Singapore has some of the most inspiring architecture I’ve ever seen. Seeing Gardens by the Bay, the Changi Jewel, and Park Royal on a recent trip to Singapore completely changed what I thought was possible. It blew away my Peterboroughian small-town expectations of what urban sprawl meant. In North America, the closest we have is the gritty New York where architects seem to only care about height. There’s a reason 18 million people across the world visit Singapore every year.
Toronto has changed a lot in the past two decades. It’s one of the world’s most diverse cities with nearly 40% of the rapidly growing population born abroad. This incredible diversity created a lack of a unified identity. People choose not to visit Toronto because there’s no reason to. Paris is the city of romance. Singapore is the city of the future. What is Toronto?
Torontonians come from all walks of life with different morals, goals, and beliefs. There’s been sparks of identity here and there with figures like Drake and the Raptors bringing the city together. In 2019, two million people or a third of the Greater Toronto Area’s (GTA) population flooded the streets to celebrate the Raptors’ NBA win.
Toronto needs more than just sparks to come together, it needs something everlasting. In May 2019, I believe the opportunity to create such a thing presented itself. The Ontario Government released a call to private developers for proposals to redevelop the Ontario Place.
Before continuing, let’s remind ourselves what the Ontario Place is.
In 1967, Montreal hosted a world fair, Expo 67, a dick-measuring contest between countries. Ontario had its own pavilion that fared quite well. In 1971, the Ontario Place was opened as a continuation of its success at Expo 67. It inspired a new generation of architects with buildings suspended over the water and a spherical IMAX theatre.
Ever since its opening, the 155 acre park faced declining attendance and closed for revitalization in 2012. Five years later, the Ontario Place re-opened with plenty of new green space amid crumbling buildings of its past.
Of course, such a massive opportunity to re-define a core part of Toronto will attract differing opinions. The citizens and City of Toronto have protested the call for proposals and want the Ontario Place to remain public and open to anyone. Many are skeptical of the call itself and believe it to be a ploy by the premier of Ontario, Doug Ford to award the development to his personal circle.
As a semi-Torontonian, I also have opinions.
Toronto, Ontario, and Canada are falling behind during a time where worldwide tourism is outpacing GDP growth. People don’t view Toronto as a “must see” destination. Toronto is letting down the “nicest people ever” Canadian stereotype. Canadians think hospitality is one of Toronto’s weaknesses.
Toronto needs to embrace its position of being the world’s greatest melting pot. Residents and visitors need a place to come together. A place they can share their diverse experiences and cultures.
The most popular proposal among citizens is for the site to become a public park connected to the rest of the waterfront. I think that approach is too safe. Green space absolutely improves the quality of life for citizens, but 155 acres of parks would be a lost opportunity. A park won’t attract visitors, especially during the winter.
The CN Tower attracts 2 million visitors annually while Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay attracts 12 million visitors annually. It’s time for a new major, not half-assed attraction.
Toronto needs the Trillium, a year-round entertainment complex where visitors and residents go to experience the intersection of art and science. Within the Trillium, the Ontario Science Centre will feature dynamic exhibits for everyone to enjoy. Meanwhile, the complex will provide an escape from winter with green space illuminated by the sun under a glass roof. Visitors will enjoy retail and dining experiences.
Experiential is a millennial buzzword nowadays, but its real meaning is often missed. In an increasingly disconnected connected world, people search for meaning by immersing themselves in different worlds.
Imagine this, you head to the Ontario Place for your morning hot yoga class surrounded by tranquil greenery. Then you tour through the rainforest to learn about how coffee is made from bean to cup. Finally, you reward yourself with a true Quebecois treat, tire d'érable, maple syrup on ice.
The Trillium is just one part of my plan. It’s expected to cost upwards of $500 million and the Ontario Government stipulates it must be entirely self-funded. A combination of leases, venue rental, retail, and tours could generate $180 million in revenue from up to 28 million visitors every year.
Once the Trillium has cemented its reputation as a world-class attraction, the Ontario Place will work with the National Exhibition to create the Trillium Place. The 347 acre Trillium Place will become a village that attracts people from all over the world for business, experiences, food, and retail.