It’s been over a year since the Provincial Government announced its plan to launch the revitalization of Ontario Place, framing the project around the stated need to realign the historic venue with its original mantra, celebrating Ontario and its diverse population — with the help of several private investors. While debate over the role of private interests in the redevelopment of one of Ontario’s cultural landmarks has been constant, there wasn’t really a clear idea of what people were lobbying against exactly, until now. 

At the end of November, a proposal was submitted to the City of Toronto outlining the overarching plan for the future of the waterfront community hub, offering greater details on the sweeping changes proposed in the form of both private and public development. 

Looking northwest at current view of Ontario Place, image from submission to City of Toronto

With hundreds of pages of documents tracing the history of the site, outlining its cultural significance, and assessing the current state of the existing facilities, the proposal — written by Urban Strategies Inc and STUDIO tla on behalf of their clients the Province of Ontario and Infrastructure Ontario — provides a lot to unpack before even looking at the redevelopment plan. To offer a clear summary of everything you need to know about what’s in store for the beloved park, we will be covering the proposal in a series of stories beginning with an overview of the plans for the public realm, which will help frame our subsequent coverage of how the private sector development could come into play. 

To begin, the plan attempts to establish a framework to guide the conception of the ultimate plan based on the interests laid out by both the City of Toronto and the Province of Ontario. In response to those interests, a set of five guiding principles that work to create a foundation to inform the plan were established as follows:

The redevelopment of Ontario Place will;

  • celebrate the original vision,
  • be a destination for all Ontarians,
  • be a vibrant waterfront open space,
  • achieve environmental resilience and sustainability, and
  • become economically viable and lasting. 

The redeveloped West Island with new landscaped paths, image from submission to City of Toronto

Putting those principles into action, environmental resilience and sustainability are high on the priority list. The report states that one of the main issues that the man-made island has faced since the attractions were closed a decade ago is the relentless force of Lake Ontario, saying that for years, the combination of flooding and erosion has plunged the landmass into a state of disrepair that needs immediate attention.

In this way, one of the key aspects of the revitalization project will be an extensive restoration effort on the perimeter sea wall. Meanwhile, in order to deliver sustainability to match that level of resiliency, a horticultural overhaul is planned to introduce native plant species and create prosperous habitats in various locations, including a new wetland innovation zone. 

Wetland innovation zone is one of the sustainability features of the new plan, image from submission to City of Toronto

One of the glaring obstacles in Ontario Place’s ability to be a vibrant waterfront open space has always been the auto-oriented nature of the site, which suffers from a lack of transit access and a sparse, uninviting pedestrian experience in the area known as the mainland. A big part of the redevelopment plan seeks to amend this reality with a much needed reconfiguration of the mainland space. Currently occupied solely by surface parking lots, the plan involves consolidating parking underground, and transforming the western half of the space into a plaza and mobility hub. This would allow the mainland to become a proper entrance that facilitates access to Ontario Place on foot, bike, and transit, while also providing usable spaces to gather or pass through. No specifics are contained in the plan for a new transit connection, although Exhibition GO station and the TTC Exhibition streetcar loop, a 10 minutes walk to the north, will also be home to the western terminus of the Ontario Line subway within about 10 years time.

Changes proposed for mainland area include a new plaza and transit hub, image from submission to City of Toronto

A number of interventions are proposed to be made on the West Island, funded by the private partner Therme Group, whose plans for a spa and wellness attraction will be covered in our next story. The area surrounding their paid attraction would remain public, and would experience a dramatic reinvention that involves a network of paths, a number of plaza spaces, and a beach swimming area connected to a new pier. The intention is to activate the city’s relationship with the waterfront, and bring the presence of the lake into the forefront of the programming, as detailed in the guiding principles. 

Rendering of the proposed pier and beach on the West Island, image from submission to City of Toronto

The East Island would also see the reconfiguration of currently under-utilized space, with a focus on the area referred to as The Forum (not to be confused with the original, now lost, concert venue at Ontario Place), currently paved over. A children’s play village is planned to incite the reactivation of the neighbouring Brigantine Cove, allowing The Forum to become an overflow space that could accommodate flexible services like food trucks, pop ups, or events, as well as acting as an extension of the successful Trillium Park project completed in 2017, which faces out to Lake Ontario on the south and east sides here. 

More activity spaces and family friendly programming proposed for East Island, image from submission to City of Toronto

Between the West Island and East Island interventions, Budweiser Stage, which was the successor to the original Forum concert venue at Ontario Place, would also be transformed by Live Nation into a year round venue with seating for up to 20,000 people. Another story will follow about this part of the proposal in the coming days.

UrbanToronto will continue our coverage the Ontario Place redevelopment plan soon, but in the meantime, you can learn more about it from our Database file, linked below. If you'd like, you can join in on the conversation in the associated Project Forum thread or leave a comment in the space provided on this page.

* * *

UrbanToronto has a research service, UrbanToronto Pro, that provides comprehensive data on construction projects in the Greater Toronto Area—from proposal through to completion. We also offer Instant Reports, downloadable snapshots based on location, and a daily subscription newsletter, New Development Insider, that tracks projects from initial application.

Related Companies:  BDP Quadrangle, Crozier & Associates Consulting Engineers, Diamond Schmitt Architects, IBI Group, LEA Consulting, RWDI Consulting Engineers and Scientists, STUDIO tla, Urban Strategies Inc., Zeidler Architecture