Harbourfront | The Canadian Encyclopedia



Harbourfront. Cultural and recreational centre located on the Toronto waterfront.


Harbourfront. Cultural and recreational centre located on the Toronto waterfront. Initiated in 1972 as a project of the federal government, it was operated 1984-90 as a crown corporation and then restructured in 1991, at which time cultural and recreation programs came under the aegis of a non-profit organization, Harbourfront 90. By then there were four indoor venues for the performing arts on the 40-hectare site: the informal Brigantine Room and Water's Edge Cafe and the formal 440-seat Premiere Dance Theatre (opened in 1983) and the 400-seat du Maurier Theatre Centre (opened in 1986). During the summer months 1978-91, the open-air Shipdeck Stage was used for concerts, augmented by a variety of smaller stages and tents. Construction of Molson Place, a glass-roofed amphitheatre seating 2000, began in 1991 on the Shipdeck Stage site.

In 1979 Harbourfront introduced the Molson Jazz Festival (incorporated into the du Maurier Downtown Jazz festival in 1987) and for many years has mounted concerts to celebrate St-Jean-Baptiste Day and Canada Day, the former occasion providing Toronto with a rare opportunity to hear French-Canadian performers. Harbourfront stages or grounds also have been used by outside organizations - eg, ARRAYMUSIC, the COC, COMUS Music Theatre, Mariposa folk festival, YMC, the Toronto Folk Festival (1980), and the Toronto International Festival (1984).

In the years following the appointment of Derek Andrews as music programmer in 1986, the summer schedule expanded to the point where three-day festivals were mounted on every weekend from late June to September. In his first year Andrews established annual 'Soul 'n' Blues Festival,' Afro-Caribbean, and country music festivals; in 1988 Harbourfront became host for the sole North American presentation (to 1991) of WOMAD (World of Music, Art and Dance). Other weekend events have been devoted to a variety of popular and ethnic musics - eg, in 1991 to Native and Japanese-Canadian artists, a cappella ensembles, the accordion (Big Squeeze), and Hispanic musicians. The majority of Harbourfront's summer events have been free to the public. Winter concerts have included the new-music component of the multi-disciplinary Quay Works, offered 1988-90, and individual series devoted to blues, folk, New Orleans, and Latin American music.

Of Harbourfront's many festivals, WOMAD has drawn the greatest notice. Originated in England in 1981, it has been held annually in different British cities and latterly in several other European countries, as well as in Toronto. WOMAD/Harbourfront became Canada's most important forum at the turn of the 1990s for world music, rivalled only by the Vancouver Folk Music Festival. In 1990, it offered 48 ensembles comprising some 240 performers representing 25 countries. Notable among its artists at Harbourfront have been Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (Pakistan) in 1988 and 1990, Billy Bragg (England) in 1989, Thomas Mapfumo and Blacks Unlimited (Zimbabwe) in 1990, and Mzwakhe Mbuli and the Equals (South Africa) in 1991.