Press Releases

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,


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.

Use Ontario Place to Help Fight COVID

Use Ontario Place to Help Fight COVID

Ontario Place for All says, in light of the Covid outbreak, the provincial government should reconsider its plans to redevelop Ontario Place.

“One thing became crystal clear over the past weekend,” says Ken Greenberg, urban designer and member of the Steering Committee of Ontario Place for All (OP4A). “The overcrowding at Trinity-Bellwoods showed Toronto needs more park space. Unfortunately, a lot of the greenspace currently at Ontario Place could be lost under the government’s redevelopment plans.”

Committee member Cynthia Wilkey says there should also be some immediate improvements to the lakeside attraction, now that it  has been opened for the summer. 

“We think by building shade structures and adding safely managed food and refreshment trucks, the Ontario government could make Ontario Place a signature item on an agenda of helping people through the summer.” 

Wilkey says it would bring much-needed relief to people who have been socially isolating for more than two months.

The President of Swim, Drink, Fish says Ontario Place should also bring the beach on the West Island up to standard and hire full-time lifeguards. Mark Mattson says Toronto is facing a critical shortage of beaches this summer.

“People can’t get to the four beaches on the Toronto Islands because there is no ferry service. That increases the urgency of using the beaches that we have.”

Mattson says Ontario Place has some of the cleanest water on the lakefront, and Swim, Drink, Fish will resume it’s testing for water quality next week.

Ontario Place for All is calling on the government to abandon its plan to allow the private redevelopment of Ontario Place.

“Amusement parks everywhere have been shuttered,” says Wilkey. “In a world that could see more virus outbreaks, open park space is a better investment.”

Don’t Blow This New Opportunity at Ontario Place

Don’t Blow This New Opportunity at Ontario Place.

Ontario Place for All says the Ontario Government now has a chance to fix its mistake and start over with its plans to spoil the iconic park on Toronto’s waterfront. Ontario Place for All says the process for selecting the winning redevelopment proposal has been delayed, and the government should use the opportunity to rethink its approach to the idea.

To assist in the rethink, Ontario Place for All today released a framework for a reimagined Ontario Place, produced in conjunction with the International parks’ experts, HR&A Associates. Ontario Place, The Value of Toronto’s Public Space proves the government’s focus on the private sector redevelopment of Ontario Place delivers only short-term profits at the cost of longer-term benefits.

Toronto has benefitted from a new vision for the City’s waterfront that used existing heritage landscapes, prioritized the public nature of the spaces, and accommodated a wide mix of activities and diverse communities.

“When compared to public use spaces,” says the report, “commercial uses will typically create short-term improvements but at the expense of long-term enduring benefits.” It says public spaces create stable neighbourhoods, increasing social interaction between different groups and increasing residents’ sense of belonging.

The report also says City’s public spaces are a key reason companies and workers locate in Toronto. “Local amenities are particularly important for employees in the knowledge economy sector.” They increase the attractiveness of working in Toronto by 33%.

Ontario Place for All is calling on the government to use the report as a foundation for a new vision for Ontario Place, one that respects the heritage and cultural history of the site. It should take a more comprehensive approach to reimagine the lakefront site, starting with a robust consultation process. Ontario Place for All also believes there should be an international competition to come up with a new plan for Ontario Place, as was done for Toronto’s iconic City Hall. In the coming weeks, we will be asking you to support our call for a rethink and a competition to bring the best ideas forward.

Press Release, SEPT. 2019

End the Secrecy about the Future of Ontario Place

For Immediate Release – September 24, 2019

Ontario Place for All is calling on the provincial government to lift the veil obscuring it’s plans for Ontario Place. Today is the deadline for developers to submit their proposals for redeveloping the waterfront park, and Ontario Place for All believes the public has a right to know what the future could hold for the award-winning attraction.

“Everything is being done behind closed doors,” says spokesperson Suzanne Kavanagh. “While the government has been holding discussions with developers, it has refused to meet with us or listen to our demands that Ontario Place remains a jewel in Toronto’s system of public waterfront parks.”

