Community gathers for Ontario Place celebration and demonstration 

A special anniversary for Ontario Place. Afua Baah has the details on a belated 50th birthday celebration and demonstrations on the province's future plans for the popular, waterfront landmark.

By Afua Baah

Community members gathered on Monday at Trillium Park for a belated 50th birthday party for Ontario Place. However, celebrations were tinged with a sense of urgency as groups fight the Ontario government’s plans for the future of the lakefront attraction.

“It’s a place of so many memories for so many people, that’s really the power of this place,” said an organizer of the event and co-chair of Ontario Place for All, Norm Di Pasquale.

“The people from Barrie remember this place, people from all across Ontario have stories about Ontario Place, even all across Canada.”

Ontario Place first opened in 1971 and it’s 50th birthday was in 2021, but the landmark moment wasn’t celebrated because of the pandemic. Though it was decommissioned as an attraction in 2012, the site has recently been used for events and festivals.

Residents who attended the event spoke of their fond memories visiting the site, and voiced concerns about the property in the years to come. Concerns mainly came from the news of the province signing a nearly century-long deal between the province and luxury operator Therme Group, to put a spa on the west island.

“We’re devastated by the talk of losing it to a multi-national for a select few people, that’s really heartbreaking for us,” said one resident.

Opposition parties were at a rally happening alongside the celebrations and called out the Ford government’s plans.

“We’re here to say we need to keep public lands in public hands,” said Ontario Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner. “The only thing that’s comparable to this is a previous conservative government selling off Highway 407.”

“This greenspace is extremely important, and Ontarians don’t want to see this government pave it over”, said Ontario NDP Leader Marit Stiles. “This is a jewel, and it should be part of a public conversation.”

Also headed to the lakefront is the Ontario Science Centre, which is currently at Don Mills Road and Eglinton Avenue. That news has upset area residents and building preservationists.

When the plan was announced earlier this spring, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said in a statement that his government has a mandate to bring Ontario Place back to life, and will continue to make progress on their vision to create a cultural and recreational landmark.

Advocates hope the province will reconsider the plans for the waterfront attraction.

“If you make an amazing 21st century public space, there will be commercial uses that fit within that context, but you have to start with public interest here,” said Di Pasquale. “When commercial interest dominates, what you get instead of Ontario Place, you get any place”.

The opposition NDP has tabled a motion calling on the province to cancel the lease with Therme Group. On the municipal front, the future of Ontario Place continues to be a key issue in the Toronto mayoral by-election. Provincial officials say construction at Ontario Place will start in 2025.

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