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Kawhi Life: Remember the good times at Ontario Place?

With the start of the Aurora Winter Festival, and regular screenings back at the Cinesphere, there’s something for everyone (and Kawhi Leonard) at the city’s most famous urban park.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Toronto Raptors Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

Kawhi Leonard is a Toronto Raptor — for at least one year. While the team’s on-court success has its part to play, we’ve decided to do our part in selling the city to the Klaw. Each week we’re talking Toronto, and letting Kawhi know what his life could be like here.

This Week in Toronto

You (and Kawhi) would be forgiven for not knowing about the happenings at Ontario Place. This weekend marks the beginning of their Winter Light Exhibition, which, according to the website, will feature skating, a light art exhibit, and a community bonfire. (This last element will come in handy as the temperatures drop down to, uh, below zero.) The best part, even for a well-paid professional athlete and his family: it’s all free!

[Editor’s Note: We originally referenced a different festival here. Please note that the Aurora Winter Festival actually starts next weekend on November 29th. It’s a third-party event, but held in some of the same environs. Go here for more information.)

Still, if casually strolling around outside in sub-zero weather until your face freezes off isn’t your thing, there’s also the Cinesphere. You know the Cinesphere, right? It’s that huge well-lit globe at the end of a pedestrian tunnel extending out of Lake Ontario. You should see it lit up at night, it’s truly something.

I happened to be at the Cinesphere a couple weekends ago to watch Alien in retro style — with popcorn, and a sizable, attentive audience. You’d be excused for not knowing screenings are going on there, too. Fortunately, there’s still time to get in on more classic films at the Cinepshere. This weekend they’re showing Blade Runner: The Final Cut (I’m not going to explain the different cuts now, it’s a whole thing), and following it up next weekend with Blade Runner 2049. There’s also Die Hard, The Fifth Element, The Sound of Music, and more. Just look at this schedule!

If it feels like Ontario Place has come up in conversation, or been on the periphery of the news cycle like some kind of weird spectre, that’s because it has. Over the past decade, a lot (or not enough) has happened there. The park, which used to have a considerable number of attractions (a water park! mini-golf! swan boats!), has gradually changed or seen sections closed. (The good times of the Nintendo Power and Lego Pods are long gone, to my great nostalgic disappointment.) For most now, Ontario Place just happens to be the location of the Molson Amphitheatre, er, I mean, Budweiser Stage, a solid place for concerts of all types (though, uh, not so much in winter).

There have also been recent rumblings of the provincial government’s renewed interest in the lands on which Ontario Place, and the adjacent Exhibition Place, sit. It was, if you’ll recall, a project proposed back in the day of Toronto’s former mayor — one as unimaginative and crass as the man himself. There’s something distressing about this news, especially coupled as it is with the ongoing IATSE Local 58 lockout. Yes, in case you missed that too, the labour unions involved with running events like the Ex and the Royal Winter Fair (held in the Enercare Centre, which hosted events during Toronto’s All-Star Weekend), have been in contentious negotiations for some time now. There’s something foul going on here.

There’s a line here connecting all of these things — the land containing Ontario Place and the Exhibition, the new provincial government’s desire to privatize as much as it can to make a quick buck, the implementation of a scheme that lacks any real vision, the municipal forces potentially willing to acquiesce so as to allow it to happen. This may not be the last Winter Light Exhibition (or Aurora Winter Festival), or the last chance to see classic films in a unique setting, and so on. But there are cold winds blowing these days, and you’d be excused for feeling that way regardless.

So yes, maybe now is indeed the time to see what Ontario Place has to offer.

Should Kawhi Care?

Well, no.

(Except that there is something striking about the lonely out-of-time-and-place environs of Ontario Place and the retro-futurism of Kawhi Leonard’s entire game. This is not to say Kawhi’s style of play is out of date — it’s not — but it does feel like he’s developed his game to fit the demands of the marketplace. It’s about efficiency now, so he does that; if it was about something else, he’d do that more. It’s notable — and what continues to set Kawhi apart in the upper echelon of the NBA.

I feel like Ontario Place is sort of like that. It’s a place that has tried to be a lot of different things to different people, and now stands outside of ordinary conversations about Toronto. How does it fit in today? What else can the space be made to do? What’s next? These questions, and their implied uncertainty, are what could make it easier for some around here to diminish these lands as a place. But we know the truth now — and perhaps Kawhi should too.

Also, it wouldn’t hurt to try our damnedest to keep Ontario Place around as well.)