Ontario Place (theme park)
Experience... Ontario Placekids just want to have fun
|Owner||Government of Ontario|
|Opened||May 22, 1971|
|Closed||October 25, 2011|
|Operating season||May through October (some venues open year round)|
Ontario Place is a multiple use entertainment and seasonal waterfront park attraction located in Toronto, Ontario, and owned by the Crown in Right of Ontario. It is administered as an agency of the Ontario Ministry of Tourism and Culture. Located on the shore of Lake Ontario, just south of Exhibition Place, it is approximately 4 km west of Downtown Toronto. It opened on May 22, 1971 and consists of three artificially constructed, landscaped islands. Attractions are spread throughout the park, as well as walking trails and food and drink concessions. Traditionally targeted at a family audience, with emphasis on children's activities, the park has a seasonal operating schedule and is closed from October through April, with the exception of the Cinesphere IMAX theatre and private event space. Central to the complex is a public marina and a major concert theatre. Historically, Ontario Place, as a publicly subsidized provincial agency, aims to keep costs, especially for families, lower than comparable attractions.
Even as far back as the 1960s, Toronto was concerned about its waterfront being a 'people friendly' place. It had suffered through more than a century of intense industrialization which cut the city off from the lakefront. By the late 1960s, half a century of automobile-centric lakeside planning had made the Toronto waterfront an unappealing, heavily industrialized location, despite its obvious potential.
Ontario Place was conceived to help to revitalize the waterfront, attract tourists to Toronto, and in part, appease the City, which was frustrated at the high level of government investment that flowed to rival Montreal for Expo 67.
The park itself was originally conceived as an onshore exhibit, but this idea was discarded in favour of five large, architecturally unique, three-level Pods. Each Pod would be approximately 8,000 square feet (743 m²) in area, and suspended by steel cables from four large central pylons driven deep into the lake bed. These Pods would initially house various Ontario-themed exhibits in an aquatic setting somewhat similar in concept to Montreal's Expo 67 grounds (which were in the middle of the St. Lawrence River). However, a difficult but unexpectedly useful problem developed. The cost of the open-water Pod foundations alone (at the time, estimated at C$9 million) would consume almost the entire budget for the Pods' construction. Architect Eb Zeidler was faced with a dilemma: how to construct the Pods without the necessary budget.
Zeidler developed an innovative solution: after a trip to the Caribbean, he realized that a "barrier reef" concept would cut down on wave action from the lake enough to reduce the cost of the Pods' foundation to 1/10 of the original open-water estimate. After some quarrels with the port authorities (due to the dangers of the unseen reef to shipping), the reef plan was modified to incorporate three artificial "barrier islands" made from city landfill. Ironically, the barrier islands were to be so well crafted, they became an integral part of the Ontario Place experience.
Ontario Place served as a filming location for the episode Angel Of Death from the TV series War Of The Worlds in which it was the setting for the shootout at the end of the episode where Dr Harrison Blackwood, his team, and a supposed alien ally confront the evil aliens which are personally led by the alien advocacy.
The five steel and aluminum pavilion pods are square with 88-foot (27 m) sides. The pods are supported on four pipe columns, rising 105 feet (32 m) above the lake. Tension cables support the short-span trusses. They sit on concrete filled caissons, driven 30 feet (9.1 m) into the lake's bedrock. Each of the pavilions is connected to one another and the land by glazed steel bridges.
The Forum, an outdoor concert venue, was featured on a central hub-island, while a children's village would occupy an eastern island. A commercial section overlooked the water, with modular construction for shops and restaurants to the west. All would be connected by an intricately planned set of walkways and bridges. In addition, each island would have a unique colour scheme, and the entire complex was later infused with the brilliant colours and graphic design that were typical of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
The open-air Forum theatre sat 3,000 and had additional grass 'seats'. The roof structure was a hyperbolic paraboloid positioned on cement bastions. It covered a 68-foot (21 m) revolving stage, giving near 360 degree sightlines. The roof was made out of tongue and groove plywood, covered by copper sheathing.
The sophistication of the original barrier island layout should be noted. Landscape architect Michael Hough overlaid a scale model of the University of Toronto's excellent walking paths onto the Ontario Place plans to check for appropriate walking distances. This ensured that comfortable rest areas were placed appropriately, so that children and the elderly would not need to walk too far without a comfortable seat. Soon after opening in 1971, a rubber-wheeled tractor train was used to take visitors between key points on the various islands, though this has long since been discontinued.
Prevailing wind and wave conditions were also considered in the design, a scale model of which was tested in the University of Toronto's wind tunnel. Large earthwork berms planted with tall native Ontario trees were created to shelter walkways from the prevailing southwesterly winds.
