances.”

While yesterday’s announcement is an important victory, the fight for Ontario Place isn’t over yet. 

The Minister says there will be some announcements in the New Year, even though there have been no public consultations on the future of Ontario Place. OP4All’s Cindy Wilkey says it must remain as a park and open public space. “The Minister said yesterday her government recognized the tourism potential of Ontarians’ new embrace of nature and the outdoors during the COVID lockdown. Ontario Place offers an opportunity to capitalize on that momentum.”

OP4All believes yesterday’s announcement was a step in the right direction, but there is still a long way to go. The Ontario government needs to recognize that Ontario Place is an essential public space and that there needs to be meaningful public engagement in determining its future.

Fight for the Right To Swim at Ontario Place

Fight for the Right To Swim at Ontario Place 

Ontario Place for All (OP4All) is calling on the Ontario government to permanently restore swimming at Ontario Place.

OP4All’s Cynthia Wilkey says, “Four beaches were planned for Ontario Place when it opened almost fifty years ago. Now there are none. This is unacceptable, as swimming is not only popular but also the least expensive and most immediate way for people to experience one of Canada’s Great Lakes.”

Photo credit: Dieter Janssen, http://www.dieterjanssenphotography.com/

Ontario Place for All believes COVID-19 has made it even more urgent to preserve Ontario Place as a park and open public space. While most amusement facilities were shuttered, hundreds of thousands of people continued to flock to Ontario Place, enjoying everything the park offers. Many of them swam at the beach on the West Island this summer, even though it is not an authorized swimming area. 

Some were still swimming there until almost two weeks ago when Steve Mann and six friends were told the beach on the West Island was closed off for a film shoot. “I was shocked to be told I couldn’t go there,” says Mann. “I have been swimming there nearly every day this year, winter, spring, summer and fall. It should not be closed off to the public.”

OP4All’s Suzanne Kavanagh says Ontario Place should not be off-limits to swimmers, as it is the province’s greatest lakeside attraction. “The government should start planning now to restore swimming at Ontario Place not just for next summer, but forever.” 

Joe Cressy, the Toronto City Councillor for Ward 10 (Spadina-Fort York), agrees. “Ontario Place is a key part of our community that provides much-needed access for people to the waterfront, for many activities including swimming. With the current pandemic, it’s more important than ever that we preserve open outdoor spaces where people can exercise, play, and explore safely,” he said. “The beach and swimming at Ontario Place should be open and accessible for everyone.” 

Make sure Premier Ford. Minister MacLeod and Mayor Tory hear our voice. Send them a letter, your own or the one available below, demanding it increase the number of beaches at Ontario Place.

Ontario Place for All also salutes Steve Mann and his group, SwimOP. They have done what the government should have and made swimming at the West Island safer by cleaning up the beach and removing old construction debris from the landfill that created Ontario Place.

2021 will be critical for Ontario Place

2021 will be critical for Ontario Place 

Ontario Place for All hopes you are well and staying safe during this COVID-19 pandemic. 2020 was a brutal year for all of us, and we can only hope things will be better next year. 

Next Year

2021 will be the most important year for Ontario Place since its inception. It’s the 50th anniversary of its opening and we should finally see the government’s redevelopment plans. The government continues to refuse to meet with Ontario Place for All, despite our numerous requests to the Ministry of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries, Lisa MacLeod. The Premier has committed to consulting with Mayor Tory, but that is not good enough. While the pandemic has delayed the process, it has not eliminated the need to engage the public. 

The COVID pandemic has underlined the public importance of Ontario Place. While numerous facilities have been shuttered around the world, hundreds of thousands of people continue to flock to Ontario Place, to relax on the lawns, walk or ride a bike, and enjoy everything the park has to offer.  Some are still swimming, despite the approach of winter. The drive-in movies are still on, and some of them are holiday-themed. It is so important for our physical and mental health to get out as often as allowed, and Ontario Place is a perfect place to take a winter walk. 

Photo credit: Dieter Janssen, http://www.dieterjanssenphotography.com/

 

Minister’s Statement

The Ministry of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries said in a speech in October that the redevelopment of Ontario Place is her first priority. “Ontario Place will be central to the recovery of heritage, culture sport and tourism for all Ontarians as we move through the pandemic.” Lisa MacLeod did not spell out exactly what that means but promised that “the historical components of Ontario Place will be protected.” An article by CBC News said MacLeod’s priorities will be to maintain the parkland at Ontario Place and ensure the site reflects the province’s diverse population. Ontario Place for All is waiting to see more details. 

Support is Growing

There is some good news amidst all this uncertainty: A new group has joined the coalition fighting to protect Ontario Place. The World Monuments Fund, Architectural Conservancy Ontario and Daniels Faculty at the University of Toronto have come together to form The Future of Ontario Place Project. The project is working to build the public’s understanding of the heritage values of the site. It has compiled the first consolidated public archives of Ontario Place and called for counter-proposals in a Canada-wide design challenge. Urban Toronto recently wrote about their efforts in an article “Call to Action: Protecting the Future of Ontario Place”.

Those Were The Days

And finally, we want to make sure you have read the recent article in BlogTO, “That Time When Ontario Place Was The Most Fun Amusement Park in Toronto”. It’s a wonderful piece about Ontario Place at its most popular and attractive, with photos and videos showing the Children’s Village, the Forum and people everywhere enjoying the groundbreaking park. 

Fight for the Right to be Consulted

Fight for the Right to be Consulted

Ontario Place For All hopes you and yours are enduring these challenging times. Covid-19 and Black Lives Matter have changed all of our lives and promise to have an impact for years to come.

We are at a critical point for the future of Ontario Place. The Ford government has instituted a bit of a pause in its plans to develop the precious lakeside park and heritage site. It’s asked the three finalists to rework their proposals and has reached out to the Mayor of Toronto, promising that the City of Toronto will have a major say in what happens to Ontario Place.

Make sure Premier Ford, Minister MacLeod and Mayor Tory hear your voice. Send them a letter, your own or the one available below, demanding an open and transparent consultation process for the future of Ontario Place.

One of the lessons we have all learned from the Covid-19 pandemic is the importance of open public space where people can gather safely. It is clear that Toronto does not have enough park space, especially in the downtown, and cannot afford to lose any of what it now has to a private developer.

Now, more than ever, we need both the City and the province to consult with the public, open and transparently, about what they would like to see at a revitalized Ontario Place. The 155-acre site is owned by the public, and we should have a say in its future. Both Ontario Place For All and the City of Toronto have identified principles that should guide any additions to the site.

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