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.