Manager's Report (spring 2014)

by David O’Hara, Site Manager

Having reached the 90% mark, construction of the Fort York Visitor Centre is moving along nicely with full completion scheduled for early July. Now that all of the horizontal weathered steel panels are in place, the vertical weathered steel panels and exterior channel glass, which form the main façade of the building, will be installed over the next month.
Although the plan is to officially open the building in September with inaugural exhibits, much of the work on interior and exterior finishing will continue throughout the remainder of the year. The main landscape work will be undertaken in the fall, after the building opens and when our busy summer event season has concluded. This work will include the removal of the Garrison Road bridge and its replacement with a lower level road which will connect Garrison Road with the main entrance and parking lot off Fort York Boulevard.

Garrison Road will be reconstructed in a manner which treats it as more of a primary pedestrian route through the Common. The final treatment will be narrower in width with much nicer paving and pedestrian scale lighting. We are also investigating whether or not we might be able to afford placing the overhead power lines below grade. Improvements across the Common will include new walkways and interpretive and wayfinding signs. All of this work has been made possible with the funding provided by the W. Garfield Weston Foundation. Funding from TD Bank Group will allow us to undertake improvements within the Strachan Avenue Cemetery in conjunction with those noted above.

By the end of this year, and certainly into spring of 2015, the relationship between the walled portion of the Fort with the Visitor Centre, Garrison Common, and main entrance will make much more sense. A main entrance address of 250 Fort York Boulevard will make Fort York much easier to find and the site will be much easier to access by an internal road network and new pedestrian/bicycle routes.

In the middle of planning for these very significant changes, we’re still working on many other projects and implementing a busy summer event calendar. Doors Open Toronto brought over 3400 through the fort in late May before we moved on to the Grid Burger Day and Arts and Crafts Field Trip at the beginning of June, with attendance of approximately 4000 and 15, 000 respectively.

On June 5 we were honoured to host, in the presence of His Royal Highness The Duke of York and The Honourable David C. Onley, Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario, The Trooping of the Guidon of The Queen’s York Rangers. As part of this event, the Lieutenant-Governor presented a handmade reproduction of the Royal Standard of George III along with an accompanying current version of the Lieutenant-Governor’s personal standard. Both flags will be integrated within a future exhibit at Fort York. Images from this event can be found at https://www.flickr.com/photos/lgontario/sets/72157644620393817/.

On June 20-22 our own Indigenous Arts Festival celebrated traditional and contemporary music, dance, theatre, storytelling, visual arts, crafts, and food created by indigenous artists from across Ontario and British Columbia. Hosted by the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation, this free festival energized Fort York with powerful ancient traditions and compelling contemporary creations.

Leading into Canada Day this year, we’re honoured to host Canadian Joint Operations Command and the Afghanistan Memorial Vigil in the Blue Barracks at Fort York. The aim of the Memorial Vigil is to pay tribute, in key geographical locations, to the sacrifice of Canadians and their allies who were part of the Canadian mission in Afghanistan. As the only Toronto stop for the Memorial Vigil, it will be on site at the fort from June 27 to July 3 and will be open in the evenings until 9 pm. Access to Fort York is free.

Throughout the summer both construction and a wide range of popular events will continue.

Administrator’s Report (winter 2014)

by David O’Hara, Site Manager

As part of Fort York’s usual calendar of events, 2014 began with Queen Charlotte’s Birthday Ball on January 18. The day included afternoon dance workshops, a presentation by Chief Curator Wayne Reeves, and a Georgian inspired buffet supper. After hosting a cooking class on Georgian desserts in early February, staff and volunteers of our Historic Foodways Program worked closely with the Culinary Historians of Canada on the eighth annual, and sold-out, Mad for Marmalade, Crazy for Citron! on February 22.

Also in February, as part of Black History Month, we were extremely grateful that Lt. Danielle Pittman, Canadian Armed Forces, was able to join us to present Moving Mountains: The No. 2 Construction Battalion and African Canadian Experience during the First World War. The No.2 Construction Battalion, a predominantly Black unit, served with distinction overseas during the ‘Great War.’ This was the first of many events and programs that we expect to roll out over the coming months as we begin to do our part in commemorating the centenary of the Great War.

