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Ontario Place and The Ex
28/11/2004

I got an email from somebody asking me to write up my thoughts on the province's request for what should be done with Ontario Place and Exhibition Place. That's very good timing, since the way things have been going it looks like I need prodding to get me to actually write anything around here.

Actually, it wasn't "somebody" who wrote. It was Marc Weisblott, who (along with Brett Lamb) is the creator of the sometimes-Toronto-focused blog Better Living Centre, which is of course named after a building at the Ex. I understand Marc will be gathering the responses of several writers on this Ontario-Exhibition Place issue and posting them online soon.

That is, if he can find enough people with an opinion on the subject. I'm having a hard time making one up, actually. As far as I can tell, Ontario Place seems to be irrelevant to Torontonians, and the Ex seems to be not much more than a happy memory.

I'd be happy to have a reader tell me that I'm wrong. I certainly don't have a lot of recent experience with the two sites. I've lived in Toronto for about nine years and have been to exactly one event at each in that time -- and those visits were because I was given free tickets to a concert at the ampitheatre and to the Molson Indy. If I go again, it probably won't be until someone gives me free tickets again, or until I'm a dad.

Both of these places seem to have more appeal to tourists than to actual locals. That fits my pattern, too. I did visit Ontario Place and the Ex when I lived in Windsor. And, I think this sets up the question we need to ask ourselves when thinking about OP/EP... who's it for?

If they are going to remain as sites entirely for tourists, families, and (maybe) teens, then there's not much for me to say about it. Actually, any sort of fenced-in, programmed entertainment space seems likely to be somewhat anti-urban and uninteresting to the post-high-school / pre-parenthood set. If you have to pay to get in, Ontario Place will just remain an annoyance to me on days I want to ride my bike along the waterfront.

On the other hand, I like the feel of Exhibition Place. When nothing's going on, I like the old buildings, etc. Maybe it would be possible to build a precinct there of small, independent attractions that come and go. But that will be hard to do when we already have stadiums, arenas, convention centres and theatres built everywhere else. Without adding a residential and commercial component to the Ex grounds, I have no great vision for how it can become something other than what it is.


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