Manager's Report (winter 2017)
by David O’Hara, Site Manager
It seems each year that we look forward to the next with the hope that our calendar of events might somehow combine with the ongoing world of construction in and around Fort York in a much more manageable way. Unfortunately, it's never been the case.
Our 2017 calendar is a full one with many regular events and programs planned to return and with new and enhanced offerings—many forming a part of the City of Toronto's year-long TO Canada with Love program of celebrations, commemorations, and exhibitions honouring Canada's 150th birthday.
The fort has already hosted our annual Queen Charlotte's Ball and the 10th annual, and sold-out, Mad for Marmalade to begin the year. Our Vimy 100 Toronto event is planned for April 8 and 9, honouring the 100th anniversary of those who fought at Vimy Ridge. On April 8 the public will experience First World War re-enactor displays of infantry, artillery, cavalry, medicine, music, and food alongside Great War themed exhibits and films. On April 9 a military remembrance parade and commemorative service by the Canadian Armed Forces will be followed by the dedication of a Vimy oak tree within Garrison Common. The commemorative service will be attended by the Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario, the Honourable Elizabeth Dowdeswell, and Mayor John Tory. Vimy 100 Toronto is part of the city's TO Canada with Love program. More information on the weekend events is available at toronto.ca/fortevents.
There is a citizenship ceremony planned for April 19 and we'll then move through to Doors Open and other events in May before an extremely busy June. On the heels of the annual Field Trip (http://fieldtriplife.com/) and Taste of Toronto (http://toronto.tastefestivals.com/), mark your calendars and please visit us for National Aboriginal Day and the Indigenous Arts Festival, running from June 21st through to the 25th. Watch for much more to come throughout the remainder of 2017.
We continue to work with The Bentway Conservancy (http://www.thebentway.ca/about/) on the design and implementation of its first phase across the frontage of Fort York National Historic Site and on various programs and events throughout 2017. We were pleased to hear that Julian Sleath was recently appointed chief executive officer of The Bentway. In addition to his extensive background with cultural events and venues across Canada, the UK, and beyond, Julian knows Fort York as a former program manager for cultural events with the City of Toronto, and is familiar with its significance and the many years of work that have gone into getting the site to where it is today. We look forward to working with Julian and The Bentway Conservancy to build on what we've accomplished already by bringing a new and dynamic year-round program of events to The Bentway and Fort York. Construction of The Bentway throughout 2017 will impact several areas of Fort York. This, combined with the construction of the Garrison Crossing (see page 10), scheduled to be complete by this fall, will complicate the year.
One of the projects next on the to-do list at Fort York involves the north perimeter of the site between Bathurst Street and Garrison Crossing. Working with staff in the city's Parks, Forestry and Recreation Division, a trail will be constructed connecting CityPlace and lands east of Bathurst Street with Fort York lands under Bathurst and to the west. The multi-purpose trail will extend west at the lower rail corridor level, before climbing the slope to connect with the landing point of the new bridge. This trail follows the traces of the original Garrison Creek ravine system and the original ramparts of Fort York, providing a unique ravine-like experience in the core of the city. Opportunities exist to interpret the multi-layered history of the site, to remove invasive plant species and plant native species, to provide better access to the community gardens, and to find a more secure location for the beehives currently on site. News of this project will be reported as it proceeds.
Vandalism of the beehives at Fort York late last year drew significant attention to the fact that our program offerings go beyond military history. Toronto Honeys, who manage beehives at various locations around the city, have been working at Fort York since the spring of 2012. The bees thrived here while contributing to pollination in and around the fort. What began as two colonies had grown to seven, producing approximately 550 lb of honey in 2016. This honey, which captures the distinct taste of the local flowers, is incorporated into several of the recipes used in our historic kitchen and is available for sale in the museum store. The vandalism to the hives has left Toronto Honeys and our Fort York bees in a very unfortunate situation. Should you wish to contribute towards the rebuild, please donate to the Friends of Fort York in trust for the Toronto Honeys. Tax receipts will be issued for gifts in excess of $25. Cheques may be mailed to The Friends at 260 Adelaide St. E., Box 183, Toronto, M5A 1N1.
On the staff front, we're pleased to announce that Erica Roppolo has joined the Fort York team as our acting museum outreach officer. Erica has been with Museums & Heritage Services as a support assistant and as a museum attendant for over two years, and has experience working at six City of Toronto Historic Sites. Prior to joining M&HS, Erica had a number of internships and contracts with City of Toronto special events, including Nuit Blanche, Luminato Festival and TIFF.
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
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.