Under the terms of the government request for submissions, developers could tear down the Cinesphere, the Pods and the recently built Trillium Park. There is no requirement for the successful developer to keep any part of the park open to the public. Ontario Place could be turned into a gated entertainment community, accessible only to those who can “pay to play”.

Ontario Place for All is calling on the Premier and the Minister to share the developers’ proposals with the public and get their feedback before moving forward. The public needs to have a say in what is going to happen to this iconic park, which already attracts more visitors than the CN tower.

In May, Toronto Council unanimously endorsed a set of principles that align with those put forward by Ontario Place for All and called for a fully transparent process that is responsive to the broader community interests.

“Ontario Place represents 155 acres of exceptionally valuable publicly owned land,” says Joe Cressy, speaking today as the City Councillor for Spadina-Fort York. “We only get one chance to revitalize these lands and it is critical that the public has a chance to review all private proposals before any decisions are made”.

For more information,


Cynthia Wilkey 
(416) 892-8941

Suzanne Kavanagh
(647) 309-4365

Come join Swim Drink Fish to imagine the future of Toronto’s waterfront

By Mark Mattson published on Waterkeeper on August 9, 2019. 

Ontario Place: Come join us. Imagine the future of Toronto’s waterfront


On Saturday, August 10 at 2:00pm on the southwest end of Ontario Place a few people interested in water access in Toronto are gathering to view and discuss the potential for a new swimming access point at Ontario Place. This is a fun, informal gathering for the people and organizations who want to dream together about restoring swimming access to Ontario Place. 

Lake Ontario Waterkeeper has been sampling the area and posting results to Swim Guide each week this summer. We’ll be meeting at the location you see in Swim Guide, so if you want to join us open the app or visit the website, find the Ontario Place beach, and follow Directions to find us. We’ll also provide a demonstration of our sampling process, for those who are interested. 

This area is a beautiful spot, with a feeling that you’re miles away from the city.  Paddleboards, canoes, and kayaks can pull up right on the shore. Our sampling results this summer show that this is some of the cleanest water in Toronto.

The site has so much potential, but it doesn’t meet the criteria for an official beach in Toronto (yet!). The water is not as accessible as it should be and some debris/ fill may make water entry and exit hazardous for swimmers. Ontario Place is discouraging people from swimming there, even though increasing numbers of people are flocking to their new favourite “secret beach.”

Imagine what it could be in the future. With re-engineered water access, like the Pier we helped to create in Kingston, this could be an iconic destination for people seeking nature in the heart of our city.

The goal of the discussion is to bring to life the imaginations of Toronto and Ontario residents to see what this location could become. We saw this happen in Kingston last summer with Breakwater Park and we know it can happen here.

Your attendance will make a difference. Join me and other interested waterfront lovers, if you can.


Mark Mattson

Ontario Line Initial Business Case, JULY 2019

Ontario Line Initial Business case is available on the Metrolinx website.

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Let’s Keep Ontario Place in the Public Interest

International Parks Expert Supports Ontario Place for All

John Alschuler, chair of HR&A Associates told more than 60 supporters of Ontario Place for All at a fundraiser last week that the Ontario Government was going in totally the wrong direction by opening up Ontario Place to private developers.

Ontario Place for All Needs Your Help to Commission a Full Report to Get this Message Across – Please Consider a Donation.

We want to have HR&A Associates research the economic and social benefits that will come from keeping Ontario Place as a public park. We would send this ground-breaking report to the Premier and to Toronto’s mayor so that facts not rhetoric will prevail in the debate over the future of this waterfront jewel. So please donate. This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to get things right at Ontario Place. Your contribution will have an impact for years to come.

Here is the core message that John Alschuler gave supporters last week:

“The current efforts to create a private development model for the future of
Ontario Place rests on fundamentally ill-conceived and outmoded models of
urban economics. It is neither in the best interests of your community, as a civic
gesture, as a community gesture, and it’s fundamentally irrational as an
economic strategy.”

Alschuler has a lot of experience in building 21st century parks. HR&A Associates has helped develop some of the most innovative parks in North America, including:

  • The High Line, New York City
  • Brooklyn Bridge Park, New York City
  • Dallas Park System, Dallas Texas
  • Capital Riverfront, Washington

Alschuler used the High Line, a 2.33 km elevated linear park on the west side of Manhattan built on an abandoned railway spur, as an example of what governments can do when they invest in public spaces.

