by David O’Hara, Site Administrator

After more than three decades of planning and a tremendous amount of hard work, the construction of a new Visitor Centre at Fort York National Historic Site is finally about to begin this fall.

The building, designed by Patkau Architects Inc. of Vancouver with Kearns Mancini Architects Inc. of Toronto, and costing $18 M will be constructed under a contract between the City of Toronto and Harbridge + Cross,  a Canadian company with many years of experience and a wealth of industry expertise. 

When complete, the Visitor Centre will house reception and visitor amenities, multimedia programming, exhibits, and facilities for education, research, and staff. Its completion will allow the fort’s administrative functions to be relocated from their present quarters within the historic structures inside the ramparts. The building, which won Canadian Architect magazine’s Award of Excellence in 2011, has been designed to reinterpret the original shoreline bluff along Lake Ontario and create a strong visual presence for the fort along the Fort York Boulevard frontage.

The whole project–construction and fixturing of the Visitor Centre, installation of exhibits, and landscaping of the surrounding Garrison Common–has been budgeted at $25 million. Of this some $19 million has been pledged by all three levels of government. The balance of $6 million will be raised from among private donors by the Fort York Foundation. For more information about the Foundation’s campaign, please visit www.fortyorkfoundation.ca.

The landscape master planning, working with landscape architects/urban designers DTAH, continues. This exercise will include the development of a detailed revitalization plan for the Garrison Common as well as a careful look at how some of the projects in areas adjacent the fort, such as the future construction of the Fort York pedestrian bridge and the reconstruction of the Bathurst Bridge, should be planned and designed to complement plans for the national historic site itself.  The very basic landscaping undertaken early in the year on the Garrison Common has already allowed for extensive use of the grounds throughout the 2012 season. The next major phases of landscape improvements to the Common and the rest of the area outside the fort’s west gates will be coordinated with the Visitor Centre construction and undertaken in 2013 and 2014. Advancing this critical landscape restoration project has only been made possible by a lead gift of $1 million from the W. Garfield Weston Foundation to the Fort York Foundation.

The landscape design work at the east end of the national historic site, just to the east of Bathurst Street, was recently awarded to Public Work, a Toronto-based design studio. Public Work describes their approach to the design of the site where Garrison Creek once emptied into Lake Ontario as “A project that weaves together multiple narratives. Of geologic time, the ecology of the creek, the heritage of the fort, and the archaeological traces of the site that together uncovers the foundation of our city.”

Work also continues on various exhibit-related projects. A Parks Canada exhibit, which includes three interactive screens and one touch-table, was installed in the Centre Blockhouse earlier this summer, and the Black Powder exhibit in the Stone Magazine is now in place. After various capital improvements are completed in the Brick Magazine, the exhibit One of the dozen new interpretive signs installed recently is found in front of the Stone Magazine. Credit: Andrew StewartFinding the Fallen: The Battle of York Remembered, which was recently on display at the Market Gallery, will be installed in the building (Fife and Drum March 2012). Our first set of twelve exterior interpretive panels was installed in early September and a second set is currently being fabricated for locations outside the fort’s walls. These signs, which were designed by Leonard Wyma of Donderdag (who also designed our new Fort York wordmark), and fabricated by WSI Sign Systems Ltd./King Architectural, will add a new layer of interpretation to the entire site.