Serving Toronto's most liveable community with the Annex Gleaner


August 19th, 2022 · No Comments

The best and worst of the Annex’s parks

Compiled and photos by Fox Oliver

Every year the Annex Gleaner reviews the abundance of parks in the Annex using a variety of criteria. 

While there is no decisive “winner” of the grading, letter grades are assigned to convey the quality of the parks considering aspects such as upkeep, amenities, and accessibility. 

The reviews accompanying the grades also let the reader know what makes each park unique, so they know which ones they should visit if they want to swim at a public pool or bring their dog to an off-leash park, for example. 

This collection of park reviews contains the first fourteen parks reviewed throughout the Annex this year, with more gradings to come in future editions of the Annex Gleaner.

Dominico Field in Christie Pits.

Christie Pits Park

750 Bloor St. W.

Time: 6 p.m. 

Grade: A+ (Last year A)

Reasons to go: Christie Pits is one of the largest parks in the city and draws in hundreds of people every day. The 8.9-hectare park has everything one could possibly want in a park, and while usually busy, never feels crowded. 

Some of the notable attractions in the park are the outdoor swimming pool, outdoor ice rink, basketball courts, baseball diamonds, and the recently added Christie Pits Skateboard Park. 

The massive park is also filled with green space and picnic benches, making it ideal for most park activities. 

Christie Pits is also a popular place for events, including a weekly movie night on a large screen in the summer, pop-up vendors, and a recent picnic celebrating Pride month. Christie Pits’ large size, proximity to Christie Station, and large number of amenities for park-goers make it one of the city’s best and most well-known parks. Be sure to stop by and experience the heart of the Christie area this summer.

Overheard: A jazz band situated on the overlook of the park, and a group of youth selling their clothing to passers-by, along with the chatter of people.

Did you know: On August 16, 1933, acts of hate and anti-Semitism at a baseball game in the park led to the outbreak of the Christie Pits Riot. The riot grew to 10,000 participants and spectators. No one was killed and only one person was convicted. His sentence was $50 or two months in prison.

Gwendolyn MacEwen Park’s unique location inside a roundabout provides a comfortable place to rest,
but brings with it noise from surrounding roads.

Gwendolyn MacEwen Park

33 Walmer Rd.

Time: 2 p.m.

Grade: B- (Last year B-) 

Reasons to go: Gwendolyn MacEwen Park is a small parkette in the middle of a roundabout

at Walmer Road and Lowther Avenue. While its unexpected location in the centre of a roundabout may seem like a good thing, it brings with it the noise of intermittent traffic from adjacent cars, as well as the noise of traffic just down the road. This parkette offers benches which are shaded by large trees, small flower beds, and a memorial commemorating Gwendolyn MacEwen. All of these make the park ideal for those looking for a quick rest on their path or those wanting to enjoy a book in an accessible outdoor space. This park also adds an airy feel to the entire roundabout, elevating the look and usability of the crossroad, even for those who only spend a few moments passing through the park.

Overheard: The sound of nearby cars driving around the roundabout and the sound of traffic on Spadina, as well as the wind rustling the leaves on the trees.

Did you know: The park is named after Canadian poet and author Gwendolyn MacEwen, born in Toronto in 1941. MacEwen published more than 20 books throughout her lifetime, and her esteemed writing earned her multiple Governor General’s Awards, as well as many other awards for her poetry.

Jay Macpherson Green at 240 Avenue Rd.

Jay Macpherson Green

255 Avenue Rd.

Time: 4:30 p.m. 

Grade: B (Last year B+)

Reasons to go: Jay Macpherson Green is a park with three main components: The first consists of grasses and trees (standard for most parks in the Annex); second are the benches scattered along the path (which offer a comfortable place to sit in the park); the third is much less enjoyable than the first two. Due to the park’s location at Avenue Road and Dupont Street, the roar of the passing traffic is overwhelming. While the noise is more easily ignored during the calmer hours of the day, the park can get quite loud around rush hour which makes it a difficult place to relax or even to sit and chat. Nonetheless, this park is still a nice place to visit as the space itself is well looked after. It’s also conveniently located across the street from Sergeant Ryan Russell Parkette.

Overheard: The noise of rush hour traffic speeding by on Avenue Road.

Did you know: The park is named after Jean Jay Macpherson, a Canadian poet who lived in the Annex and studied and taught at the University of Toronto. She is highly renowned for her work as a “mythopoeic” poet, a type of poet whose work focuses on creating and exploring fictional mythology in modern day prose or poetry.

