Safeguarding Ontario Place: A Call for Government Engagement with Local Stakeholders
To the Government of Ontario:
WMF is dismayed at a proposal to demolish the urban forest of Canada’s Ontario Place. In 2020, WMF named Canada’s Ontario Place to the World Monuments Watch, a biennial selection of 25 of the world’s most significant heritage sites in need of immediate attention. The Toronto public waterfront site’s selection for this internationally recognized program placed it alongside such renowned places as Easter Island, Chile, and Notre-Dame of Paris, France. The choice affirmed that Ontario Place is a modernist icon worthy of protection.
In collaboration with Architectural Conservancy Ontario (ACO), and the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design at the University of Toronto, WMF assembled a digital public archive of Ontario Place’s history and recorded interviews with architects, urbanists, activists, and current users about the significance of Ontario Place. Through our research, we uncovered a sketch by the site’s architect, Eberhard Zeidler, that describes his approach to “reclaim[ing] the shoreline for people; the meeting of water and land brought to a poetic awareness.” Out of respect for Zeidler’s legacy, Ontario Place’s poetic and public value should receive the highest level of consideration.
We have been following developments at Ontario Place over the past weeks with dismay. We are particularly alarmed at the recently introduced Rebuilding Ontario Place Act, which exempts the site from the Ontario Heritage Act, the Environmental Assessment Act, and other regulatory guardrails that ensure the proper management of public heritage sites. Ontario Place is a unique synthesis of architectural and natural elements, and the current proposal would level a large portion of the original landscape designed by renowned Canadian landscape architect Michael Hough–demolishing an urban forest of over 850 mature trees. Local activists report that tree removal at this beloved landmark has already begun, damaging Ontario Place’s internationally recognized heritage landscape and the site’s ecology.
We join the Cultural Landscape Foundation in condemning this action in the strongest terms. The Ontario Heritage Act, under which Ontario Place is listed as a Heritage Property of Provincial significance, must be respected. The legislation, which fails to take into account Ontario Place’s internationally recognized cultural significance, must be reversed. We encourage the Government of Ontario, as stewards of a public site, to consider international best practices in site management and more productive dialogues with local stakeholders. Doing so will ensure that Ontario Place will be safeguarded for those in Canada and abroad that cherish this irreplaceable heritage site.
To view and sign a petition by the Ontario Place for All Campaign, click here.