In late January / early February we hosted a new artist-in-residence program. This was the first of four artistic residencies by Toronto modern dance company pounds per square inch. Their site-specific Art of Peace Project, to be created over the next two years on site in the fort’s Blue Barracks, will be performed in February 2016.

Our 2014 calendar is a full one. In addition to many core events, we have an exhibition by visual artist Phil Cote scheduled in April, along with one of our annual Citizenship ceremonies on the 25th, and community clean-up day on April 26th. Our main event season kicks off in late May and early June with Doors Open, The Grid Burger Festival, the Arts and Crafts Field Trip, and our own Indigenous Arts Festival.

Construction of the new Visitor Centre is moving along, with recent work on all mechanical systems, framing, and the roof membrane finished and the building fully enclosed. Interior work, including drywall and door installation, is underway and the building is scheduled for occupancy in late June/early July. Although subject to change, the current plan is to open the building in September with a series of events and inaugural exhibitions and installations related to the Great War. Several of the permanent exhibits will be installed in early 2015. While a major phase of the landscape master plan will be implemented in 2014, most of the work will be undertaken later in the year when the Visitor Centre is complete and the major event season has concluded.

A Legacy Gift to Fort York from George Waters

For more than forty years George Waters made history at Fort York, first as a uniformed interpreter, for some time as curator, and not least as deputy director of the Toronto Historical Board which once administered the fort. His involvement as a volunteer with The Friends was long-standing, productive, and meaningful. When he died last December, George did not forget Fort York, but instead bequeathed $50,000 to the Fort York Foundation. The Friends have recommended to the City that the library in the new building be named in his honour. The Fort York Foundation is leading the Fort York Invigorated Campaign to raise funds to help the City of Toronto open at Fort York the first Class-1 museum facility at any of the City’s museums. This state-of-the-art building will finally allow remarkable artifacts from City of Toronto collections to be displayed and interpreted in a secure setting. The Visitor Centre will also enable City of Toronto Museum Services to borrow material from anywhere to help us tell the story of Fort York, the place where urban Toronto was founded in 1793.

Generous Donations from Mrs. Marianne Girling; Karen Girling and Bruce MacLellan; and the Upper Canada Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution

Near the end of 2013 the Fort York Foundation received three particularly meaningful gifts towards the building of the Visitor Centre. One came from Mrs. Marianne Girling; another from her daughter and son-in-law, Karen Girling and Bruce MacLellan; and a third from the Upper Canada Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

Marianne Girling who gave securities valued at well into the five-figure range is a great-great granddaughter of Capt. John Denison. Her link to Canada and Toronto dates from the eighteenth century when Capt. Denison immigrated here at the urging of Hon. Peter Russell. His descendants now number several hundred in the Toronto area and beyond.

Bruce MacLellan and Karen Girling made their first gift to Fort York two years ago. But after visiting the site with Foundation Chair Andrew Stewart, Executive Director Susan Perren, and Chief Curator Wayne Reeves in autumn 2013 they made a pledge equally generous as Mrs. Girling’s gift. Speaking as one, the donors shared their hopes for an expanded role for the fort: “Our family believes in the importance of making Canadian history accessible to people. Starting as newcomers in the 1790s, our Denison ancestors played a part in building and defending Canada, including at the Battle of York. Newcomers from all around the world are still building Canada and this visitors’ centre will help them learn about our great country.”

The Upper Canada Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution is part of a patriotic service organization founded in 1890 for American women. In November 2012 three of its members visited Fort York, and toured the site, including the kitchens, before presenting a cheque for $1000 to Andrew Stewart. The DAR’s generosity is much appreciated and takes its place alongside other acts of goodwill to, and American interest in, Fort York, for example, a memorial plaque to Gen. Zebulon Pike erected in 1934 by the National Society of the United States Daughters of 1812, and a sugar maple planted along the south ramparts in 1968 by the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society.