Tensions rise as Ontario Place says goodbye

Oct 20, 2023 | Canadian News, Headlines, News

Voices were heard outside and inside Queen’s Park on Monday as both residents and the NDP raised concerns about the ongoing Ontario Place revitalization project.

Earlier this year Doug Ford announced a 95-year lease of Ontario Place’s west island to Therme Spa, an Austrian company.

The plan will not only add a spa but will move the Science Centre to a new location on Lake Shore Boulevard and add an upgraded music venue by Live Nation.

Norm Di Pasquale, the co-chair of Ontario Place For All, said the plan to relocate the Science Centre could be detrimental.

“It’s a brutal decision,” Di Pasquale said. “They’re demolishing and they’re diminishing the Science Centre. It’s going to shrink down to a third of its size.”

Marit Stiles, leader of the Ontario NDP, held a press conference on Monday revealing information that the party acquired through a Freedom Of Information request to Infrastructure Ontario.

Stiles alleged having documents suggesting the Ford government knew about the parking garage that needed to be built for Therme Spa almost two years before the public knew.

She raised questions about whether Therme received preferential treatment.

“Why did the Premier gift a publicly funded, half-billion-dollar parking garage from Therme and hide it from the public for nearly two years?” she asked in a statement.

A supporter of  the 'Ontario Place for All' movement, holding a sign on the Oct. 16 rally.

A supporter of the 'Ontario Place for All' movement, holding a sign on the Oct. 16 rally. Photo credit: Jeferson Quiros-Vargas

While no final report has been made, estimates suggest the parking garage will cost the city roughly $500 million.

“Half a billion dollars of taxpayer money being spent on an elite luxury spa while people were pleading for investment into emergency rooms and schools,” Stiles said. “This government needs to stop the transfer of public funds to private profits.”

According to a government report released in April, the proposed Science Centre “structure has a significantly reduced footprint from its current building, and may impact staffing and the quality of exhibitions.”

The same report notes the “proposed four-story structure will obstruct viewpoints to Ontario Place and the lake.”

“Strong support for maintaining the current building and location of OSC,” the report recommends.

Anne Low, a resident of Liberty Village who attended the protest said she often goes to the lake for cold swims which she says helps her mental health.

She said it’s a shame the younger generation won’t be able to experience the beauty of the park.

“It’s a disservice to young people,” Low said.

Person holding a painted sign that read "nature owns ontario place."

Protesters on the side of the street showing their signs to on coming cars. Photo credit: Jeferson Quiros-Vargas

Steve Mann, a protest member who belongs to the SwimOP group that organizes daily swim sessions at Ontario Place, said one of his concerns with the Therme Spa plan is the lack of public swimming space.

“They propose chopping down all the trees on West Island and moving the beach over to the west side, right next to the sewer outfall beside the highway,” Mann said.

“With all the dust from the tires and soot and facing the prevailing winds, it’s very inhospitable to swim,” he said.

A Mainstreet Research poll published in April suggested that 38 per cent of Torontonians opposed the Therme Spa and waterpark development while 36 per cent were in support.

The same poll suggested that 39 per cent of residents were opposed to the Science Centre relocation while only 32 per cent were in favour.

While it is unsure what will happen, changing the course of the project may prove to be a challenge.

“Work has already started on the site,” Infrastructure Minister Kinga Surma said.