As the 200th anniversary of the declaration of war approaches, the bicentennial of the War of 1812 is beginning to attract attention across Ontario. In Toronto, Finding the Fallen: the Battle of York Rememberedopened in March at the Market Gallery and runs until 8 Sept. Don’t miss the signature events of the Commemoration Launch week (June 15 – 24, 2012). Check out speakers and topics in the War of 1812: Bicentennial Talks series. Michael Bliss moderates a debate between Stephen Clarkson and Jack Granatstein: “Would Canada Have Been Better Off if we’d Lost the War?” (Koerner Hall, June 8, 6:30 p.m.); City of Toronto Museums Chief Curator Wayne Reeves addresses “Why the War of 1812 Still Matters” at the Toronto Reference Library, Elizabeth Beeton Auditorium (June 12, 1 p.m.). And Pulitzer-Prize-winning historian Alan Taylor discusses “The Struggle for North America” with TVO’s Steve Paikin (Toronto Reference Library, Appel Salon, June 13, 7 p.m.).

See details for these events, and more, on www.toronto.ca/1812.

At Fort York, The Encampment is an interactive installation by artists Thomas & Guinevere of 200 tents, each detailing the stories and lives of civilians touched by the war. The Encampment, presented by the City of Toronto and Luminato, will be open at Fort York each evening from 8-24 June.

For the Fort York Foundation, the opening of the Fort York Visitor Centre, expected in late 1813 or early 1814, will be the most significant single legacy of the bicentennial of the War of 1812. This innovative building, designed by Patkau Architects, Inc., in partnership with Kearns Mancini Architects, Inc., has been many years in planning – -arguably almost eight decades, since Fort York first opened as a public site. It has already won a design Award of Excellence by Canadian Architect magazine.

The stunning design of the Visitor Centre will establish a new profile for Fort York National Historic Site on Fort York Boulevard, giving it prominence among cultural and architectural destinations in Toronto. Our project is, however, not just a building. It is about the revival of memory and the transformation of a nearly abandoned landscape along (under) a raised transportation corridor (the Gardiner Expressway), which isn’t going away anytime soon. This is an example of how we an live with the urban fabric and use it for a ‘higher’ (in this case, lower) purpose.

With their planned rehabilitation of landscape in front of, and around, the Visitor Centre, the Patkau/Kearns-Mancini team aims to re-establish a sense of the original shoreline of Lake Ontario. The line of the building will delineate the bluff that once overlooked Lake Ontario — forming the southern edge of the military reserve here (today’s Garrison Common). The innovative design of the Visitor Centre beautifully co-opts the ground under the high canopy of the Gardiner Expressway deck. The space below is majestic and calm — caressed by the sound of Watertable mounted on the underside of the deck and representing the former lake shallows environment at the base of the bluff. This grand space will, at the same time, serve as forecourt and entrance to the Visitor Centre and to the site beyond.

The Fort York Foundation’s work in private-sector fundraising for this project from friends and supporters, foundations and corporations, continues across Canada, the United States and beyond. Our campaign is being helped in very measureable ways through pro bono announcements printed in all editions of The Globe and Mail, our official media sponsor. And we continue to receive favourable national coverage in The Walrus magazine (and its online Shooting Gallery), as well as in local Toronto media.

We are blessed with support and good will. And so we are pushing to finish the job of raising funds during the time that public attention is focused on commemorating this war — the 2012-14 period. Please introduce us to your friends, neighbours and colleagues. Make sure they know of the extensive programming going on across the City, starting this month.

We have a once-in-a-century opportunity to strengthen understanding of the deeply rooted Canadian history we can find here in Toronto, on Lake Ontario, centred on the international Great Lakes; and to leave behind a strengthened Fort York National Historic Site – an urban legacy for future generations.