Fort York, Friends of Fort York, and Fife and Drum Honoured at Toronto Heritage Awards

Patricia Fleming, editor of The Fife and Drum, and Joe Gill, past chair of the Friends of Fort York who founded the newsletter in 1998, took to the stage to receive our Community Heritage Award. Credit: Heritage TorontoPatricia Fleming, editor of The Fife and Drum, and Joe Gill, past chair of the Friends of Fort York who founded the newsletter in 1998, took to the stage to receive our Community Heritage Award. Credit: Heritage Toronto

by Christopher Moore

At the annual Toronto Heritage Awards, held 17 October 2016 at the Isabel Bader Theatre, Joseph Gill and Patricia Fleming stepped up to accept Toronto Heritage’s Community Heritage Award for 2016 on behalf of The Friends of Fort York and Garrison Common. The award citation noted the Friends’ newsletter Fife and Drum, its role in bringing into being the new Visitor Centre, and its ongoing support for Fort York. The win came with a small cash prize.

Joe Gill, a long-serving chair of The Friends of Fort York and founder of Fife and Drum, said afterwards, "The Friends brought together literally hundreds of Torontonians who understood the importance of preserving our early history and the importance of Fort York to that history. They enthusiastically volunteered their time and talents to that end and all deserve a piece of this award."
Awarded each year, the Community Heritage Award salutes one of Toronto’s many heritage groups or historical societies and, given the great range of work they do, competition is typically fierce. This year The Friends of Fort York were nominated alongside the Leslieville Historical Society and the Lakeshore Asylum Cemetery Project.

Fort York had two other nominations at the Heritage Awards. Eamonn O’Keeffe’s Fife and Drum article “New Light on Toronto’s Oldest Cold Case,” [link:] was nominated in the Short Publication category. O’Keeffe, well-known as drum major of the Fort York Guard, sorted out what is known about the 1815 killing of John Paul Radelmüller, the keeper of the Gibraltar Point lighthouse. The story was long suspected of being largely an invention, but O’Keeffe established conclusively that two soldiers from Fort York, probably serving at the Gibraltar Point blockhouse, were tried–but acquitted–of the murder. Radelmüller seems to have been killed in an alcohol-fueled quarrel.

Fort York itself was in the spotlight of the William Greer Architectural Conservation and Craftsmanship Award. The City of Toronto’s Museums and Heritage Services, in conjunction with Stevens Burgess Architects and Clifford Restoration, were nominated for the 2015 refurbishment of walls, stonework, and embrasures at the fort.

The Bader Theatre was sold out for the annual award ceremony. Again this year, the event showcased the work in heritage preservation and appreciation being done by many people all over Toronto. Nominees and winners included property owners, architects, craftspeople, consultants, museologists, community groups, writers, historians, and filmmakers, many of whom attended the event.

A highlight of the evening was the Special Achievement Award presented to Carolyn King, former chief of the Mississaugas of New Credit First Nation, who was recognized for her decades of extraordinary work in drawing attention to Indigenous heritage and the role of the Mississaugas in the history of Toronto. King, a longtime friend to Fort York and a member of the Heritage Advisory Committee for Toronto’s Official Plan, gave a moving speech, based on her constant reminder that Toronto is much more than 200 years old. “We were here, and we are still here,” she said before a standing ovation.

Historian Steven High of Concordia University gave the 20th Kilbourn Lecture on lessons from oral history around old Montreal. The event was followed by a reception in Alumni Hall, Victoria University.

Writer and historian Christopher Moore is a Friend of Fort York.

Manager’s Report (summer 2016)

by David O’Hara, Site Manager

After beginning our 2016 event season with Field Trip and the Indigenous Arts Festival, we moved on to Taste of Toronto, Lakeshore Ribfest, Panorama, TIME, Vegan Fest, Mad Decent Block Party, One Walk to Conquer Cancer, Toronto Urban Roots Festival (TURF), the Sick Kids Great Camp Adventure, On Common Ground, and many more events–big and small.

Once again one of the highlights of our summer program was First World War Comes to Life, curated by the Victoria County Historical Society and funded by the Department of Canadian Heritage and Veterans Affairs. The fully-animated exhibit provided an opportunity to explore the wartime contributions of Canadian men and women who served beyond the trenches, both at home and overseas. It also provided an opportunity to profile Toronto's Great War Attic. For more information on the Great War Attic and to view the documentaries, visit

The Fort York Guard provided another summer highlight when they returned from Fort George in August having won the annual drill competition at the Soldiers’ Field Day– congratulations to all involved!