To the south, a cost-effective and theme-congruent plan to sink three large obsolete Great Lakes shipping vessels was implemented, which sheltered the artificial harbour from intense open-lake waves. (The same technique would later be used on Toronto Island and the Outer Harbour.) The first phase of construction was the sinking of the ships onto a stone bed, then covered in concrete forming a 1,500-foot (460 m) breakwater. Once the perimeter was finished, work began on the 50 acres (200,000 m2) of the three artificial islands.
There was originally some controversy about allowing a public facility to house an upscale boating dock within the new artificial harbour. However, supporters of the plan believed that the dock's integration into Ontario Place would tie the location closer to the lake via boating activity, and improve the general ambiance.
The Cinesphere is an 800 seat 70 mm IMAX theatre - the world's first permanent IMAX installation. The building is inside a 'spherical triodetic dome', with a 61-foot (19 m) outer radius, and a 56-foot (17 m) inner radius. The dome is supported by prefabricated steel aluminum alloy tubes.
Ontario Place was designed to have a modular use and appearance. Zeidler says that the structures were designed to "give an illusion of dimensionless space, exploiting technology to shape the society of tomorrow." (quote from pg. 159 of Modern Canadian Architecture ISBN 0-88830-248-7)
To commemorate the opening of the theme park and promote the province of Ontario, a multi-media exhibition was created and presented inside the pavilion. Dolores Claman wrote the music and Richard Morris wrote lyrics for the music to this presentation, entitled "Theme from Ontario Place". "Theme from Ontario Place" was subsequently released by the Ontario Department of Trade and Development as a double sided 45 manufactured by Quality Records (OP1971), side A containing a "Pop" version and Side B an "Easy Listening" recording. A photo of the still under construction Ontario Place was used on the cover.
Changes over time
The original park has been considerably altered since its inception. The popular outdoor concert stage, The Forum, was torn down in the mid-1990s and replaced with the Molson Amphitheatre, a much larger facility based on a bandshell design. A boat-based water ride was added to the extreme western end of the island, along with a smaller exhibition center consisting of three concrete silo-like buildings connected by overhead walkways, and a smaller domed movie theatre. A large reflecting pool nearby was drained and used to house the addition of a major "climber" structure, a smaller stage for kids shows and several other kid-oriented attractions, reducing the complete separation of areas that had been featured in the original design.
The original children's area, which was primarily "non-powered", has largely been removed. The large wood-and-rope climber area was replaced with a large waterpark and several small fair-ground rides were later added. The large tension structure tent that covered most of the children's park was removed in 2009/10, leaving a large open area with a new stage. Many of the concrete bollards used to secure the various tents and structures can still be seen.
In the summer of 2010, the provincial government issued a Request for Information calling for ideas from private bidders to completely redevelop the park. Ontario Place general manager Tim Casey told the Toronto Star that "2011 will be our 40th anniversary. It definitely needs a revitalization, that’s no surprise. It’s a blank slate, we’re open to just about anything.” A formal Request for Proposals process began that fall. The government intends to transform the park from a largely seasonal facility to a year-round attraction. Redevelopment may include tearing down the Cinesphere as well as other long standing attractions.
From the fall of 2010 through to the fall of 2011, Ontario Place embarked upon an aggressive period of remediation and renewal. Over $10,000,000 in provincial capital funds were spent on the property during this 12-month period. These investments were directed toward:
- a significant refreshing and expansion of the waterpark. Soak City, the first waterpark built in Ontario, added a new “family” waterslide, an outdoor "spa pool" and waterfall, and over 100 metres of new landscaped beach and public promenades. These upgrades significantly expanded Soak City’s ridership capacity and variety, but also gave the public new and unprecedented access to superb eastward views of the Toronto downtown waterfront. The new slide, called Topsy Turvy, was purchased from ProSlide Technology Inc. of Ottawa, Ontario. Topsy Turvy was recognized as the “2010 Best New Waterslide” from IAAPA, the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions. The installations of Topsy Turvy and the engineering systems needed for its operation, were completed in October, 2011;
- a restoration of the Cinesphere, the world's first Imax theatre. The original projection system was replaced by state-of-the-art Imax 3D film technology, making Cinesphere the largest 3D theatre in Canada and second largest in North America. New sound systems, seats, concession areas, and interiors were also added;
- introduction of an “in-habitat” ecology, conservation, and animal care exhibit called the Eco-Learning Centre. A former arcade building, the Eco-Learning Centre was established in a lagoon area of Ontario Place as a fun and informative “edutainment” attraction, and was created with displays generously provided by the The World Wildlife Fund, The Toronto and Region Conservation Authority, The Royal Ontario Museum, Parks Canada, The Toronto Humane Society, and the Ministry of Natural Resources. The Eco-Learning Centre attracted over 300,000 visitors in its first year of operation.
