We live in a global society that is threatened by wall-builders who incite fear, suspicion and conformity. Ontario’s greatest asset is its inclusive, diverse and creative culture. But much work needs to be done to keep our healthy spirit alive while serving “citizens, not consumers” across the province and beyond.

As the provincial government considers various ways forward, what if the stated ultimate purpose of Ontario Place was to nurture what Ontario does best?  What if Ontario Place was once again (as portrayed in the original 1971 theme song) “a place to stand, a place to grow”—for Ontarians, as well as on a world stage?

I was a frequent visitor (and a new Canadian immigrant) during the early days of Ontario Place. In subsequent decades I was a less frequent visitor, although l worked with Eb Zeidler for fifteen years and enjoyed many Zeidler office parties in the pods. During four visits between September 15 and 25, 2016, I was captivated by the entire experience that the in/future event organizers and participants created.

What have I learned by reflecting on that event and this extraordinary site’s legacy and potential over 45 years?

In addition to a strong, simply stated higher purpose, Ontario Place needs to identify specific values (see embedded slides above for suggestions) that will allow it to achieve its full potential while avoiding wasteful investments. Whenever a project is under heavy public scrutiny involving diverse stakeholders (including both naysayers and champions), there is a threat of settling for mediocrity. Project fatigue sets in, deadlines loom, and the inevitable cost-over-value critics emerge. Bland vision statements and design principles are not strong enough to carry a project through all the stages required to see greatness take shape in the form of built reality.

In order to build greatness—to create places people love and want to be—project leaders need to craft a higher purpose statement along with simple but evocative shared values. Places that stir our imagination and restore our energy do not germinate from vague, generic, clinical or corporate terms.

Ontarians are citizens, not consumers; we remove barriers, we don’t build walls. We are humans talking with humans. In the memorable words of that 1971 song, we want “a place to stand, a place to grow, Ontari-ari-ari-o!”

Read my summary, “Learning from Ontario Place” with examples and photos here

Photos taken during in/future event, September 15-25, 2016.


vintage postcard circa 1971

-Sharon VanderKaay