Manager’s Report (winter 2016)

by David O’Hara, Site Manager

Gardiner Expressway deck rehabilitation construction as seen in front of the Visitor Centre, Fort York National Historic Site. Credit: Ted SmolakGardiner Expressway deck rehabilitation construction as seen in front of the Visitor Centre, Fort York National Historic Site. Credit: Ted Smolak

2016 will likely go down as one of the most difficult years in which to access Fort York since the late 19th century. With ongoing work on the Gardiner Expressway continuing through until the fall, work on

Garrison Road and Garrison Common, exhibit work within the Visitor Centre, and the start of construction on the Fort York pedestrian/bicycle bridge, access to the fort will be less than ideal.

While construction will continue into 2017 with Project: Under Gardiner and the completion of the pedestrian/bicycle bridge, many of the major site improvements we have been working towards will begin to materialize over the next year or so. This includes stronger connections from the north via the new bridge, a more direct connection from the large parking lot at Fleet Street and Strachan Avenue to the Visitor Centre, and improved connections and landscaping across the Fort York Boulevard frontage of the site.

As reported in the November issue of Fife and Drum (, Project: Under Gardiner ( is the result of a $25 million donation from Wil and Judy Matthews. Extending from Exhibition Place in the west to Spadina Avenue in the east, the largest portion of the project runs through Fort York National Historic Site. This provides an unprecedented opportunity to implement the next major phase of our landscape master plan across the Fort York Boulevard frontage. While the final components of the first phase of the project have yet to be confirmed, we are hopeful that the initiative will spark interest in completion of the east extension of the Visitor Centre's weathered steel façade. The full façade, as originally envisioned by Patkau Architects and Kearns Mancini Architects, has yet to be constructed and is currently unfunded.

With work proceeding across the grounds of the fort, exhibit installation is well underway within the Visitor Centre. Our staff team has been working closely with Toronto-based exhibit designers Reich + Petch and fabricator The Taylor Group. Exhibits in the lobby, exhibit gallery, vault, and 'Time Tunnel' will be put in place over the next couple of months and will open to the public at some point in early summer (date to be confirmed). A new orientation film is also being developed by Hillman & Carr of Toronto and Washington, DC.

Even with major construction and access restrictions, our 2016 calendar of events and programs remains a busy one. With Queen Charlotte's Ball, the Art of Peace, and Mad for Marmalade (sold out) already behind us, next up and taking us through until June will be our Battle of York Commemorative Weekend, World Fiddle Day, Doors Open, Artillery Day, and the 48th Highlanders 125th Parade and Mini-Tattoo. The summer months will again be busy with many events big and small.

We hope visitors are patient throughout the year as we work through many of the improvements noted above.


Manager’s Report (fall 2015)

by David O’Hara, Site Manager

While it was an honour having the Magna Carta and Charter of the Forest on site at Fort York, it was certainly a relief to all when we reached the end of a very busy exhibition stretch and we knew the documents were safely en route to Winnipeg.

More than 13,000 visitors came to see Magna Carta: Law, Liberty & Legacy and its companion exhibition, Rights, Justice & Democracy: Toronto Perspectives. Successfully mounting this exhibit at Fort York and developing such a wide range of complementary programming provided a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate the skill and expertise of so many of the staff in the City's Museums and Heritage Services unit. Congratulations to all involved in the Small World On Common Ground Music Festival, the Magna Carta speaker series, the student film contest, the Muskoka Brewery pub nights, and so much more and thank you to all our sponsors and to our partners at Magna Carta Canada who worked so tirelessly to make the exhibit possible.

While the Magna Carta was making its way to Winnipeg, we moved directly on to our annual Remembrance Day Ceremony, a citizenship ceremony on November 13, and the third annual Frost Fair on December 5-6th. Our very busy season concludes with holiday programming from December 14th to 31st.

As 2015 comes to a close, we're quickly gearing up for 2016. In addition to the many events planned for the year, the new exhibits within the Visitor Centre will be fabricated and installed early in the year for an opening likely in April. This work will include exhibits within the gallery, vault and lobby of the Visitor Centre, the immersive Time Tunnel experience, and the production of a new Fort York orientation film to be played in the theatre.

Although we will remain surrounded by the Gardiner Expressway deck reconstruction for most, if not all, of 2016, we will continue to work away on our own site improvements. Landscape work on Garrison Common, including new lighting and the reconstruction of Garrison Road itself, will be finished in the spring of 2016. By mid 2017 we should see completion of many of the major landscape projects, including the Liquid Landscape in front of the Visitor Centre. Although contingent upon an additional $400k to be raised by the Fort York Foundation, a $200k grant from the Canada 150 Fund was recently received for the completion of this work. The Fort York Foundation has already raised a portion of this funding but continues to move towards the target (please visit

The recently announced Project: Under Gardiner (see Greenberg page 8) will also provide an opportunity to complete landscape improvements across a significant portion of the National Historic Site. The first phase of this work, which is expected to be complete in 2017, will be carefully coordinated with our overall landscape master plan. The Dufferin/Pedelta/DTAH scheme for the Fort York Pedestrian/Bicycle bridge was recently announced as the winning design. The bridge, which will begin in 2016 for a 2017 opening, is a major step in connecting new and existing communities north of the rail corridor with Fort York, the waterfront, and surrounding neighbourhoods.