- Echo Beach, a 5000-person capacity outdoor concert venue on the east side of Ontario Place. Developed in collaboration with Live Nation Canada, Echo Beach is a general-admission concert venue designed to help re-create the popular ambience of the original Ontario Place Forum, minus the revolving stage but introducing a real sandy beach section with spectacular views of the Toronto nighttime skyline. Some of the first performers Echo Beach in 2011 included Sloan, Robyn and Platinum Blonde. Toronto Life Magazine.wrote, “The new Echo Beach is a reason to love Toronto because music sounds better under the stars”. For 2012, based on strong reviews and rising attendance, Live Nation increased substantially the number of concerts scheduled for Echo Beach, including Our Lady Peace, Sam Roberts, and Counting Crows.
- a new, digitally-based, point-of-sale system installed throughout the park. This modernization was undertaken to reduce retail transaction times, improve accounting efficiency, and enable significantly-enhanced data analytics.
- a new website, built from scratch and featuring, Drupal, an open-source Content management system platform, that would more easily enable in-house publishing, and new social marketing and mobile technology applications.
The general cleanliness of the park was also upgraded significantly and included the planting of over 500,000 seeds, flowers, and trees, the building of new planters, the repainting of nearly every building on the site, and the removal of over 1,000 feet of obsolete and unsightly fencing.
Over and above these capital and cleanliness projects, Ontario Place also made significant investments in entertainment, marketing and sponsorship for its 40th anniversary celebrations. Free grounds admission was offered to the public for the first time in 20 years. Live entertainment performances were quadrupled, to over 2,000. Advertising was reinstated, with a new ad campaign developed by Draft FCB of Toronto. And a significant sponsorship of the 40th birthday celebration by CTV generated over $1,500,000 in extra advertising value. Ontario Place was recognized in 2011 by IAAPA as a worldwide finalist for a Brass Ring Award in the category of Best Integrated Marketing Campaign.
The results of this considerable and broad-based effort generated a significant, measurable, and immediate turnaround in the attendance numbers, park revenues, and public perceptions of Ontario Place in 2011.
Total park attendance increased 9% to 880,001 despite a below average year for concerts at the Molson Canadian Amphitheatre and a decline in cross-over attendance from the Canadian National Exhibition. Core park attendance, however, increased 72% to 563,362. First-time visitor attendance increased even more, at 89%. Revenues in all categories increased by double digit figures, despite the fact that there was no charge for actual admission to the grounds.
Scores from interview-based research into visitor perceptions also improved strongly. Favourable response to the question, “Ontario Place has changed for the better”, increased by 43%, as did, “Ontario Place is my favourite entertainment park in the GTA”, at 50% up. Perceptions of park cleanliness and general upkeep improved, by 34% and 37%, respectively.
On February 1, 2012, the government announced that sections of the park will be closed and redeveloped, with a targeted completion date of 2017, in time for Canada's 150th anniversary. John Tory was announced as being in charge of the refurbishment. All Ontario Place facilities will be closed except for the marina, the Molson Amphitheatre, the Atlantis entertainment venue and parking.
Facts and figures
- Construction start date: March 17, 1969
- Opening day: May 22, 1971
- Total cost: $29,000,000 (Canadian funds, not adjusted for inflation)
- Client: Ontario Department of Trade and Development
- Architects: Craig, Zeidler; Strong
- Structural Engineers: Gordon Dowdell Associates
- Landscape Architects: Hough, Stansbury and Associates
- Contractor: Secant Construction
- Initial park size: 360,000 m² (96 acres), 206,000 m² (51.4 acres) created by landfill
- First-year admission price: $1.00 Adults, $0.50 for Children
- Seating: The Forum: 8,000, Molson Amphitheatre: 16,000
- Attendance: 2.5 million (1971), 1 million (2009)
Remaining attractions include Atlantis, a restaurant and club, Molson Amphitheatre, and marina.
The Molson Amphitheatre is a large open-air venue for larger-scale music concerts. Major acts like Judas Priest, R.E.M., Phish, Iron Maiden, Dave Matthews Band, Blue Rodeo, Coldplay, Jack Johnson and the Tragically Hip have all been featured in summer concerts at the site. Bryan Adams opened the facility in May 1995.
