Those of us who want a casino in the Toronto area are likely not among those who want it on the lakeshore. And it definitely should not be at Ontario Place. We have even hemmed and hawed over the west end of Exhibition Park. You have to be a born and bred Torontonian to really understand the concerns.
Ontario Place was a legacy to Toronto from a dying breed of Ontario Tories. It was Premier John Robarts—who ran Ontario as Chairman of the Board—who announced the Ontario Place plan in 1971.
(God knows, we never expected to ever be nostalgic about those people. Yet, compared to the rabid right-wing Ontario Conservatives of today, Robarts and his key ministers of the time were progressive, benign and human.)
Over the next 40 years, Ontario Place evolved into a people place, a place for families and a place for youth. The highly politicized management of the park did it little good and it often ran behind the trends of what it could have accomplished. The Ontario Whig government of Dalton McGuinty shut down most of the park in 2011 because of that government’s total inability to plan ahead.
Ontario Place is now at a crossroads. Caught in limbo, it stands as a faded and failed Circus Maximus, torn between political objectives and postures. It needs more than former provincial Conservative leader John Tory and his team of planners to propose a future for the site. It needs far-sighted and brave planning—something of which the McGuinty Whigs are incapable. What Ontario Place must never become is a site for an adult-only casino.
It was the children’s area at the east end of Ontario Place that brought out families. It was the key to the long-term success of the park. It locked the park into a family orientation in the minds of Torontonians and it would be a very large mistake to try to change it.
Montreal has already proved with its Casino de Montréal, on the islands that held Expo 67, that an isolated, hard to reach venue for a casino is wrong. Montreal has also shown that shoe-horning a casino into a site that was never designed for a casino is also a really bad idea.
The west end of Exhibition Park is a possibility for a casino because it has always been such a forgotten area for exhibition planners. Toronto’s venerable “Ex” is tired and needs new thinking and a casino might be the stimulus for a new era in the 21st Century.
There are many excellent sites for a casino and surrounding entertainment destination around the Toronto area. And there are many more outside the city’s jurisdiction if the city politicians want to be ignorant on the issue.
Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry
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