Sergeant Ryan Russell Parkette

250 Avenue Rd.

Time: 4:30 p.m.

Grade: B+ (Last year B+)

Reasons to go: Sergeant Ryan Russell Parkette is a small parkette located across the street from Jay Macpherson Green. Even though the parkette is smaller than the green across the street, this parkette offers something the green doesn’t: an enclosed children’s playground. The playground is usually busy with children, and the fencing around it allows it to be a safe space for kids to play, despite being located at the busy intersection of Avenue Road and Dupont Street. The park can still be noisy due to its location at the busy intersection, but none of the children playing seemed to mind. The shape of the parkette and positioning of the trees and benches also gives the area a sheltered feel in comparison to the park across the street. Sergeant Ryan Russell Parkette is a great place to bring children to play or to stop at and rest on the benches. The parkette is worth checking out if you are passing by or find yourself at Jay Macpherson Green.

Overheard: “I bet you can’t do this,” a child yells while playing with a group of their friends on the playground.

Did you know: In 2011, this park was renamed to remember Toronto Police Sergeant Ryan Russell after he tragically died while attempting to stop the driver of a stolen snowplow in the early hours of the morning.

Boswell Parkette 

4 Boswell Ave.

Time: 3:30 p.m.

Grade: B (Last year B)

Reasons to go: Boswell Parkette is the smallest park on our list, and because of its size, it is easily missed. This parkette attractively connects the dead end of Boswell Avenue to Avenue Road for pedestrians, while cleverly blocking traffic from Avenue Road to reduce the effect of the major road on the residential space. The parkette sits directly behind a bus stop and consists of a plant bed, benches, and two pathways. Its location and decor make it a much more enjoyable place to wait for the bus along Avenue Road compared to the average bus stop. Stumbling across this park almost feels like finding a hidden gem in the Annex, and even though it’s not particularly packed with amenities, its small size makes it a cozy stop for a rest.

Overheard: “I think it’s just a bit further this way,” one person says to another while walking south and possibly talking about the Royal Ontario Museum or Yorkville area.

Did you know: While the parkette can get noisy, it was actually designed to help absorb the noise from the traffic on Avenue Road to keep the residential area behind the park quiet. The park was created in 1973 and was named after Toronto’s 24th mayor, Arthur Radcliffe Boswell.

The historical plaque at Jesse Ketchum Park.

Jesse Ketchum Park

1310 Bay St.

Time: 4:00 p.m.

Grade: A- (Last year A)

Reasons to go: Jesse Ketchum Park has all the components of a standard park, and it does them well: benches, a path, water fountains, trees, flowers, and lots of grass. It’s a spacious park considering its location at Avenue Road and Davenport Road which is right beside Jesse Ketchum School. The intersection and school bring noise, but the depth of the park allows some distance from the road. This keeps the park feeling like a park and not just a green space beside a major road. There is also an artificial turf soccer field behind the park. This park is proof that with simple, quality design, a sizable park, even without many amenities, can still  provide a great space to relax.

Overheard: “Okay everyone line up against the wall,” a teacher says to children at Jesse Ketchum School, likely organizing an after school activity for the kids.

Did you know: The park and school are named after tanner and philanthropist Jesse Ketchum who donated land and money to have a park and a “free and common school” erected at this location. He gained the nickname the “Children’s Friend” for his work establishing churches, schools, and libraries in Toronto. More information about Jesse Ketchum is provided on the plaque found in the park.

Playing basketball at Hillcrest Park.

Hillcrest Park

950 Davenport Rd. 

Time: 3:00 p.m.

Grade: A+ (Last year A+)

Reasons to go: Hillcrest Park sits at the top of a hill at the intersection of Christie Street and Davenport Road and is one of the city’s larger green spaces. Just by approaching the flora and steps leading to the park on Davenport Road, it’s evident that this is a well-maintained park. While the perimeter of the park is packed with luscious green space, the inner area is perched atop the hill and provides plenty of amenities. These include tennis and basketball courts, a large playground, a splash pad, a spacious off-leash dog park, and a flourishing community garden. The large size of the park, the amenities, and the forest-like green space make this park enjoyable for everyone, regardless of whether they are bringing their kids out to play on the structures or if they want to relax peacefully under the shade of a tree, far away from the noise of happy park-goers.

Overheard: Kids splashing in the wading pool and kids playing basketball, boasting about their defensive skills.

Did you know: Hillcrest Park sits across the street from the Hillcrest Complex, the TTC’s largest maintenance facility for their above ground vehicles. While Hillcrest Park is one of the city’s largest parks, occupying 2.1 hectares, the Hillcrest Complex is approximately six times as large as the park, occupying 13 hectares of space.

