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GRADING OUR GREENSPACE (July 2021)

August 16th, 2021 · No Comments

Part 1 of our annual Grading our Greenspace feature includes Christie Pits Park.

Compiled and photos by Madeline Smart

We might be at the point of finally seeing the light at the end of tunnel when it comes to COVID-19 with vaccination rates rising and restrictions lifting, but that doesn’t mean park hangouts will be going anywhere anytime soon. The improving pandemic situation has led to some of the parks that were locked up last year to be set free again. Huron Washington Parkette and Margaret Fairley Park have been restored to their former glory. But, neglect and lack of resources have persisted in others like Sally Bird Park and Euclid Avenue Parkette.

Euclid Avenue Parkette.

Euclid Avenue Parkette

711 Euclid Ave.

Time: 10:00 a.m.

Grade: F (Last year F)

Reasons to go: None. “Parkette” is a generous word, honestly. The parkette has been given an F for the last three years in a row and it’s well deserved. It’s quite literally just a walkway between some houses and a parking lot featuring a small patch of grass and a few benches usually covered with litter and graffiti. Currently the waste bins in the park are overflowing from neglect too, adding to the amount of litter. The ground is home to probably the largest collection of cigarette butts known to man and the air is filled with flies swarming over all the garbage. It’s barely worth walking through briefly so it’s probably best if you don’t bother.

Overheard: “C’mon let’s go.” A man said while walking through the parkette to his two dogs who had stopped to sniff some of the trash left on the ground.

Did you know: Euclid Parkette may not be pretty but it is in a great area, just off of Bloor Street West and in the heart of Koreatown where you can find some of the best food in the city. Stay on Bloor and avoid this park. 

St. Alban’s Square feels a little like a tiny magical escape from the bustle of the city, there’s no playground equipment but there are large patches of grass that make the park a great spot to relax or catch up with a friend.

St. Alban’s Square

90 Howland Ave.

Time: 10:30 a.m.

Grade: B+ (Last year B)

Reasons to go: St. Alban’s Square is a lovely patch of greenery with a paved path straight down the middle surrounded by some gorgeous trees. Tucked away inside a residential neighbourhood, it feels a little like a tiny magical escape from the busy city despite being surrounded by roads. There’s a few benches and a city bike docking station which would make this a great spot to take a break while on a Bike Share bike ride. Nice and quiet as well as being incredibly well maintained, it’s a popular spot for people to read a book or catch up with a friend over coffee. There’s no playground structures but the large patches of grass under the shade of the trees would still make it a great place to hang out and relax with your kids or without.

Overheard: “Yup I can see your screen now.” A man said loudly to his phone screen, presumably on a zoom call, while his dog slept in the shade at his feet. 

Did you know: In 2000, the city almost turned St. Alban’s Square into playing fields for the nearby boys’ private school, Royal St. George’s College, but a group of local residents successfully petitioned against it. 

Jean Sibelius Square.

Jean Sibelius Square

50 Kendal Ave

Time: 11: 00 a.m.

Grade: A+ (Last year A+)

Reasons to go: This park is such a great place to bring your kids, have a socially distanced hang out or to even just read a book. There’s plenty of grass, albeit a little patchy in some places, so it’s perfect for any outdoor activity. Multiple picnic benches and an awesome playground featuring a climbing wall, web and sand pit are also positive features of this park. With a ton of trees providing some cool shade it makes for a great place to spend a whole day. Another huge plus is the large gender-neutral washroom that is surprisingly clean for a public toilet. 

Overheard: “Who’s gonna need a shower when we get home? It’s you Scott, you’re disgusting.” A woman said to her dog who had rolled around in the dirt while she was busy working on her laptop.

Did you know: The city of Toronto bought the land of the park in 1906 and named it Kendal Square at first. Later, in 1956 it was renamed after the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius after the Toronto Finnish community lobbied city council. 

With a plethora of weeds and graffiti on the playground equipment, Sally Bird Park stands out for its decline over the past year.

Sally Bird Park

194 Brunswick Ave.

Grade: C+ (Last year B)

Time: 11:30a.m. 

