TORONTO — A few years ago, there was talk of building a Jewish museum on the site of the projected Sherman Campus on Bathurst Street north of Sheppard Avenue, recalled Issy Sharp.
The idea of a Jewish museum appealed to Sharp and his wife, Rosalie, but not the location. They wanted something more accessible to the general public.
Last week, the Sharps, in partnership with the University of Toronto and UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, announced that a proposed Jewish museum would be a central component in a new cultural and educational centre to be located on the current site of the McLaughlin Planetarium at 90 Queen’s Park Cres., just south of the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM).
The planetarium, which opened in 1968 and closed in 1995, is owned by the university and is leased to the ROM, which uses it for office space and storage.
The Sharps will contribute $20 million toward the $150-million museum project, said Issy Sharp, founder of the Four Seasons Hotel chain. The Sharps are hoping to entice several other partners into contributing similar amounts towards the museum project. If all goes according to plan, a museum might be open to the public in five years, he told The CJN.
“Because of its location and its prominence on the site, it will be a must-see [venue],” Sharp stated. “The museum will tell the Jewish story from the beginning. It will tell the world what our people has contributed over the generations. It will be a voice for the Jewish community.”
In addition to the Jewish museum, the project will include a 250-seat performance hall for the university’s faculty of music, as well as space for the school’s department of history, the department of Near and Middle Eastern civilizations, the Institute of Islamic Studies, and a research arm for the Centre for Jewish Studies.
The development will include a new plaza for the nearby Museum subway station entrance.
When completed, the project “would create a dramatic new gateway to [the university’s] downtown campus and a major addition to the city’s cultural district,” U of T said in a statement.
“The university has had a storied and longstanding relationship with many of the city’s great cultural institutions. This project would continue that proud tradition and make a significant contribution to this cultural precinct and the entire city,” said president Meric Gertler.
David Cameron, dean of the faculty of arts and science, said, “The development… [will] create a cluster for the interdisciplinary study of civilizations and cultures. It would also offer visitors and students opportunities for complementary programming of the Centre for Jewish Studies with both the Jewish museum and the ROM.”
“It’s a magnificent vision from Issy Sharp,” said Steve Shulman, campaign director for UJA Federation of Greater Toronto. “Our role is to support Issy Sharp and represent the community interest in this. This will be a legacy for the community for generations.” The federation will be available to consult during the planning and development of the project, but there will be no financial involvement, he added.
Sharp said the museum will “be designed by the world’s best museum designers” and will feature state-of-the-art permanent and temporary exhibits, including a permanent one focusing on the Holocaust.
Of the $150-million price tag, $65 million will be earmarked for an endowment to create a foundation to fund the museum’s expenses and make it self-sustaining.
In addition, the university will raise $60 million in a joint campaign with the museum foundation for its part of the development.
For the Sharps, the museum would “create something meaningful to the broader community. You want that in a location with enough traffic for anybody to go see it,” Issy Sharp said.