“In New York, we spent 300 million dollars to develop High-Line Park. It’s generated 3 billion dollars in incremental tax value to the City.”

Alschuler says investing in public parks creates not just more economic benefits than private development. It also creates better cities, which attract talent, something that cities around the world are competing for. And it helps create social cohesion.

“We are cities that are struggling to try to grow in ways that are more equitable. And Increasingly our neighbourhoods are stratified by income, and too often by race, and we become fragmented as a community. And if we are to continue to grow, and attract that talent from around the world, we have to have places that are devoted to breaking down that fragmentation, to breaking down that stratification.”

Alschuler’s Visit Made a Splash in the Media

Both the CBC and the Globe and Mail gave some prominence to what Alschuler had to say about the future of Ontario Place. Matt Galloway spoke to him Matt Galloway spoke to him on Metro Morning, the morning of his visit. Matt said there is growing momentum to preserve Ontario Place as a public space.

The Globe and Mail’s architectural critic, Alex Bozikovic followed that up with a column on July 10th. Bozikovic praised Alschuler’s ideas and referred to Ontario Place for All as a new citizens’ group trying to stop the privatization of the waterfront provincial park in Toronto.

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Show us Your Ontario Place

Now is the time when Ontario Place is at its best, when thousands go down there to eat, sail ride and see movies at Cinesphere. What are your favourite things to do at Ontario Place? 

Post the photos of you and your family enjoying Ontario Place on our Facebook Page.

Statement of Cultural Heritage Value

The Ontario government has taken down Ontario Place Statement of Heritage Value from its website.

Description of the property

Ontario Place is located off the shore of Lake Ontario on Toronto’s western waterfront. The 63 hectare land and water lot property (28 hectares land, 35 hectares water) is located directly south of Exhibition Place. The site consists of two artificially-made islands linked to the waterfront via a network of structures (entry plazas, pedestrian bridges and pathways) and the public entry gates from the waterfront trail. The core area features the iconic Cinesphere and Pavilion, as well as the crystalline forms of three village clusters set within the prominent naturalized landscape, canals, lagoons and a centrally-located marina. The property boundary extends 330 metres west and 25 metres east from the edges of the islands into Lake Ontario, north to Lake Shore Boulevard and south to the end of the marina breakwater.

Ontario Place was listed in 1994 by the International Committee for Documentation and Conservation of Buildings of the Modern Movement (DOCOMOMO International) on its inventory of significant international works of the Modern Movement.

Vision Statement

Ontario Place, opened in 1971, was conceived by former Premier, the Honorable John Robarts, as a showplace for the province’s identity, culture and economic growth. Ontario Place was designed as an inclusive public entertainment, educational and recreational space and programmed to reflect the province’s people, culture and geography, as well as a vision for the province’s future.

Ontario Place featured innovative new landforms and structures built on Toronto’s waterfront, reshaping the relationship between the urban landscape and Lake Ontario. Ontario Place, a cultural heritage landscape, remains a rare and intact Modernist expression of integrated architecture, engineering and landscape that honours and incorporates the natural setting of Lake Ontario. It was a remarkable and ambitious achievement of late twentieth century architecture, and holds an enduring influence in Toronto, the province and internationally.

Heritage Value

Ontario Place is a cultural heritage landscape of provincial significance.

Contextual and historical value

Ontario Place, a significant provincial public works project of the Canadian Centennial era, reflects a time of prosperity and social development in Ontario which began after the Second World War. The development occurred at a time of dynamic economic expansion and urbanization, of optimism and confidence, of new intellectual and cultural life within the province.

Ontario Place is a response to the success of the temporary Ontario Pavilion at Expo’ 67 in Montreal, as well as a reflection of the provincial government’s commitment to investing in cultural identity through public entertainment and educational facilities and public agencies including but not limited to the Ontario Science Centre and Fort William Historical Park.

