2012 Hero: Ontario Place Revitalization Plan
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2012 Hero: Ontario Place Revitalization Plan

Nominated for: preserving and renewing where each are needed.

Torontoist is ending the year by naming our Heroes and Villains: the very best and very worst people, places, things, and ideas that have had an influence on the city over the past 12 months. From December 10 to 19, we’ll unveil the nominees, grouped by category. Vote for your favourites from each batch, every single day! On December 19 and 20 the winners from each category go head-to-head in the final round of voting, and on December 21, we will reveal your choices for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year.

It’s possible you regard Ontario Place as that weird park across from the CNE through which you have to wander to get to see Bon Jovi every summer. But if you’re of a certain vintage, you have fonder memories of the park that once was. You recall your first glimpses of the Zeidler-designed pods hovering over the water, and you remember standing in line for an hour in front of the movie theatre that looks like a golf ball, anticipating that “Holy shit!” moment when the newfangled IMAX movie would make you feel like you really were in space.

Maybe you rode down concrete waterslides, dodged punching bags in Children’s Village or loved watching Blue Rodeo at The Forum. (“The rotating stage is so cool! I can’t see the band half the time but I don’t care because it’s so cool!”) Maybe you once held your parents’ hands, gaping in awe at the siloed wonders of Ontario North Now. Okay, probably not the last one.

Any way you slice it, Ontario Place used to be a symbol of the province’s promise, and over the years it became, basically, nowhere. IMAX screens can now be found all over, the rides seem super-meh, and the pods became hosts to Lego displays and lord knows what else. Finally, early this year, the province decided it was time to shut down the whole shebang and start again.

John Tory was picked to chair a committee tasked with coming up with a new plan for Ontario Place. Its report came out in July and we all breathed a happy sigh of relief.

First thing the committee said? No casino. This isn’t the place.

Second thing? Add some appropriate housing so there’s year-round population and it’s not just some weird, cold place no one visits after Labour Day. (Adding a year-round concert venue is another idea with the same goal.) Also? Preserve the architectural heritage of the Cinesphere and pods while giving them new uses, and make the whole park a model of sustainability that’s barrier-free, while harnessing the best possibilities of a public-private partnership.

The only thing more encouraging than the 18-point report is how the government unquestioningly accepted its every recommendation. (Caveat: An election is coming so who knows what that means.)

If you think Ontario Place is super boring, or you never even went there, just look at it from above. It’s a special place, with a special heritage, in a special location. For a city that always bemoans how it messed up the waterfront and how rarely it celebrates its own heritage, Ontario Place presents an absolutely perfect opportunity for some rectification. Of course, the devil’s in the details, and while we have a good framework for starting, now it’s time to make it happen.

See the other nominees in the Cityscape category:

Adaptation of Maple Leaf Gardens, for giving our history new life.  

Andy Byford, for bringing customer-focused change to the TTC.  

David Mirvish, for ambition writ large.  

Astral Pillar Info Hackers, for taking Toronto’s sidewalks back.  

The Ryerson Image Centre, living up to the university’s ambitions.  

Cast Your Ballot