Manager's Report (Spring 2019)
by David O’Hara, Site Manager
We’ve just wrapped up one of our busiest times of the year here at Fort York. We were booking school groups from far and wide even as we ramped up our largest events of the year.
In addition to our usual cross-section of school visits from the Toronto boards, Peel, York, Simcoe, Durham and the Bluewater District – and these are just the biggest – we set up tours for the men’s soccer team from Geneva College in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania; a group from the University of Klagenfurt in Austria; and a school visit from the fly-in community of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation (Big Trout First Nation). That’s an Oji-Cree First Nation reserve in Northwestern Ontario about 580 km north of Thunder Bay.
In May we were part of Jane’s Walks with our “Schooners to Skyscrapers” tour of the military, industrial and athletic history of the fort’s immediate neighbourhood; check Upcoming Events for opportunities to join this tour later in the summer. Some 3,000 participants landed at Fort York for the beginning of the annual Meagan’s Walk; our front door marked the end of the Sporting Life 10k Marathon on May 12; and on the following weekend fort staff led tours with a focus on Women in Fort York History to celebrate #WomenInCulture.
More than 2,800 people came here during Doors Open Toronto on May 25 and 26. We had displays, re-enactors and demonstrations from the present Canadian Army, our own staff and a host of historical organizations. Thanks to the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery (from Petawawa) and 7th Toronto Regiment, Royal Canadian Artillery (from Moss Park Armoury); the Limber Gunners Association; HMS Psyche Canadian Maritime Heritage Society; the 100th (Prince Regent’s County of Dublin) Regiment; the Canadian Regiment of Fencible Infantry; and the Upper Canada Living History Association. Also here was Trevor Parkins-Sciberras (check Transit Bricks online) who built an amazing Fort York entirely of Lego. You can see CP24’s story about him .
I’m happy to report that Fort York and many of the other City-operated museums have had a chance to put a new idea into play: we’ve been hosting “Newcomer” visits in partnership with the city’s Newcomer Office. In a program to help improve their settlement, TTC tokens and free admission are offered to recently arrived immigrants to bring them into not just the city’s museums but Toronto’s present culture. The experience was the result of a generous sponsorship from Meridian. We hope to make this a regular program at Fort York, and thank Meridian again for their generous support.
We also helped The Bentway with Noemie Lafrance’s production of the contemporary dance piece Derives, which was workshopped at Fort York in the spring and performed in front of our Visitor Centre (largely on the Wharf) June 5-8. More than 1,200 people saw the show. We’re also an important venue of The Bentway’s New Monuments for New Cities project, which was launched on May 11 in co-operation with New York’s High Line Network. The art will be in place until the end of August.
Fort York’s popularity with the directors of feature film and television is continuing. Episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale were filmed amid the award-winning architecture of the Visitor Centre in early May. Titans is filming Season 3 in Toronto and will feature a scene under the Gardiner at the Visitor Centre. Shooting for that was at the end of May. And Shazam! was partly filmed at Fort York last year; look for the big scene with the bus.
Dubbed “the ultimate cottage-in-the-city experience,” Spring Beerfest TO returned to Garrison Common on Saturday and Sunday of the Victoria Day weekend. More than 3,000 people enjoyed a wide selection of Ontario craft beers and great food, outdoor games and music (even as they unfurled their umbrellas).
During the last week of May we hosted a private event for the Royal Canadian Mint. As part of the launch of the mint’s D-Day 75th anniversary coin, fort staff explained displays of artifacts to put the commemoration into context. On the day of the invasion – June 6 – program officers Kevin Hebib and Bridget Wranich gave a great illustrated lecture for members of the public on the food of the troops in Normandy. The evening was enhanced by a delicious selection of period baking.
More than 250 people came to the movies at Fort York in the middle of June for screenings of Thelma and Louise (on Saturday night) and Misery (on Sunday). It was the opening weekend of the Toronto Outdoor Picture Show series – TOPS – happening in parks around the downtown; find the schedule here.
The opening of Garrison Crossing, the bicycle and pedestrian connection over the rail corridors, has been delayed again. The final link – across the tip of the Ordnance Triangle – is now promised for late summer. The graceful landing of the bridge onto the north bank of Garrison Common is essentially finished. The reconstruction of Garrison Road, turning off Fleet Street and north past the armoury, is actually finished.
