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GRADING OUR GREENSPACE (JULY 2017): Open spaces in the heart of the Annex

August 1st, 2017 · No Comments

Lots of places for ambling with a dog, playing sports, or watching the world go by

PHOTO BY GEREMY BORDONARO/GLEANER NEWS: There’s lots for kids to do at the recently renovated Margaret Fairley Park, where the installation of a new wading pool and seating area is almost complete. The revitalized park has a determined Muskoka feel to it that might strike some as a bit too sterile.

Where are the best bathrooms, the best spots to laze away a day, or the best place to run a dog? It’s all here in the second instalment of our annual parks review. We’ll run the third and final instalment in August. For this popular feature, we assess many of the parks in and surrounding the Annex considering factors like functionality, safety, cleanliness, seating, and shade.

Compiled by Geremy Bordonaro with files from Emilie Jones & Nathalie Rodriguez

Paul Martel Park
Madison Avenue, north of Bloor Street West
Time: 2:30 p.m.
Grade: D- (Last year N/A)
Reason to go: Paul Martel Park was originally slated to be dismantled for the aborted Spadina expressway, but the Annex Residents’ Association (ARA) took it upon themselves to resurrect the tiny green space for the community to enjoy. Unfortunately, the park has not been treated with care. There are three benches, two of which can no longer be considered benches. Cigarette butts are scattered along a dirt pathway and grass, and it seems as if plans to plant more flowers were abandoned. There were birds chirping and maybe if you closed your eyes you could enjoy the sound of nature, but otherwise the view of the park was unpleasant.
Overheard: A Madison Street resident complaining about the state of the park.
Did you know: It was once named Ecology Park, but was renamed Paul Martel Park in honour of a local architect who made several contributions to the community.


Matt Cohen Park
Spadina Avenue and Bloor Street West
Time: 1:30 p.m.
Grade: C (last year C+)
Reason to go: Matt Cohen Park serves as a reasonable spot to relax at the busy intersection of Bloor?Street and Spadina Avenue. Its location makes for a convenient place for students at the neighbouring University of Toronto Schools to sit, eat lunch, and socialize. Otherwise there isn’t much to this park. Green space is at a minimum and very poorly kept. The little bits of grass that are in the park have either been trampled down or not mowed for ages. Garbage was tossed in large amounts around seating and signage. There are bike racks here but only enough space for about five or six different bikes. Some artistic touches, like the domino seating space and metal leaves adorning the subway grating, help to alleviate the ugliness of this park, but it is still a far cry from being beautiful.
Overheard: “Man, I am suffering from the worst hangover right now.”
Did you know: Matt Cohen, namesake of this park, wrote children’s books under the pseudonym of Teddy Jam.


PHOTO BY GEREMY BORDONARO/GLEANER NEWS: The tennis courts (seen in the background) at Hillcrest Park are in excellent condition, like everything else in this large, well-kept park.

Hillcrest Park
950 Davenport Rd.
Time: 11:00 a.m.
Grade: A+ (last year A)
Reason to go: A well-populated, go-to destination for park lovers, there’s little to complain about at Hillcrest Park. Everything is prim, proper, and well maintained, a huge accomplishment for a park of this size. The tennis courts deserve special mention for being in excellent condition, a rarity in this part of the city. Tennis lovers should definitely come to play a few matches. Hillcrest also has the special distinction of having the cleanest bathrooms of any park we’ve reviewed.
Overheard: “Getting tired? We can go as long as you can!” From a group of teens in a heated game of 3 on 3 basketball.
Did you know: The Wychwood Tennis Club runs out of the tennis courts in Hillcrest Park.


Margaret Fairley Park
100 Brunswick Ave.
Time: 12:30 p.m.
Grade: A (last year A)
Reason to go: Sterile is a great word to describe Margaret Fairley Park. Everything natural seems to be sapped out of the park, which has been carefully trimmed and made artificial. The only natural redeeming feature is a very small patch of non-artificial grass. That said, it is an excellent place for small children. Even at the time at writing there was a huge summer camp taking up residence on the play structures and families around having a grand time. The redesign of the park is very Muskoka-esque with log and various other wooden structures accentuating the “nature” of the park. However this redesign just seems to be a bit much.
Overheard: “All right everyone! We’re leaving to go back to the school in about ten minutes!”
Did you know: Margaret Fairley Park has been undergoing a full redesign over the years. This year marks the final steps of the park’s construction with the installation of a new wading pool and seating area.


Healey Willan Park
504 Euclid Ave.
Time: 12:00 p.m.
Grade: A (last year A)
Reason to go: There is so much to do for kids in this park. There are so many toys and play structures that it’s doubtful any kid would get bored here. Seating is plentiful so parents can just lean back and relax while their young ones have fun in a safe, gated park. The truth is that very little changes about this park over the years. It’s a reliable park for children and families, year in, year out.
Overheard: “Oh my god can I see the pics? So cute!”
Did you know: The local Healey Willan Singers were founded in 2005 on the 125th anniversary of Healey Willan’s birth and perform two chamber music concerts a season.


PHOTO BY GEREMY BORDONARO/GLEANER NEWS: Trash receptacles litter the rink at the Robert Street Playground (top), which is largely inaccessible. Healey Willan (right) is a great alternative to Margaret Fairley, and offers lots to occupy the toddler set.

