Survey asks how best to mark history of First Parliament site at the Ontario Line subway station in Corktown

How should we recognize history? This is an important question for experts behind the Ontario Line subway station that will be built in Corktown, at King and Berkeley. People have an opportunity to share their opinions on how to commemorate the site’s history in the new subway station through a new online survey. Here’s how you can have your say.

It’s a place with a rich history and an exciting future that have been obscured by parking lots. But that is about to change.

Today (Nov. 17), Metrolinx launched an online survey giving people the opportunity to influence the glimpse into history subway riders will see while passing through the Ontario Line station in Corktown.

The station will be next to the site of Upper Canada’s first Parliament Buildings – completed in 1797, burned by occupying American forces in 1813, and rebuilt in 1820, only to succumb to an accidental fire in 1824.

Image shows the parking lot with businesses around.

“This site’s legacy belongs to everyone and the new subway station will deliver an important new landmark to the Corktown neighbourhood,” said Malcolm MacKay, Ontario Line program sponsor. “That’s why we are seeking public input before proceeding with a presentation of the site’s history that will be seen by people during their daily commutes.”

Want to learn more about the Ontario Line project? Then just go here.

Image shows a street car.
The new subway station will be an important connection to TTC surface routes through Corktown. (Mike Winterburn photo)

Located on the eastern edge of Toronto’s downtown, this station will be at the corner of King and Berkeley, just west of Parliament Street. Looking south, across Front Street, a potential transit oriented community is being planned for the First Parliament Site, which is currently paved over.

Indigenous Peoples were present on the lands where the First Parliament site was built long before settlers arrived. The site is located on the traditional territory of many Nations, including the Anishnabeg, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat Peoples. It is on lands covered by Treaty 13 with the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation. 

“The significance of the site in settler history and Crown-Indigenous relations cannot be understated,” said Meaghan Rivard, a senior heritage consultant who is working with Metrolinx on this project.

She is fascinated by different perspectives on the meaning of the site.

“Years ago, the first parliament buildings might have been held up as the sole foundation of our political history, but there has been an important reconsideration of the way that we’ve been interpreting this country’s past.” Rivard said. “More recently we have begun to acknowledge the implications of this history and the ramifications of the colonial government’s presence for Indigenous Peoples and communities.

“This is a legacy that we continue to grapple with today.”

Imaged shows a plaque.
The future Ontario Line station and Transit Oriented Community present an opportunity to enhance storytelling at the First Parliament site. (Mike Winterburn photo)

This site went on to become the location for the Home District Gaol (jail), Consumers’ Gas and various automotive businesses, which have their own complex histories.

“From institutionalization through to the environmental impact of industry, this site tells many stories,” Rivard pointed out.

It’s also next to the original Lake Ontario shoreline.

Image shows the intersection and a Staples.
The Ontario Line station for Corktown will be at the corner of King and Berkeley, which until recently, was the site of a Staples store. (Mike Winterburn photos)

The commemoration project provides an opportunity to explore the history of this site. Indigenous Nations and interested stakeholders are engaged in these efforts. This work builds on the City of Toronto’s First Parliament Heritage Interpretation Strategy which was informed with feedback from Indigenous Nations, public consultation and research.

“There is a new opportunity to share the history of this site underground at the station location as part of the Ontario Line experience,” Rivard explained. “We want to hear from the public what stories they want us to tell.”

To help tell those stories, survey participants will rank themes that were identified in the city’s strategy as priorities for presentation in the new station.

Five broad themes were identified.

  • One theme, A Site of Strategic Importance, looks at the site’s historical significance for Indigenous peoples prior to colonial settlement, and later as a gathering place for early settlers and the location for Upper Canada’s capital, as well as mid-19th century competitions over the capital of the United Province of Canada, which eventually led to Ottawa becoming home to our federal parliament. 
  • Establishing a Seat of Government, explores how the Parliament of Upper Canada was established, systems of government and the site’s role as the centre of debate and decision-making. It will also review the Royal Proclamation of 1763.
  • A Planning and Infrastructure theme examines construction of the first and second parliament buildings, their position in the wider urban context of the city and how they influenced local, provincial and national development.
  • Civil Society describes an area that for thousands of years was witness to the migration of Indigenous Peoples and later French traders, British loyalists, enslaved and freed Black people, and immigrants from many countries around the world.
  • The Industry and Commerce theme explores traditional trade among Indigenous Peoples, government decisions that set-up the province’s first banking structure, and the area’s later role as a hub of industry, hosting Consumers’ Gas, a railway and automotive sector businesses.

As well, there are cross-cutting themes – Diverse People, Impact, Connections and Growth of the City. The City’s Heritage Interpretation Strategy describes them as connectors, allowing stories to be weaved together.

The Diverse People theme speaks to the variety of perspectives to be represented at the site – including Indigenous Peoples, leading figures, and everyday people. The Impact of environmental, social, political, economical, and cultural activities and decisions at the site is essential to the storytelling. Connections relates this site to others across the city and province, from a historical perspective. Finally, Growth of a City looks at the evolution of Toronto from the human, industrial, and commercial perspective.

“The themes really cover everything from geography to history to politics to day-to-day experiences,” Rivard said. “We want to talk about the big picture histories, but also some of the nuanced elements represented by sub-themes in each category”.

Readers can access the survey here.

“This is a great opportunity for the public to have a say in the type of history that will be presented here,” Rivard said. “You get to influence the themes that will be represented at this station and the stories that will be told for decades to come.”

Story by Mike Winterburn, Metrolinx News senior writer