From 1971: Ontario Place under construction and over budget

It took two years, “three old freighters” and a million and a half cubic yards of landfill to build Ontario Place.

Oh, and $19 million — or maybe twice that, if you believed the Opposition.

In April 1971, workers were busy on the site, which was nearing completion in Lake Ontario, west of Toronto’s downtown.

With 40 days to go before the entertainment and recreation centre opened, CBC reporter Bill Harrington captured images of big machinery on the site, along with workers in hard hats.

“About 2 million people are expected for the first season from May to October,” said Harrington.

The roof of the Forum, an open-air theatre now called the Budweiser Stage, had yet to be installed.

“And the search is on for Canadian talent to fill it night and day,” added Harrington, “along with professionals such as the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, military bands, and rock groups.

No crowds on opening day

Not military but marching bands were the dominant sound in a CBC report on opening day from May 22, 1971.

At first, they were just about the only people walking around the site.

Just five days earlier, an official from Ontario Place warned the media there might be a problem with overcrowding.

But when the big day came, the crowds didn’t.

“With the full holiday weekend ahead of them, Ontarians by the hundreds of thousands had left for the cottage … or decided to give it a miss for the day,” said reporter Tom Leach.

But Ontario Premier Bill Davis, who had held the job for less than three months, was unfazed when Leach asked if he felt disappointment at the turnout.

“None at all,” he said. “It’s quite obvious that with some of the reports people were concerned about overcrowding.”

He was, he said, happy with how Ontario Place had turned out.

“To me it’s an indication of what can be achieved in Ontario. It will give people a sense of accomplishment, a sense of pride that everyone needs.”

In its first season, Ontario Place had 2.3 million visitors.

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