Scenes From Ontario Place

Ontario Place is nostalgia. We all have vague or even not so vague memories of going down to Ontario Place with our families for a fun-filled day. But things are changing at the park.

           

Opened in 1971, the idea of Ontario Place came following the success of Expo 67 in Montreal. Ontario Place was a display in modernism — a showcase of the future. The 1960s and ’70s were a transformative time culturally and architecturally in Toronto. Buildings such as Toronto City Hall and the TD Centre ushered Toronto into a new era. Ontario Place was part of that optimism. Brightly coloured pavilions echoing Expo would scatter its grounds along with giant silos, but the signature structure was and still remains the iconic, space-aged Cinesphere, featuring new IMAX movie technology.

Cinesphere under construction, circa 1970. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Continuing Toronto’s century long obsession with shaping and reshaping its waterfront, the land to house Ontario Place was a new addition to the city’s geography. Two infill islands would be built south of Lake Shore Boulevard near the Exhibition Grounds, connecting to the mainland by bridges.

Ontario Place under construction, 1970. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

The park would grow over the years. A central rink doubled in the summer as roller rink and as a skating rink in the winter months. The Ontario Place Forum offered musical entertainment from Teenage Head to Johnny Cash to Blue Rodeo to BB King to The Tragically Hip. The Toronto’s only waterpark — Froster Soak Park — would open in 1978 on the East Island. Wilderness Adventure Ride would excite log-riding ‘thrill seekers’ starting in 1986. 

Ontario Place in 1980. Silos and Cinesphere as a backdrop. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

B.B. King at the Ontario Place Forum, 1981. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Newly opened Wilderness Adventure Ride, 1986. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Ontario Place closed in 2011. Although many of the park landmarks are still intact and Ontario Place Corporation is still active, the sites serve almost as urban relics. It’s an odd yet intriguing contrast walking there today: one thinks of the circumstances of its construction — the hope and intent for grandeur and futurism — and then its sad abandoned state — how that vision didn’t ultimately hold up. Maybe it was never meant last. Dwindling attendance put an end to it.

           

As mentioned, there were attractions added over the years, but perhaps Ontario Place never matched up as a ‘modern’ amusement park to its suburban counterpart Canada’s Wonderland. As the years grew, I certainly heard it mentioned less and less as a destination. Oddly, I actually encountered the grounds more as an adult than as a child; albeit this was because attending concerts finally became a reality and the Molson Amphitheatre — the successor to the Forum — was a great venue for it, so I was only passing through.

The good news: revitalization is in Ontario Place’s future. A long-term vision has the grounds becoming a destination once more through a lot of re-purposing. One part of this plan is already in effect: Trillium Park and William G. Davis Trail. This extraordinary space was carved out parking lots and offers some of the most spectacular skyline views of Toronto.

As a showing of the possibilities, Ontario Place held a Winter Lights Exhibition in the winter of 2018, transforming the grounds and showing them off in a different, well, light. A walk around the artist creations offered neat views of the abandoned park, instilling both a sadness and perhaps some optimism for the next stages. Maybe then Ontario Place will be the future once more.

              

Useful Links

BlogTO – “Adandoned water ride at Ontario Place now an epic urban ruin” by Lauren O’Neil

Historic Toronto – “Ontario Place, closed in 2011” by Doug Taylor

National Post – “Taxpayers ‘Soak City’: The tale of a brand-new Ontario Place waterslide no one will ever use”

The Chive – “The sad condition of the abandoned Ontario Place” by Martin

Torontoist – “Historicist: Opening the Cinesphere” by Jamie Bradburn 

Torontoist – “Remembering Ontario Place’s Origins” by Jamie Bradburn

2 responses to “Scenes From Ontario Place

  1. I’m sorry I missed the Winter Lights, but I do like Trillium Park and have been down there a few times. I love watching the planes take off from Billy Bishop.

    I have great memories of attending concerts at the Forum when I first moved to Toronto, and taking my young children to the fireworks in the summer.

  2. So happy to learn of the rebirth of Ontario Place!

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