Having been a decade in the works, it may have taken somewhat longer than expected, but on Canada Day this year, the second of two new public spaces were opened within the span of a week on Toronto's central waterfront.

One of the squares is called Canada Square, while the other is called Ontario Square. The two are next to one another, both located at the heart of Harbourfront Centre's 4-hectare property. Ontario Square with its adjacent Exhibition Common spans 4,920 square metres, while its companion, Canada Square fills an area of 1,580 square metres.

Canada Square, Ontario Square, Toronto Harbourfront, Toronto public space Aerial view of Canada Square (top left) and Ontario Square (bottom left), image by MafaldaBoy

While Harbourfront Centre has been active since 1972, formal plans for building the public squares here actually began in 2003, two years after the formation of Waterfront Toronto to oversee improvement of the city's connection to the lake. The space at York Quay was occupied by a surface parking lot, but the federal government of the day promised $25 million to bury the lot underground.

Plans for the squares developed when the provincial government gave a special cultural grant to Harbourfront Centre to create the space. In time Waterfront Toronto and Harbourfront Centre partnered to bury the parking in a garage right under the plot of land it was siting on at the foot of Lower Simcoe Street. The garage opened last year, and Ontario Square and Exhibition Common have since opened above it, while Canada Square is to the south of it all.

The squares were designed by prominent New York landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, designer of the recently opened and highly acclaimed Corktown Common.

Canada Square, Ontario Square, Toronto Harbourfront, Toronto public space Looking through Ontario Square to the Enwave Theatre, image by MafaldaBoy

Ontario Square's design is inspired by the province's natural environment, and is planted with nearly 500 quaking aspens, a tree which can be found throughout the forests of central Ontario. The dark gray and white patterned stone paving in the square is meant to resemble the early Spring ice break-up in Toronto harbour.

Aerial view of Ontario Square looking east towards Queens Quay Terminal, TorontoAerial view of Ontario Square looking east towards Queens Quay Terminal, image courtesy of Waterfront Toronto

A rendering of the project, seen above, shows the square as it may look in a couple years time once the trees have grown in some. You'll see to the left of the image that even the entrance ramp to the garage was planted with trees, so it will blend in with the greenery of the rest of Ontario Square.

To the east of Ontario Square is the event space, Exhibition Common. When funds are made available in the future, there are plans to building a two-storey 'cultural village' on the site to provide a place for shows, shops, and places to eat. Currently the centre of the greenspace is used to host shows while its outside edge is bordered by an outdoor art gallery.

Canada Square, Ontario Square, Toronto Harbourfront, Toronto public spaceExhibition Common: an interim wide open stretch of grass beside the squares, image by MafaldaBoy

Continuing south, Canada Square comes into view with the lake behind it.

Canada Square, Ontario Square, Toronto Harbourfront, Toronto public spacePanorama looking south to Canada Square and Lake Ontario, image by drum118

Canada Square, Ontario Square, Toronto Harbourfront, Toronto public space Benches in the courtyard of Canada Square, with Lake Ontario visible in the background, image by MafaldaBoy

Canada Square, features 41 Metasequoia (dawn redwood) trees and is designed to resemble a typical Canadian 'lake landscape', similar to those in cottage country areas such as Muskoka.

Canada Square, Ontario Square, Toronto Harbourfront, Toronto public space View of the CN Tower from Canada Square, image by MafaldaBoy

These trees are expected to grow much taller too over the years, and all have been planted in generous beds to foster significant root growth.

The combined spaces here are fairly dynamic with a range of uses. They can serve as a space for people to relax, somewhere to go when seeking some calm and serenity, a space for nearby office workers to go to eat lunch, maybe a new highlight along an exercise route. Certainly there will be more than a few organizations who will host events in Exhibition Common.

Even the 300-car underground parking lot is beyond the ordinary. It includes parking spaces where electric car owners may charge their car while they are parked. A reflective glass art piece by James Carpenter Design Associates, 'Light Cascade', is designed to reflect quantities of natural light deep into the garage. The photo below shows the garage at nighttime when lights below are reflected up through the garage by the piece. 

James Carpenter's Light Cascade at Harbourfront, TorontoJames Carpenter's shimmering Light Cascade lit up from below at night, image by Craig White

Ontario Square officially opened June 23rd with Premier Kathleen Wynne attending the ceremony, while Canada Square opened July 1st with then federal Minister of the Environment Peter Kent, Harbourfront Centre CEO William Boyle, and Waterfront Toronto Chair Mark Wilson all in attendance for the official opening.

Harbourfront Centre say they hope the new developments will remind people that there is more to Harbourfront Centre than just a single building.

Canada Square, Ontario Square, Toronto Harbourfront, Toronto public space Canada Eve fireworks celebrate the opening of Canada Square on June 30, photo by udo

The construction of the new public spaces comes as part of a broader Queen's Quay revitalization project by Waterfront Toronto. The project will reconstruct a 1.5 kilometre stretch of Queen's Quay West to include new bike lanes, dedicated streetcar lanes, wide granite sidewalks, and a pedestrian promenade on the south side. The aim is to make the area friendlier to pedestrians, cyclists, and transit riders, and to beatify and modernize an area which is in need of a facelift, while drivers will find one less lane of road in each direction.

Want to see more? UrbanToronto's dataBase entries, linked below, contain many more renderings that show what is to come. Want to contribute to the discussion? Choose an associated Forum thread, or leave your comment in the space provided on this page.