Ontario Place: End of an Era

OK, I admit it…..  I paraphrased a Toronto Star headline for this post.

So, after a presumably long and debated analysis, the Government of Ontario (who own and operate Ontario Place) have decided to appoint John Tory to revitalize the site/location/venue/place/spot/area/hole/dump.  Thumbs up, great idea!!!

I have fond memories of Ontario Place growing up.  The Cinesphere where I saw my first IMAX film, countless 70mm Film Festival shows (including Star Wars, Indiana Jones, The Untouchables, among others), played on the AWESOME playground with ropes, ladders, tunnels and tubes, watched many Symphony of Fire fireworks competition displays, the Lego, Atari,  ColecoVision, and Nintendo exhibits in the ‘pods’, enjoyed countless concerts and events at the long retired and demolished Forum, exploring the historic HMS Haida docked alongside the parking lot, and was hooked for years on what were arguably Toronto’s best mini-golf courses.

Now, Ontario Place is a incoherent mishmash of ‘stuff’ – some good, some bad, and some just downright ugly.  The water-park which is top-notch and a great place for kids and families to hang out in the summer, the Wilderness Adventure Ride which, relative to Canada’s Wonderland is tame/lame but reasonable in it’s own right, the Cinesphere which has become second fiddle to every Multiplex in the GTA, the marina which is irrelevant to everyone who doesn’t arrive there by boat, and ABSOLUTELY TERRIBLE AND OVERPRICED food vendors.

So, everyone pretty much unanimously agrees that Ontario Place is ‘broken’ and needs help.  It has lost money consistently for an untold number of years, and attendance continue to drop year-over-year, even with ‘free admission’ promotions.  OK, great.  Let’s talk about the future, improvement, and what the site ‘could’ and ‘should’ be.  And, while we figure that out, let’s shut-down EVERYTHING that people REALLY care about (the water park, rides, and let’s demolish the Cinesphere while we’re at it), other than the concert venue (Molson Amphitheatre), parking (at $20+ per occurrence), and the Atlantis nightclub.

Ontario Place doesn’t need John Tory to ‘fix it’.  It needs a non-partisan board with a reasonable operating and improvement budget to develop long-term plans.  It’s a PROVINCIAL asset and, at least in the short-term, may be a money loser.  But, as long as Ontarians benefit from it’s existence a little Provincial financial support is warranted.

Keep the FAMILY-FRIENDLY attractions up-and-running as Ontario Place is re-invented.  And, ask the Ontario population what THEY want in THEIR Toronto Waterfront attraction.

Corporate sponsorship may be financially lucrative, but it shouldn’t be required for something as grand as Ontario Place should be.  It should be possible, excluding re-development and upgrading costs, to establish a financially self-sufficient destination on the shores of Lake Ontario.  Make it ACCESSIBLE, AFFORABLE, and INTERESTING, and people WILL come, just like they (we) did in years past.

Here’s how I would change Ontario Place if I was John Tory:

  • Eliminate ALL corporate sponsorships and rights agreements – bye-bye ‘Molson’ Amphitheatre.
  • Make parking costs REASONABLE.
  • Make grounds admission FREE.
  • Provide QUALITY and non big-name fast-food food vendors at reasonable prices.
  • Do NOT demolish the Cinesphere – it was the FIRST permanent IMAX theater in the world – a showcase for a revolutionary Canadian film technology.  Revitalize it and develop year-round movie ‘programs’ showing the best-of-the best IMAX and traditional movies on the awesome Cinesphere screen.
  • Bring back the Symphony Of Fire fireworks competition.
  • Keep existing public-loved rides and attractions (water park, Wilderness Adventure Ride) open to the public at reasonable costs.

A Casino is NOT THE RIGHT CHOICE for the Ontario Place grounds.  Casinos by definition are dark enclosed spaces to keep gamblers inside and absent of outside stimulus.  This can be achieved ANYWHERE – don’t give up prime waterfront location for this purpose.

In the 70’s and 80’s Ontario Place was a ‘destination’ for many families from Ontario and beyond.  Through mismanagement and poor planning Ontario Place has been left in the past.  It’s time to give it the attention it deserves, and return it to relevance, without ‘selling out’ in the process.

I have no doubt it can be done.  The question is, WILL it be done?  We can only hope….

About David Wood

Bio goes here
This entry was posted in Architecture, Arts & Entertainment, Law & Politics, Random Thoughts. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply