Home » History » North York’s Ontario Science Centre a $30M Gamble that Paid Off

"Off to the new science centre are Karl Brown; 5; Sandra Barrese; 5; and Stephanie Brown; 7; on a preview trip of the $30 million provincial Centennial project. The children were entranced with the imposing concrete face of the Raymond Moriyama-designed three-level building." (Photo by Reg Innell courtesy Toronto Public Library under Toronto Star License)
"Off to the new science centre are Karl Brown; 5; Sandra Barrese; 5; and Stephanie Brown; 7; on a preview trip of the $30 million provincial Centennial project. The children were entranced with the imposing concrete face of the Raymond Moriyama-designed three-level building." (Photo by Reg Innell courtesy Toronto Public Library under Toronto Star License)

North York’s Ontario Science Centre a $30M Gamble that Paid Off

Centre broke new ground by encouraging visitors to ‘please touch’ the exhibits, writes Susan Goldenberg

The Ontario Science Centre, 51 years old on Sept. 27, was a $30 million gamble, located in what was then outer North York — remote from downtown Toronto, with a little-known architect and a revolutionary concept of “please touch” the exhibits.

The cost ballooned from a planned $5 million to $30 million; top officials, including the director, resigned during construction; and completion was two years late — 1969 instead of 1967, originally planned to coincide with Canada’s centennial.

The centre, announced in 1961 as one of Ontario’s projects in honour of the centennial, was primarily provincially funded and helped by a federal grant. Everything about it was a leap of faith. Ontario Premier John Robarts calculated that its location at Don Mills and Eglinton would turn out to be ideal because housing and business development was sprouting in the area, the four-leaf-clover interchange at Eglinton with the Don Valley Parkway would be completed by 1966 and there was now TTC bus service. All would make it easy for people to reach the centre.

"Prince Philip visited the newly opened Ontario Science Centre yesterday and was shown around by the director-general; Dougles Omand (right). Scores of schoolchildren crowded around and his one-hour tour was shortened." (Photo by Norman James courtesy Toronto Public Library under Toronto Star License)
“Prince Philip visited the newly opened Ontario Science Centre yesterday and was shown around by the director-general; Dougles Omand (right). Scores of schoolchildren crowded around and his one-hour tour was shortened.” (Photo by Norman James courtesy Toronto Public Library under Toronto Star License)

In 1964 he hired Toronto-based architect Raymond Moriyama, only 33, to design the centre despite Moriyama only having one major project to his credit, the Japanese-Canadian Cultural Centre in North York.

Moriyama, however, had a good reputation as a rising modernist architect and Robarts wanted a futuristic design. He gave Moriyama carte blanche to design “an international institution of significance.”

“What does that mean?” Moriyama wondered. “It’s up to you,” the premier instructed. “That’s the only reason I accepted the job,” Moriyama told TVO.org on July 19, 2019.

He bled from the stress, staining his drawings. He trimmed the name from the official “Centennial Centre of Science and Technology.” The Centre catapulted him to international fame and many more big assignments.

Instead of a conventional ribbon-cutting, a powerful radio signal from a quasar 1.5 billion light years from earth started off the official opening ceremonies.

Seven thousand visitors poured in, and the reviews, according to a Toronto Star article at the time, were “fantastic, terrific, absolutely great, superb.”

"It's a hit: About 7,000 persons swarmed into the new Ontario Science Centre when it opened its doors to the public yesterday; and all of them seemed to love the place. They tried all the contraptions; pushing buttons and turning wheels." (Photo by Dick Darrell courtesy Toronto Public Library under Toronto Star License)
“It’s a hit: About 7,000 persons swarmed into the new Ontario Science Centre when it opened its doors to the public yesterday; and all of them seemed to love the place. They tried all the contraptions; pushing buttons and turning wheels.” (Photo by Dick Darrell courtesy Toronto Public Library under Toronto Star License)

Written by Susan Goldenberg.

Originally published on August 28, 2020, on toronto.com.