A foundation that honours Toronto’s Irish migrants is hoping to expand its efforts with an arts and culture centre on the city’s shoreline where some 38,000 famine victims arrived more than 170 years ago.
Trinity-Spadina Councillor Joe Cressy is spearheading the effort to convert a former Canadian Malting building into a cultural centre. He has put forward a formal request to a city committee asking to lease the heritage property to the Ireland Park Foundation, which has already turned the neighbouring land into a park that honours the migrants.
“For decades, we’ve recognized the need in our city for a space that commemorates the history of Irish-Canadians and that speaks to inclusion and newcomers,” Mr. Cressy said.
A plan for the neighbourhood called for the area to have an artistic and cultural revitalization. The idea is part of an ongoing effort to recognize Canada’s past and present efforts in welcoming immigrants. In recent years, a memorial including several sculptures of Irish famine migrants – which face similar statues placed on the Dublin shoreline – were installed in the park located at 5 Eireann Quay.
The Ireland Park Foundation is also in the process of opening Dr. George Robert Grasett Park at Adelaide St. West and Widmer St. in remembrance of the doctors and nurses that assisted the migrants.
Ireland Park Foundation’s chairman and founder, Robert G. Kearns, is excited by the possibility of another space that will add to the history of Irish Canadians.
“Eireann Quay is going to become the most significant, new public space on the Toronto waterfront,” Mr. Kearns said.
According to Mr. Kearns, the space will be a visitor centre for the park and a hub of artistic material including painting and sculpture exhibits, theatrical performances with music or poetry, educational exhibits and restaurants, all of which will be open to the local community and visitors. These changes would be part of other upgrades being made to the area, including repairs to the surrounding wall and landscape of Ireland Park.
“We don’t have enough sites like this in the city, and we need to do a better job as we grow and change,” Mr. Cressy said , “It’s not just a place for arts and culture and Irish history to live on, but it’s a way for us to reflect on who we are.”
The proposal is in the early stages and must still be approved by council. Mr. Cressy stated in his request that the structure would require between $2-million to $3-million in renovations that would come from Toronto’s state-of-good-repair funds that look to maintain city-owned property. If the committee approves Mr. Cressy’s request to engage in lease negotiations with the Ireland Park Foundation at their next meeting, then the motion will seek approval from city council at the end of June.