Toronto

Toronto councillors back plan for museum at Old City Hall

City council voted 35-3 to study opening a museum devoted to Toronto’s history inside a revamped Old City Hall.

Etobicoke councillor says he doesn't think people will go, and destination will 'bleed money'

The city's tried to open a museum devoted to its history for decades. Now, city council is recommending forging ahead with a plan to build one inside the Old City Hall building. (Katherine Holland/CBC)

City council voted 35-3 on Thursday to study opening a museum devoted to Toronto's history inside a revamped Old City Hall.

The iconic downtown building, finished in 1899, is a National Historic Site and some councillors say it would be an ideal place to showcase the some 150,000 historical pieces the city has in its collection. That is, once the bail court moves out.

Coun. Josh Matlow says this is council's chance to leave a "gift" for future generations. He likened visiting a city to going on a date, but visiting a city's museum, he says, allows the chance to fall in love with a place.

Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam calls it an "incredible opportunity."

Not everyone is onside.

Coun. Stephen Holyday says it's council's job to "reality test" things, warning he thinks at $16 per admission — a number floated by staff — people wouldn't go and the museum would "bleed money."

"We're destined for trouble," he said.

Holyday moved a motion that would axe the museum plan that failed, 17-21.

He suggested instead approaching educational institutions about the space, while circulating historical artifacts at libraries.

Old City Hall a 'gem'

Old City Hall currently houses a courthouse, but that lease will be up in a few years. (Tony Hisgett/Wikimedia Commons)

The city has been considering opening a museum for decades, but the vision will take some time. City staff say getting started on the work now could mean construction starts in 2022.

David Jollimore, director of the city's real estate division, says great care will have to go into restoring the building, as well.

"It's a gem … we have a responsibility to take care of it," he told council.

Coun. Joe Mihevc's motion asking for the TTC's hope for a museum be weaved into the city's vision was approved.

Mihevc says he "can't think of a worse use" of Old City Hall then what's there right now.

Old City Hall covers 406,000 square feet of space. Nearly half of that is expected to be rentable space in the future. A quarter of the building would be devoted to the museum.

Final recommendations about how to proceed with the project are due back in mid-2019. 

About the Author

John Rieti is the senior producer of digital at CBC Toronto. Born and raised in Newfoundland, John has worked in CBC newsrooms across the country. In Toronto, he's covered everything from the Blue Jays to Toronto city hall. Outside of work, catch him cycling in search of the city's best coffee.

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