This iconic, orb-like structure once represented the promise of the future—but that future is now uncertain.
Have you thought about the Cinesphere lately?
If you grew up in Toronto in the ’70s or ’80s (or even came to Ontario Place on a class trip), odds are that, back in the day, you marveled at the futuristic-looking white ball perched on the waterfront, and you were probably pretty excited to go inside and check out an IMAX movie about space or the rainforest.
Now that you’re grown up and have more important things to worry about, you probably don’t give much thought to the “spherical triodetic dome” you occasionally pass by while driving along Lakeshore. But would you think more about it if you knew it was going to be demolished?
Phil Goodfellow of Montgomery Sisam Architects is a fan of “modern heritage” buildings. Though this city is “getting better” at recognizing valuable 20th-century modern buildings, he says, “there have been some big losses in the last decade.” One example is the Bata Shoes head office, an extremely cool 1960s-era building designed by Toronto City Hall architect John B. Parkin. It was demolished in 2007 despite a last-ditch effort by the Toronto Preservation Board to save it.
The Cinesphere, built in 1971 by Eb Zeidler, is the modern heritage site most at risk right now, says Goodfellow, and it’s a building we should be wary of losing.
“It captures a moment, a spirit of a time—it enthusiastically thrust itself out into the water,” he says. “It was Ontario’s response to Expo 67, to show how progressive Ontario and Toronto were. It’s sort of a bizarre utopian vision—it’s a waterworld, out there on its own.”
The Cinesphere, as well as the Ontario Place amusement rides and waterpark, were closed earlier this year by the provincial government due to falling revenues. (The more profitable Molson Amphitheatre, Atlantis Pavilion, marina, and parking lot will stay open.) The province is currently working on plans to redevelop the site and reopen it in five years time. But with the Cinesphere, there’s no word on whether it will remain or be torn down.
“An advisory panel led by John Tory and respected community leaders will provide our government with strategic advice as we move forward to a transformation of Ontario Place,” says Denelle Balfour, spokesperson for the Ministry of Tourism. “The panel is exploring a series of options for Ontario Place. No decisions about existing structures have been made.”
There have been rumours the Ontario Place site will become a casino (something both the Ford brothers and the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. seem to want in Toronto). It also seems like a pretty prime spot for condos. A group of Toronto citizens are mounting a campaign to see the big, white orb preserved have have started a Facebook page called “Save the Cinesphere.”
Currently, the Cinesphere has no City of Toronto heritage designation—and, in fact, because it’s a provincially owned site, the city doesn’t have the jurisdiction to give it one. (A City of Toronto spokesperson did confirm there had been no demolition permits requested or issued for the Cinesphere at this time.)
Some might argue the Cinesphere isn’t architecturally important enough to be worth saving, but it’s all about context. There’s quite a bit of moaning about the fact that so many Georgian and Victorian treasures have been torn down in Toronto. Many have noted that it’s a shame Toronto didn’t revere our 19th-century architecture enough to preserve it and, because of that, much of it has been lost. But perhaps we are doing the same thing to the iconic 20th-century landmarks in our midst.
We may all be blasé these days about the excitement and enthusiasm that the Cinesphere used to embody, but Goodfellow hopes that spirit won’t be lost for future generations.
“At a moment when we’re constantly looking for pennies to pinch, we have to remember at a certain time, we were bold enough to dream about what the future could be,” says Goodfellow. “I don’t think that will be over—I think that will come back at a certain point, and I don’t think we should lose sight of it.”