Manager’s Report (fall 2016)

by David O’Hara, Site Manager

Much of the construction that has made it more difficult than normal to access Fort York was completed at the end of October. Although the reconstruction of the Gardiner Expressway deck has been completed, we will now move on to landscape improvements that will be implemented as part of The Bentway (visit www.thebentway.ca).

The Bentway, formerly known as Project: Under Gardiner, is a unique and innovative public space that will transform the area underneath the Gardiner Expressway into a new gathering place for our city’s growing population. While the project stretches1.75 km from Strachan Avenue to Spadina Avenue, the main section of the first phase of the project extends directly through Fort York from Strachan Avenue to where the Gardiner Expressway crosses Fort York Boulevard.Fort York staff have been working closely with the team responsible for moving this initiative forward, knowing that the overall strategy for The Bentway goes a long way towards realizing the vision for Fort York's 43 acres.

The Bentway provides an opportunity to properly landscape the area immediately adjacent to Strachan Avenue ('The Strachan Gate') and the area in front of the Visitor Centre (The 'Liquid Landscape'). It also brings a new dimension to programming at Fort York with the planned skating rink at the east of the Visitor Centre. While the idea of winter uses, and skating in particular, is not new for the fort, this skating trail is unique in that it opens an opportunity to trace the original Lake Ontario shoreline, playing a role itself in interpreting the site.

This initiative also offers us a unique opportunity to partner with the recently formed Bentway Conservancy to develop a strategy for programming, operations, and maintenance of these newly developed areas of the National Historic Site. Opportunities exist to activate the variety of spaces along The Bentway with events, public markets, public art, special exhibitions, festivals, theatre and musical performances, and more.
Further details will be available in the coming months, with the first phase of construction expected to be complete for July 1st 2017.

Construction is also underway on the Fort York pedestrian and bicycle bridges, with the goal of opening the bridges at some point in late 2017. Planning for 2017 events and programs, involving several significant Canada 150 initiatives, continues. This includes marking the 100th Anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge with a two-day commemorative event at Fort York on 8-9 April 2017. National Aboriginal Day, our Indigenous Arts Festival, and opening events related to The Bentway are also identified as key signature events. In addition to our own Canada Day programming, a large citizenship and reaffirmation ceremony is being scheduled during the summer in partnership with the Institute for Canadian Citizenship (ICC) and Fort York's Volunteer ICC Committee. Many other events, programs, and exhibits are being developed throughout the city's museums. Details to follow in the coming months.

Fort York, Friends of Fort York, and Fife and Drum Honoured at Toronto Heritage Awards

Patricia Fleming, editor of The Fife and Drum, and Joe Gill, past chair of the Friends of Fort York who founded the newsletter in 1998, took to the stage to receive our Community Heritage Award. Credit: Heritage TorontoPatricia Fleming, editor of The Fife and Drum, and Joe Gill, past chair of the Friends of Fort York who founded the newsletter in 1998, took to the stage to receive our Community Heritage Award. Credit: Heritage Toronto

by Christopher Moore

At the annual Toronto Heritage Awards, held 17 October 2016 at the Isabel Bader Theatre, Joseph Gill and Patricia Fleming stepped up to accept Toronto Heritage’s Community Heritage Award for 2016 on behalf of The Friends of Fort York and Garrison Common. The award citation noted the Friends’ newsletter Fife and Drum, its role in bringing into being the new Visitor Centre, and its ongoing support for Fort York. The win came with a small cash prize.

Joe Gill, a long-serving chair of The Friends of Fort York and founder of Fife and Drum, said afterwards, "The Friends brought together literally hundreds of Torontonians who understood the importance of preserving our early history and the importance of Fort York to that history. They enthusiastically volunteered their time and talents to that end and all deserve a piece of this award."
Awarded each year, the Community Heritage Award salutes one of Toronto’s many heritage groups or historical societies and, given the great range of work they do, competition is typically fierce. This year The Friends of Fort York were nominated alongside the Leslieville Historical Society and the Lakeshore Asylum Cemetery Project.

Fort York had two other nominations at the Heritage Awards. Eamonn O’Keeffe’s Fife and Drum article “New Light on Toronto’s Oldest Cold Case,” [link: http://www.fortyork.ca/images/newsletters/fife-and-drum-2015/fife-and-drum-dec-2015.pdf] was nominated in the Short Publication category. O’Keeffe, well-known as drum major of the Fort York Guard, sorted out what is known about the 1815 killing of John Paul Radelmüller, the keeper of the Gibraltar Point lighthouse. The story was long suspected of being largely an invention, but O’Keeffe established conclusively that two soldiers from Fort York, probably serving at the Gibraltar Point blockhouse, were tried–but acquitted–of the murder. Radelmüller seems to have been killed in an alcohol-fueled quarrel.