Gardens grow in front of Artscape Wychwood Barns, a community hub filled with artists’ studios and non-profit environmental organizations.

Wychwood Barns Park

76 Wychwood Ave.

Time: 3:00 p.m.

Grade: A- (Last year A)

Reasons to go: This large park is located around Artscape Wychwood Barns. Outside in the park area, there’s a spacious green space filled with lots of benches and tables. While the green space has an off-leash dog park, a playground, a splashpad, and a large community garden, what really shines are the multi-use Artscape Wychwood Barns. While technically not part of the park, these buildings host 41 artist studios, 9 non-profit art and environmental organizations, and a large multipurpose venue which hosts events such as farmers’ markets and theatre productions. The largest tenant is The Stop Community Food Centre which uses an entire barn, greenhouses, and some of the outdoor space to grow, process, and sell sustainable food year-round. This pleasant community hub is worth checking out for both the park and the artist studios within the barns.

Overheard:Inside the Barns, people celebrating the premiere of an art exhibit and excitedly taking pictures with photographers.

Did you know: The barns were originally built between 1913 and 1921 and were used as streetcar repair barns for the TTC and Toronto Civic Railway. The barns were shut down in 1985 but were then reopened in 2008 as the Artscape Wychwood Barns. They are now used as a community cultural hub.

Paul Martel Park flourishes after the completion of a recent restoration project which resulted in the painting of a new mural and the replanting of gardens in the park.

Paul Martel Park 

10 Madison Ave.

Time: 11:00 a.m.

Grade: A (Last year D+) *Most Improved Park*

Reasons to go: Of all the parks surveyed for the Annex Gleaner’s annual park review, Paul Martel Park earns the title of most improved. Here’s why: In the past, this park received low grades due to litter, vandalism, and low maintenance; however, its recent restoration has made the park truly shine. The gardens have been replanted, and this small but cozy park is filled with beautiful biodiversity. This makes sitting in the park and enjoying a beautiful summer day all the better. However, the newest addition to the park is a large mural painted on the back wall of the park. Painted by Anishinaabe artist Joseph Sagaj, this large mural uses the art of Indigenous storytelling to portray the tale of creation through the eyes of Sagaj. The mural alone is a good enough reason to visit the park. Paul Martel offers a place to reflect and view the beauty in plant life, and the mural offers a colourful rendering of a multitude of stories that will leave you asking questions and thinking about the stories critical to your own worldview. With plenty of benches, this park is the perfect place to sit down, read a book, and enjoy a warm summer day.

Overheard: A group of elderly women conversing with the gardener responsible for planting the gardens. They were asking about the plants.

Did you know: Joseph Sagaj, the artist behind the newly painted mural in Paul Martel Park, has worked on numerous projects within the city, including a 30-foot diameter floor installation in Seneca College. He currently lives and works in Toronto and has painted a large collection of smaller works.

The Dennis Lee playground at Vermont Square Park.

Vermont Square Park

819 Palmerston Ave.

Time: 5:30 p.m.

Grade: A (Last year A)

Reasons to go: Despite its location near the busy intersection of Bathurst Street and Dupont Avenue, walking into Vermont Square Park feels like stepping into one of the quieter parts of the city. This park has small rolling hills, lots of tree cover, three bocce ball courts, a wading pool, and a children’s playground surrounded by benches. The placement of the playground and geography of the park creates a natural separation between the kids in the playground, the dogs and their owners in the centre of the park, and those sitting around the picnic tables, some playing bocce ball. This park is a quieter alternative to Christie Pits because it is much less crowded. Its location in Seaton Village makes it the perfect place to relax. On most days, this park is bustling with kids, adults, and the elderly. While the different age groups tend to gravitate towards separate areas, the mix of people of different age groupings all enjoying the same space adds an aura of community to this park, making it a delightful local park.

Overheard: The jangle of dog collars mixed with the noises of a few young kids enjoying the playground with their parents.

Did you know: The playground in Vermont Square Park is named the Dennis Lee playground. It is named after the Toronto poet of the same name who is most well-known for his collection of children’s rhymes Alligator Pie.

The recently revitalized Robert St. Park is now complete with a playground and seating area for members of the community to enjoy.

Robert St. Park 

60 Sussex Ave. 

Time: 3:00 p.m.

