What are the chances Doug Ford will eff up Ontario Place?

As the future of the iconic park hangs in the balance, it looks like we're headed for another Ford hijacking on the waterfront

To hockey fans, Dolores Claman is best known as the composer of the Hockey Night in Canada theme song. But she also has another famous song to her credit: the Theme From Ontario Place, a version of which was featured in the movie A Place To Stand, which was shown at the Ontario Pavilion as part of the province’s coming out party at Expo 67 in Montreal.

Claman died earlier this month. She was 94.

Claman’s ode to Ontario Place also served as an anthem for a growing province. A Place To Stand became required viewing for school kids on trips to the waterfront park and its iconic Cinesphere. Those were the salad days.

Now, the future of the waterfront park as a public space that Conservative premier John Robarts opened in 1971 “for the use of the people of Ontario” as part of “a new showcase for our province and people” and where “imaginations soar,” remains very much in doubt. In fact, it looks like it could be headed for disaster.

On that front, there was news last week courtesy of the Globe and Mail. The province has reportedly selected two companies  – Quebec-based Écorécréo and Austria-based the Therme Group – to redevelop Ontario Place. The former specializes in outdoor recreation equipment. The latter runs spas and “well-being resorts” in Europe and North America, including locations in Ajax and Toronto. The Ford government’s plan for Ontario Place also includes maintaining it as a destination for live performances. According to the Globe, it is expanding the role of concert promoter Live Nation, which runs the live venue there.

But the public has yet to see any proposals. And the bidding process was kept behind closed doors. Community groups say they’ve been shut out of the process. There have, in fact, been no public consultations.

That would come as little surprise to those familiar with Doug Ford’s history as a Toronto councillor, when he trashed Waterfront Toronto’s plans for the Port Lands and floated ideas for a Ferris wheel, Gucci stores and a yacht club instead. The premier’s penchant for interfering on the waterfront doesn’t bode well for the future of Ontario Place.

The good news is that condo development and a casino, an idea Ford also promoted behind the scenes when his brother was mayor, have been ruled out by the province. Or have they?

Big red flags went up when Ford incomprehensibly appointed the former police chief Mark Saunders as an advisor on Ontario Place’s future redevelopment. What possible reason could that be for if not questions of security that might arise with casino operations (i.e.: money laundering, etc.)?

Also, Toronto Mayor John Tory is not averse to the idea of residential development on the site.

He penned the report on the future of Ontario Place for the former Wynne government that recommended opening up part of the 63-hectare site to condofication. Ford’s friends at the Canadian Taxpayers Federation are for all that. They’re calling on the province to sell off Ontario Place to developers.

The silver lining is that the province has signalled its intentions to preserve the Cinesphere and iconic pods. In that sense, there may still be hope that whatever the future holds for Ontario Place, it will at least maintain some of its architectural lustre. The province, however, is reportedly open to the possible redevelopment of the seven hectares currently occupied by Trillium Park on Ontario Place’s eastern half.

What are the chances that Ontario Place will be the exception to the usual Ford rules of messing with the waterfront?

The fear of waterfront advocates is over the secrecy surrounding the Ford government’s dealings so far. It suggests that the decisions may have already been made.

Architectural Conservancy Ontario, for one, has little faith we’re headed for anything but another Ford job on the waterfront.

ACO has floated a number of proposals for the site as part of its The Future Of Ontario Place Project initiative in co-operation with the World Monuments Fund and the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture and Landscape Architecture at the University of Toronto. This one is on the radar of heritage conservationists the world over. ACO is calling on the government to “keep the park public” and establish a public consultation process “which recognizes the diverse communities that have contributed to Ontario Place.”

Ontario Place turns 50 this year. Perhaps it’s time for Doug to embrace some of the enthusiasm captured in Claman’s song for its future.


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