Fort York itself was in the spotlight of the William Greer Architectural Conservation and Craftsmanship Award. The City of Toronto’s Museums and Heritage Services, in conjunction with Stevens Burgess Architects and Clifford Restoration, were nominated for the 2015 refurbishment of walls, stonework, and embrasures at the fort.

The Bader Theatre was sold out for the annual award ceremony. Again this year, the event showcased the work in heritage preservation and appreciation being done by many people all over Toronto. Nominees and winners included property owners, architects, craftspeople, consultants, museologists, community groups, writers, historians, and filmmakers, many of whom attended the event.

A highlight of the evening was the Special Achievement Award presented to Carolyn King, former chief of the Mississaugas of New Credit First Nation, who was recognized for her decades of extraordinary work in drawing attention to Indigenous heritage and the role of the Mississaugas in the history of Toronto. King, a longtime friend to Fort York and a member of the Heritage Advisory Committee for Toronto’s Official Plan, gave a moving speech, based on her constant reminder that Toronto is much more than 200 years old. “We were here, and we are still here,” she said before a standing ovation.

Historian Steven High of Concordia University gave the 20th Kilbourn Lecture on lessons from oral history around old Montreal. The event was followed by a reception in Alumni Hall, Victoria University.

Writer and historian Christopher Moore is a Friend of Fort York.

Manager’s Report (summer 2016)

by David O’Hara, Site Manager

After beginning our 2016 event season with Field Trip and the Indigenous Arts Festival, we moved on to Taste of Toronto, Lakeshore Ribfest, Panorama, TIME, Vegan Fest, Mad Decent Block Party, One Walk to Conquer Cancer, Toronto Urban Roots Festival (TURF), the Sick Kids Great Camp Adventure, On Common Ground, and many more events–big and small.

Once again one of the highlights of our summer program was First World War Comes to Life, curated by the Victoria County Historical Society and funded by the Department of Canadian Heritage and Veterans Affairs. The fully-animated exhibit provided an opportunity to explore the wartime contributions of Canadian men and women who served beyond the trenches, both at home and overseas. It also provided an opportunity to profile Toronto's Great War Attic. For more information on the Great War Attic and to view the documentaries, visit www.toronto.ca/ww1

The Fort York Guard provided another summer highlight when they returned from Fort George in August having won the annual drill competition at the Soldiers’ Field Day– congratulations to all involved!

Moving into autumn, we're very pleased to now have the exhibits within the Visitor Centre complete and open. Aside from some finishing touches to lighting and a few additional artifacts to be installed, the new orientation film and theatre, the Exhibit Gallery, Vault, and the immersive Time Tunnel are now all open and accessible to the public.

Work on the Gardiner Expressway deck reconstruction, which has severely constrained access to Fort York over the last year, is expected to be complete at the end of October. Restoration of the Garrison Common, which will include the removal of the gravel parking lot, will also occur in October. Removal of the parking lot will return a significant portion of the original Common to open space, allowing for a more coherent visitor experience from Visitor Centre to Common to Fort. Henceforth visitors will be required to park in front of the Visitor Centre or at the corner of Fleet Street and Strachan Avenue to access the site. Additional improvements to these parking areas, including better connections between them, will be implemented in early 2017 as part of The Bentway.

Construction is well underway on the Fort York pedestrian and bicycle bridges. Dufferin Construction finished driving twenty- three piles for the Fort York landing in mid- September. Fabrication of the actual bridges will be completed off-site and delivered for installation at some point in 2017. The Bentway–formerly known as Project: Under Gardiner, continues to move along with Fort York staff heavily involved. The first phases of work planned for The Bentway will land directly within the National Historic Site from Strachan Avenue east along the Visitor Centre frontage. The delivery of a first phase for July of 2017 will include completion of the Visitor Centre parking lot, the 'Events Dock' (the boardwalk extending across the Visitor Centre frontage), and other landscape improvements. Fort York staff will also continue to collaborate with those working on the establishment of The Bentway Conservancy on issues related to programming, operations, and maintenance.

On the staffing front, we're pleased to welcome Kristine Williamson to the role of Supervisor, Special Events at Fort York. Since joining the fort in 2011 as Museum Outreach Officer, Kristine has worked to strengthen the site's ties to the community and its place as a hub of cultural activity and engagement for residents and visitors alike. We're also delighted to announce that Melissa Beynon is our new full- time Program Officer. Melissa has been with the city museums for fourteen years, in a number of roles, and brings a wealth of experience to the site.

