Designers of the new Fort York Visitor Centre gave a sneak peek of the new Toronto attraction yesterday, one week in advance of its official opening. The building is key to the planned revitalization of the city’s 43-acre founding site, providing an opportunity for visitors to be immersed in the history of what is considered the birthplace of Toronto.

Located almost immediately below and just north of the elevated Gardiner Expressway, the Visitor Centre snakes along the base of the monolithic structure that looms above. It aligns with the original shoreline of Lake Ontario, only set back some 500 metres, altered by two centuries of infill. Lined by a repetitive use of inclined weathered steel in considerable 8’ by 24’ proportions, its main facade recalls the original lake bluff, which contributed to the fort’s natural defences. The modularity is broken by sections of glass at building entry points.

The new Fort York Visitor Centre. Photo by Stephanie Calvet.

Entrance points to the new Fort York Visitor Centre. Photo by Stephanie Calvet.

Built in 1793, the Fort York National Historic Site is known as the location where the Battle of York came to its violent climax in 1813 during the War of 1812. Today it is home to one of the oldest collection of fortifications in Canada, enclosing the country’s largest collection of 1812-era military structures within its defensive walls. The Visitor Centre provides Fort York's first secure exhibit space and enables the display of artifacts from the City’s collection that tells its 200-year story. In addition to permanent and changing exhibits, it also provides facilities for education, research, staff and community use.

Exhibition space at the Fort York Visitor Centre. Image courtesy of Toronto exhibit designer Reich + Petch.

The project is the result of a collaborative partnership between two design firms, Patkau Architects, an innovative studio based in Vancouver, and local associate architects Kearns Mancini. Toronto exhibit designer Reich + Petch also had a hand in shaping the educational environment, which includes a vault designed to display iconic and light-sensitive artifacts; a 2900 square foot exhibit gallery; an Orientation Theatre; and, an ‘immersive experience’, a multimedia exhibit which takes visitors through the steps leading up to the Battle of York and to a final prospect overlooking the site and the city beyond.

Construction of switchback slope leading to top of the new Visitor Centre. Photo by Stephanie Calvet.

The uppermost viewing platform at the Visitor Centre looks back on the Fort and the city. Photo by Stephanie Calvet.

The building creates a unique identity for the Fort and further establishes it as a significant cultural landmark in the city and beyond.

The Official Opening of the Fort York Visitor Centre will take place at the Fort York National Historic Site at 250 Fort York Boulevard on Friday September 19th from 1:30pm to 3:30pm. On Common Ground, a fabulous festival of culture and community energizing the Visitor Centre and grounds of Fort York, takes place on September 20th and 21st from 12:00pm to 7:00pm.

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