The site in its entirety — integrating innovative approaches to planning, landscape, architecture, engineering and educational programming — represents a bold visionary statement of its time realized at a scale and quality that earned international recognition and admiration. Ontario Place has strong associations with the politicians and civil servants who shaped the idea and provided the resources, and with the designers who translated those ideas into reality. Associations are held with former Premier, the Honourable John Robarts, and provincial civil servant Jim Ramsay, Royal Architectural Institute of Canada gold medalist architect Eberhard Zeidler, landscape architect Michael Hough and play structure architect and pioneer Eric McMillan.

As an entertainment, educational and recreational centre serving the entire province, Ontario Place has attracted millions of visitors since its opening in 1971 and has remained a familiar and iconic landmark for many Ontarians and visitors. The site was intended as a place for a diverse and multi-generational audience experience.

Design value.

Ontario Place is a rare surviving example of a designed cultural heritage landscape within the international modernist movement of the late twentieth century. The site created a uniquely integrated environment for entertainment, education and recreation.

The core area of Ontario Place (see map) remains relatively intact and embodies the modernist design vision of interconnected geometries. This is demonstrated in the megastructure forms of both the Cinesphere and pods with their interconnecting walkways, as well as the more modest crystalline modular forms of the three village clusters, designed as gathering places for visitors. These structures are set against an ecological landscape of naturalized landforms, a range of water features, including canals, lagoons and a marina, offering various intimate and compelling views within its designed space.

This particular combination of elements constitutes one of the most important expressions of late twentieth century modernism in the history of the province — the naturalized landforms, on the cutting edge of new ecological design interests; the Cinesphere with its triodetic dome and pioneering IMAX technology; the Pavilion, comprised of five interconnected pods with their tensile structural arrangement; the Forum and the Children’s Village play area with their new forms of public engagement (both no longer in existence); and the overall programming designed to change the public perception of Toronto’s waterfront.

Heritage Attributes

There exist a number of contextual and design attributes on the site that individually and collectively contribute to the provincial cultural heritage value of Ontario Place. The historical values are woven throughout the site and landscape, and expressed in the attributes described below.

Contextual attributes

The following attributes are expressed throughout the site, and continue to represent the original ideas behind the creation of Ontario Place:

  • Bold redefinition of the relationship between city and lake, with an integrated approach to architecture, engineering, landscape and waterscape.
  • Innovative integration of design and programming – the landforms, structures and plazas that reflect the vision of Ontario Place as a centre for recreation, education, entertainment and public gathering.
  • A public works project dedicated to the people of Ontario as commemorated in a plaque at the main entrance.
  • A geometric and technologically innovative series of interconnected structures, including buildings, bridges and pods set against the naturalized surroundings of mature trees and native plant species.
  • The shaping of the landforms to create an integrated series of lagoons and canals, as well as naturalized shorelines open to the larger expanse of Lake Ontario, creating both close-range and distant relationships between land and water.
  • Pathways with constructed views into and out of the site, to and from the urban landscape to the north and to the open expanse of Lake Ontario.
  • The views within the core area, as part of the various pathways for movement on land, on water and within the megastructure components.
Design attributes

The following attributes are located in the core area of Ontario Place and represent the innovative and iconic elements of the site as reflected in the structures, the integration of the architecture with the landscape and the water features:

  • The highly geometric architecture of the Pavilion, the Cinesphere and the connecting walkways and bridges, composed of glass and steel detailing (such as columns, beams, braces) in modern architectural style.
  • The triodetic structural system of the Cinesphere with its iconic spherical shape and screen design to host the innovative IMAX projection system.
  • The Pavilion, with its five mast-hung pods, each projecting up out of the open water and connected by long-span suspended walkways.
  • The flexible interiors and usable roof spaces of the five pods.
  • The public gathering spaces connected to the three village clusters, with their modernist crystalline modular forms.
  • The varying scale of the complementary built structures — from the prominent Cinesphere to the more modest village clusters.
  • A public entrance with a connection to two west bridges and the presence of Ontario Place branding/wayfinding signage.
  • Designed localized microclimates, using landscaping, trees and indigenous plant materials.
  • The walkways, trails, lagoons and the two west bridges (linking to the west island and the Pavilion) that connect discrete activity areas throughout the site and encourage a pedestrian experience.
  • The design of the breakwaters, fashioned from sunken lake ships.
  • The water features— the marina, the pavilion bay, the inner channel — that help shape entirely new landforms, and that provide a setting for the movement of small watercraft.