Moving into autumn, we're very pleased to now have the exhibits within the Visitor Centre complete and open. Aside from some finishing touches to lighting and a few additional artifacts to be installed, the new orientation film and theatre, the Exhibit Gallery, Vault, and the immersive Time Tunnel are now all open and accessible to the public.

Work on the Gardiner Expressway deck reconstruction, which has severely constrained access to Fort York over the last year, is expected to be complete at the end of October. Restoration of the Garrison Common, which will include the removal of the gravel parking lot, will also occur in October. Removal of the parking lot will return a significant portion of the original Common to open space, allowing for a more coherent visitor experience from Visitor Centre to Common to Fort. Henceforth visitors will be required to park in front of the Visitor Centre or at the corner of Fleet Street and Strachan Avenue to access the site. Additional improvements to these parking areas, including better connections between them, will be implemented in early 2017 as part of The Bentway.

Construction is well underway on the Fort York pedestrian and bicycle bridges. Dufferin Construction finished driving twenty- three piles for the Fort York landing in mid- September. Fabrication of the actual bridges will be completed off-site and delivered for installation at some point in 2017. The Bentway–formerly known as Project: Under Gardiner, continues to move along with Fort York staff heavily involved. The first phases of work planned for The Bentway will land directly within the National Historic Site from Strachan Avenue east along the Visitor Centre frontage. The delivery of a first phase for July of 2017 will include completion of the Visitor Centre parking lot, the 'Events Dock' (the boardwalk extending across the Visitor Centre frontage), and other landscape improvements. Fort York staff will also continue to collaborate with those working on the establishment of The Bentway Conservancy on issues related to programming, operations, and maintenance.

On the staffing front, we're pleased to welcome Kristine Williamson to the role of Supervisor, Special Events at Fort York. Since joining the fort in 2011 as Museum Outreach Officer, Kristine has worked to strengthen the site's ties to the community and its place as a hub of cultural activity and engagement for residents and visitors alike. We're also delighted to announce that Melissa Beynon is our new full- time Program Officer. Melissa has been with the city museums for fourteen years, in a number of roles, and brings a wealth of experience to the site.

While 2016 shows no signs of slowing down, we do continue to plan for 2017, which certainly promises to be an even busier year.

Manager’s Report (spring 2016)

by David O’Hara, Site Manager

Although access to Fort York remains severely constrained due to construction on the Gardiner Expressway, as we reach the midpoint of 2016 we are finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. With the actual expressway deck demolition and replacement complete, the finishing work (painting, drain installation) over the remainder of the year will have less of an impact on our programs and events. Our own landscaping work on Garrison Common, which included reconstructing Garrison Road, was largely done by the end of May. Our contractor, Ashland Construction Ltd., did a wonderful job and finished the work in time for our summer season. The final landscaping, including the removal of the upper gravel parking lot, will be in place in the fall once our major event season is finished and Gardiner construction is complete.

The construction of the Fort York Pedestrian Bridge will likely ramp up throughout the remainder of 2016 for an opening at some point to be confirmed in 2017. If all continues to go according to plan, construction will begin on Project: Under Gardiner, now known as The Bentway, in late 2016 and into 2017. Project: Under Gardiner is moving very fast and will have an important impact on Fort York as it occupies a significant portion of the National Historic Site. Visit for more information and to follow along as it unfolds. Although $25 million has been generously donated towards the project, we still have several major unfunded projects at Fort York, including the completion of the Visitor Centre's weathered steel façade. Visit for more information.

Within the Visitor Centre itself, the exhibit installation is well underway and is scheduled for completion in late July or early August. This will include the installation of exhibits within the gallery, Vault, Time Tunnel, and lobby, and the launch of our new orientation film in the theatre.

With many of these major pieces finally falling into place, we are pleased to announce that the Fort York Visitor Centre is being considered as a finalist for a significant architectural award. The Mies Crown Hall Americas Prize, awarded biennially, was established by The College of Architecture at Illinois Institute of Technology to recognize the most distinguished architectural works built on the North and South American continents. The recipients of the prize will be named by a jury of professional architects, curators, writers, editors, and other individuals whose work has had a lasting influence on the theory and practice of design. Our summer season is well underway and has already been a busy one. In addition to Doors Open, we had two additional events on site in late May. The second annual 200 Years of Firepower showcased artillery over two hundred years, from 1816 to 2016. Guns in the battery ranged from the fort's light 6 pdr. field gun crewed by the Fort York Guard to the ultra-modern M-777 (155 mm) Howitzer crewed by the 2nd Regiment Royal Canadian Horse Artillery from Garrison Petawawa. The 7th Toronto Regiment (Royal Canadian Artillery) crewed the 105 mm Howitzer and their support group, the Limber Gunner's Association, fired the Second World War 25 pdr.
We also hosted the 125th Anniversary Tattoo of the 48th Highlanders of Canada and showcased the famous Toronto regiment's service to Canada with a spectacular parade by the unit and its Pipes and Drums. Thanks to everyone for participating in such a wonderful series of events during Doors Open.