Earlier attractions and venues
- HMCS Haida (G63) is a decommissioned Second World War destroyer that was open to the public. In the early 1960s, the ship was going to be scrapped, but volunteers raised enough money to have it saved and towed to Toronto. It opened as an attraction in August 1965 at the pier on York Street. The city had planned to build a 'Serviceman's Memorial Park' near Prince's Gates at Exhibition Place. When the organization 'Haida Inc.' ran into financial problems, the ship was taken over by the Province of Ontario and moved in 1970 to the Ontario Place site, where it was turned into an attraction. It was also used as a Sea Cadet training camp. In 2002 it was bought by Parks Canada and taken to a new home in Hamilton, Ontario for some much needed restoration and incorporated into a new marine museum in that city.
- The Forum was an outdoor concert venue that was an architectural landmark torn down to make way for the Molson Amphitheatre: it featured covered seating under a unique tent-like, metal framed, solid roof, with extra seating on the open surrounding, grassy hills. While having only half the seating capacity of the current Amphitheatre, it had (arguably) better sound, bench seating, and offered a far more intimate theatre in the round experience; featuring a rotating stage which gave every seat in the house, in turn, an excellent view. It also had the benefit of being generally free with park admission. Featured events included an annual Toronto Symphony rendition of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture, complete with the firing of the guns from the nearby HMCS Haida, and often performances by well established acts, such as BB King, Glen Campbell, Kenny Rogers, Johnny Cash, Dizzy Gillespie, Pat Metheny and Canadian acts like Lighthouse, Bruce Cockburn, The Nylons, Luba, Men Without Hats, Doug and the Slugs, Parachute Club and Red Rider. Unfortunately, due to a riot by Teenage Head fans in 1981 (purportedly instigated by their manager, who allegedly was interested in the publicity) harder rock acts were thereafter banned from the venue. In summer of 1983, The forum was ahead of the curve by bringing in acts like Paul Young and the Royal Family and Tina Turner just before her huge comeback the following year. However, perhaps the greatest loss with the passing of The Forum is a sense of an integrated experience with the rest of Ontario Place; since it was centrally located to function as a kind of musical pass-through walking hub for the rest of the facility and the concert was usually included as part of the inexpensive admission.
- Future Pod opened in 1982 in Pod 5, featuring displays and exhibits in technology, communications and energy, including a full-sized replica of the Canada Arm.
- The Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum originally opened in Ontario Place before moving to its permanent home in St. Marys.
- Ontario North Now made up the bulk of the west island, including the wilderness adventure ride, a simulated mine, and Muskeg Pete's Main Street.
Final attractions, first era
- The Cinesphere is a geodesic dome-shaped structure which contains the theatre. It is similar in style to 'Spaceship Earth' at Epcot in Orlando Florida, except the latter is a complete sphere.
- Power Wheels - This ride was closed in June 2011, early in the final season of the first era of the park.
- Mini Bumper Boats
- First Flight
- Free Fall
- Mini Greens
- Super Slide
- 4D Ontario
- Cyclone Speedway
- Aquajet Racers
An acrobatic stage show, within the Heritage Square, played for part of the final season. Numerous midway rides were temporarily installed at the park in its final season.
East Island - Froster Soak City
- Waterplay Splash Pad
- Tipping Bucket
- Rush River
- Pink Twister
- Purple Pipeline
- Lakeside Beach
- Lakeside Beach Lounge Pool
- Topsy Turvy
- Cinesphere in IMAX 3D
- Atlantis - Restaurant/Club
- OP Driving School
- Bumper Boats
- Cool Hoops - Closed as of June 2011
- Marina with Lake Ontario access
- Boat School
- Eco-learning center
- Earth Ranger
- Mega Bounce
- OP Driving School
- Wacky Worm - Ontario Place's first roller-coaster
The Go Zone
- Atom Blaster
- Waterfall Stage
- Treehouse Live! Waterfall Stage, previously on the East Island
- Wilderness Adventure Ride
- 3D F/X Adventure Theatre
- National Helicopters Ride
Location and access
Ontario Place's address is 955 Lake Shore Boulevard West. It is located on Toronto's waterfront, south of Exhibition Place, between Dufferin Street and Strachan Avenue. Ontario Place is easily accessible by car. Cyclists may take the waterfront Martin Goodman Trail to Ontario Place, which passes in front of the gates to the complex. The nearest TTC and GO Transit station is Exhibition, underneath the Gardiner Expressway, a 10 minute walk away unless the CNE is holding an event on the route slowing pedestrian traffic.
- "The fun-filled, free entertainment continues in August and September at Ontario Place", Ontario Place press release, August 17, 2011.
- "Ontario Place to be torn down and rebuilt", Toronto Star, July 15, 2010
- "Parts of Ontario Place to be closed for overhaul". 680 News. 1 February 2012. Retrieved 1 February 2012.
- History of Ontario Place
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