Map of Heritage Place

Letter from Richard Longley

Close to a thousand of you have sent letters to Premier Ford and the Minister of Tourism, Culture and Recreation opposing their plans for the possible destruction of Ontario Place.

One of the supporters of Ontario Place for All, Richard Longley, sent us a copy of his letter, and gave us permission to share it with you:

Dear Premier Ford, Ministers Tibollo and McNaughton, all others who care about the future of Ontario Place and Exhibition Place.

Why the urge to destroy Ontario Place in order to save it? Why the reflexive insistence on “no residence”? Call an international design competition to consider its future?

I’m relieved that the provincial government has abandoned the idea of a casino at Ontario Place. But I am dismayed that every part of architect Eb Zeidler and landscape architect’s Michael Hough’s “machine in a park” is available for “transformation”. Pods, islands, Cinesphere and the stunningly beautiful Trillium Park with its William G. Davis Trail, its superb views of Toronto and its references to historic First Nations presence on the lakefront – all are up for grabs. 

The grotesquely ugly (but very successful!) Budweiser Stage built in 1995 on the site of Eb Zeidler’s demolished but still much missed Forum (that was also extremely successful) is the only part of Ontario Place that’s protected. (Paradoxically, by a lease with Live Nation, an affiliate of Labatt’s Brewery, that seems to warrant more Provincial Government respect than the lease that protects the Beer Store).

The Ontario Place Call For Development acknowledges that it cannot flourish year-round without public transit superior to what is there at present. It currently requires a long, bleak walk over a parking lot desert to the bridge to Ontario Place. If the Ontario Line is built – for an estimated cost of $10.9b – it would go through the city, connecting the south-centre of Exhibition Place to the Ontario Science Centre. But will the Ontario Line be built if year-round ridership to and from Ontario Place and Exhibition Place cannot justify such a colossal investment? 

Not acknowledged in the Call for Development is something agreed to by all who have thought about its future: Ontario Place cannot be improved without parallel improvement of Exhibition Place. 

But the strangest paradox in the Call for Development must be this: “Residential development will not be permitted on the site.”

Why does this reflexive prohibition against residence persist, when the desire of all who would revitalize Ontario Place or rebuild it, is to make Ontario Place alive and active year-round

Will the “entertainment, sports, commercial, recreation and/or leisure attractions” suggested in the Call for Development provide sufficient riders for the Ontario Line, 365 days a year, if no one is allowed to live there and create businesses near its Exhibition Place/Ontario Place terminus? (Note: near not on the Ontario Place site.)

The idea of Residence near Ontario Place has not always been taboo.

Harbour City was proposed in 1970 by the same Progressive Conservative government of Premier John Robarts that also produced Ontario Place.

In the video, Eb Zeidler proposes the construction of low- to mid-rise, low and medium cost housing for a population of 45,000-60,000 on reclaimed land between Ontario Place and the Toronto Islands. The community would be connected by canals and lagoons and protected by a ring of islands that would add 200 acres of parkland. Two-storey houses, one stacked above the other would be connected by walkways. The front of each house would face a community mews and children’s play space, the back would face water. Transit to the mainland would be by monorail similar that built for Expo ’67. But not everyone would be a commuter. People would work as well as live at Harbour City, houses would be convertible to restaurant and other uses and business spaces would be interleaved with housing up to nine storeys high.  

In the video, Urbanist Jane Jacobs brims with enthusiasm as she leans over a model of the project: “I’d like to live right in here because it’s very busy. In front, it’s a street, almost a plaza but in the back it’s a little pastoral scene. And the water! Two totally different worlds right at your doorstep. This is really exciting.  The whole place is full of variety. Every time you walk a little way, turn the corner, look around the corner you’re having a new experience. It isn’t dull. It isn’t routine. This is what a city ought to be. We’ve heard an awful lot about high density and people have been led to believe that high-density means high-rise living, monotony, barracks. Not true at all! This is a very high-density project and yet there’s nothing overwhelming or impersonal or routine about it. This is one of the reasons why I think this may be the most important advance in city planning that’s been made this century. It shows us what high-density living can be.

