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Christie Pits renewal set to begin

July 3rd, 2015 · No Comments

Popular park will benefit from development dollars

A rendering of the renewal plans for Christie Pits Park reveals improved pathways with new lookouts, a redesigned community hub and stage, and an expanded basketball court. By Harrington McAven Ltd., Courtesy of the City of Toronto

A rendering of the renewal plans for Christie Pits Park reveals improved pathways with new lookouts, a redesigned community hub and stage, and an expanded basketball court. By Harrington McAven Ltd., Courtesy of the City of Toronto

By Annemarie Brissenden and Brian Burchell

It will be a whole new ball game for Christie Pits Park when the bats start swinging next spring. A major revitalization of the park is slated to begin this summer; one that will see safety improvements, new courts, and community enhancements all installed by the time the Toronto Maple Leafs Baseball Club plays its 2016 home opener.

“Christie Pits is a large park that works well, very well, but it’s looking a little shabby and there is an opportunity for some improvements with some new amenities,” said Mike Layton (Ward 19, Trinity-Spadina), whose ward includes the park.

Known as Willowvale Park (a name that local residents never adopted) until 1983, when the City of Toronto officially renamed it Christie Pits Park, the area has a long and storied history. Despite common lore, it does not get its name from William Mellis Christie (“Mr. Christie”), who co-founded the Christie & Brown Cookie Company, but from a tanner who made his living in the area when it was still a sand and gravel quarry. It’s also been a shantytown inhabited by impoverished immigrants and those who escaped slavery along the Underground Railroad, and a waterhole for neighbourhood children, all before it became a park, and the site of the infamous Christie Pits Riots in 1933.

It is no wonder then that the park — at 8.9 hectares and filled with amenities — is due for a facelift.

A cultural hub for local residents, Christie Pits features the Alex Duff Memorial Pool, three baseball diamonds, basketball and volleyball courts, a community garden, a children’s playground and labyrinth, and an ice rink.

It is also, with its steep sloped sides, a favourite spot for tobogganing.

“Improving the pathways are a major priority,” said Layton. The paved pathways throughout the park are a safety hazard, broken in some parts and too steep in others. Their renewal also provides an opportunity to install some look-out points to the park’s bowl below.

Another safety improvement, raising better fencing for the baseball diamonds, will begin after the baseball season closes this fall.

An amalgamated basketball court is also planned, and will be installed in the area currently occupied by the volleyball court, which explained Layton, “has fallen into disuse and basketball has become very popular”.

The park’s renewal isn’t just limited to the sports amenities.

To date, event organizers for a planned performance needed to “bring their own stages”, which is inconvenient to say the least. The revitalization, however, will feature a new permanent stage that Layton said “will cement this important cultural component of the park’s use”.

A bit of retooling will update the park so that it suits contemporary tastes and uses. That, along with “the pizza oven and an enhanced community hub, are also key components of the facelift,” said Layton.

“The changes are welcome,” said Emily Reid, festival director and lead programmer of the Christie Pits Film Festival. “It shows the park is well used, and though many of the improvements are peripheral to our specific use, the lookouts will provide patrons of our event a new vantage point to view films we exhibit. We were happy with the level of consultation, and they made sure that the new stage plan would not interfere with our screen set-up.”

According to Layton, funding for the revitalization is largely provided by the city’s ten-year parks capital renewal budget, along with some Section 42 money, a provision of the The Ontario Planning Act that allows municipalities to ask developers to set aside money or land to create new parkland.

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