Leave the Science Centre where it is: neighbours says


By Lincoln DePradine

Francis Jeffers

Francis Jeffers, a well-known advocate in the fields of science and history – especially the history of people of African descent – is concerned about having more young people visiting places like the Ontario Science Centre (OSC), rather than where the centre is located.

“In Canada, we just don’t do a good job of funding science outreach, in order that we can actually get more people going into such places as the Science Centre,’’ Jeffers said.

He was commenting against the background of the debate that has emerged after Premier Doug Ford, and his infrastructure minister Kinga Surma, signaled the government’s desire to move the OSC from Don Mills in North York to Ontario Place in Downtown Toronto.

The OSC, first opened in 1969, sits on about 90 acres at the corner of Eglinton Avenue East and Don Mills Road.

Surma claims the structure of OSC, like that of Ontario Place, “has deteriorated’’, saying the province’s Progressive Conservative administration “is making the financial investments necessary to preserve these two treasures to bring them back to life, to make them a place that everyone can go and enjoy with their families’’.

The Science Centre, Surma adds, “is falling apart’’. It’s been a number of years, she said, that the government “has been looking at whether or not the option of relocation to preserve the Science Centre should take place’’.

Relocating the OSC from North York to Ontario Place is “a fabulous idea,” Premier Ford said.

Infrastructure Minister Kinga Surma

Asked if the Science Centre’s current site should be redeveloped for housing, Ford said, “If we decide to move it, yeah; I think there’s an opportunity right there at Don Mills and Eglinton.”

However, there has been mixed reaction to the proposal floated by the premier and the infrastructure minister.

“When the premier muses about massive changes to provincial institutions with no evidence at all, not even pretending to have community involvement, it raises questions,” said NDP boss and Opposition Leader Marit Stiles, who described the OSC as “a treasured public institution’’.

The Science Centre “sees thousands of visitors every year in a part of the city that really benefits from its presence. It employs hundreds of people — good union jobs — and is an anchor to Flemingdon Park and Thorncliffe Park, some of Toronto’s priority neighbourhoods’’, Stiles said.

She charged that moving the OSC to Ontario Place is part of a government plan “to hand over extremely valuable public lands on Toronto’s waterfront to a private European developer to build a luxury spa and a giant parking lot’’.

Some North York residents, such as Thorncliffe Park community organizer, Ahmed Hussein, called the OSC “a pillar in our community’’.

A tradeoff for moving the OSC is using the Don Mills Road site to build affordable housing but “not to a developer that will make a condominium, but low-income families can access’’, Hussein said.

Bringing the Science Centre downtown, where public transportation provides greater accessibility, “could be positive and could be a plus’’, said Jeffers, curator at the International Aboriginal and Indigenous Peoples Inventors and Innovators Museum. He also has headed the Canadian Multicultural Inventors Museum.

Jeffers, a University of Toronto science graduate, said even at its current Don Mills location, traffic to the OSC is not high enough, “when it comes to people that are more marginalized and underrepresented in science’’.

He argues that places such as the OSC and the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), as well as public learning institutions in Ottawa and other parts of the country, ought to embark on an outreach and also to examine the admittance fees that are charged.

“A lot of Black kids who have been to the Science Centre have been there through a school trip. But, school trips have also decreased. So, one of the things is how we get more people, including families, coming to the Science Centre,’’ said Jeffers, a former manager at Sanofi Pasteur, a biopharmaceutical company involved in manufacturing medical items.

He noted that in the United States, visits to Smithsonian Institution sites, including the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, are without costs to patrons. “It’s free to see the treasures of the nation,’’ said Jeffers.

“We know that a lot of successful places are free or the cost is low,’’ he added. “In Canada, we have a problem. We charge too much for our centres of excellence.’’

Jeffers emphasized that Canada isn’t doing “a good enough job of science outreach; we’re just not good at that. How many Black people go to the ROM on a regular basis? We have the same problem in Ottawa. We don’t promote our nation’s capital very well’’.

LJI Journalist