Fort York Guard on Pause in 2022
We very much regret to report that The Friends have not been able to obtain support from the City to operate the Fort York Guard this summer. The City has decided to put its relationship with The Friends of Fort York on pause to conduct a review of how closely the values of The Friends currently align with the City’s organizational values and what steps might be required based on the outcomes of the process. The City determined that it was necessary to pause the Guard in the spirit of the review process. A timetable for the process has yet to be announced.
The Guard, consisting of the Squad and the Drums, is a joint and cooperative venture by the City of Toronto in partnership with The Friends of Fort York and has been a popular living history attraction at Fort York. We believe this will be the first time since 1955 that the Guard has not appeared at Fort York in the summer - it will certainly be the first time since The Friends of Fort York took on leadership for mounting the Guard in 1999.
We strongly believe that there is a place for living history alongside the many contemporary events that take place at the Fort. The Guard has provided a welcome and challenging summer employment opportunity for students which, in turn, has attracted support through federal grants. It has also fostered camaraderie and spirited competition with similar groups hailing from other historic forts in Ontario.
The Friends have always appreciated and recognized the intense loyalty and professionalism of the students who have served in the Fort York Guard. The quality of their music and drill demonstrations is second to none. We will hope to see a return of the Fort York Guard in 2023.
New Museum Administrator of Fort York National Historic Site
As I write this in mid January the city’s history museums are again closed. Some staff are once again working from home or being redeployed to more urgent roles, if they’re not at home sick with the ubiquitous Omicron or managing the home work and screen time of their offspring. Or, doing all of it at once. We so look forward to spring!
No one more so than Shiralee Hudson Hill, the new Museum Administrator of Fort York National Historic Site. She took up her new job in November just as the Omicron variant was somewhere being born. Shiralee is a museum professional with two decades of experience. She has worked for Lord Cultural Resources, held positions with the Ontario Science Centre and the National Museum of Ireland, and most recently was Lead Interpretive Planner at the AGO. She’s an expert in the crafting of story and artifact labels.
One of the highlights of Shiralee’s time at the AGO was her award-winning podcast “Into the Anthropocene,” done alongside the stunning exhibition of Ed Burtynsky’s newest photographs in 2018. She has also done some guest lecturing – including at Harvard and OCAD – and is a sessional lecturer in the graduate museology program at the U of T, where she earned her own Master’s in Museum Studies. Welcome to the fort, Shiralee, and keep an eye out for the coyotes!
About the material well-being of the fort, there’s a lot of good news. The termites that attacked the hydro bunker have been defeated and there’s new and better switching gear installed. The long-term work to replace the old cedar shingles on the historic buildings continues; this coming summer will see new roofs on the two blockhouses and the Officers’ Mess, completing the project. And, after years of financial scrounging and multi-party negotiation, more of the Corten steel panels envisioned by the architects of the Visitor Centre are falling into place. The dreadful cheap siding on the Bentway’s ice-skating annex is at last disappearing and heavy earth-movers are restoring the eroded embankment behind it.
The long-suffering park planned for the ancient mouth of Garrison Creek (on that low meadow just east of the Brock bridge) has been given a breath of life. In a rare bit of happy news from Metrolinx, the transit monolith declared it no longer wanted the site for long-term construction staging – but in the meantime the City had re-allocated the money for the park’s construction. There’s a beautiful design by Marc Ryan of PUBLIC WORK for the site ready to go, but it’s all now into another budget cycle.
On the meadow’s eastern edge, meanwhile, the City has approved a 29-storey tower that’s an even mix of affordable and market rental units. Just a few steps from the Fort York library branch, Canoe Landing and two elementary schools, it will be the last tower to go up on the former Railway Lands of CityPlace.
Just over the tracks to the north of Fort York, the old Wellington Destructor has been given a glimpse of a promising future. The City has arranged development of the site with TAS Design Build, the same firm that’s developing the large abattoir site (2 Tecumseth) that envelops it. “Mixed use” understates the imagination they’ve applied to the formidable heritage structure; look for a comprehensive account in a coming F&D.
Finally, readers will recall the Liberty Village Timeline and the nonsense engraved in stone and embedded in the two parkettes along Liberty Street. Arranged by the Liberty Village BIA and the City’s liaison office, the historical timeline was thought to have been vetted by the City’s historian … but, no. Of the 19 snippets of history engraved in the stones, about half a dozen are largely imaginary and a few are just wrong: for the First World War, for example, it’s claimed that most of the neighbourhood’s factories were producing “armaments, weapons and bombs” (no, they weren’t). The City’s BIA office is on the hook to fix these but, despite asking, they’ve not been heard from. Nor have we heard from the BIA itself. We’ll keep asking. /bk
Acting Manager moves on
In September, 2021 Kaitlin Wainwright stepped down as Acting Manager, Fort York National Historic Site - a role which she began in January, 2020. We are grateful for her hard work and, in particular, for her steering programming and operations, and managing Fort staff, through the difficult and unprecedented circumstances created by the pandemic.
Kaitlin has assumed her new role with the City of Toronto as Interim Manager, Standards & Innovation, Parks, Forestry and Recreation. Her successor as Fort Manager has yet to be appointed. In the meantime, Tamara Williams, Museum Site Coordinator, is managing day-to-day operations at the Fort.
Update from the Fort
by Kaitlin Wainwright
Acting Manager, Fort York National Historic Site
Another summer at Fort York has come to a close, and while it still looks a bit different than pre-pandemic times, we are delighted to have been able to offer a strong selection of programs. We began with an online Indigenous Peoples Month program in June, celebrating Indigenous histories, arts, and stories through four calls to action: Explore, Feast, Watch, and Shop. More than 25,000 viewers tuned in and supported Indigenous artists and storytellers. Select merchandise from Indigenous Peoples Month remains available in the Museum Shop.
Under the banner of HistoricTO, the 66th season of the Fort York Guard provided educational performances to hundreds of local, regional and even international visitors, and employment opportunities for youth in the community. We’re grateful to the Friends of Fort York for their continued partnership.
Fort York was delighted to be given the 2021 Campbell’s Award for our “Hungry for Comfort” foodways program, cited for “bridging Asian and non-Asian communities.” This year’s version in May was part of Asian Heritage Month and featured, as it does every year, interviews, conversations and cooking demonstrations with some of Canada’s most talented and knowledgeable chefs, culinary historians, and food writers. Congratulations to Bridget Wranich and Melissa Beynon, Fort York program officers, on being recognized for a job well done!
Fall at Fort York will features several programs and events, including HistoricTO outdoor and indoor programs, new Awakenings installations, and a weekend of First World War animation on September 25 and 26. The site will also welcome installations as part of ArtworxTO: Toronto’s Year of Public Art. Stay tuned to Toronto.ca/museums or @TOHistoryMuseums (@TOHistory on Twitter) for the latest details.