There’s also a new trail there and a more sustainable landscape. It’s the result of the fort’s own staff working with Waterfront Toronto to prepare a better connection from Garrison Crossing through Fort York National Historical Site (and intersecting The Bentway) south to the water’s edge and the Martin Goodman Trail. Below the north side of the fort, meanwhile, a 600-metre stretch of multi-use trail in the lowlands is also essentially finished. It’s the future link under Bathurst to the coming Lower Garrison Creek Park and the towers of CityPlace beyond.
Finally, Fort York’s seventh annual Indigenous Arts Festival ran from Tuesday, June 18 to Sunday, June 23. We saw about 700 people a day throughout the week and then almost 3,000 more for National Indigenous Peoples Day on June 21. The day began with Chief Laforme of the Mississaugas of the Credit raising their flag at the fort and launching the Moccasin Identifier Project, which is designed “to mark the traditional territory and enduring presence of Indigenous peoples. ” The entertainment that night included the Métis Jiggers, Fawn Big Canoe, Beatrice Deer and Quantum Tangle.
Saturday began with the Na Me Res Sunrise Ceremony and the Grand Entry for the big Pow Wow at noon. Joining us were the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Carolyn Bennett, MPP Chris Glover, Councillors Cressy and Wong-Tam, and MoCFN Councillor Evan Sault. That night the stage on Garrison Common was lit up with Amanda Rheaume, Jah’kota and Midnight Shine.
The festival was widely covered by the media: we helped with CTV, CBC, TVO Kids, Element, The Weather Network, NOW online, the Daily Hive, BlogTO, OMNI (Russian), Fairchild (Chinese), The Toronto Star, CFTR-AM and CBLA-FM.
A huge thank you is in order to our key partners: the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation, Na Me Res, and the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto. The 2019 Festival Artistic Curator, Kim Wheatley (an Anishinaabe band member of Shawanaga First Nation) did a fantastic job and I can’t thank her enough. It was all made possible by the generous support of Tim Hortons (especially) and the Government of Canada, with sponsorships by CN, the OLG, Bell Canada and Stantec along with help from The Friends of Fort York and Garrison Common. With more than 20,000 people attending events of the 7th annual Indigenous Arts Festival, it was the largest yet seen, and proudly hosted by Fort York National Historic Site.
Fort York Foundation has a new Executive Director
Robert W. Bell is the new ED of the Fort York Foundation, the fundraising sibling of The Friends of Fort York and Garrison Common that was instrumental in the creation of the Visitor Centre. He replaces Susan Perren, the faithful and talented ED since 2013. Now retired, she’ll be an advisor to the foundation and her successor.
Robert comes to the foundation from the Royal Bank of Canada, where he was most recently Assistant General Counsel and Legal Knowledge Officer and, previously, Vice President, Law, of RBC Insurance. Robert is an active watercolourist with a long-standing interest in art history. He’s also from a long line of the historically inclined: his father, grandfather and great-grandfather (no less!) were all presidents of the Champlain Society – whose volumes are cited regularly in the pages of the F&D (including this one). He served on the committee for the tour of the Magna Carta across Canada in 2015, which included a well-attended appearance at the Fort York Visitor Centre.
Manager's Report (Winter 2019)
by David O’Hara, Site Manager
It’s already spring and the staff here at the fort is hard at work planning a full slate of warm-weather programs and events. But we’ve also had some memorable occasions this winter.
On Tuesday, February 5, the Royal Canadian Institute for Science held a private reception in the Fort York Visitor Centre. The subject was the globe-trotting life of Captain J.H. Lefroy, RCI Science’s fourth president and the manager of Upper Canada’s first major scientific experiment. The first installation of his Magnetic Observatory – later moved to the University of Toronto – was here at Fort York.
The highlight of the evening was the unveiling of a portrait (by George Berthon) of Captain Lefroy, which the institute has given to the City. The event also included presentation of the institute’s annual William Edmond Logan Award (for popular scientific writing) and an opportunity to mark the 140th anniversary of Standard Time, an innovation brought to the world by Canadian engineer Sir Sandford Fleming.
