Manager’s Report (Winter 2018)
by David O’Hara, Site Manager
On the heels of an event-filled Canada 150, we’re expecting to return our focus in 2018 to the fort’s core missions. Our calendar is still full, though, and we were off to a busy start with the opening of the Bentway’s skating trail on January 6 and the Mayor’s Skating Party the next day. The circuit certainly did what we expected it would in bringing hundreds of people down to Fort York from early in January to mid-March.
As a result of free admission during the opening weekend, we had an extra busy time in the fort itself. The same occurred during Family Day, with over 1200 visitors taking advantage of free admission to the site. As we continue to work with The Bentway Conservancy, we’ll develop an approach that encourages more of the same. With the skating season finished, efforts have returned to completing construction on the remainder of the first phase of the Bentway. For more on the Conservancy, visit www.thebentway.ca.
More than 260 people visited Fort York on February 11 as we hosted a Sofar Sound pop-up show featuring Indigenous throat-boxer Nelson Tagoona, Juno-nominated Beny Esguerra, and local band Little Coyote. And on February 24 more than 100 people attended Hungry for Comfort: A Celebration of Canadian Food History. In what we intend to make an annual event, the day-long program supported by Redpath Sugar featured panel discussions, workshops, cooking demonstrations and acatered lunch. Historic foodways of the French, English, Indigenous and Metis communities were all well represented; for a complete report, see the story from Melissa Beynon. Thank you to Bridget Wranich and all of our wonderful volunteers and partners who came together to make this event the success that it was.
Recently installed in the Brick Magazine are 21 images from the more than 30,000 photographs by Arthur Goss in the City of Toronto Archives collections. The photographs depict various aspects of Fort York’s conversion from an active military establishment to a public museum in the early 1930s. Thanks to staff on-site and to the Collections and Conservation staff at Atlantic Avenue, Christophe Jivraj in particular, for making this happen in such short order.
As a staffing update, we’re pleased to announce that Erica Roppolo will be joining the Fort York team as our permanent Museum Outreach Officer. Erica has been acting in the position for the past year and has previous experience as a Support Assistant and Museum Attendant at six of our Toronto History Museums. She has also worked with Nuit Blanche, the Luminato Festival and TIFF. Among those who’ve been here for years, quietly making the place better, volunteer cooks John Hammond, Sherry Murphy and Ellen Johnstone have been honoured by Queen’s Park for their dedication to Fort York’s culinary history (there’s a picture nearby). Congratulations, and thank you for all 15 years!
On the construction front, we’ll be pleased to see the first phase of the Bentway wrap up in the next few months along our Fort York Boulevard frontage. The same can be said for Garrison Crossing (the Fort York pedestrian bridge), which will be completed this year. These projects will go a long way toward better connecting the fort with surrounding neighbourhood.
There’s good news and bad news to report regarding the fort’s east gate connection to Bathurst Street. While working to replace the concrete deck on the east gate ramp, engineers found that the supporting bridge piers were not stable and had to be demolished. Instead of getting into the major cost of total replacement, a decision was made to remove the ramp entirely. This will finally allow for the proper rehabilitation of the fort’s landscape and ramparts on that side. With the stairs at the south-west corner of Fort York Blvd and Bathurst, improved connections down through the library and into the coming Lower Garrison Creek Park, and from the west along a planned trail on the north side of the fort, the east gate will eventually be far more accessible than it has been for years.
Managers Report (Fall 2017)
by David O’Hara, Site Manager
2017 certainly proved to be the busy year we expected, with a wider and more diverse range of programs and events on-site at Fort York than ever. We moved from Queen Charlotte's Birthday Ball in January through to the Frost Fair and our holiday season baking workshops in December—with Vimy 100, the Indigenous Arts Festival, Simcoe Day, On Common Ground, and much more in the months between.
Following our active summer season we were honoured to be able to host the archery competition as part of the Invictus Games http://www.invictusgames2017.com and the annual Sick Kids Great Adventure Camp walk http://web.sickkidsfoundation.com/walkforsickkids
Our After Dark Lantern Tours in October were very popular, selling out on all but one of the nights. On November 7 we hosted the Vimy Foundation’s launch of their exhibit The Great War in Colour. The event featured the premier of a short film by the National Film Board, with remarks by actor Paul Gross. Others in attendance included Lieutenant-Governor Elizabeth Dowdeswell. https://www.nfb.ca/film/return-to-vimy
Around the same time we opened a temporary mapping exhibit titled Canada before Confederation, produced by Dr. Lauren Beck of Mount Allison University. The exhibit, which includes a Toronto-specific component developed by Collections and Curatorial staff, will be on display until the end of April 2018.
Over 1100 persons attended our annual Remembrance Day ceremony, which marked significant anniversaries of Vimy Ridge, Passchendaele, and the Battle of Hill 70 as well as the 75th anniversary of the Dieppe Raid in the Second World War. Those placing wreaths as part of the service included MPP Han Dong, IODE representatives, TDSB and TCDSB trustees, and more. http://www.metronews.ca/news/toronto/2017/11/12/hundreds-gather-in-toronto-for-remembrance-day-service.html
In the fall we undertook work with an organization called CyArk to develop a photorealistic 3D model of Fort York. CyArk's work, which was funded by Iron Mountain, a records management and storage company, included an aerial survey, terrestrial laser scanning, and photogrammetry of the fort’s grounds and buildings. The data products will be used to monitor site conditions, inform archaeological master planning, and support interpretive activities. We would like to thank both CyArk and Iron Mountain for their interest in ensuring Fort York National Historic Site is preserved for generations to come. http://www.cyark.org/news/iron-mountain-and-cyark-join-forces-to-digitally-preserve-fort-york-for-generations-to-come
As a staffing update, we're pleased to announce that Kristine Williamson is now our permanent supervisor of special events. Kristine, who had been acting in the position for the last year, is a museum professional with over ten years experience creating diverse and engaging cultural programming. She has a BA in Canadian History, a Master's in Public History, and has worked with a variety of organizations and museums across Toronto, including Mackenzie House, the Design Exchange, Lord Cultural Resources, and the Toronto Society of Architects.
