In/Future lets you explore an abandoned amusement park, and here are some tips for doing it right

Peek inside the sprawling art and music festival that's transformed Ontario Place. Here are our best tips for doing In/Future.

Peek inside the sprawling art and music festival that's transformed Ontario Place

That Cadillac? It's a sound installation. If you can bear the overwhelming scent of "thrift store," go inside. Created by Marco D'Andrea, it's called "I Was Born a Thousand Years Ago." (Photo: Andrew Williamson/Facebook/@infutureTO)

It's the only way to visit an abandoned theme park without breaking the law.

In/Future, a sprawling new art and music festival, launched this past weekend at Toronto's Ontario Place — the once-famous entertainment destination that's been shuttered since February 2012.

Despite the appearance of this installation by Michael M. Simon, there is no camping at Ontario Place. (Leah Collins/CBC Arts)

Opened in 1971 as a sort of educational wonderland, it once boasted fairground rides, nature pavilions and the Cinesphere — Canada's first IMAX theatre, housed in the towering golf ball at the centre of it all.

Over time, however, the park's appeal went the way of the geodesic dome, and its Expo '67-inspired attractions gave way to bumper boats and waterslides before it ultimately closed its doors. 

Through September 25, however, it's yours to explore all over again.

Walk its beaches! Explore its quasi-futuristic buildings! Hike its fibreglass foothills and abandoned log-ride trails!

Because all over the grounds, you'll find more than 60 art installations — experiences you'll discover while roaming the park's wonders, both natural and pure kitsch.

There's music, too, thanks to a partnership with the city's long-running Small World Festival: acts as eclectic as Doomsquad and Minotaurs can be found onstage throughout the day, playing in a square surrounded by art-filled pavilions.

There's more waiting inside the In/Future pavilions. (Photo: Andrew Williamson/Facebook/@infutureTO)

Think of it as a "destination" version of festivals like Nuit Blanche — one without the pedestrian traffic jams and hordes of all-night partiers. (That said, the entire complex is licensed, so there's potential for that last point to change.)

Still, that was our impression when CBC Arts visited on In/Future's first Saturday, arriving on a rainy afternoon and staying long into the late-summer night.

And we still haven't discovered all there is to see.

Here's a sneak peek inside, and a few tips for how to get the most of your In/Future experience…

Welcome to Ontari-a-ri-a-ri-oh Place, home of the In/Future festival until September 25. (Leah Collins/CBC Arts)

Arrive before sunset

Depending on when you turn up, the In/Future experience is a matter of, well, day and night.

Sculptures take on a completely different character depending on the time — and under the cover of darkness, you might not see just how much of the complex is free to wander.

We'd suggest taking a walk along the leafy perimeter of the place once you arrive, heading for the abandoned Wilderness Adventure Ride. Max Dean, who won the Governor General's Award for Visual and Media Arts in 2014, has taken the animatronic moose and miners — robots that were inexplicably left to rot when the ride was closed — and used them for a two-part project. You'll find half of it inside the ride's man-made "mountain" — a display that imagines a version of Ontario Place that's part Westworld, part Toy Story.

Doctor, pass the screwdriver. One of the tableaux inside "Still" by Max Dean. (Photo: Andrew Williamson/Facebook/@infutureTO)

The android lumberjacks have been left to fend for themselves, and the results are an eerie — albeit blunt — introduction to a festival happening at an abandoned amusement park.

If you follow the grassy trail that leads out of the cavern (a trail that's way less obvious come nightfall), you can take an unusual path through the park, one that should introduce you to at least one more of Dean's animatronic pals.

Go ahead. Follow the trail from the old log ride. What's the creepiest thing you could find? (Leah Collins/CBC Arts)

If you time things right, head west toward the water and you might catch a beautiful sunset from one of the best vantage points in the city.

John Dickson's Wind Flowers at magic hour. The beach lies just beyond it. (Leah Collins/CBC Arts)

Charge your phone

We'd argue that a lot of the installations are better experienced in real life than photographed, but still, let's be real: you'll want to put all of this stuff on Instagram. For what it's worth, the official hashtag is #infutureTO.

Even we couldn't resist Instagramming this piece by Gareth Lichty. It's called Warp (Ontario Place). (Leah Collins/CBC Arts)
Bonus tip: Find this piece, Trillium Icosaflorum by Rob King, and stay there for the sunset. (Leah Collins/CBC Arts)

Take a long walk on the beach

Again: the views. But there's more to this tip than that.

One of the hidden gems at In/Future is waiting for you along the shore. Go past Cole Swanson and Jennie Suddick's Kuckuckshur — an old control tower rigged with birdseed and pinecones to lure the local fauna — and beyond the Wind Flowers — John Dickson sculptures topped with cymbals, pieces that are meant to make music depending on the weather — and head straight to the beach.

