Imagining the Future of a Modernist Icon: Watch Day at Ontario Place, Canada
On September 6, 2021, Architectural Conservancy Ontario (ACO) and the Future of Ontario Place Project welcomed Ontarians to Ontario Place, an icon of modernist design and forward-thinking public space located on Toronto's waterfront, for Watch Day. The public was invited to participate in community-centered activities, developed in collaboration with local artists Jake Tobin Garrett and Lindsay Zier-Vogel, to explore Ontario Place's future.
Ontario Place was included on the 2020 World Monuments Watch after the Government of Ontario announced plans to offer a long-term lease to the site with no mention of maintaining its heritage values and without public consultation. In a recent development, the government announced that it had selected Therme Group, Écorécréo Group, and Live Nation as partners in the redevelopment of Ontario Place.
“This announcement poses more questions than answers,” said Bill Greaves, who nominated Ontario Place to the 2020 Watch. “We are told the iconic heritage aspects of the site will be protected, but are given no assurance there will be a thoughtful, comprehensive plan of how to do this. Premier Ford and Minister MacLeod rightly decried the decades of neglect Ontario Place had suffered but gave us no assurance they had a plan to prevent this happening again.”
In October 2020, World Monuments Fund (WMF) launched the Future of Ontario Place Project in collaboration with the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design at the University of Toronto (Daniels Faculty) and ACO to grow awareness of the cultural landmark's importance and protect its landscape and built heritage from demolition and privatization. The project launched a web portal in 2021 to document stories and experience related to the site and hosted a Canada-wide design challenge calling for counterproposals for its future development.
The September 6 Watch Day at Ontario Place was organized in response to the Canadian government's lack of clarity and public consultation in their proposal for the site and to give the community the opportunity to make their voices heard. As part of the day's programming, Richard Longley, author and former president of Architectural Conservancy Ontario, led a walking tour that focused on the site's history and prompted visitors to consider how they would revitalize Ontario Place for future generations. Volunteers also led drawing stations where participants of all ages were invited to complete line-drawn postcards of Ontario Place with memories and hopes for the site's future. Hundreds of these postcards were mailed to the provincial government to demonstrate the importance of this iconic site to the people of Ontario.