BLA Project Comes to Fruition in Champlain-Wendat Park

Posted on Thursday, July 21st, 2016

Statue of two men shaking hands with blue sky and water in background
Statue by Timothy Schmalz depicting Champlain's first meeting with Wendat Chief Aenons.

French presence in Ontario dates back to Samuel de Champlain’s first meeting with Chief Aenons of the Wendat Bear Tribe on August 1, 1615.  This meeting in the village of Toanché, now Penetanguishene, would be the beginning of a close relationship with the Huron-Wendat, and would set the foundations for the fur trade in Ontario and a long history of French culture in Upper Canada.

In November 2012, a committee was formed to spearhead the task of designing and developing a major new Champlain-Huron-Wendat waterfront park on Penetanguishene Bay. It was at this point that the committee approached the Bachelor of Landscape Architecture Class of 2015 to reimagine the waterfront as part of their course learning.

During the Winter 2013 semester, the second year students worked in groups to provide ten different master plan concepts for the waterfront park. Guiding students were instructors Stefan Bolliger, Nadia Amoroso and Shirley Hall.

The students also needed to incorporate the Town’s wish list of design elements, and generate their own ideas on how Champlain and Ontario’s Francophone history should be celebrated.

In April of 2013, their master plans were presented to the committee, the mayor, local MPP, several council members and the general public. Panels were also made available in the Town Hall for public viewing and comment following the presentations

Following the student presentations, the Town identified elements from the student designs that they felt would fit well within the design and overall goal of the park.

“The students went above and beyond the expectations of the mayor, Gerry Marshall” shares Stefan Bolliger. “All participants were pleased with the knowledge the students displayed regarding the local environment, history and culture.”

Design elements of the final park design are interpretations of the unique history of the site over the last four centuries. They include sculptures, interpretive trails, an amphitheatre, historic walk, a reconstructed forest biome of species occupying the site 400 years ago, longhouse educational structures, and a pier-lookout on the bay.

In August of 2015, Phase I of the park was inaugurated during the Town’s Rendez-Vous Champlain festival, which commemorated Champlain’s arrival on the shores of Toanché. Phase II of the Rotary Champlain Wendat Park was officially opened on June 10, 2016.

The park includes new trails that tell stories through interpretive signage. A ‘Penetanguishene Trail’ tells the story of Penetanguishene and North Simcoe, a ‘Champlain Trail’ tells the story of Champlain and his travels, and a ‘Huron-Wendat Trail’ tells the story of the first inhabitants. A steel canoe was installed in the location where Champlain is first said to have come ashore in Toanché, as well as a pier-lookout on the bay to celebrate the first meeting between Chief Aenons and Samuel de Champlain.

Large iron sculpture of an astrolab (wheel shaped)
A giant astrolab sculpture created by Mike Bilyk. Champlain would have used an astrolab to navigate during his travels.

The park also includes a Legacy Walkway; the walkway is lined with statues of influential people in Ontario and Canada’s Francophone history, including John Simcoe and Étienne Brûlé. Three plaques were also installed in English, French, Anishinabe, Montagnais-Innu, Mohawk and Wendat to share the story of Champlain’s time in Ontario in 1615. A companion plaque can be found in Honfleur, France, Champlain’s point of departure.

The project proved to be an excellent opportunity for all involved. The Town received a variety of new and exciting ideas for future park development, and it allowed the students involved to develop their design skills and gain confidence.

“We would like to thank the BLA class of 2015 for their wonderful work on this project,” shares Bolliger. “We hope that they will have the opportunity to visit the park in the future and see what their creativity and hard work has given life to.”

News Archive