It might not seem like much when you see the photos, but LeuWebb Projects's Flotsam/Jetsam is a little escape from an already-surreal experience.

She sells Cinespheres on the sea shore... Walking through LeuWebb Projects's Flotsam/Jetsam at In/Future. (Leah Collins/CBC Arts)

Plaster shapes are mixed in with the rocks — domes and pods and pavilions — all modelled after Ontario Place's quasi-futuristic architecture.

They're meant to be "dream fragments from an earlier, more optimistic future," and seeing them on the shore might bring on some childhood nostalgia. Instead of collecting seashells, maybe you'll find yourself picking up mini Cinespheres and playing with them on the shore while the waves crash in, wishing you packed a spade and pail and whatever else you need for building sand castles.

See the Cinesphere

You'll be able to spot Ontario Place's iconic, pre-Epcot centrepiece from just about everywhere in the complex, but make sure you seek out the programming that's happening inside.

In addition to screenings of the same retro IMAX films that originally played at the park, there's an array of extra stuff — from experimental video to special performances — scheduled through the run of the festival.

An In/Future crowd waits for the IMAX magic to begin inside the Cinesphere. (Photo: Andrew Williamson/Facebook/@infutureTO)

A Tribe Called Red's Bear Witness is just one of the featured artists; he's presenting a brand-new work on the IMAX screen, working in collaboration with Pleasure Dome and Trinity Square Video. During our visit, Montreal's digital arts festival MUTEK (one of In/Future's partners) took over the theatre, presenting a performance by Martin Messier. Playing with sound and shadow — projections that took advantage of the Cinesphere's full, 62-foot dome — it was a sense-shattering experience.

Go spelunking

It's a cave rave! A peek inside Philippe Blanchard's New Troglodytes II. (Photo: Andrew Williamson/Facebook/@infutureTO)

The silos and pavilions aren't the only places to discover art indoors — and that's a particularly helpful tip if you're visiting on a rainy day. If you spot a fibreglass cavern, there might just be a way inside. Philippe Blanchard's RGB, razzle-dazzle stalagmites — a.k.a. New Troglodytes II — is one such hidden treasure.

Don't pack a lunch

Who's on next? Visitors to In/Future mill around the Small World Music Stage, which is bordered by food trucks and the pavilions. (Photo: Andrew Williamson/Facebook/@infutureTO)

Remember how we mentioned that the entire park is licensed? There are food trucks, too. Pick up dinner and drinks, then wander wherever — even if that means just a few feet closer to the Small World Stage.

Take the stairs

That is to say, whenever you see a staircase in the silos, use it. You'll want to check out out every room and corner of these unusual art galleries.

The buildings, actual silos which once housed educational exhibits, are now packed with art installations — and, in our opinion, they're some of the most memorable pieces in the festival.

One of the highlights: if you go downstairs in the ice silo — you can't miss it, it's the one with all the icebergs — you'll quickly find yourself in a shadowy hall of mirrors.

Go towards the light — once you've attempted a few blurry selfies, of course. You'll ultimately find yourself inside Revel by Ed Pien.

Inside Revel, an installation by Ed Pien. You'll find it inside the ice silo. (Photo: Andrew Williamson/Facebook/@infutureTO)

On one wall, a film of a woman's shadow plays with dollhouses suspended in the air. They're the same shapes hanging in the centre of the room, a mylar mobile in the heart of a transparent labyrinth that you yourself can walk.

As you do, your own shadow will play with the silhouette on the wall. It's mesmerizing — a little like a forgotten dream, or a memory.


Every day at In/Future boasts a new schedule, and some of the installations also involve performances that might totally transform your take on a piece.

Check the performance schedules! A piece by Peggy Baker Dance Projects interacts with an installation inside Silo #3. (Photo: Andrew Williamson/Facebook/@infutureTO)

Plus, there's just something about running around an abandoned theme park at night, guided only by far-off glimpses of spotlights or beach bonfires in the distance, that's so much different than seeing all the same things in daylight.

Once you think you've seen it all, retrace your steps! Or, if you're fancy enough to splurge on extra tickets, return for a repeat adventure. Passes are $30 for a day or $90 for an all-festival pass.

You need to wait until dark to fully appreciate the dark humour of Vuk Dragojevic's installation, Sinking of You. (Photo: Andrew Williamson/Facebook/@infutureTO)

In/Future Art Festival. To Sept. 25 at Ontario Place, Toronto. Mon. through Thurs, 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.; Fri & Sat, noon to 11 p.m.; Sun noon to 10 p.m.


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