The Visitor Centre, fronting on Fort York Blvd, opened to the public in September 2014. The Visitor Centre is the gateway and hub, orienting visitors to the entire 43-acre Fort York National Historic Site.
This brilliant building, designed by Patkau Architects Inc., in partnership with Kearns Mancini Architects Inc., won a Canadian Architect Award of Excellence for Design in 2011. Following its opening it was described as “a sensitive and powerful work of architecture” by The Globe and Mail’s architecture writer Alex Bozikovic. Read Alex’s full assessment of this innovative structure and the challenges that lie ahead, here.
The Visitor Centre design recalls the steep bluff of Lake Ontario on which Fort York was built. Today, although the fort is still here, the bluff is long gone, and the lake in front of it filled in and occupied by buildings and parks. The front elevation of the Visitor Centre presents a wall of Cor-ten (weathered) steel panels, bringing the site into striking, contemporary focus while recalling the fort’s original defensive setting as viewed from the water. The ‘Liquid Landscape’ plan for the area in front of the building calls for flowing meadow grasses punctuated with a raised boardwalk and an events dock. Some of the grasses at the main entrance are now planted and growing, but we need your support to realize the Liquid Landscape plan.
Another critical component that needs support are the exhibits. Drawing on City of Toronto Museum Services collections and many never-seen-before artifacts, the plan calls for a series of rooms to be outfitted with exhibits and experiences. They will introduce visitors to Fort York National Historic Site. The visitor moves through these rooms, starting with the main lobby (which also serves as a beautiful events venue and café, with outdoor access to the events dock); an orientation theatre room; “The Vault” (a jewel-like room for displaying objects of symbolic power and historical mysteries); a main exhibits gallery (for changing exhibits – starting currently with ‘Art and the Great War – a Toronto Perspective’); and, finally, a multi-media immersive experience of the Battle of York. The visitor emerges from this last gallery onto Garrison Common (where the 1813 battle ended) in front of Fort York.
The new building also contains a library for material about Fort York and the War of 1812; a school program support and community room; a volunteer office; and offices for administration, which has been moved out of the fort itself, freeing up historic fort rooms for the first time for public access and interpretation.
The roof is fully accessible – some of it (under Garrison Common) is green. A ramp leading up from the Common at the building’s west end rises to an observation platform with a spectacular view of downtown Toronto fore-grounded by Fort York.
Although the Visitor Centre is essentially built, its landscaping, exhibits, kitchen/café and the eastern extent of the Cor-ten steel embankment wall all need your support to complete. Many people, foundations and corporations have stepped forward to help so far – see Our Supporters. We need to raise another $4.5 million to finish the job.
Click floor plan image to to view the
proposed multilevel layout (PDF)