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2.9 million visited Ontario Place in 2022: internal letter

Critics of the PCs' redevelopment said last year's visitor total shows a private spa — part of plans to attract 4 to 6 million visitors a year — isn't necessary
Premier Doug Ford holds a news conference at Ontario Place, in Toronto on April 18, 2023.

Almost 3 million visited Ontario Place in 2022, according to a letter penned by the head of the Crown corp that manages it.

One of the Ford government's go-to justifications for redeveloping the largely provincially controlled site, which includes plans to add a private spa and water park, is that 4 to 6 million people each year will flock there.

"Over 2.9M visitors made use of the site (Ontario Place), attending concerts, food festivals, the Lake Shore Inflatable Waterpark, screenings at the Cinesphere and Cirque du Soleil, spending time at the marina, as well as walking, running and biking through the park," Carmine Nigro, chair of the Ontario Place Corporation, wrote to Infrastructure Minister Kinga Surma in a letter summarizing the Crown corporation's 2022 financial results.


Nigro's letter was obtained by The Trillium through a freedom-of-information request.

Neither the Crown corporation nor the government at large has previously publicized how many visitors went to Ontario Place last year. The Ontario Place Corporation's most recent available annual report showing how many visitors made use of the site on Toronto's waterfront was 2016's, which says 850,000 people utilized it that year.

Surma's office didn't respond to questions emailed to it about Nigro's letter and the number of visitors Ontario Place has, and is expected to, attract before a deadline on Wednesday.

Critics of Premier Doug Ford's government's Ontario Place redevelopment plans said the number of visitors it attracted in 2022 is further reason to question why Therme, the spa and waterpark builder, is being allowed to takeover a chunk of the land, and why the province is footing the bill for an underground parking garage to facilitate it.

"This confirms what we all know, which is that Ontario Place is a very well-used public space," NDP Leader Marit Stiles said. "And the government is trying to come up with any excuse to legitimize their plan to subsidize this luxury spa company from Austria at the expense of public land."

Liberal MPP Adil Shamji said its 2.9 million visitors in 2022 "speaks to how frequently it's used by the people of Toronto and more broadly the rest of the province."

"The fact that they're going through this entire redevelopment without ... a significantly increased projection in attendance really makes me wonder, what is the driving force behind this?" added Shamji, who represents Don Valley East, the longtime home of the Ontario Science Centre, which the Ford government announced in April would move to Ontario Place as part of the redevelopment project.

"The robust attendance and profitability figures from 2022 show that Ontarians appreciate Ontario Place as is, and that the site is already an attraction due to its natural beauty and publicly accessible waterfront space," Norm Di Pasquale, co-chair of Ontario Place for All, said in an email.

"It's clear that the government didn't want these attendance numbers released as it's contrary to their narrative that no one is going to Ontario Place; Ontarians clearly love their Ontario Place," added Di Pasquale, who's run federally for the NDP in Spadina—Fort York, which encompasses Ontario Place, and works with the provincial NDP's overlapping riding association. 

Ontario Place for All opposes Therme's plans, favouring keeping more of the site accessible to the public. The advocacy group helped organize a several-dozen strong protest on Tuesday at a half-day symposium on Toronto's waterfront that Ford and Surma both spoke at.

At the Toronto Region Board of Trade event, Ford and Surma each touted a couple of their government's key selling points for its redevelopment plans — the promised potential to create 5,000 new jobs, and that it'll attract 4 to 6 million visitors each year.

"I respect that there's different opinions right in this room as I speak," Ford said to the audience including a few protesters who held signs in a silent demonstration. "And that's what democracy is all about — is listening to the people and ... coming with common ground. Bold thinking will always invite disagreement."

Therme's plan to build its "wellness centre," as Ford and Surma described it on Tuesday, has been a source of controversy for the government since it was announced in summer 2021. Developments since then — including Therme's signing of a 95-year lease at Ontario Place, that its bid was picked from more than 30 suitors, and the addition of a publicly paid-for parking garage — have added to the controversy.

A now-outdated proposal of Therme's spa was projected to have the "capacity for up to 3 million visitors per year," according to a Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport document from summer 2022 that was also obtained via a freedom-of-information request. Therme's latest proposed design for its waterpark and spa is smaller, allowing for more greenspace and public areas on Ontario Place's west island.

Year-round operations at Live Nation's upgraded amphitheatre "will attract up to 1 million visitors" each year, the same Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport document projected.


The number of annual visitors to Ontario Place declined decade-by-decade from when it opened in the 1970s until the 2010s, according to past news reports. In the 1970s, Ontario Place would attract 3 million visitors in a good year. In the 2010s — the early years of which saw the most significant upgrades in decades made at Ontario Place — the annual number of visitors to the site was typically short of 1 million people, according to news reports.

Although visitor data is not publicly available for the first few years of the 2020s, many of the paid amenities at Ontario Place likely saw a dip in use due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which disproportionately impacted tourist attractions and restaurants. Conversely, however, public parks — which Ontario Place includes — saw greater use during the pandemic as well.

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