City of Toronto: First Parliament Site


The First Parliament site is located on the SW corner of Front and Parliament Streets. It has historic significance as the site of Upper Canada's first purpose-built parliamentary buildings. From 1797 to 1824, the First Parliament site was the centre of governance for Upper Canada where legislation was passed that would determine the future of Upper Canada and later, the Province of Ontario. Then the site was occupied by the Home District Gaol (jail), a large imposing structure that housed a diverse population of people including criminals, debtors and the mentally ill. Afterwards from about 1880 to the 1950s Consumers Gas built massive industrial structures on the site to convert coal to coal gas which literally fueled the development of the Town of York (Toronto). From the 1960's onward, the site was and continues to be occupied by auto repair and auto-related uses (car rental and car wash and parking lots). This lengthy industrial history has resulted in extensive environmental contamination.

The entire site is under public ownership as the Ontario Heritage Trust owns the NW quadrant and the City of Toronto owns the remainder. Recognizing the importance of the site, the City of Toronto, working co-operatively with the Trust, commissioned a Heritage Interpretation Study and a Master Plan. The Heritage Interpretation Strategy is complete but the Master Plan and its guiding principles are currently in draft form. The timeline for the completion of the Master Plan is the Fall of 2020.

1922 Retort House before the renovation.Image courtesy of City of Toronto Archives

Project description

The Master Plan is a principle-based document that provides both direction for future planners, architects and designers and flexibility to respond to evolving circumstances in the development of the site. Other than a new 25,000sf district library, no specific uses have been identified. Using the Master Plan principles, this project would identify proposed uses, assess appropriate heights and densities and develop design solutions to interpret the site's history while working within its archaeological and environmental constraints.

In this project, the client expects the team to design the following:

The project team would be required to:

  • Review the Master Plan's vision and guiding principles
  • Identify opportunities and issues/constraints
  • Develop a conceptual plan showing proposed uses, potential locations/building footprints, site elements, park and park features and interpretation activities
  • Provide a rationale for the location of the uses/elements/features/activities

Of particular interest is the central portion of the site which is the area of archaeological potential. From archaeological investigations that the City has undertaken, there are traces of the First and Second parliament buildings underneath the ground. However, these remains are fragile and are embedded in contaminated soil. One of the guiding principles recommended by the Master Plan is that the central portion of the site be celebrated. How does one bring the site's history to light where there are no buildings or structures to help illuminate its past? This is a key question requiring thought and creativity and as there can be many solutions, it is an ideal student project. To assist the student team, the Heritage Interpretation Strategy outlines the stories that can be told and identifies an interpretation framework including methods of communication and interpretation tools.


First Parliament Site Student Team

Faizaan Ali Khan is a fourth-year student at John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design, pursuing a Specialist in Architectural Studies with a focus on the Technology of Architecture, Landscape and Urbanism. With experience as an architectural history Research Assistant, a passion for urban placemaking and youth engagement (which he is pursuing right now as an intern at Evergreen Canada), as well as his design background, Faizaan brings a well-rounded skill set to balance the multiple intersecting narratives embodied in the First Parliament Site project. Faizaan also brings a series of technical expertise in digital/computational modelling and the Adobe Creative Suite.

Connect with Faizaan on LinkedIn and view his portfolio here 

Michelle Zhang is a fourth-year student majoring in Urban Studies at Innis College. Michelle is currently working on a research project with the Asian Institute at the Munk School of Global Affairs, conducting a comparative study of public-private partnerships in Toronto and Singapore in the context of smart city planning and digital innovation. Michelle has volunteered as Equity and Outreach Director at the Innis College Student Society and acted as Managing Editor of The Innis Herald.

Arishah Mazhar is a fourth-year student majoring in Urban Studies at Innis College, with a Minor in GIS. Arishah is passionate about human-centric planning and is well versed in community-based planning, with first-hand experience through community-engaged learning opportunities and as Student Representative in the Urban Studies Student Union (URSSU). Arishah currently works at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy.

Aliyah Karim is a fourth-year student in the Department of Sociology, and double majors in Criminology & Sociolegal Studies. Aliyah believes sociology can provide compelling contributions by providing an interdisciplinary analysis of social, economic, political and cultural institutions and how they work symbiotically to affect social environments. Aliyah hopes to bring sociological analysis to the First Parliament Site project, as well as contributing to the culture and diversity of Toronto. Currently, Aliyah is the Director of Internal Communications at the Undergraduate Sociology Students’ Union (USSU).

Connect with Aliyah on LinkedIn