Save for its quintet of iconic overwater “pod” pavilions and triodetic IMAX dome, Ontario Place is a starkly different destination from when the erstwhile offshore theme park encompassing a chain of three manmade islands first debuted in 1971 southwest of Downtown Toronto.
Numerous attractions—some beloved, some not so much—have come and gone over the decades at the distinctly Ontarian amusement park, which was partly inspired by Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens and conceived in the immediate wake of the successful Expo 67 in Montreal: a bevy of thrill rides and waterslides, a tented concert venue dubbed The Forum, and an innovative, Eric McMillan-designed playscape featuring the first-ever ball pit to name just a few notable diversions. In 2012, most of Ontario Place was shuttered following years of waning attendance so that a government-led overhaul of the aging 155-acre waterfront property into an all-season swath of urban parkland could begin. In June 2017, the transformation of Ontario Place reached a major milestone when the 7.5-acre Trillium Park and William G. Davis Trail, designed by LANDinc and West 8, opened to the public to widespread acclaim. The Eberhard Zeidler-designed, heritage landmark-designated Cinesphere theater reopened later that year following significant interior renovations.
Now, nearly two years after the provincial government closed a formal Call for Development, a plan for the full redevelopment of the former theme park has finally been revealed. Notably, Toronto-headquartered Diamond Schmitt will lead the design of Therme Canada | Ontario Place, a year-round “entertainment and relaxation destination” that will encompass the entirety of Ontario Place’s West Island and feature botanical gardens, indoor and outdoor swimming facilities, and over 8 acres of revitalized public open space. As noted by the firm, the plan aims to reconnect visitors to Lake Ontario, much like the original vision for Ontario Place did.
Joining Diamond Schmitt on the design team are, among others, landscape architecture firm STUDIO tla, with Baird and Arup serving as shoreline engineers and civil engineers, respectively. Additional Ontario-based team members, including heritage consultants, structural engineers, and aquatic habitat consultants will be named in the near future.
In late July, it was announced that Therme Group, a Vienna-headquartered operator of “advanced wellbeing resorts,” had secured a bid to head the reimagining of West Island as its inaugural North American project, a splashy debut to be sure. At the same time, the Ontario government revealed (to some groans) that Live Nation Entertainment and Montreal’s Écorécréo Group had been tapped for two other major Ontario Place overhauls as part of the closed-door bid process. The former will lead the replacement of the 1990s-era Budweiser Stage (née the Molson Amphitheatre), which will be swapped out for a larger concert venue. The latter will construct and operate an outdoor adventure park complete with escape rooms and aerial obstacle courses to be located just south of Budweiser Stage.
Per the province, the trio of recently named redevelopment partners—Therme Group, Live Nation, and Écorécréo Group—will together “help deliver an exciting, inclusive and family friendly experience that will play a key role in the province’s post-pandemic recovery, both as a tourism destination and as a display of Ontario’s strong cultural identity.” A press release issued by the Office of Premier Doug Ford also clarifies that no condos or casinos will be built at Ontario Place and that the revitalized park, open and accessible to the public 365 days a year, will remain devoted to recreational, educational, and entertainment-related pursuits. Zeidler’s floating pods and Cinesphere, which were the focus of a preservation campaign urging the government to spare the modernist landmarks, are also staying put as the rest of the park is redeveloped.
Of the three redevelopment zones, Therme Canada | Ontario Place has the largest footprint with the four major elements spanning both West Island and the mainland: A soaring entrance pavilion serving as a new gateway to the redeveloped park, a glass- and copper-clad pedestrian bridge spanning the West Channel, the main Therme Canada | Ontario Place building, and the new and expanded parkland and beach areas.
“Therme is grounded in the planned expansion of public park space. It honours and celebrates Ontario Place’s history, including the Pods and Cinesphere,” said Gary McCluskie, principal at Diamond Schmitt, in a statement. “We designed the West Island of Ontario Place to connect people to the water year-round. Our design weaves three themes, expressed through architecture: exhibition pavilions; natural forms; and greenhouse architecture.”
Anchoring the revamped West Island, the main Therme Canada | Ontario Place spa building is envisioned as a glass-sheathed steel structure inspired by botanical greenhouses and glazed exhibition halls of yore. As detailed by the firm in a press release:
“The building program is distributed over multiple levels, with the largest spaces located on the ground floor. The interior and exterior experiences are woven together throughout the levels of the building. The glass greenhouse architecture supports the integration of landscape inside the building with indoor pools and a transparent envelope allowing vistas of Lake Ontario and abundant daylight for the planted interior environment. A series of landscaped roofs extends the planted environment to the form. In summer, rooftop pools—adjustable by season—provide a transition between the exterior and interior.”
An announcement released by Therme Group further elaborated that, in addition to multiple pools and spas, the sprawling aquatic wellness facility will also include waterslides, a wave pool, multiple healthy dining venues, sports performance and recovery services, and more.
Located on the mainland on the opposite side of the new Therme Bridge along Lake Shore Boulevard West, the Therme Entrance Pavilion will serve as a welcoming “exhibition and information space” complete with a double-height, wood-lined entry hall. “The goal of supporting body and spirit with wellbeing in an egalitarian, welcoming environment is infused throughout the pavilion’s transparent and natural forms,” explained Diamond Schmitt.
Back on West Island, the Therme Canada | Ontario Place facility will be enveloped by lush gardens and open green space. The redevelopment plans also, as mentioned, call for improved, year-round access to the island’s existing beaches, trails, and wetland areas.
Describing the proposed facility as a “natural urban oasis where people can have fun, relax, and unwind from their busy lives,” Dr. Robert Hanea, CEO of Therme Group, said in a statement that “the future of Ontario Place will be defined by how successful it can be connecting people to the water. Through our technology and by engaging the community Therme and our partners will add a new architectural landmark that will play a role in bringing more people back to the waterfront capturing the original spirit of Ontario Place from 50 years ago.”
Able to accommodate over 3 million annual visitors, the estimated $278 million (CAD $350 million) Therme Canada | Ontario Place project is expected to produce upwards of 2,200 construction jobs and 800 full-time permanent positions. Although construction is expected to take roughly two years, a projected completion date will be announced after the approval and permitting process wraps up. In the nearer future, virtual public information sessions regarding the larger Ontario Place overhaul are set to kick off this fall.