What Exhibition Place could be: a great park, a new

The Globe and Mail
Published Saturday, Aug. 17, 2013

An aerial view of Exhibition Place in 2013, left, and crowds file through the Princess’ Gate in 1958.

With more than one million annual visitors, the Canadian National Exhibition is a boon for
Toronto, but its reputation as the country’s largest fair can overshadow the other purposes that
Exhibition Place serves.
“People misunderstand the grounds as just a big, vast open space. It’s not,” said Councillor Mark
Grimes, chair of the Exhibition Place board of governors. “There’s historic buildings in there, it’s
a very unique place and a very important property on the Toronto waterfront.”
The board presiding over the 192-acre plot, not including the provincially owned Ontario Place
to the south, bills it as Canada’s largest entertainment venue. It hosts over 400 events annually,
including trade shows, conferences and meetings that are held every week, and more than five
million people pass through the historic Princes’ Gates entrance to the site each year. In 2012,
Exhibition Place made $4.6-million in profit for the city.

Yet, as Mr. Grimes alluded, there are people who are unsure what goes on at Exhibition Place
besides the most well-known events such as the CNE, the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, the
Fall Home Show and the Honda Indy. Both Mr. Grimes and Dianne Young, chief executive
officer of Exhibition Place, said they frequently get calls from people in the community who
have ideas for how the area could serve a larger or wider group of people.
These ideas are sometimes one-off projects or don’t fit with the board’s vision, said Ms. Young,
explaining that the board will soon be entering a strategic planning session to discuss ideas for
the site’s future. Most of the discussions will revolve around improving current facilities – for
example, expanding the Direct Energy Centre, but there will be talk of new undertakings such as
building a new multifunctional plaza that could contain a stage or parking spaces.
In the past, the board has rejected the idea of building residential properties on Exhibition Place.
“Our board thought it best to stick within entertainment because, if you can imagine, if you were
living in a condo in the middle of this site now with the CNE surrounding you, it’s going to be
noisy,” she said.
Construction of a resort-style hotel to be completed in 2014 and installation of grass at the sixyear-old BMO soccer field are some of the board’s short-term goals. As the CNE begins, we
reached out to visionaries across the city from different walks of life to share their creative and
realistic visions for the long-term future of Exhibition Place.
Don Schmitt, architect with Diamond Schmitt Architects
Proposes an urban park that could cost at least $100-million
There’s a huge amount of new residential use around Exhibition Place with almost no park space
to speak of. The opportunity with the CNE is to create a great new urban park, maybe 25 per cent
of the overall area of the grounds. A 50-acre, world-stature park that could extend right in the
middle of the site from the Horse Palace all the way south to Lakeshore Blvd. Have the whole
park bridge right over Lakeshore Blvd. and connect with Ontario Place creating a green link
connecting to the water.
A gigantic percentage of the CNE is surface parking. It should be replaced by parking structures,
ideally underground, and infrastructure for better transit connectivity. For example, the streetcar
which comes in just at the Princes’ Gates should connect to Dufferin Street and go north along
Then, move the midway to Ontario Place. It occupies a huge amount of space and that just
remains surface parking most of the year. It really fits with the redevelopment of Ontario Place
as a public green park.

