Friday, September 19, 2014

Fort York visitor centre: one for the good guys

Went down last night to a celebration of the new Visitors' Centre at Fort York in Toronto.  In Toronto where "cut taxes/starve services/bitch about lagging infrastructure" has been the dominant voice for decades, support for history and heritage still has a guerrilla, oppositional feeling to it. Actually getting this visitor centre built felt to a lot of people there like a victory against the odds after decades of defeats and disappointments. A federal minister and various private foundation types were there, but beneath that the vibe was unmistakable: the underdogs had actually pulled one off.

Tucked between a railroad line and an elevated highway in a grim light-industrial zone, Fort York has always struggled to connect with the city.  But the area has suddenly been transformed by massive condominium development, amid a lot of smart urban design. The Fort has cleverly decided to make itself the community centre.  With 43 acres of green space, it had something to offer, and it has already become a venue for festivals and concerts.  Now its visitor centre will double as a community gathering space. Here's Urban Toronto's take on it.
The vision for Fort York is spectacular. A brilliant Fort York Visitor Centre will come to life after an engaging design competition . The concept by Patkau Architects Inc. (Vancouver) & Kearns Mancini Architects Inc. (Toronto) artfully references Fort York’s historic context on the bluff of Lake Ontario in its inspired form and use of materials, while bringing the site into striking, contemporary focus.
With its new visibility and new amenities, Fort York is also poised to become the de facto Museum of Toronto that the city has been determined never to have.  Next spring when Magna Carta makes its 800th anniversary world tour, it's the Fort York Visitor Centre that will host it in Toronto.  And the current temporary exhibits - pending enough money to put up the actual Fort York materials -- give a taste of the unseen Toronto collections that finally have a display venue.

It's a terrific building, but more it's a display of smart civic planning, in which heritage and historical values are actually shown to work hand in hand with housing development, recreation, and even traffic needs. Go see.

Elsewhere in museums, today is the opening of the Human Rights Museum in Winnipeg.  Human rights is so inherently political and confrontational that they have had their struggles.  I hope they just accept that, and go on being all confrontational and in your face, damn the protesters.
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