Our staff continue to work closely with The Bentway Conservancy to get ready for a busier than normal winter season here at Fort York. The first section of The Bentway to be developed, The Bentway Skate Trail, will officially open to the public on Saturday, 6 January 2018 with the Mayor’s Skate Party on Sunday, January 7.
As the entire first phase of The Bentway forms part of the National Historic Site, we're excited to be partnering with this new creative team to bring more people down to experience both The Bentway and Fort York. For more information, see the article by Kasia Gladki in this same issue or visit www.thebentway.ca
Signs pop up near Fort York, warning dog owners of shallow graves
by Ieva Lucs, CBC News
The museum manager wants to alert residents to the 19th Century burial ground beneath their feet
If you've been walking through the Strachan Avenue park recently, just west of Fort York National Historic Site, you may have noticed some curious signs popping up.
"Please don't let your dogs dig in this cemetery," they read. "Burials are often shallow."
The notices were put up by staff at the museum to alert dog owners to what is beneath their feet — approximately 200 graves dating back 155 years. To the far west side of a large area known as the Garrison Common, down between the railway to the north and the Gardiner Expressway to the south, is the Strachan Avenue Military Burying Ground.
Soldiers and their wives and children were laid to rest in that area from 1862 to 1911. There are only records for 97 of the people buried in the cemetery. Most of the burials took place before the British army relinquished the garrison to the Canadian military in 1870. There may also be the remains of American soldiers who fell during the Battle of York in 1813. And lately, David O'Hara, the museum's manager, has noticed holes being dug in the cemetery ground, sometimes a foot deep. The culprits are presumably local dogs.
"We're not your typical park," O'Hara told CBC Toronto. "The entire central part of the Common is like the rest of Fort York — a registered archaeological site."
O'Hara says many people have moved to the area over the last few years, and more are coming, which could cause problems for a sensitive area like the 155-year-old cemetery.
A new pedestrian bridge, called Garrison Crossing, will cross the train tracks to the north to make it easier for foot traffic to move from Trinity Bellwoods Park and the Common. As well, the highly anticipated Bentway project is set to open this winter, not to mention all the new condos going up in the area.
"There's thousands of new units going up around the fort," O'Hara told CBC Toronto. "A space that wasn't heavily used in the past is becoming increasingly used by all sorts of residents for walking their dogs and using it as a central part of the park system down here."
But he says they've been preparing for the influx of residents for quite some time. O'Hara says the fort welcomes new visitors to use the Garrison Common and Strachan cemetery as a thoroughfare. But, he says, they should also treat it with care.
"We want to move people through the space," said O'Hara. "And we want them to feel a sense of ownership when it comes to the fort."
'Service, sacrifice and commitment'
Warrant Officer Glenn Miller, retired after 25 years with the Royal Canadian Artillery, is a registered speaker for The Memory Project, which is an organization that brings schools and community groups together with veterans who volunteer to speak at events.
He says it's important for people to appreciate the fact that the military cemetery is so close to where they live.
"The country has been built on military participation throughout our history," Miller told CBC Toronto. "It's important that people know and understand the contribution that veterans have made, and to respect their service, sacrifice and commitment in helping to build their particular neighbourhood."
Fort York will hold a Remembrance Day ceremony at the memorial that stands on the cemetery site. Miller says people walking through the site that day, or any other, should keep those soldiers buried below in mind as they pass through the park.
"For many Canadians, they've never had the worry of having someone else's tank drive down their neighbourhood," said Miller. "We are fortunate to enjoy that freedom ... at a cost that's quite cheap compared to other countries."
Marc Lescoutre, a spokesperson for Veterans Affairs Canada, spoke to CBC Toronto about the issue.
"We would remind Canadians that these are special places, and ask them to remain respectful when visiting monuments war memorial and other sacred landmarks," said Lescoutre.
Ancient Human-Powered Transportation Coming to The Bentway
by Kasia Gladki
If you’ve been to the fort recently, you will have seen perimeter fencing, trailers, cement pourers, and other construction machinery. This is the foundation of what will become The Bentway and is the work of The Bentway’s construction manager, Peter Keiwit Sons ULC—who are on site every weekday, with over 130 skilled labourers and more than 50 subcontractors, turning our vision into a reality.
There are many things happening on the site each and every day. Substantial excavation work has already taken place and more than 1420 metres of utility piping has been installed, which is the equivalent of ten football fields. Above and below ground electrical conduits are in place that will power lighting fixtures throughout the site. The roof deck of the Gardiner has actually helped to keep things on track, offering a shelter from the wet weather.
With winter skate season coming up, we are especially excited to see the fantastic progress on the skate trail and icehouse. Ice skating has been called the oldest human-powered means of transportation; skate artefacts have been found in Scandinavia and Russia going back 5000 years. Our skating trail is a bit more modern than that. The 220-metre skating trail uses a refrigeration system: 13,746 metres of embedded piping, which is connected to the refrigeration system in the skating shed, carries coolant throughout the trail. When activated the coolant travels through the pipes to take the heat from the surface and distribute it to the refrigeration equipment. This means that ice production is less weather-dependant and visitors will be able to enjoy the trail throughout the winter. The foundation and walls of the icehouse are underway and surface concrete for the trail is being poured right now. If all goes well, we’ll be skating this December!
Kasia Gladki is manager of communications, The Bentway Conservancy.