Grade: A- (Last year no grade)

Reasons to go: Robert Street Park has undergone a major revitalization since the last time it was rated by the Gleaner. On October 12, 2021, the University of Toronto removed the last piece of fencing from the park so community members can now make use of the newly improved space. The park consists of benches situated around a well-groomed lawn and garden. There is also a new playground, and a shaded seating area beside Robert Street Field. This park is simple, and where it lacks in dense and luscious plant life, it shines in being a highly maintained green space. This is a great area to enjoy alone, to bring kids to the playground, or to use when visiting the Robert Street Field.

Overheard: A group of toddlers and young kids playing soccer as part of a summer camp on Robert Street Field which is adjacent to the park.

Did you know: Canada’s largest deep geothermal project is situated beneath Robert Street Field. The geothermal system will be used to help heat and cool the University of Toronto and has been built as part of their project to reduce their carbon emissions.

Just north of College Street, Doctor’s Parkette’s bench seating offers passersby a place to rest.

Doctors’ Parkette

15 Brunswick Ave.

Time: 3:00 p.m.

Grade: C (Last year C-)

Reasons to go: The Doctors’ Parkette is an easily missed parkette on the north side of College Street at Brunswick Avenue. Many people likely pass by this parkette daily without even noticing it due to its small size and deviation from a standard parkette. Where most parkettes have grass and trees, this parkette consists entirely of stone tiling, wooden benches, flower beds, and a water fountain. While the park doesn’t particularly stand out or offer any unique amenities, the grouping of benches makes the park a practical place to sit down on a busy street, and the full flower beds do add some colour to the stone tiling and this otherwise undecorated corner. While there has been a decrease in the amount of litter in the park since last year, there is still room for improvement.

Overheard: The ringing of the bell in the tower of the Bellevue Fire Station across the street, and the sound of traffic and pedestrians on College Street.

Did you know: Across the street from the Doctors’ Parkette lies the Bellevue Fire Station. This historic piece of architecture was originally built in 1875 with the eight-storey tower being added in 1899. The tower possessed a lookout which firefighters used to survey the surrounding area for active fires. After an arsonist ironically set fire to the station in 1972, the structure was rebuilt into the station that now exists today.

Village of Yorkville Park’s segmented greenspace includes a wooden pathway surrounded by freely growing botanical life.

Village of Yorkville Park 

115 Cumberland St.

Time: 5:00 p.m.

Grade: A- (Last year B) 

Reasons to go: This park is in the heart of Yorkville and has a unique design that feels different than the other parks in the area. The park is split into a few sections: decorative trees placed in orderly planters, stone tiling with chairs and tables, a grass lawn, and an area with more “natural” looking plant life. This choice in design makes the park an interesting one to walk through; it’s comparable to walking by an art exhibit that has been laid out in a city square. Because the park is in the middle of Yorkville, it can get quite busy throughout the day which leaves many of the tables occupied. However, it is still a nice centrepiece to the Yorkville Area and worth visiting for those who find themselves nearby. It is common to find kids running through the fountain and along the large rocks, as well as many people working on laptops or meeting friends for coffee around the tables situated throughout the park.

Overheard: “Come on, get down from there!” a mother beckons her children down from the collection of large rocks in the park.

Did you know: Today, Yorkville is a commercial area known for its high-end shopping and dining options. However, in the 1960s, it was Toronto’s bohemian cultural centre. It was the hub of the Canadian hippie movement and was a common hangout for Canadian artists like Neil Young, Gordon Lightfoot, and Joni Mitchell.

Walmer Road Parkette

227 Walmer Rd. 

Time: 4:00 p.m.

Grade: B (Last year B) 

Reasons to go: This small but beautiful parkette lies in between two rows of townhouses on the short stretch of Walmer Road between Dupont Street and Davenport Road. Its location in between the townhouses means the park is always well maintained. Walking along it provides a nice view of the houses and flowerbeds in the area. It’s a quiet area, with minimal noise from the adjacent roads. The train can be heard (and seen) passing by a few times a day on the Canadian Pacific Railroad tracks. The park contains a few benches, trees, and flowers, and is all around a very pretty space. However, part of the small parkette is currently under construction. Temporary fencing is blocking off half the parkette, and a small construction vehicle can be seen inside. There is no doubt that once this equipment is removed, the park will continue to shine. This park is recommended to those looking to sit down in a quiet area; however, keep in mind that due to its small size and proximity to houses, it may not be the best parkette to bring large groups of kids to.

Overheard: A train passing by along the CPR tracks and wind in the trees. It was very quiet other than that.

Did you know: The townhouses around this park aren’t cheap. A 3600 sq. ft. townhouse nearby is listed at $2,375,000. However, this doesn’t mean that owning a property nearby is necessary.


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