To the gaggle of taxi drivers who frequent the foot of Bathurst Street on the doorstep of the island airport, what exists behind the construction barricades on Eireann Quay is a bit of a mystery.
One vaguely remembers there is something there, pointing to the top of a huge limestone wall visible behind the fence, but he can’t identify it as Ireland Park.
It’s no wonder, since the small green space — a memorial to the 38,000 Irish immigrants who came to Toronto during the famine of 1847 — has been shuttered by a series of construction projects and, most recently, paperwork, since 2010.
On July 10, the park will reopen, though perhaps only for a short time until more construction closes it again.
The park, funded by the Canadian and Irish governments and private donors, is nestled behind the Canada Malting Silos, between the Billy Bishop airport short-term car park and a new $5-million promenade to the east that extends the dock wall and features a two-toned red and grey maple leaf mosaic pattern.
The park opened in 2007, but closed in March 2010 to allow for demolition of a part of the Canada Malting Silos. That project was immediately followed by construction on the tunnel to the island airport and work on the promenade.
All that remained was a “record of site condition,” required when a property’s land use changes from industrial to park space, a process that can take up to 18 months. That step is finally complete.
The park will remain closed on the west side for ongoing work on the tunnel. But once the tunnel is done, the park may need to close again for up to a year to repair the crumbling south dock wall.
Robert Kearns, chair of the Ireland Park Foundation, remains patient.
“As soon as the tunnel is done either in the fall or early next spring, I am hoping the city will start on the south dock wall. But it might mean the park closing until spring 2016 as there will be a major construction site, but it will be up to the city to decide that.”
The city has already pledged $3-million in funding to fix the wall but needs about the same amount again to get that job done.
“I am confident it will happen and the final result will be a place for people to enjoy for hundreds of years.”
When members of the public do get to visit the park, they will see five bronze sculptures by renowned artist Rowan Gillespie — wretched figures facing the city skyline, some displaying hope and others fear. One lies dying on the ground.
Similar statues stand on Dublin’s quay side as if walking towards the ships bringing them to a new life. In Toronto, the figures are a continuation of that, having just arrived.
There’s also a wall made of Irish limestone with the names of those who arrived in Toronto, but later died.
“It’s a 14-column wall made of limestone shipped from Ireland,” said Mr. Kearns, originally from Dublin.
“It represents the Cliffs of Moher on the west coast of Ireland, the last sight seen by emigrants leaving home. The names of the dead are engraved on the gaps in the wall. The park is really a cemetery without bodies, for the people who didn’t make it.”