We will continue to make some of the smaller improvements on site throughout this same period. As an example, several of our interpretive signs were installed this fall, with more to come with the completion of larger construction projects noted above. The interpretive signs, which were designed by Leonard Wyma (Donderdag) and fabricated by WSI Sign Systems Ltd, were funded by the W. Garfield Weston Foundation as part of their grant for overall landscape rehabilitation.

On November 25 we made one relatively small but very significant move on site when we moved two British shell guns and one British mortar (all dating from 1843-1854) back to Fort York from the Fort Rouillé monument at Exhibition Place. The shell guns originally formed part of the Fort York’s Trent Affair battery from 1862 until the south rampart was restored in 1932-1934. Although always a part of the City of Toronto's collection, at some point prior to the conclusion of the Second World War, the shell guns and mortar were moved to Exhibition Place.

The mortar has been temporarily located on Garrison Common, just outside the Visitor Centre where the Ordnance Stores building once stood. Along with the return of these artifacts, one of our existing shell guns was moved to the corner of Fort York Boulevard and Bathurst Street to mark the corner of the National Historic Site. The plinth that received this cannon had been built as part of the Fort York Boulevard construction over a decade ago.

Manager’s Report (summer 2015)

by David O’Hara, Site Manager

2015 will be remembered as the season that never ended. We moved from a busy June with Field Trip, the Indigenous Arts Festival, and the Na-Me-Res Traditional Pow Wow to Taste of Toronto and the Pan Am Games in July.

Pan Am programming included the Aboriginal Pavilion on Garrison Common and the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation Cultural Village in the dry moat. Both of these components were very well organized and we record a huge thank you to the organizers, artists, musicians, vendors, and others involved.

Our annual Simcoe Day/Emancipation Day programming was well attended in early August, as was the TD Irie Music Festival held on Garrison Common on August 1 and 2. We were pleased to again work with the Ontario Black History Society on much of this programming and to bring an exhibit on Blacks in the Military to Fort York for the month of August. Other events included the Vegan Food Festival, Toronto Independent Music Experience, Lolë White Yoga, and Mad Decent Block Party. We were very pleased to be able to host The First World War Comes to Life, Canada's largest private operational collection of First World War vehicles, on August 8 and 9, and we hope to work with them again in the near future.

Other events included the Vegan Food Festival, Toronto Independent Music Experience, Lolë White Yoga, and Mad Decent Block Party. We were very pleased to be able to host The First World War Comes to Life, Canada's largest private operational collection of First World War vehicles, on August 8 and 9, and we hope to work with them again in the near future.

While things were busy on site at Fort York, the Fort York Guard were off in Niagara for the Fort George Fife and Drum Muster and Soldiers' Field Day. Our squad, who looked very impressive all season long, narrowly won the annual drill competition at Fort George. Congratulations all around. September continued to be active with Toronto Urban Roots Festival, TIFF in the Park on September 25, and our own Small World On Common Ground Festival of Music Arts and Community held on September 26 and 27 in partnership with Small World Music Festival (

The month winds down with a buildup for Magna Carta: Law, Liberty & Legacy. This exhibit opens in the Fort York Visitor Centre on October 4 and runs until November 7. Tickets can be purchased online at

We really hope everyone comes out to see this exhibit and to support Fort York. Please spread the word. Fort York continues to be surrounded by major construction. Between now and through most of 2016 work will continue on the Gardiner Expressway. As the entire deck of the expressway is being demolished and replaced, the area underneath and in front of the Visitor Centre is fenced off and parking severely limited.

We apologize for the inconvenience and hope that you're patient with us as we get through this work. We do hope to continue our own site improvements as well. By the end of 2016, and certainly in early 2017, much of the major work around the Visitor Centre will be complete and circulation routes for vehicles, pedestrians, and cyclists will be significantly improved. Construction on the Fort York Pedestrian Bridge is also expected to be underway in 2016; an announcement of the winning design is expected in the coming weeks.

On a positive note, we're pleased to report that the Fort York Visitor Centre won an Award of Excellence for 'Public Buildings in Context' at the 2015 Toronto Urban Design Awards. The Jury commented on the building as: A skillful insertion on a sensitive site, the centre adds necessary new space while allowing the fort itself, and the adjacent parade ground, to be undisturbed. The building itself does a lot with very little: Its front façade successfully evokes both a rampart and the original shoreline of Lake Ontario, gesturing toward two aspects of the city's history. The Visitors' Centre, however, is best seen as the beginning of a successful master plan; the jury strongly urges support to complete the architectural vision and also establish the planned landscape under the Gardiner Expressway. In the long term, this site will form an important link in a network of parks through the western downtown which could, and should, become crucial community assets.

"On The Job with a Military Animator" The Canadian Press interviews Fort York guardsman Cpl. Pat Jenish.

Cpl. Pat Jenish of The Fort York GuardCpl. Pat Jenish of The Fort York Guard.Cpl. Pat Jenish says wearing the uniform of a War of 1812 infantryman is a "fantastic honour”. The military animator at Toronto’s Fort York Historic Site describes a typical day on the job.

Click on the following link to view this enlightening video interview.

Donate or join The Friends of Fort York to support the The Fort York Guard and Fife & Drums.