The land where The Power Plant now sits was once under water. At the outset of the 20th century, Toronto’s central waterfront was a mix of boggy marshes and small-scale wharves animated by steamship traffic. In 1912, the Toronto Harbour Commission set out to transform the waterfront into a major port for larger vessels expected from the future expansion of the St. Lawrence Seaway. The city expanded south, burying the original wharves under 10 meters of dirt dredged from the bottom of the lake.
The original coal-burning powerhouse was built in 1926 to supply energy to the Toronto Terminal Warehouse (now Queen’s Quay Terminal), all of which was built atop 10,000 wooden pilings driven into the lakebed. The area bustled for decades, but by the 1970s, with the decline of industry, the central lakefront fell into disuse. The warehouse closed and the powerhouse was decommissioned.
In 1972, the federal government acquired 100 acres of Toronto lakefront and created a Crown corporation mandated to revitalize the waterfront and use culture, education, and recreation to attract local and international visitors. After the Harbourfront Corporation was founded in 1976, the Art Gallery at Harbourfront was established and became a centrepiece of their development plan.
The Art Gallery was given the opportunity to renovate the powerhouse in 1980, and The Power Plant officially opened in its current location in 1987. It has since become Canada’s leading, non-collecting public gallery dedicated to contemporary art, attracting diverse audiences and anchoring a creative community at the edge of a once-again bustling waterfront.
This Biennial site description was generated by the curatorial team, in consultation with our creative partners, to offer lesser-known facts and histories, and explore sites in relation to the changing shoreline.
This exhibition is a partnership with The Power Plant.