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Three decommissioned lake freighters now provide shelter for Ontario Place and its marina

August 2020

When the government of Ontario Premier John Robarts announced the creation of Ontario Place in August 1968, he envisioned a facility on the shore of Lake Ontario in Toronto, that would serve as a showcase to promote the Province of Ontario through exhibits and entertainment.

Over the years, Ontario Place would become more of a theme park for families with a water park, a children’s play area, and amusement rides.

Ontario Place was located on three artificial landscaped islands just off the Toronto shoreline. Initially around 100-acres, the complex had a futuristic look, with a pavilion comprised five steel-and-glass structures known as “Pods,” perched high above the water on the islands. Four of the pods featured multimedia exhibits, while the fifth held restaurants.

The innovative 600-seat Cinesphere theatre, a “triodetic-domed” spherical structure that looked like a giant golf ball, became an iconic structure at Ontario Place, for the showing of IMAX films, everything from documentaries showcasing Ontario, to commercial films., on its 80 foot wide by 60 foot high screen.

Due to the wind and wave conditions on Lake Ontario, a large breakwater was required on the lake side, to protect both Ontario Place and a marina located within the park.

An effective and relatively simple method for constructing this breakwater was to sink three decommissioned Great Lakes freighters, end to end, then covering them in concrete forming a 1,500-foot long breakwater. It was Jack Jones, Chief Engineer of the Toronto Harbour Commission, who came up with the idea of using the three decommissioned freighters. All three were filled with gravel then topped with a cement walkway, designed by architect Gordon Cheney, who also came up with the idea of welding together the anchor chains to create a handrail, and using the anchors as a central feature.

The three ships used were the S.S. Howard L. Shaw (1900-1969), the S.S. Douglas Houghton (1899), and the S.S. Victorious (1895).

These three ships were the three oldest surviving Great Lakes ships. Coincidentally, the fourth-oldest, the S.S. William E. Corey, is also serving as a breakwater at the Port Credit Marina, just a short 14 miles to the west.

Unlike the S.S. Corey, visitors to Ontario place can walk along the concrete walkways that have replaced the decks. A small portion of the wheelhouse sits a the bow of the S.S. Houghton, with steps leading up to the top, providing a nice view along the waterfront.

The wheelhouse of the Victorious was given to the Water Rat sailing club, for use as a club house.

Sources: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SS_Howard_L._Shaw, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ontario_Place, https://www.cbc.ca/archives/from-1971-ontario-place-under-construction-and-over-budget-1.5065670, https://hikingthegta.com/2018/07/21/ontario-place, http://torontothenandnow.blogspot.com/2015/09/61-play-by-bay-part-iii-ontario-place.html, https://tclf.org/developers-invited-reinvent-torontos-ontario-place, https://www.toronto.ca/legdocs/mmis/2019/pb/bgrd/backgroundfile-132080.pdf, https://www.theglobeandmail.com/real-estate/toronto/article-bitter-green-its-not-just-ontario-places-buildings-that-face-an, information provided by Sophie Cheney, wife of architect Gordon Cheney (2021).

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

Permanent link to this article: https://militarybruce.com/three-decommissioned-lake-freighters-now-provide-shelter-for-ontario-place-and-its-marina/

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