Ontario Place: Vintage Photographs and Postcards from Toronto Public Library
Since Ontario Place's future has been in the news lately, I thought, why not do a quick visual tour of its history? These photographs are from the Toronto Public Library's Digital Archive, courtesy of the Toronto Star Photograph Archives, which is housed at the Toronto Reference Library. The vintage postcards are digital scans of items from the Toronto Reference Library's Special Collections Department. While we have about 130,000 of their photos digitized and available online through the Digital Archive there are more photos that you can only see in person in the 5th floor Marilyn and Charles Baillie Special Collections Centre. The Digital Archive includes more than just photos so give it a browse.
Ontario Place was a happening spot in the 1970s. The funky, modern (cutting-edge actually) and modular design was partially inspired by, and also competitive with, Montreal Quebec's Expo '67 buildings and feel. Ontario Place opened in 1971 and among the many innovations were the Cinesphere, a Buckminster Fuller geoscopic dome and the first permanent IMAX theatre. The Forum used hyperbolic paraboloid roofing and had free concerts and performances along with grass seating. There was a colourful kids zone. The modular geometric shops and restaurants provided shopping delights. Landfill (including three sunk metal ships) was used to protect the architecture and in turn the landfill became islands where more buildings and services could go. Architect Eberhard Zeidler described his intentions in this Toronto Star article and also his book Building Cities Life.
Photographs from the Construction Period
Photographs from the Grand Opening
Photographs of Changes and Additions
There have been several changes and additions over time to Ontario Place.
Photographs of the Molson Amphitheatre
And the beloved Forum was torn down and replaced by Molson Amphitheatre (with many objections including the original architects of Ontario Place).
And then there was a long period of decline. And a long period of increasing financial loses. And then closure in 2012. Since then there have been attempts at revitalization and even talks of studies and re-purposing but ... it's a gamble to know what the future holds for Ontario Place.
Here are some other blogs that look at Ontario Place's visual history:
- Torontoist, Remembering Ontario Place's Origins.
- Torontoist, Opening the Cinesphere.
- Taylor's Ontario History, Ontario Place Historic Toronto.
- Toronto Guardian, Vintage Photographs of Ontario Place in its Prime.
- The Chive, The Sad Condition of the Abandoned Ontario Place.
In addition to the photographs in the Toronto Public Library Digital Archives, the Special Collections Department has a substantial collection of vintage postcards that are available for use only in the Martha and Charles Baillie Special Collections Centre on the 5th floor of the Toronto Reference Library. Below is a small sample of some Ontario Place postcards. I have to say a lot of these are very evocative for me, having been born and raised here and known Ontario Place in the mid 1970s. I especially recall free concerts and performances at the Forum but also the fun of the children's area.
Other Materials About Ontario Place
The Humanities and Social Sciences Department on the second floor of the Toronto Reference Library also has some quirky Ontario Place Content.
Arlene Gemmil from the Department of Geography at York University published Discussion Paper 25 Ontario Place: The Origins and Planning of an Urban Waterfront Park in 1982 (close enough to the time to allow in-person interviews but also some analysis based on use patterns).
There is also a bound volume of Press Support (copies of newspaper articles) for Ontario Place 1975:
And lastly, just as the original Ontario Place font and design elements spoke to the 1970s era, this pamphlet celebrating the 20th anniversary in 1991 reflects its era's graphic design.