Robert Street Playground/Aura Lee Playground
60 Sussex Ave.
Time: 1:00 p.m.
Grade: F (last year F)
Reason to go: How not to run a park. You don’t lock off every single possible amenity to the community and use them to store broken city equipment. You don’t have the only usable part of the park be a cracked and barely usable concrete tennis court. You don’t put paper signs on the walls of the oppressive brick management building asking people not to touch the broken door locks. And most importantly you don’t let a perfectly fine soccer field be locked off for the general public. At this point picking on this park feels like a pointless task as it is almost guaranteed to get an F every year until the end of time.
Overheard: The quiet sounds of desolation and wasted space.
Did you know: Toronto City Garbage Receptacles (of which there are seemingly dozens stored here) have cigarette butt disposals built into them that can be used instead of planters or the ground.


PHOTO BY EMILIE JONES/GLEANER NEWS: Philosopher’s Walk is a welcome breath of nature.

Philosopher’s Walk
78 Queen’s Park Cres. W.
Time: 5:00 p.m.
Grade: A (last year A+)
Reason to go: This walkway definitely beats walking busy concrete streets. Hidden in the middle of University of Toronto, this path is a breath of nature. There are dozens of benches scattered around to sit on while you people-watch. However, if you are looking for a quiet park to read in, this may not be the place for you. During the school year it is full of students bustling by. Don’t worry, although it sees a lot of traffic, the park is incredibly well maintained. Alternatively, since it is a student hub, surfaces within Philosopher’s Walk are occasionally commandeered as a canvas for art, rendering it more interesting than your average park.
Overheard: “Did you know you can send boxes of like 200 ladybugs to people?”, man saying to his girlfriend on a park bench.
Did you know: There are 14 trees planted in honour of the young women who were killed in the Montreal Massacre by Marc Lepine.


PHOTO BY EMILIE JONES/GLEANER NEWS: Vermont Square is a vast, pleasant green oasis.

Vermont Square Park
819 Palmerston Ave.
Time: 7:00 p.m.
Grade: A (last year: A)
Reason to go: This park has a little bit of everything: lots of open space, outdoor games, shade, and seating. On relaxed days, there are many park benches for a great picnic. For the older crowd, there are gravel lanes to play pétanque, and luckily, the square is located next to the Dennis Lee Playground, so the kids are occupied too. There is a nice mixture of sunny and shady areas, with large abundant trees, and the park is relatively well maintained. It is easy to imagine any group of people spending an entire day here.
Overheard: A man singing and strumming his guitar on a park bench.
Did you know: Vermont Square serves as the main stage area for the Open Tuning Festival every year.


Queen’s Park
47 Queen’s Park Cres.
Time: 3:00 p.m.
Grade: B+ (last year B+)
Reason to go: Queen’s Park is located in a busy part of Toronto, filled with a variety of tourist attractions, including the legislative building itself, but it still manages to be a soothing location with the busy traffic surrounding the space. It can feel like you are in your own little bubble surrounded by the outside world — at least until you are swarmed by flies. As for the grass it could be trimmed and taken care of to avoid dirt patches. As well there are many sculptures for tourists to admire and children are encouraged to engage in the outdoors, but not desecrate a memorial figure with chalk. When we walk by a monument we want to admire the figure, not the chalk drawn over the monument’s historical information. That being said it’s still a beautiful park located in a diverse community, great for newcomers to Canada to learn more about Toronto’s urban parks.
Overheard: “Should we cross the street and walk down the park?”
Did you know: Queen’s Park was opened in 1860 in honour of Queen Victoria, the inspiration behind the park’s name.


Bickford Park
468 Grace St.
Time: 2:00 p.m.
Grade: A (last year A)
Reason to go: Bickford Park has a lovely green space with more than enough room to play a variety of sports including soccer and baseball. The soccer field is under the sun, but there are plenty of trees surrounding the space for people to sit and cool down on hot summer days. Just on the side is a dog park with tons of space, including chairs for owners to sit on while their dogs enjoy their daily run. Exceptionally sanitized restrooms are located right by the dog park. It’s a relief for visitors who want to spend the day outdoors. The benches are in decent condition, some better than others, but they do detract from the park, since the grass can be a much better accommodation to enjoy a summer afternoon. The baseball field is large, but the rusted fences could do with a renewal. Overall it’s one of the most peaceful parks to sit and relax in and possibly have a picnic underneath the trees or to grab a group of friends to play baseball with.
Overheard: Dogs playfully barking.
Did you know: In 2014 local residents submitted a petition to Mike Layton (Ward 19, Trinity-Spadina) asking for park improvements. The park has improved dramatically since then.


Jean Sibelius Square
50 Kendal Ave.
Time: 11:00 a.m.
Grade: B+ (last year A+)
Reason to go: There’s a lot of space to stretch out in Jean Sibelius Square. The huge amount of open space makes the park ideal for pick-up games of soccer or just lying down and relaxing in the shade. There are a wide variety of trees providing more than enough shade. During the middle of the day the park is very well-populated with kids, yogis, and picnickers. The downside is that it seems oddly dirty. There is a lot of graffiti and the grass is pretty patchy in areas. The park shows its age like a badge of honour. There are definitely worse parks to go to but Jean Sibelius needs a bit of clean-up before it can really be one of the best.
Overheard: “Mommy is tired. Come on, let’s get some lunch.”
Did you know: The park reopened with a fresh new look way back in 2012 after four years of planning and construction.

Correction (July 28, 2017): in the print version of this article, some of the descriptions had Facts instead of Did you know.



GRADING OUR GREENSPACE: Survey reveals significant upgrades (June 2017)

GRADING OUR GREENSPACE: Meet our parks supervisor (August 2016)

Part two of our 2016 parks review (July 2016)

PART ONE: Green sanctuaries in the heart of the city (June 2016)

Grading our Greenspace (2015)


Tags: Annex · Life