ANNEX COMMUNITY CELEBRATES WITH RIBBON CUTTING, BBQ
By Richard Frankel
The Sibelius Square Working Group, along with hundreds of people from the community and councillor Adam Vaughan (Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina), came out on the sun-filled Sunday afternoon of June 10 to officially open the redesigned Jean Sibelius Square Park.
The redesign took six years of consultation with the community, city parks officials, and working with the city councillor’s office.
“The residents in this neighbourhood taught the rest of the ward how a community can lead the design and build process,” said Vaughan. “It’s always been a park with a lot of challenging memories for me—in the construction, in the management, and the process of getting it built was its own challenge.”
Vaughan has his own memories of the park, too. When he was a child living in the neighbourhood, he would sometimes hide in the park after running away from his nearby school.
The result of the hard work is a new playground, field house, playing field, pathways, and central plaza.
“None of this would have been possible without some very strong leadership from the councillor’s office around moving the vision for Sibelius forward,” said Patrick Kennedy, the chair for the working group, who thanked the Annex community for coming to community meetings and filling out many surveys.
Vaughan said there are 16 parks under construction in Ward 20 including Seaton Park, Bellevue Square, Clarence Square, and Taddle Creek Park.
“We’ve been looking at parks and rebuilding parks and using communities to lead that process right across the ward,” he said. “But this one started first but finished a little late but that’s because it’s rewritten the rulebook at City Hall on how to let a community not only lead the design process, but help manage the construction process to make sure the park arrives here and that it’s the park the neighbourhood wants. I’m enormously proud of the residents here. They have really, really rolled up their sleeves.”
Sibelius Square was in trouble six years ago. The park lacked green space and had reportedly become a regular locale for drug dealers. It posed many challenges to the community, as the parks department had never allowed residents to sit in on the evaluation process.
“It’s normally a bureaucratic process that even councillors don’t sit in on,” he said. “This neighbourhood asked to be part of that process to make sure that they got the best out of every decision. That was a real challenge and a credit to the parks department. They found a way to work with the residents and I think they began to understand the need to have people at the table so that was part of it.”
There were issues with transportation services around the construction of the edges of the park and where the new wall was going to be placed.
“Because the residents were here watching every bucket of concrete get poured, as soon as they made a mistake, we fixed that problem before it became unsolvable so as a community building process and as a city building process, this neighbourhood has really stepped up.”
A statue of Finnish composer Jean Sibelius stands in the centre of the park as part of a memorial presented to the City by the Finnish people of Canada on Sept. 20, 1959.