Arts and Crafts Field Trip brought thousands to the fort during the first weekend in June for the annual music and arts festival while the fourth annual Indigenous Arts Festival took place from June 16 to 19. The Indigenous Arts Festival celebrates traditional and contemporary music, dance, theatre, literature, storytelling, visual arts, crafts, and food created by indigenous artists from across Canada. It included the Na-Me-Res Pow- Wow on the Saturday.

The impressive program for the Indigenous Arts Festival was the result of a collaborative effort with the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation, with financial support from TD Bank and the Department of Canadian Heritage. We've been extremely fortunate to have had Robert Kerr, our Supervisor of Special Events at Fort York, working on all aspects of this event and many others. We wish Robert well as he moves on to take a 12 month position with the City Cultural Events Team as the programming lead for the upcoming Canada 150 Event Celebrations. Robert's experience leading arts organizations, programming and producing extraordinary festivals and events emphasizing partnership, collaboration, and community engagement has been invaluable in everything we've been working on at Fort York. We wish him the best and look forward to his return.

Also on the staff front, we'd like to wish program officer René Malagon all the very best upon his recent retirement. Although René's 28 years have been predominantly at Fort York, he has also worked at Mackenzie House and Colborne Lodge. Congratulations and all the very best René.

Manager’s Report (winter 2016)

by David O’Hara, Site Manager

Gardiner Expressway deck rehabilitation construction as seen in front of the Visitor Centre, Fort York National Historic Site. Credit: Ted SmolakGardiner Expressway deck rehabilitation construction as seen in front of the Visitor Centre, Fort York National Historic Site. Credit: Ted Smolak

2016 will likely go down as one of the most difficult years in which to access Fort York since the late 19th century. With ongoing work on the Gardiner Expressway continuing through until the fall, work on

Garrison Road and Garrison Common, exhibit work within the Visitor Centre, and the start of construction on the Fort York pedestrian/bicycle bridge, access to the fort will be less than ideal.

While construction will continue into 2017 with Project: Under Gardiner and the completion of the pedestrian/bicycle bridge, many of the major site improvements we have been working towards will begin to materialize over the next year or so. This includes stronger connections from the north via the new bridge, a more direct connection from the large parking lot at Fleet Street and Strachan Avenue to the Visitor Centre, and improved connections and landscaping across the Fort York Boulevard frontage of the site.

As reported in the November issue of Fife and Drum (, Project: Under Gardiner ( is the result of a $25 million donation from Wil and Judy Matthews. Extending from Exhibition Place in the west to Spadina Avenue in the east, the largest portion of the project runs through Fort York National Historic Site. This provides an unprecedented opportunity to implement the next major phase of our landscape master plan across the Fort York Boulevard frontage. While the final components of the first phase of the project have yet to be confirmed, we are hopeful that the initiative will spark interest in completion of the east extension of the Visitor Centre's weathered steel façade. The full façade, as originally envisioned by Patkau Architects and Kearns Mancini Architects, has yet to be constructed and is currently unfunded.

With work proceeding across the grounds of the fort, exhibit installation is well underway within the Visitor Centre. Our staff team has been working closely with Toronto-based exhibit designers Reich + Petch and fabricator The Taylor Group. Exhibits in the lobby, exhibit gallery, vault, and 'Time Tunnel' will be put in place over the next couple of months and will open to the public at some point in early summer (date to be confirmed). A new orientation film is also being developed by Hillman & Carr of Toronto and Washington, DC.

Even with major construction and access restrictions, our 2016 calendar of events and programs remains a busy one. With Queen Charlotte's Ball, the Art of Peace, and Mad for Marmalade (sold out) already behind us, next up and taking us through until June will be our Battle of York Commemorative Weekend, World Fiddle Day, Doors Open, Artillery Day, and the 48th Highlanders 125th Parade and Mini-Tattoo. The summer months will again be busy with many events big and small.

We hope visitors are patient throughout the year as we work through many of the improvements noted above.