Oculus Pavilion – Toronto, Ontario - Atlas Obscura

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Oculus Pavilion

South Humber Park

A space-age 1950s pavilion on a secluded path is full of Toronto history surprises. 


It looks like a random Star Trek set plopped in the middle of a secluded meadow. Cycle or walk the Humber River Recreational Trail in Toronto and you’ll come across this curious saucer-shaped rain shelter on stilts, with an oculus opening cut out of its roof, from which a circular beam of light shines down onto the concrete.

It’s actually a public washroom—or was—designed in 1959, when the city of Toronto had space-age fantasies and a love for modernist architecture, apparently. It served the then-new South Humber Park, which was created in the aftermath of Hurricane Hazel. The 1954 storm was Toronto’s biggest natural disaster, killing 81 and displacing thousands from homes swept away by the overflowing Humber River. A newly created conservation authority expropriated land to ensure nobody would rebuild homes on dangerous floodplains. Then hired architect Alan Crossley to design a washroom for it.

 Today, what locals call The Oculus Pavilion has been mostly abandoned to graffiti artists. The washrooms are long shuttered. But it still provides a public service: wonder. To come across it, this strange structure poking out from the trees as you round a corner is a delight. Its unique construction also produces an echo effect when you stand in the middle—occasionally attracting musicians for impromptu performances and just being a fun place to clap your hands.

After years of disrepair, the Oculus Pavilion is preparing for a makeover. Public funds have been given to revitalize the site and a temporary art installation called Brighter Days Ahead designed by Toronto firm Giaimo has covered it with rays of bright yellow tape, symbolizing its vibrant future.

Know Before You Go

Can be reached on foot or bicycle and is best accessed from the Humber Bay Bridge and Sheldon Lookout. It's about 1km north from there just follow the paved Humber River Recreational Trail

If coming by car, the closest street entrance is Stephen Drive at Cloverhill Road. 

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June 30, 2021

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