Located on Toronto’s waterfront, Ireland Park was established as a tribute to the shared heritage between Canada & Ireland. The park occupies a location signifying the ‘Arrival’ of Irish Famine immigrants who first landed on Canadian shores, in 1847. It is a reciprocal tribute to the ‘Departure’ – a sculptural group of emigrant figures located on the Custom House Quays in Dublin, Ireland.
Ireland Park honors the Irish immigrants who fled during the Great Famine and the 38,000 people who arrived in Toronto in the summer of 1847, when the city’s population was a mere 20,000. Ireland Park is a reminder of a specific historical tragedy while drawing attention to the greater issue of famine, which still exists in many parts of the world.
Located at the foot of Bathurst Street at Eireann Quay, Ireland Park is defined and enhanced by its surroundings: Three former grain silos about and define the northern edge of the park, towering over sculptures and visitors alike, while also serving as a reminder of the continued prevalence of hunger amid plenty.
The park’s location at the water’s edge, represents the site where the Irish Famine immigrants would have first arrived in Toronto. Expansive views of downtown Toronto and of Lake Ontario encourage visitors to reflect in a secluded environment, without being too far removed from the city.
Ireland Park is a statement of confidence in the ongoing restoration of the quays and the extension of the Waterfront Trail around the edges of Eireann Quay, linking it to the rest of the city.
Though access to the park is guided by lighting and signage, designating its relatively isolated location, the park forms a quiet retreat, waiting to be discovered. Ireland Park has taken a lead in the future development of the surrounding area, existing as both destination and ‘sacred space,’ expressing in a contemporary manner the history of the city.
5 Eireann Quay, Toronto, Ontario
Ireland Park Foundation
Jonathan Kearns, Wayne Austin, Rowan Gillespie
2014, Ontario Masonry Design Award | 2009, OAA Design Excellence Award | 2009, Toronto Construction Association Best Project Award | 2009, City of Toronto Urban Design Award (Honorable Mention)
Electrical: McDonnell Engineering Inc., Structural: Read Jones Christoffersen, Picco Engineering, Landscape: Quinn Design Associates Inc.
Matthew Tsui, Jesse Boles, Trevor Kai
The design of Ireland Park needed to be in harmony with the powerful emotive energy evident in the sculptures situated in the park, created by Irish artist Rowan Gillespie. The massive, craggy, sculptural rock-face of black Kilkenny limestone was obviously the right material to fill this need. A technical approach was devised to make smaller pieces of stone convey the feeling of massive rock and generate the effect of size, scale, texture and emotional energy. 675 names of famine immigrants, who died in Toronto in 1847, are located in the openings cut into the rock, similar to the fossils in the stone, where they can be similarly discovered.
The stone material greatly influenced the design; the light-grey sawn faces of the Kilkenny limestone provide an ideal surface for the inscription of the Famine immigrants’ names, just as the roughness of the stone simultaneously evokes the battered bow of a ship, as well as the shoreline of the west of Ireland, the departure point for many emigrants in Ireland.
The stone work has set new standards in technical achievement. Without extensive structural engineering, the gravity-defying sculptural qualities of the stone columns could not have been executed. The structure which is referred to as the ‘memory wall’ is a combination of reinforced concrete and stone.
After dark, the park assumes different moods as the glass cylinder is illuminated and the cuts through the wall are softly up-lit to reveal the inscribed names. Pole-mounted lighting causes the concrete silos to glow, and theatre lighting, mounted in one side of the low bench wall, highlights the gaunt immigrants, casting large shadows on the silo walls.
We're living in a time of incredible consumption, and everything's about economics and everything's about cash flow, and I think he [Jonathan Kearns] has an ability to stand away from that stuff and feel something that motivates him. He's motivated to do his work in a way that I think a lot of architects and a lot of designers aren't. What I'm saying is that he's got a depth of emotion and feeling, and it comes out.
The beautiful Park which you designed is a wonderful addition to the shoreline of Lake Ontario. It will be a haven of tranquility in a bustling 21st century city.