After four years of construction which left Éireann Quay at the foot of Bathurst Street inaccessible, Ireland Park has finally reopened to the public. Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly was joined on Tuesday by the Chairman of the Ireland Park Foundation, Robert G. Kearns, to officially mark the reopening of the park which was built in 2007.
The park commemorates the over 38,000 immigrants who in 1847, arrived in Toronto after fleeing Ireland during the Great Famine. The renowned Irish sculptor Rowan Gillespie designed five bronze statues to complement a similar installation in Dublin which marks the departure of Irish immigrants to North America. Hoping to build a reciprocal park somewhere in North America to portray their arrival, the spot was chosen in 2000 due to its close location to the fever sheds which stood at Bathurst and Front and the actual landing of the immigrants at Reese's Wharf just east of the site. Large limestone monuments imported from Kilkenny, Ireland at the west end of the park depict the names of those lost in 1847 while reflecting the Irish natural landscape. Designed by Jonathan M. Kearns, the $3.5 million park was funded through donations, including $700,000 in federal and provincial grants and $500,000 from the Irish government.
The park was completely closed in 2010 to facilitate construction on the east dockwall of the quay and the Portland Slip waterfront promenade. The germination and kiln buildings of the Canada Malting silos were also demolished and the building's perimeter remains fenced off while the City of Toronto decides what to do with the property. The new 130 metre long waterfront promenade, designed by West 8 and DTAH, features a granite maple leaf mosaic and appropriately, 25 maple trees lining either side of the 9.7 metre wide walkway. The promenade connects Ireland Park to Queen's Quay, which is also undergoing an extensive revitalization.
Access to the west entrance of the park will remain restricted due to construction of the tunnel to the island airport. Although the tunnel is expected to open in 2015, the park may have to temporarily close again to make way for the rebuilding of the north dockwall, a project that will likely take until at least 2016 to complete.
In spite of its recent and upcoming closures, Ireland Park provides Torontonians and tourists of all nationalities the chance to reflect on the city's history of welcoming immigrants to its shores, while mourning those who died seeking a better life.
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