While 2016 shows no signs of slowing down, we do continue to plan for 2017, which certainly promises to be an even busier year.

Manager’s Report (spring 2016)

by David O’Hara, Site Manager

Although access to Fort York remains severely constrained due to construction on the Gardiner Expressway, as we reach the midpoint of 2016 we are finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. With the actual expressway deck demolition and replacement complete, the finishing work (painting, drain installation) over the remainder of the year will have less of an impact on our programs and events. Our own landscaping work on Garrison Common, which included reconstructing Garrison Road, was largely done by the end of May. Our contractor, Ashland Construction Ltd., did a wonderful job and finished the work in time for our summer season. The final landscaping, including the removal of the upper gravel parking lot, will be in place in the fall once our major event season is finished and Gardiner construction is complete.

The construction of the Fort York Pedestrian Bridge will likely ramp up throughout the remainder of 2016 for an opening at some point to be confirmed in 2017. If all continues to go according to plan, construction will begin on Project: Under Gardiner, now known as The Bentway, in late 2016 and into 2017. Project: Under Gardiner is moving very fast and will have an important impact on Fort York as it occupies a significant portion of the National Historic Site. Visit www.undergardiner.com for more information and to follow along as it unfolds. Although $25 million has been generously donated towards the project, we still have several major unfunded projects at Fort York, including the completion of the Visitor Centre's weathered steel façade. Visit www.fortyorkfoundation.ca for more information.

Within the Visitor Centre itself, the exhibit installation is well underway and is scheduled for completion in late July or early August. This will include the installation of exhibits within the gallery, Vault, Time Tunnel, and lobby, and the launch of our new orientation film in the theatre.

With many of these major pieces finally falling into place, we are pleased to announce that the Fort York Visitor Centre is being considered as a finalist for a significant architectural award. The Mies Crown Hall Americas Prize, awarded biennially, was established by The College of Architecture at Illinois Institute of Technology to recognize the most distinguished architectural works built on the North and South American continents. The recipients of the prize will be named by a jury of professional architects, curators, writers, editors, and other individuals whose work has had a lasting influence on the theory and practice of design. http://www.arch.iit.edu/life/mchap-201415-finalists-announced Our summer season is well underway and has already been a busy one. In addition to Doors Open, we had two additional events on site in late May. The second annual 200 Years of Firepower showcased artillery over two hundred years, from 1816 to 2016. Guns in the battery ranged from the fort's light 6 pdr. field gun crewed by the Fort York Guard to the ultra-modern M-777 (155 mm) Howitzer crewed by the 2nd Regiment Royal Canadian Horse Artillery from Garrison Petawawa. The 7th Toronto Regiment (Royal Canadian Artillery) crewed the 105 mm Howitzer and their support group, the Limber Gunner's Association, fired the Second World War 25 pdr.
We also hosted the 125th Anniversary Tattoo of the 48th Highlanders of Canada and showcased the famous Toronto regiment's service to Canada with a spectacular parade by the unit and its Pipes and Drums. Thanks to everyone for participating in such a wonderful series of events during Doors Open.

Arts and Crafts Field Trip brought thousands to the fort during the first weekend in June for the annual music and arts festival while the fourth annual Indigenous Arts Festival took place from June 16 to 19. The Indigenous Arts Festival celebrates traditional and contemporary music, dance, theatre, literature, storytelling, visual arts, crafts, and food created by indigenous artists from across Canada. It included the Na-Me-Res Pow- Wow on the Saturday.

The impressive program for the Indigenous Arts Festival was the result of a collaborative effort with the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation, with financial support from TD Bank and the Department of Canadian Heritage (visit http://bit.ly/1TFA4mz for more information). We've been extremely fortunate to have had Robert Kerr, our Supervisor of Special Events at Fort York, working on all aspects of this event and many others. We wish Robert well as he moves on to take a 12 month position with the City Cultural Events Team as the programming lead for the upcoming Canada 150 Event Celebrations. Robert's experience leading arts organizations, programming and producing extraordinary festivals and events emphasizing partnership, collaboration, and community engagement has been invaluable in everything we've been working on at Fort York. We wish him the best and look forward to his return.

Also on the staff front, we'd like to wish program officer René Malagon all the very best upon his recent retirement. Although René's 28 years have been predominantly at Fort York, he has also worked at Mackenzie House and Colborne Lodge. Congratulations and all the very best René.