Finally, redevelop it as a mixed-use neighbourhood with residential, retail and office space, while
preserving the heritage buildings on site. All those big buildings used for fairs, conferences and
trade shows can co-exist happily with a much more developed, mixed-use urban neighbourhood.
Blake Hutcheson, CEO of Oxford Properties
Proposes a world-leading health-care “hub” for the space
So far, what we have heard from our citizens is what they don’t want at the CNE grounds – a
casino/hotel/retail complex or any such related use. We also know that due to transportation
limitations and simple market fundamentals, a conventional office building or retail complex
would not be economically viable without marrying these uses to a huge economic driver like a
casino. However, if one dreams a bit…
In combination with Ontario Place, this whole area could become a
recreational/health/wellness/preventive medicine “hub” – with parks, fields, rinks, baseball
diamonds, fitness centres, spas, medical office buildings and clinics, science labs, med school
lecture halls, IMAX health documentary theatres, outbuildings for lectures, meetings,
conferences and symposiums and appropriate hotel accommodations. This area could showcase
to the world: Canada’s medical systems and commitment to these issues; Ontario’s foresight; the
leadership within our medical and science universities and colleges; the strength of Toronto’s
development and business community; and the natural beauty of Toronto and its waterfront. It
could combine both commercial– and community-based uses to ensure a healthy mix between
the ability to pay for the vision and the ease of access for the entire community to enjoy and
benefit from it.
In combination with the above, and to help pay for it, this area could also offer some live/work
housing stock (ideally rental, not condominium product, so the city could get an ongoing return)
for proven contributors to these important areas, as well as to music and the arts (all tied into a
“healthy” community) with significant studio and presentation space to showcase these talents.
Jeff Cohen, concert promoter with Collective Concerts
Proposes a green space and permanent outdoor concert venue
Two years ago, I contacted Exhibition Place and proposed to take a parking lot there and turn it
into a green space. Collective Concerts would put in the grass and develop a park and a summer
concert site. It would be a deal similar to the one they made with the owners of the Queen
Elizabeth Theatre. Exhibition Place would give me very inexpensive rent for the first couple of
years, but after that, when we’d sign another lease, it would be at market value. They said it was
an intriguing idea, but I never heard back from them. I was surprised. Here’s someone looking to
develop something free for them. It would create jobs. They would make money, as would I. I
wasn’t looking for any kind of favour. It’s still feasible. I’m looking for something that could
hold 7,500 to 10,000 people, which is a venue size the city still doesn’t have in downtown

Toronto in a green space. It’s sadly missing, and we miss out on shows here because we don’t
have it.

Chris Rudge, executive chair and CEO of Toronto Argonauts Football Club, chair of the
Canadian Sport Institute Ontario
Proposes development of public-access sporting facilities
Although I tend to be in a high-performance sport world, I’m not sure that a major investment in
high-performance sport at the Exhibition Place would be the best use of that land in terms of
access to the greater public, unless it was able to attract a lot of events and international
competitions. There are many who would see it as somewhat athletically elitist, and perhaps not
the best use of that space. There is room for development of public-access sporting facilities like
public gyms. It is a spectacular environment, there are a lot of buildings down there, and a lot of
shows go on, but it’s got to be integrated with a vision for the city.
You would have to look at what percentage of land would be appropriate to set aside for public
access for sport and what kinds of sports. Should we use Exhibition Place as an environment that
is able to attract the various cultural communities that come downtown and share their cultural
recreation activities with the rest of the city? Rather than thinking in the context for traditional
soccer or baseball, do it from the perspective of embracing the growing cultural and ethnic
communities here.

Steve Diamond, developer
President of Diamond Corp., part of a group that has been looking at the potential for
redevelopment of the lands.
Proposes a new neighbourhood that can serve as tourist destination
First of all, Ontario Place should be developed together with the CNE. I think you will have a
better development if the city and the province would get together and come up with guidelines
for development for both. We think that there’s the potential to develop a new neighbourhood for
the city. I think it would be partly a tourist destination, but I think it would be more of a new
neighbourhood that would add vitality to the city, somewhat similar to the Distillery District. It’s
got retail, it’s got housing, it’s got some office space. It would be partly a tourist attraction, but
would create a lot of nighttime activity and another destination for people in the region. And with
the city’s growth, we think that potential exists, and can likely be accomplished without hurting
the existing CNE and maintaining large amounts of open public space. Any new neighbourhood
should have a mix of all types of density to create a solid neighbourhood. You would have some
low-rise housing and some mid-rise housing and some high-rise housing. The land is large
enough, [but] to make it work I believe you have to include the surplus lands from the CNE.
That’s because of the servicing constraints, in terms of getting water and sewers down there, and

transportation issues. There are two major issues. One is the cost of infrastructure, bringing
sewers to the land. The infrastructure kind of stops at the gates. Also, in order to make it work,
there needs to be improvements to the transportation system. In the Metrolinx plan, one of the
options does show the downtown relief line ending with a stop at the CNE, and if that plan was
ever put into place, then that would be a huge boost to facilitating development in that area.

