It won’t last long, but Ireland Park finally has a slight respite from the scourge of downtown construction fences.
The park, built to commemorate the 38,000 Irish famine victims who landed on Toronto’s shores in 1847, has been entirely cut off from pedestrians since 2010.
The completion of a promenade along the quay at the foot of Bathurst St. now provides access to the park. But fencing still surrounds the rest of it, and by next summer the park will likely be closed for more waterfront work.
“We’re very patient,” said Robert Kearns, chair of the Ireland Park Foundation. He spoke at a small ceremony Tuesday to celebrate the reopening. “I’m focused on this long-view approach, that you do it bit by bit.”
The foundation spent a decade raising $3.5 million to get the park built in 2007, including $700,000 in provincial and federal grants and another half million from the Irish government. The park includes bronze statues of typhus-ravaged immigrants, and a limestone wall engraved with the names of hundreds who died in ship holds while crossing the Atlantic.
One project keeping the park hemmed in is the pedestrian tunnel to Billy Bishop Airport, which will likely open in early 2015. Once the tunnel construction equipment is gone, however, the park will be closed again when work begins on rebuilding the north dock wall of the quay. That project will be delayed even further because piledriving in the water must wait until fish-spawning season ends in July.
Yet there’s an even bigger problem for the short-term future of Ireland Park: the towering, vacant grain silos of the Canada Malting Company. A chain-link fence currently cuts through the southern part of the park with large signs warning of falling debris from the 85-year-old concrete structure. “It’s really unfortunate because it slices through the park and distorts and affects the whole appearance of it, but it’s a legal issue and we have very little or no control over it,” Kearns said.
Lynda Macdonald, a manager with the city’s community planning department, said there’s no danger of the silos falling down — but the fences aren’t going anywhere either. She said the city has two studies underway, one to come up with a plan for the property and the other to develop a neighbourhood plan for the quay, but the process will likely take years.
For Kearns, then, the long view is the only option. “From our perspective, it took 160 years for Ireland Park to become a reality,” he said. “These interruptions for construction work around the boundaries of the park, we deem to be minor and temporary.”