On the Family Day weekend we partnered with The Empress Walk and hosted its Art ‘n’ Soul panel discussion, with workshops, and a presentation by Giselle Wilson, founder of The Empress Walk. On Family Day itself, all the City of Toronto museums combined to bring a full day of free programming to Fort York. Some 1,500 people were here, including Mayor John Tory, who dropped by in the afternoon to see The Bentway at Fort York and all the kid-friendly happenings in the Visitor Centre.
On February 23, the second annual Hungry for Comfort: Surviving a Canadian Winter was a big success. Our spotlight this year was on the foodways of Black communities across the country, with speakers, demonstrations, workshops and tastings. The day was presented in partnership with the Ontario Black History Society and the Culinary Historians of Canada. More than 100 people enjoyed the catered Caribbean lunch (there’s a full report on page 14) and there were door prizes from publishers like Harper Collins. We were also grateful for the participation of Redpath Sugar, Bernardin, Mars, and the Ontario Apple Growers. I’d like to thank all the staff, volunteers and partners involved – particularly the Ontario Black History Society – for putting such a tasty event together.
Christophe Jivrag, Exhibit Coordinator from Collections & Conservation, this winter spearheaded the replacement of all the panels that form the Soldier’s Trade exhibit in the Centre Blockhouse. Many thanks to Christophe and the team for so carefully refreshing a big part of the story we’re telling here at Fort York.
A significant amount of construction is already underway on site this spring. Gordon Lok, Senior Project Coordinator from our Capital Assets team, has skillfully overseen the replacement of the roof on the North Soldiers’ Barracks and the Blue Barracks. This work was partly funded by a grant from the Parks Canada Cost Sharing Program for heritage places.
Working with our colleagues in the Parks, Forestry & Recreation Division, the multi-purpose trail along the north side of the fort has been finished, along with a subtle new fence beside it. The opening of this trail that more-or-less follows the course of Garrison Creek is contingent upon the completion of Lower Garrison Creek Park (also part of Fort York NHS) on the east side of Bathurst Street (but see page 9).
Garrison Crossing is expected to open in late May or early June. This will really improve connections for cyclists and pedestrians in the area. Another new piece of the bicycle network will be a trail south-west to the bike lanes on Strachan Avenue. From there, it’s south to the waterfront trail or north to the gates of Trinity Bellwood. That trail is being built beside Garrison Road to the west of the Armoury and is expected to be ready in June.
A sure sign of spring here at Fort York is always the story of the late-April arrival of the United States Navy, proudly carrying an entire brigade of soldiers intent upon seizing the capital of Upper Canada (they succeeded: check page 10). We’ll be running two different tours of the battlefield – one following the fighting all the way back from the beach (on Saturday the 27th) and a shorter one on Sunday that looks at the battlefield from Garrison Common. Led by our own experts Richard Haynes and Ewan Wardle, the tours offer a fascinating way to imagine the nearby waterfront as it was 200 years ago.
Everyone who loves a fine craft beer has a real opportunity on the Victoria Day weekend. After an afternoon in the old fort’s ambience, absorbing our new displays, you’ll be able to retire to Garrison Common and the spring session of Toronto’s Festival of Beer. It’s only on Saturday and Sunday, when the fort is open as usual. On the holiday Monday we’ll have a complete program going – including the historic kitchen – and there will be lots for kids to do.
Admission is free to the fort and the Visitor Centre again during the Doors Open weekend, the last one in May. Saturday here is Artillery Day, a chance to compare the technology of 1812, the 20th century and the present day. We’re expecting to have examples of artillery now in service with the Canadian Army. (And speaking of the army, our planners are also looking farther ahead – to the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. Watch for events to be starting in September, including those focused on the wartime industry that surrounded us here on the waterfront.)
The climax of the season at Fort York is the Indigenous Arts Festival, more diverse than ever and almost a week in duration. We’re working with the Mississaugas of the Credit, Na Me Res, The Bentway, The Friends of Fort York and others to assemble an amazing program of music, dance, learning, food and the visual arts, ancient and modern. Watch our Twitter and Facebook accounts for detail as the festival approaches.