Fort York Visitor Centre: Worth the Wait

Catherine Nasmith | September 26, 2014
From Issue No. 233 | September 26, 2014

If you haven’t been yet, run don’t walk to look at the Fort York Visitor Centre.

fort-york-visitor-centre-2Dreamed about for over 30 years, since it was a gleam in the eye of the late George Waters, it is finally open. All that wishing and hoping and planning and dreaming has paid off with a spectacular, elegant, understated result. One that is brilliantly of its day yet timeless. Kearns Mancini and Patkau architects are to be congratulated along with so many others for keeping the essence of the design through the inevitable compromises of budget and construction.

The design is a simple idea….the building as retaining wall, marking the edge of the former shore line, and through ramps moving the visitor from one plane to another, a time tunnel from the modern city including the Gardiner Expressway up to Toronto's founding place of over two hundred years ago. Built in core-ten steel, a material requiring little ongoing maintenance, it’s crisp panels are reminiscent of the shoring of construction sites, and the earth colour of the bank. The way the panels just flip up to invite you into the bright spacious interior is also brilliantly simple.

The landscaping is missing for the moment, yet I rather enjoyed the simply raked soil bringing a brown ground surface up to the walls. To keep that effect would take a lot of weeding!

Fort-York-visitor-centreSo many people are to be thanked, but I want in particular to salute our friend Stephen Otto, whose passion, persistence, diplomacy and wisdom led to the founding of both the Friends of Fort York, and the Fort York Foundation. He is a hard person to say no to, and he brings so many others into his generous and ever expanding circle of “friends”, all called in to serve when it is their turn to help. As he said to me in a recent conversation, “25 years from now when we are all looking down from our clouds we can feel proud of what we have achieved”….Amen. No one should be prouder, yet is so modest about it, than Steve himself.

P.S. And don’t miss Charlie Pachter’s War of 1812 series, on display in the visitor centre while you are there.

 

Manager’s Report (late fall 2014)

by David O’Hara, Site Manager

After years of hard work by so many individuals, the Fort York Visitor Centre was officially opened on 19 September 2014. In its first few months of use the building has already hosted a wide variety of events, including a prominent role as part of Nuit Blanche which brought thousands of people down to Fort York to experience twelve different installations across the site. Visit http://www.scotiabanknuitblanche.ca/

While the Visitor Centre is complete and open to the public, several additional site improvements will be undertaken as we move into 2015. By the end of January the Fort's hydro service will be placed below grade, allowing us to remove the overhead power lines and street lights along Garrison Road. Once the hydro work is complete, demolition of the Garrison Road Bridge will begin. The bridge, along with the earthen abutments, will be removed and dropped to a lower elevation allowing for a connection with the new Visitor Centre parking lot, and making the connection from parking at Fleet Street and Strachan Avenue more accessible.

Completion of these components will allow us to phase out the gravel parking lot immediately in front of the west gates and restore the area as part of a fully landscaped Garrison Common. Those arriving by vehicle will park in the area of the Visitor Centre before moving through the new building and across this newly restored portion of the Common to the walled fort. While parking will be slightly farther away from the fort, these changes will provide for a more coherent visitor experience across the site and integrate the Common and Garrison Road into the fort's physical interpretation.

Garrison Road itself, along with the sidewalks and curbs, will be removed and replaced with a more appropriately designed and detailed road. While the redesigned Garrison Road will still provide service and emergency access, it will also serve as a primary pedestrian and cycling route and bring visitors from the Visitor Centre to the walled fort. The lands along Garrison Road, including the existing gravel parking lot, will be returned to green space. Much of this work is similar to some of the recent landscaping undertaken in the Strachan Avenue Burial Ground where, prior to our Remembrance Day Ceremony which over 1000 attended, we implemented improvements including a new pedestrian walkway. The design was completed as a result of a grant received from TD Bank Group.

Another project that we will hear more about in 2015 is the Fort York Pedestrian and Cycle Bridge. The City of Toronto has recently completed the addendum to the 2009 Municipal Class Environmental Assessment (EA) and, as costs for the bridge as originally designed exceeded the project budget, the bridge will be redesigned and constructed using a design-build process led by Build Toronto. More on this process and on the EA addendum can be found at http://goo.gl/V5W8M4

With another busy year ahead, the objective is to get as much as possible of the physical work done by June of 2015 (the Pedestrian and Cycle Bridge will take longer). In addition to many of our regular annual events, we will be participating in the Toronto 2015 Pan Am / Parapan American Games when Fort York will host the Toronto Aboriginal Pavilion ( http://goo.gl/3kxCev )

Unfortunately, at the same time as much of our own construction is nearing completion, the reconstruction of the Gardiner Expressway deck in the area of Fort York will be moving into high gear so that we will be faced with ongoing construction extending into mid 2016.

Our work on exhibits will also keep us busy throughout 2015. Work will continue on projects within the Visitor Centre, with fabrication and installation coordinated with the Magna Carta Exhibit planned for October. Details on both 2015 exhibits and events will follow in the next issue.

