These could be the last days for Ontario Place's historic Cinesphere

Jan 23 2019, 2:44 am

The dome that has stood as a waterfront landmark in Toronto for nearly fifty years could be seeing its final days.

The iconic and historic Cinesphere is one of the areas “available for development” according to the provincial government’s latest plans for Ontario Place.

On January 18, Doug Ford’s government announced “a new vision” for Ontario place: one that they say could include “exciting sport and entertainment landmarks, public parks, or shopping.”

The province also announced an Expression of Interest process that would open this spring to allow developers to send their ideas as to how they could give Ontario Place “a fresh look.”

As part of that process, developers would be able to develop concepts for areas that include the Ontario Place islands, mainland, pods, and the Cinesphere.

Opened in 1971, the Cinesphere was the world’s first permanent IMAX theatre. The IMAX projection system is a proprietary large format projection system developed in Ontario, according to the province. In 2014, the province designated the Cinesphere as a structure of Cultural Heritage Value.

In 2017, under Kathleen Wynne, the Liberal government reopened the Cinesphere to the public for the first time in years. It was also included as a theatre for screenings at TIFF that year.

Provincial funding supported the revitalization of Ontario Place, making Cinesphere accessible again to the public as well as for private events.

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And it was part of a larger project to maintain the Ontario Place site, which is a waterfront asset in Toronto, made up of 155 acres of land and water, and once served as a cultural and tourism destination between 1971 and 2012.

Since then, Ontario Place has been home to several food events during the summer and holiday festivities during the winter.

And while movies are now regularly screened at Cinesphere, the entire landscape of Ontario Place appears bound to change.

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Although the Ontario Place heritage statement website has been removed, the province’s Tourism, Culture and Sport office confirmed that “Ontario Place has been identified by the Province under the Ontario Heritage Act as a provincially significant heritage property. It is subject to the Standards and Guidelines for Conservation of Provincial Heritage Properties.”

Looking at these Standards and Guidelines, its principles include Accountability and Transparency (decisions about provincial heritage properties will be made in an open, accountable way, taking into account the views of interested persons and communities) as well as Identification and Evaluation (Provincial heritage properties will be identified and evaluated based on research and documentary evidence).

With Ford government’s recent call for proposals, neither of these principles are being considered.

NDP MPP Chris Glover called out the province, saying that Ontario Place belongs to the people.

“Doug Ford has long tried to get his hands on Toronto’s waterfront so he could follow through on his casino and megamall dreams — dreams he cooked up in a backroom with an Australian megamall corporation,” said Glover after news of the possible redevelopment plan. “It looks like Doug Ford is using his new power as premier to plow ahead with that scheme.”

Glover said that the government is accepting “international, private proposals from corporations to demolish the Cinesphere and iconic pods, and take over Ontario Place,” to turn it into a “cash cow for themselves.”

But, he added, “Ontario Place is not your private property. It belongs to the people. Your backroom deals shouldn’t determine what happens to our precious waterfront. Let the people decide.”

Meanwhile, Mayor John Tory said the City of Toronto has been assured that they would be involved in future discussions around the future of Ontario Place.

December 28

Ontario Place/Facebook

“Ontario Place occupies a special place on Toronto’s waterfront and I firmly believe that it must remain a special place. I want to see Ontario Place restored to being a magnet for millions of people – it is an Ontario asset in Toronto and you want people from across the province and around the world to come here to visit the site,” said Tory.

Tory also said that whatever changes are made, they should be respectful of the fact that it is located on “the only waterfront we have, something we have learned to treasure, and protects its architectural heritage.”

To be clear, there is no mention of the cultural or architectural heritage wording on the Ford governments’ initial press release (they use “cultural destination” once), or on his Ontario Place development website for bids.

If a casino is on the province’s mind (and it seems to be), it will likely be a tough sell for the people of Toronto to accept demolishing a heritage property in order to get a new gambling den.

Which also means, once again, Ford could very well end up in court battling with the City of Toronto.

“While I welcome this discussion and a push to revitalize Ontario Place, I remain opposed to any proposal that would see a casino established on the site,” said Mayor Tory.

So for now, get out there and enjoy the cultural and heritage sites that we have while they’re still standing.

Even if the province won’t admit Ontario Place is one of them.

Yasmin AboelsaudYasmin Aboelsaud

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