Heather Dubbeldam, Principal at Dubbeldam Architecture + Design, and co-chair of
Toronto Society of Architects
Proposes a redevelopment with sustainable design and landscaping
That site could be a benchmark for sustainable design and landscaping for Toronto and cities
around the world. The problem with that is incredible cost.
There’s a parking lot with a huge problem with water runoff when it rains very heavily. The
entire site should be landscaped with permeable materials, planters, green roofs, and trees.
It should be done in such a way that it allows flexibility for festivals. You also need some shade.
If you look at all the world-class cities, their waterfronts are developed in a way that’s
harmonious both indoors and outdoors with a connection to the waterfront, not inward-looking
buildings with no windows. It has to be something that complements the urban park they’re
designing to the south at Ontario Place.
Every urban park needs facilities. So, Exhibition Place could be envisioned as a connection to
the site in a way that’s pedestrian-friendly. It becomes a destination in connection with Ontario
Exhibition Place was planned to be what it is now as an entertainment venue for trade and
consumer shows. So, from that perspective, it’s very successful. But there’s no real integration to
the city. It needs to have some life outside those events – they are usually quite short. If you look
at the Evergreen Brick Works, that’s a great example of how they repurposed all the buildings
and created nature trails and a farmer’s market. You could have parking structures instead of
surface parking, do some landscaping and create hills and views out to the lake.

Mike Layton, City Councillor for Ward 19, Trinity-Spadina
Proposes an innovation centre and better transit links
We need to maintain Ontario Place as a public space, where everyone is welcome, regardless of
age, culture or income. It is prime waterfront land close to Toronto’s downtown that must be
made relevant and more accessible.

For Ontario Place to succeed, it must function as a place of learning, discovery and
entertainment, as it was intended. Ontario Place could be a place that sparks both our
imaginations and our economy. Perhaps part of the site could serve as an interactive centre for
innovation, where Ontario universities, colleges and businesses could showcase innovation in an
entertaining way.
There is also potential if we imagine Ontario Place and the grounds of Exhibition Place together,
so that we can leverage the assets of each. A centre for innovation could leverage the new hotel
and the conference facility at Exhibition Place.
To make this possible, we need to build better transit connections between Ontario Place and the
rest of the city.
We can do this by extending a streetcar loop, finally building the western waterfront LRT, and
maximizing Go Train service. There are endless options, but first we need to get Torontonians to
the table to help develop a long-term vision that can build the supporting infrastructure needed
and the province must be prepared to invest in the site.
Most important, it must be maintained as a public space accessible to all.
Lola Sheppard, Architect at Lateral Office, and Associate Professor at the University of
Proposes large public space with new programming
Part of the reason the Exhibition Place feels empty unless there’s an event is because everything
is such a huge scale. The question might be, what are programs that actually need a big space but
would also be alive all the time? Certain sports maybe, or a food truck patio or a beer garden. It
would be interesting to look at the schools or city camps in the neighbourhood and see what
amenities they need.
Several architects have considered ideas for large public realms that would allow for many
different events like a market or food festivals, to pop-up events to open-air cinemas that might
coincide with festivals. Create infrastructure with trees and shade and lighting that would allow
such events, and access to the water through watercrafts like kayaks, canoes and small sailboats,
which is lacking.
Precisely because there are so many buildings, most Torontonians, myself included, don’t really
know what all the buildings are or what the programming is. The space is largely parking, and
some stretches of green – but that’s sort of ambiguous with no clear reason to be there. One
could imagine open-space programming that might activate it on a more regular basis. The layout
is hard to comprehend for a pedestrian. Making signage and wayfinding would help create places
versus just space. There should be an exercise in making the public aware of what is currently

happening. But I also think: How does one make it more inviting and what would be required to
make people come at other times when there isn’t something going on?

