Therme Canada’s proposal for a spa is better suited for Woodbine Entertainment’s renewal plan, and would allow the City of Toronto and the Ontario government to strengthen their investments in north Etobicoke by implementing a Community Benefit Agreement to create new revenue for the community.
In 2005, city council enacted Toronto’s “Strong Neighborhoods Strategy” (TSNS), identifying the need for improvements and partnerships between residents, community agencies and businesses in 13 priority neighbourhoods to improve the quality of life; six years later, council expanded the strategy to cover 31 neighbourhood improvement areas.
Today, when the City buys, builds, or provides financial incentives, it may include conditions that promote community benefits. In 2018, the City of Toronto signed a community benefit agreement (CBA) with One Toronto Gaming, the operator of Casino Woodbine in Rexdale to ensure local employment in casino operations and construction jobs, social procurement to attract diverse vendors, responsible gambling measures, a childcare centre, and low-cost community access to venues.
Therme would fare better in north Etobicoke, which sits within the second-largest employment area in Canada, second only to Toronto’s financial core. With a $350 million investment, Therme could capture greater value as part of the Woodbine Master Plan, with its proximity to the Pearson International, Brampton and Mississauga.
It is estimated that 16 million people will commute through this area every year once the Eglinton Crosstown LRT, the Finch LRT, the Kitchener Rail Corridor, and the Woodbine Station projects have been completed by Metrolinx.
The Woodbine Master Plan will transform an under-developed 684 acres tract into a vibrant neighbourhood with transit-oriented, mixed-use facilities for entertainment, recreation, gaming, dining, education, employment, and housing for over 50,000 residents — an integrated and multifaceted area that will be known as the Woodbine District.
With its proximity to Pearson, the Woodbine Complex would enable Therme to capitalize on becoming a popular layover, vacation, and getaway destination for local residents, tourists and visitors attending conferences, trade shows, and events.
Woodbine Entertainment’s international marketing plan could promote the spa as one of the top urban entertainment districts in North America, with Therme providing a complementary and powerful presence to the area’s hospitality sector. Through pedestrian bridges, Woodbine Mall’s family-friendly fair and Woodbine’s Casino and Racetrack will provide a platform for Therme’s holistic wellness experience, which will appeal to a diverse audience.
As a Torontoian and leisure enthusiast, I do not see Therme surviving the bitter cold of a lake-side location or the fierce competition with the downtown’s hotel spas and independent wellness providers. This new site would create a pipeline for new jobs and businesses, and maximize the use of Therme’s botanical gardens, pools, water slides, wave pools, sports performance and recovery services. In the western GTHA, it would become a star attraction for the guests of the 25 hotels surrounding the airport and Toronto Congress Centre, local neighbourhoods and the next generation of Woodbine District.
In the Woodbine District, One Toronto Gaming’s expansion includes two hotels, restaurants and retail stores, a large event space, and a 5,000-square-foot training facility that can be used for Therme’s 10-year philanthropic partnership with the Toronto International Film Festival’s Cinematic Cities Initiative. This pairing could transform Woodbine Mall into a creative hub for artists as well as contribute to Toronto’s cultural diversity by commissioning performances and installations for residents and tourists to experience immersive forms of art.
Therme could match One Toronto Gaming’s $5 million contribution to the City’s Children’s Services Division for local community and Casino Woodbine employees, to expand childcare to Woodbine Mall, and thereby create more affordable childcare options for Therme’s employees.
Through the Longo Faculty of Businesses, Humber students are trained in Esthetician/Spa Management, Hospitality & Tourism, Culinary Skills, all of which are integral to Therme’s operations. Additionally, these skills are crucial to reviving retail and services sectors that are needed by the casino and mall to attract visitors and employees from the Pearson employment zone.
Through its partnership with The BlackNorth Initiative and Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation, Therme can quickly implement its diversity strategy, programs, and initiatives to support Black and Indigenous communities to support the recruitment and re-skilling of local talent with employment options and as equal stewards in decision-making processes that impact the land and water.
Humber’s Centre for Skilled Trades, LiUNA Local 183 Training Centre and the Blue Door Support Service’s Construction with a purpose, would enable Therme to meet its responsible sourcing goals using social procurement agreements for any training and hiring need for delivering Therme’s architectural vision.
Leading Environmental Sustainability
In the northwest corner of the site, a drainage basin divide will create a green corridor which will divide the site into a northerly drain into Humber River, and a southerly drain into Mimico Creek to connect Humber River Valley and Mimico Creek, and provide a connection between the racing surfaces, the infield, Woodbine’s new central park, and Urban Promenades.
The SWA Group’s master plan for Woodbine shows that the floodwater is diverted to quality control facilities in the northern ponds, which will discharge into the Humber River, whereas in the southern ponds, stormwater management ponds will receive flood waters for management.
With Therme’s advanced water management technologies at the mouth of Black Creek, Swim Drink Fish Canada, and the Center for Urban Ecology can aid in reducing urban and flooding at Smythe Park for Black Creek’s neighborhoods and assist the Toronto Regional Conservation Authority with watershed management along Mimico Creek and Humber River.
The green corridor can serve as a connector to urban agriculture that would help Therme further promote its commitment to Horticultural Wellbeing. Therme could support the addition of community gardens and green rooftops by partnering with Humber Food Learning Garden, and help Black Creek Community Farm transition into an all-year urban agriculture center for residents and Therme’s guests access to healthy, sustainable food.
The Toronto Multi-Use Trail Design Guidelines, in turn, can serve as a holistic approach to bringing communities closer to nature with connected trails across Humber Arboretum, Humber Valley Trail, Humberwood Park, Humber Gate Park, Pan-Am Path and local golf courses. In support of Urban Biodiversity, Therme could even fund the work of local wildlife groups to regenerate agriculture, restore natural habitats and add Indigenous healing gardens while maximizing multi-use trails for outdoor recreational, entertainment, and leisure activities.
Ultimately, Therme can be a leader, but not at Ontario Place. Our future park is universally accessible, communal, and is made for Ontarians to showcase their creativity and ingenuity through outdoor leisure activities. In Etobicoke, there is a beloved old space that has lacked health, wellness, and fantasy, but is now ready to be transformed. Woodbine is calling.
Chloe Brown is a Policy Analyst at the Future Skills Centre and a former mayoral candidate in the 2022 Toronto election. Follow her on twitter at @chloebrownTO