Later in the video Jane Jacobs pronounces: “This is new generation planning – not old men’s planning – young people’s planning.

Alderman William Kilbourn was equally keen. “Harbour City gets us away from idea that a new community has to be a sort of necropolis of bleak high-rise, a bunch of tombstones with some token rather wind-swept inhuman park space of grass or cement.” He also insists – enlarging on Eb Zeidler – that Harbour City must be “for people of all incomes and conditions.

If Harbour City had been built it would have been steps from Ontario Place and Exhibition Place and, by bike, boat – or adequate transit, if it too was built – minutes from downtown.

Eb Zeidler’s Harbour City would never be realized. One of the reasons was a fear that pollution would leak into the lake. And the fact that, as well as on 510 acres of artificial islands, Harbour City would have been built on 220 acres of land occupied by the Island Airport, forcing it to be moved elsewhere on the Toronto Islands.

If Harbour City was doomed not to provide housing near Ontario Place, how about a less romantic location: the concrete desert of Ontario Place and Exhibition parking lots that must be the most valuable under-developed lands in Canada? 

Too far from downtown for commuter parking, it’s all but empty most days of the year. How much of that land with its 6,420 above-ground parking spaces is needed during such special events as concerts at Budweiser Stage, games at BMO field, the Caribbean Festival, the Royal Winter Fair, the Honda Indy, the Ex? If any of that land is spare, why not build residences on it with spaces for artists, makers and businesses that would allow people to work as well as live near Ontario Place and Exhibition Place?


If parking was sent underground at Ontario Place, it would allow more attractive and profitable uses above ground. Would construction on those parking lots obscure views to and from Exhibition Place and Ontario Place? Not if it were low-rise and as cunningly designed as Harbour City. The views couldn’t be any worse than they have been for decades, thanks to the presence of those parking lots.

Harbour City might have hovered too close to fantasy but is there nowhere on those barren parking lots of Ontario Place and Exhibition Place, where there might be room for exciting architecture that would brim with economic, cultural and recreational potential? Are there architects, planners and politicians who can make that dream come true, without crippling Exhibition Place or destroying Ontario Place?

Politicians? The government that commissioned and built Ontario Place and sponsored Harbour City was, like the present provincial government: Progressive Conservative.

Premier John Robarts’ passion for Ontario Place is remembered in a few fragments of what he said at a preview of Ontario Place in November 1970: “We should let our imaginations soar. . ..  a major new recreational complex for the use of the people of Ontario. . .. a new focal point for our province…. a new attitude to our lakefronts…. a new showcase for our province and people.

John Robarts is no longer with us, but Bill Davis, who succeeded him and saw the construction of Ontario Place to its conclusion still is; so is Eb Zeidler.  If Ontario Place is demolished or disfigured by some lesser imagination than theirs, who will be to blame? Are we willing to consign Eb Zeidler to the “Rubble Club” of architects who live long enough to see their work demolished in their lifetime? That will happen if we permit a revitalization of Ontario Place that would “destroy it in order to save it“?

Architects of the calibre of Eb Zeidler teach us how to build and dream on the shoulders of giants. We’ve forgotten that too often. Let’s not do it again at Ontario Place.

In 2012 Ontario Place was listed on the list of Top 10 Most Endangered Places by the National Trust for Canada. In 2019 it was nominated again. Don’t let that nomination be justified.

Rather than call for development that might destroy it, the provincial government should call an International Design Competition for new uses for Ontario Place that will:

  • Not destroy or disfigure any of the original parts of Ontario Place, its landscape or any part of Trillium Park. 
  • Maintain public access to Lake Ontario along the entire shoreline of Ontario Place and Trillium Park with existing views from the lakeshore.
  • Propose more creative and attractive uses for Ontario Place and Exhibition Place parking lots that might include building housing on them for the residents and creators whose year-round presence will justify building the Ontario Line to what is a ghost-town for much of the year.

Challenging? Yes. That’s why the future of Ontario Place (with Exhibition Place) deserves to be addressed by an international design competition. 

With best regards,

Richard Longley, Former President – Architectural Conservancy Ontario

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