Manager’s Report (fall 2014)

by David O’Hara, Site Manager

After years of hard work by so many individuals, the Fort York Visitor Centre was officially opened on 19 September 2014. In its first few months of use the building has already hosted a wide variety of events, including a prominent role as part of Nuit Blanche which brought thousands of people down to Fort York to experience twelve different installations across the site. Visit http://www.scotiabanknuitblanche.ca/

While the Visitor Centre is complete and open to the public, several additional site improvements will be undertaken as we move into 2015. By the end of January the Fort's hydro service will be placed below grade, allowing us to remove the overhead power lines and street lights along Garrison Road. Once the hydro work is complete, demolition of the Garrison Road Bridge will begin. The bridge, along with the earthen abutments, will be removed and dropped to a lower elevation allowing for a connection with the new Visitor Centre parking lot, and making the connection from parking at Fleet Street and Strachan Avenue more accessible.

Completion of these components will allow us to phase out the gravel parking lot immediately in front of the west gates and restore the area as part of a fully landscaped Garrison Common. Those arriving by vehicle will park in the area of the Visitor Centre before moving through the new building and across this newly restored portion of the Common to the walled fort. While parking will be slightly farther away from the fort, these changes will provide for a more coherent visitor experience across the site and integrate the Common and Garrison Road into the fort's physical interpretation.

Garrison Road itself, along with the sidewalks and curbs, will be removed and replaced with a more appropriately designed and detailed road. While the redesigned Garrison Road will still provide service and emergency access, it will also serve as a primary pedestrian and cycling route and bring visitors from the Visitor Centre to the walled fort. The lands along Garrison Road, including the existing gravel parking lot, will be returned to green space. Much of this work is similar to some of the recent landscaping undertaken in the Strachan Avenue Burial Ground where, prior to our Remembrance Day Ceremony which over 1000 attended, we implemented improvements including a new pedestrian walkway. The design was completed as a result of a grant received from TD Bank Group.

Another project that we will hear more about in 2015 is the Fort York Pedestrian and Cycle Bridge. The City of Toronto has recently completed the addendum to the 2009 Municipal Class Environmental Assessment (EA) and, as costs for the bridge as originally designed exceeded the project budget, the bridge will be redesigned and constructed using a design-build process led by Build Toronto. More on this process and on the EA addendum can be found at
http://goo.gl/V5W8M4

With another busy year ahead, the objective is to get as much as possible of the physical work done by June of 2015 (the Pedestrian and Cycle Bridge will take longer). In addition to many of our regular annual events, we will be participating in the Toronto 2015 Pan Am / Parapan American Games when Fort York will host the Toronto Aboriginal Pavilion ( http://goo.gl/3kxCev )

Unfortunately, at the same time as much of our own construction is nearing completion, the reconstruction of the Gardiner Expressway deck in the area of Fort York will be moving into high gear so that we will be faced with ongoing construction extending into mid 2016.

Our work on exhibits will also keep us busy throughout 2015. Work will continue on projects within the Visitor Centre, with fabrication and installation coordinated with the Magna Carta Exhibit planned for October. Details on both 2015 exhibits and events will follow in the next issue.

Fort York Visitor Centre: One for the Good Guys

by Christopher Moore
Friday, September 19, 2014

VisitorCentre01

Went down last night to a celebration of the new Visitors' Centre at Fort York in Toronto. In Toronto where "cut taxes/starve services/bitch about lagging infrastructure" has been the dominant voice for decades, support for history and heritage still has a guerrilla, oppositional feeling to it. Actually getting this visitor centre built felt to a lot of people there like a victory against the odds after decades of defeats and disappointments. A federal minister and various private foundation types were there, but beneath that the vibe was unmistakable: the underdogs had actually pulled one off.

Tucked between a railroad line and an elevated highway in a grim light-industrial zone, Fort York has always struggled to connect with the city. But the area has suddenly been transformed by massive condominium development, amid a lot of smart urban design. The Fort has cleverly decided to make itself the community centre. With 43 acres of green space, it had something to offer, and it has already become a venue for festivals and concerts. Now its visitor centre will double as a community gathering space. Here's Urban Toronto's take on it.

The vision for Fort York is spectacular. A brilliant Fort York Visitor Centre will come to life after an engaging design competition . The concept by Patkau Architects Inc. (Vancouver) & Kearns Mancini Architects Inc. (Toronto) artfully references Fort York’s historic context on the bluff of Lake Ontario in its inspired form and use of materials, while bringing the site into striking, contemporary focus.

With its new visibility and new amenities, Fort York is also poised to become the de facto Museum of Toronto that the city has been determined never to have. Next spring when Magna Carta makes its 800th anniversary world tour, it's the Fort York Visitor Centre that will host it in Toronto. And the current temporary exhibits - pending enough money to put up the actual Fort York materials – give a taste of the unseen Toronto collections that finally have a display venue.

It's a terrific building, but more it's a display of smart civic planning, in which heritage and historical values are actually shown to work hand in hand with housing development, recreation, and even traffic needs. Go see.

Elsewhere in museums, today is the opening of the Human Rights Museum in Winnipeg.  Human rights is so inherently political and confrontational that they have had their struggles. I hope they just accept that, and go on being all confrontational and in your face, damn the protesters.

http://christophermoorehistory.blogspot.ca/2014/09/fort-york-visitor-centre-one-for-good.html