Fort York Visitor Centre Competition opens

New things are afoot at Fort York. It sounds a bit strange to say that, but one of the oldest — that is, officially “historic” — parts of Toronto is also one of the most rapidly changing. In the last few years, the area around Fort York has become a new neighbourhood and will eventually welcome over 20,000 new residents. New parks are planned (see our post on the adjacent June Callwood park) and the 43-acre site is will become the “lungs” (to steal a notion often attributed to Frederic Law Olmsted) of that new neighbourhood. As a member of the Fort York board, it’s neat to be able to see city building from its nascent stage. Right now much excitement is focused on the long-awaited Fort York Visitor Centre that will be built in time for the War of 1812 bicentennial. Currently some of the historic buildings inside the Fort’s walls also function as administrative offices, which is not ideal, and new interpretive space is needed for exhibits and for welcoming the hundreds of school groups that visit each year.

The new centre will be located outside of the Fort’s west gate, near where the parking lot and Gardiner flyover are now, and allow the historical buildings inside the gate to be given over to full historical interpretation and public viewing. Perhaps most exciting for the neighbourhood is the Visitor Centre will also be a community hub, inline with current thinking that schools and other public buildings can and should serve more than one purpose. That means after-hours meeting and event space and, possibly, a cafe at the heart of what will  become a sort of “interchange” or nexus for citywide cycling and walking paths (outlined in the post I made last March). Already the grounds around the Fort walls are populated after-hours with dog walkers and recreational walkers.

With that in mind, the City has just released a call for Expressions of Interest for architectural firms to bid on the project. An emphasis is put on Canadian firms (who can collaborate with international partners) with the hope that the sacred civic ground the centre will be built on will be celebrated and, at the same time,  fit in well with the contemporary neighbourhood. It’s not a large project, budget wise, so there won’t be any ROM Crystals going up, but at this site the Fort is really the Crystal, and the new centre will simply add a bit of polish.

For firms interested in the project, please see the EOI call here. Note the March 11 deadline.

The City of Toronto invites design consultant teams, led by a registered Canadian architect, to submit Expressions of Interest (EOI) to participate in a national competition for the design of a new Visitor Centre at Fort York National Historic Site. “Stage I” of this two stage design competition is a call for Expressions of Interest.

In 2012, Canadians will commemorate the bicentennial of the War of 1812 and the subsequent 200 years of peace and prosperity. This milestone offers a timely opportunity to make a significant investment in Fort York, the birthplace of urban Toronto, the site of a turning point in the War of 1812, the city’s oldest establishment, an outstanding resource for learning and discovery, and a cornerstone in the City’s plans for urban revitalization.

The + 25,000 square foot Visitor Centre, estimated at approximately $15 million (not including landscape and exhibition components) and scheduled to open in June 2012 (the building construction to be completed by December 2011), will function as a ‘Hub’, connecting the visitor to the entire 43 acre (18-ha) national historic site, connecting the site to the neighbouring communities, and contributing to a more coherent identity and improved visitor experience.

Photo by Wanda G.


  1. This visitor centre idea sounds great. Aswell as the June Callwood Park.

    Off topic, i’m a little curious but are’s writers and contributors solely writers for this magazine or are you also board members and/or work in architectural firms and/or work for the city?

    I’m just curious because there’s alot of ideas and opinions being thrown around in this blog and I didn’t want to think that commentors ideas were being used from here and implemented by firms and/or city officials, without credit.

    Otherwise, spacing’s a great blog.

    I’d be interested to hear your response.

  2. Our editors are writers are freelancers for the most part, but no one works for the City. Our former editor Dale Duncan does work at City Hall now but doesn’t contribute to the magazine or blog anymore.

    Some of us do advocacy work on the side like be on a board of an organization. I occasionally work for an architecture firm doing specific project work that involves producing graphics and a smidgen of research.

    And you don;t have to work for Spacing to steal ideas from our commenters.

  3. Thanks guys. I wasn’t sure how this whole thing worked.

    Being an artist myself, i have to read on copyright laws all the time. I know with the visual arts though, something’s yours the minute you put something down on paper(*or whatever material) and you have the original copy.

    Kinda makes you think twice about what you write or say on the internet or anywhere nowadays doesn’t it. I mean, city planning or urban projects are probably(*no, they are) bigger issues than the visual arts(*not to lessen the importance of culture of course)

    It’d be interesting to involve ones self in city planning issues/projeccts though, if your day job didn’t get in the way.

  4. Though it’s not exactly Fort York, it was good to see today that the St Mary’s Concrete plant on Fleet Street is being demolished. (They have moved to Leslie/Commissioners.)

  5. Hah. Fort York, what a place. I remember staying overnight there on a school field trip and playing 500 in the dark near the barracks

  6. Cool idea. Not thrilled about the billboard and graffiti in the photo, but reclaiming the fort for a number of uses will help with making it a better site overall.

    Reminds me a little bit of the paths and greenery around the fort walls in San Juan, PR, which have become terrific park space for the public even when the fort itself is closed.

  7. I’m ashamed to say I’ve never actually been to Fort York! I have been to Fort Calgary, and thought they did a fantastic job of presenting not just the history of the fort, but also the history of the city. I’d love to see something similar in Toronto.

  8. The vandalism on the sign is an example of the bad tagging that paints (ahem) all the legit graf artists badly. The sign is a bit lonely so it attracts the vandals but as the area becomes more busy, the bridge redeveloped, bike paths installed, more people will mean less moments to do this, perhaps.

  9. You mean to say there’s good taggin’? As in, legal?

  10. I said tagging is bad (selfish act of machismo, usually), but much graf is good, and legal.

    Some graf, that isn’t legal, is also “good” when done in the right spot — interventions into public space.

    There are irresponsible graf artists, and simply untalented graf practitioners, who don’t follow the very byzantine conventions of good v bad graffiti.

    This debate has been had, extensively, in past posts here on Spacing. Will defer to that.

  11. Don’t worry, I won’t debate with you again. We’ll just have to agree to disagree(*on the topic of “graf”)

    Regarding Fort York, I hope this competition goes well and respectable winner comes thru. Would love to see a new visitors centre.

  12. “In 2012, Canadians will commemorate the bicentennial of the War of 1812 and the subsequent 200 years of peace…”

    That’s only true if we engage in historical revisionism and airbrush out of the history books the Battle of Ridgeway, etc.

    There is a Battle of Ridgeway memorial right next to Fort York in Fort York Armoury.

    “Lest we forget” quickly becomes “how soon we have forgotten.

  13. I think the statement is still true — the Fenian Raids weren’t official US – Canada (or British) engagements. They Fenians were a rogue element. So “peace” was never declared … unpeaceful.

    Anyway, indeed, all for not forgetting these things. Let’s chat again in, say, 2064 and see about plans for the bicentennial of Ridgeway!

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