May Wong, executive director of Omega Foundation and board member of the Canadian
Urban Institute
Proposes a new marketplace/tourist destination
I think we are missing the opportunity to use Exhibition Place and Ontario Place as a tourist
destination. You go down there when the Ex isn’t on and if you’re not with a conference or a
trade show, you really do just notice the parking lots. What would it look like if it became a
marketplace, whether it’s food and cafes, or pop-up shops, or boutiques? My hope would be that
Exhibition Place and Ontario Place combined would become a destination where residents or
visitors to the city would say, “Let’s go down to that district and spend a really fun day.” I think
market stalls would make a lot of sense because there are parking lots. They do have to work as
parking lots part of the time. It’s a beautiful place, especially some of the old buildings there. I
love to visit them and I wish that I had more reason to. Certainly the bent that I put on it is
around accessibility to the public and what makes the space engaging. We need to provide people
with things to do. It can just be so lively if you animate the space.

Barry Fenton, CEO of Lanterra Developments
Proposes combination of retail, resort and year-round entertainment
One of the best examples is Chicago. They have acres and acres and acres of pretty interesting
parcels of playful land. And I think if I was to do something with the Exhibition, I would try to
replicate that to a certain extent, but I’d want to animate it more.
The Exhibition is about 190 acres I think, and they’ve done some public-private partnerships
between Allstream and the BMO Field and Liberty Grand, but it needs a lot more animation. And
I’m not suggesting for one minute that you sprinkle it throughout with high-rise development,
because that’s really not what you want here. What you want to see is a large facility that allows
you to play – whether it’s summertime, wintertime, springtime. I’m not suggesting a casino, but
playful retail to bring people to the area, more of an amusement park concept. I would look at
doing something like Great Wolf Lodge in Niagara Falls, where there’s lots of animation and
they have lots of cool restaurants and those types of facilities.
I would look to do something like a large theatre – at Ontario Place they can do outdoor concerts,
but you should be able to enclose them in the wintertime so you can do them all year round. One
problem with the Exhibition right now is it is kind of off the beaten track to a certain extent. So

you’re going to want to provide some parking. You’re going to want to provide perhaps tram
systems from the downtown to the CNE.
I would also integrate something similar to what they do in Florida at Universal Studios – they
have timeshares and the ability for people to actually stay close to the facilities. I would look at it
more like a combination of downtown waterfront Chicago, Hard Rock retail, and Great Wolf
Lodge. Almost like a Niagara Falls, but more accessible. And keep a lot of green space, there’s a
beautiful waterfront down by Exhibition Place and I don’t think people appreciate it. You have to
create something that people can access all year round. From a financial standpoint you’d need to
have private public partnerships.

Ed Sonshine, CEO of RioCan Real Estate Investment Trust
Proposes selling some land to allow for an urban park
There are some buildings there that I think are useful, serve a purpose, like the Allstream Centre.
The rest of it – saving some historical buildings – I would take some land at the edges and sell it
off, so that [it] doesn’t cost the taxpayers any money, because I think you can do it very easily.
You’d have to sell very little land to cover the cost of what I’d like to see there, which is a huge
park that would go from the middle of the Ex all the way down to the water to include the old
Ontario Place. You’ve got so many people living in downtown west and down along the
lakefront – the whole area there just continues to explode. And I’m not sure they have any big
park system. We’re starting to live in a very urban environment – that’s the way it’s going to be,
and you can’t have too much green space. And here’s space that the city and the province already
own. And I guess it’s been fully and finally settled there isn’t going to be a casino down there,
which I’m quite happy about, and I just think a big park would be great.
These interviews have been condensed and edited.

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