About The Friends of Fort York
The Friends of Fort York and Garrison Common, to use our full name, is a not-for-profit organization supported by memberships, donations, grants and generous volunteers. We exist primarily to support the fort and advocate its best interests, but are committed to the well-being of our neighbourhood too.
We came together in 1994 to protest proposals to lay out the former rail yards south of Fort York into city blocks and streets. Our chief objection was how near to the ramparts a major road proposed to join Bathurst with Fleet Street came, notwithstanding some limitations on its alignment were imposed by the piers of the Gardiner Expressway as they crossed the area. After we made strong representations to City Council that were backed by editorials in major newspapers, the draft official plan was re-opened. Meanwhile, Bob Allsopp, a landscape architect and early member of the Friends, succeeded in finding a line through the forest of columns that allowed the road to be built further from the fort, yet left considerable scope for laying out high-density residential blocks between the expressway and Fleet Street. His solution was reflected in a new plan adopted by Council that defined what became Fort York Boulevard and added several acres of open space to the fort's precinct.
In the beginning The Friends was an informal group of up to two dozen people. As the immediate crisis over the alignment of the roadway passed, however, our organization wanted to avoid fading away as had been the fate of our predecessors in defending Fort York. Incorporation was seen as a step to achieving continuity. Our charter under the Canada Corporations Act was issued on May 29, 1995. Next, our registration as a charitable organization under the Income Tax Act was granted effective Jan. 1, 1998. Later, when our goals were enlarged to include raising money for a Visitors' Centre and other longer-term purposes, the Fort York Foundation/La Fondation Fort York was incorporated with its own board, officers and charitable status.
The bylaws of The Friends of Fort York authorize a board of up to twenty-one directors. Membership open to anyone. A big increase in our numbers came in 1996 when we merged with the Fort York Volunteers, another group formed in 1994. At times, usually when there's been a crisis, we have had as many as 400 members, but count slightly fewer now. With membership comes free entry to the fort, a discount on items purchased at the gift shop, and our publication, The Fife and Drum, a quarterly newsletter. Joining The Friends is as easy as completing and submitting a membership form or joining us online.
What We Do
While defending the integrity of the site has always had the first call on our time, programming has come next. From 1997 to 2000 we staged several weekend-long re-enactments and festivals for the enjoyment of site-visitors but found the funds and manpower needed to mount these outstripped our means and revenues, particularly as our obligations to the Fort York Guard and Drums increased. Convinced of the need to rebuild an active military presence at the fort which had been a casualty of budget cuts in the early 1990s we took over responsibility for the Guard from the City in 1999, and founded the Fife and Drum Corps the following year. Not only do we recruit, train and outfit annually the 20 to 25 young men and women who make up these squads, but we also cover their wages.
Given our early focus on land-planning and development, it is not surprising these continue as strong interests that are evident in reports we have prepared and published, such as Fort York: Setting It Right, and Fort York: Adding New Buildings. We have also taken positions such as advocating safe, open connections under the Bathurst Street bridge when it is rebuilt, and supporting strongly the City's position in urging Metrolinx to lower the Georgetown rail corridor at Strachan Avenue so the bridge to be constructed there doesn't disrupt the street-grid in the Niagara Neighbourhood. We successfully opposed plans to elevate the Front Street extension on columns, like the Gardiner, which were moot when the project was cancelled, but we lost the case we took to the OMB to prevent changes in the official-plan to allow taller buildings south of the fort.
We are active in protecting and enhancing Fort York through ongoing lobby efforts with all levels of government. For example, in association with the fort staff we had Canada's National Historic Sites Board confirm new boundaries for the site. We also support the efforts of the staff through exhibits, programs, live interpreters, and historic settings to encourage a new level of understanding about the War of 1812 era and Fort York's role in the development of modern day Toronto.