Hopes are high for a Grange Park Café

“We know the AGO café in the basement hasn’t been a success and they would like to build a new one overlooking the [Grange] park,” Ramkhalawansingh says. “Of course there would have to be a lot of consideration about zoning and impact on the park, but I think it could be acceptable if it’s a glass pavilion rather than a heavy building.”

“I think it would make a lot of sense to have a café somewhere around the park where people could enjoy the natural beauty,” says Teitelbaum.

By Martin Knelman Entertainment Columnis, Toronto StarAfter decades of acrimonious battles over control of Grange Park, the Art Gallery of Ontario and its neighbours are on the verge of making a deal featuring breakthroughs for both sides.

For the residents who have been duelling with the AGO for 25 years to stop the gallery’s expansions from encroaching on the two-hectare park, the goal is the long-needed improvement, upgrading and repair of the park itself, including both its natural and man-made features.

For the gallery and its patrons, a major gain could be a spiffy glass café situated on the southwest corner of the AGO footprint, just north of the park itself but in what was designated as open space (no building allowed) in previous negotiations with the gallery.

“We are committed to the improvement of the park and its long-term maintenance as a beautiful oasis,” says Matthew Teitelbaum, CEO of the gallery. He confirmed that discussions between the gallery and the residents have been underway ever since the AGO reopened three years ago following its transformation and reinvention by architect Frank Gehry.

Gehry is also expected to play a key role in reinventing the park where he used to play as a child growing up in Toronto.

“We have agreed to assume a leading part in fundraising for the project,” says Teitelbaum, “No details have been settled yet, but there has been a very positive spirit about discussions. We’re working very well with the neighbours. The park is our backyard and we always saw our transformation as an exercise in city-building, so we see upgrading the park as a gift we can provide to the city.”

It’s clear, however, that the once toxic relations between gallery officials and activists who live and work in the Grange area have recently undergone a dramatic improvement. During this thaw, an advisory committee to come up with a plan for sprucing up the park has been led by Toronto city councillor Adam Vaughan and high-profile AGO board member Rupert Duchesne (the president of Aeroplan).

“We’re very pleased with the progress we have made, but I don’t want to reveal details in the media before I’ve had a chance to update my constituents,” says Vaughan,

Ceta Ramkhalawansingh, a local resident and former city hall employee who was for years led the fight to stop the AGO from expanding (going back to 1989), says now: “Everyone is feeling more flexible and optimistic about co-operation between the gallery and the residents. Our goal, as always, is the revitalization and protection of a wonderful park that is enjoyed by thousands of people every day but is in serious need of attention.”

History lies at the heart of the matter. Grange House was built by the Boulton family. In 1910, Harriet Boulton willed it to the art gallery. And in 1911, the gallery entered into an agreement with the City of Toronto to operate the land south of Grange House as a public park.

In recent years, sadly, the park’s condition has deteriorated along with the city’s ability to pay for its maintenance. It’s a jumble of uneven pathways, crumbling benches and decaying trees that need either surgery or removal.

Money will have to be invested if the natural beauty of the park is to be saved for future generations, says Ramkhalawansingh, a member of the advisory committee. “We’ve heard that the AGO has been working with Frank Gehry on design ideas,” she adds.

While nothing has been negotiated about a new AGO food-and-beverage facility next to Grange Park, she is willing to consider an AGO café just north of the park’s boundaries.

“We know the AGO café in the basement hasn’t been a success and they would like to build a new one overlooking the park,” Ramkhalawansingh says. “Of course there would have to be a lot of consideration about zoning and impact on the park, but I think it could be acceptable if it’s a glass pavilion rather than a heavy building.”

“I think it would make a lot of sense to have a café somewhere around the park where people could enjoy the natural beauty,” says Teitelbaum.

Maybe one day we can look forward to having lunch in a sun-filled space just like the one at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that takes its patrons right into the heart of Central Park, connecting the dots between the city’s bastion of culture and its urban wonderland of nature.

mknelman@thestar.ca

Sunday in the Park With Henry

Sculpture is not part of the plan currently being brokered for Grange Park, but it should be, according to one major artist who lives within a block of the park and the Art Gallery of Ontario.

Charles Pachter — famous for his paintings of the Queen, moose, the Canadian flag and the Red Rocket — suggests relocating the Henry Moore sculpture now at the corner of Dundas and McCaul Sts.

Pachter’s would put the prize piece right in the middle of Grange Park where all the various paths converge. And to demonstrate how wonderful that would be, he has done some beguiling tricks with his camera.

“Paris has the Place des Voges and the Jardins du Luxembourg,” says Pachter. “Grange Park could exude the same charm and dignity for Toronto.

After all, the this is a gem of an urban park, beautifully situated near the AGO, the Ontario College of Art and the Entertainment District. And it has a small garden containing the ashes of painter Joyce Wieland and writer Carole Corbeil.

Indeed, with more seating, flower beds, bushes and ornamental trees, Grange Park could become a wonderland like the Toronto Music Garden, inspired by Yo-Yo Ma, near the intersection of Queens Quay and Spadina.

Imagine looking at the sculpture and the park from a glassed-in tea house with the Toronto skyline in the background on a summer evening.

And if that Moore sculpture can’t be moved, the AGO could choose another sculpture to place in the middle of the park. Or there could be a contest to create a new sculpture.

Martin Knelman

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