Reasons to go: Sally Bird seems to be another park that got a little neglected over this pandemic year.. The tiny park that’s sandwiched between two houses with a walkway that connects Brunswick Avenue and Alan Powell Lane has become slightly overgrown with weeds and the workout equipment is covered in graffiti. What was reviewed for many years in the Gleaner as a quiet place to sit with your thoughts and escape the noise of the city is now filled with the sounds of construction due to a house renovation across the street on Brunswick. There’s a couple of benches and a few big trees but overall, nothing too special is happening at Sally Bird. It’s easy to miss but that might be a good thing. 

Overheard: Sounds of construction and people just walking straight through the park.

Did you know: There’s actually a fair number of parks in the city that have outdoor gym equipment but Sally Bird looks like it could use a revamp. Most of the other parks were outfitted in 2018 by TREKFIT, an outdoor gym equipment company making them a bit more enticing than Sally Bird’s old and graffitied equipment.

A treehouse, a sandpit full of toys, and beautiful trees earn Margaret Fairley Park an A- and make it another great place to bring the kids.

Margaret Fairley Park

100 Brunswick Ave.

Grade: A- (Last year B)

Time: 12:00 p.m.

Reasons to go: Margaret Fairley Park, named after the Canadian writer, educator, and political activist is tucked away at the corner of Brunswick Avenue and Ulster Street. Last year the swings were tied up due to COVID-19 protocols but now the swings have been freed and it makes it a great park to bring your kids this summer. There’s a sand pit full of toys, buckets and shovels for anyone to play with. There’s also a treehouse, a couple climbing structures as well as a splash pad which should be open again as part of the phase one reopening plan. Beautiful trees surround the large picnic benches, including one made of stone with an inlaid chess board. The park is in a residential area so it’s pretty quiet and usually not too busy so it also would make a great place to have lunch or read a book.

Overheard: “I love your helmet! It’s beautiful, I would wear it if I had one,” an older woman said to a little boy in a bright green dinosaur helmet with spikes on it.

Did you know: Margaret Fairley Park was renovated in 2016 and reopened in the fall of 2017. The renovation actually went over budget due to the oversized wooden chairs and picnic tables.

Healy Willan Park.

Healey Willan

504 Euclid Ave.

Time: 12:00 p.m.

Grade: B (Last year: B)

Reasons to go: If your kids missed hanging out at parks over the last COVID-19 summer, this will be the perfect one to bring them to this season. Healey Willan is fairly big and enclosed making it great to let your little ones wander. There are swings, a play structure, a sandbox, and tons of toys scattered around for them to play with. The grass is looking a little overgrown and there’s some weeds but otherwise it’s very well maintained. Right at Ulster Avenue and Euclid Avenue, the park is calm, quiet, and away from all the noise of the city. 

Overheard: “Okay here I come!” A kid yells to her brother before running up to the top of the slide. 

Did you know: The park is named after Canadian composer, organist, choir master, and teacher of the same name, who was known for fighting against typical “mediocre” church music. He also used to teach at the Toronto Conservatory (now the Royal Conservatory of Music) and was the organist and choirmaster at St. Mary Magdalene church. 

Huron Washington Parkette.

Huron Washington Parkette

Huron St. and Washington Ave.

Grade: B (Last year: No Grade)

Time: 11:00 a.m.

Reasons to go: The original Huron Washington Parkette used to be right where the University of Toronto Schools renovation has been happening since 2019. The park was temporarily moved across the street to 406 Huron St. which was closed last summer due to the pandemic but has since been reopened. It’s a fenced playground with two swing sets, a playground structure with slides and some other fun structures for your kids to enjoy. There’s also some remaining trees and benches from the old park across the street which make a great place to either sit and relax or watch your children play in the park. Due to the construction project, the park is less busy. So if you’re looking for a quiet park to bring your children to this summer, this might be the one. 

Overheard: “Well it’s not really fair,” a woman says on the phone while relaxing on one of the benches. 

Did you know: The park will be moved back to its original place once construction is over. 

The swings at Huron Street Playground have been set free since last years’ COVID-19 protocols. This hidden gem will be welcoming an off leash dog park, to be constructed in the fall.

Huron Street Playground

459 Huron St.

Grade: B- (Last year C)

Time: 2:00 p.m. 

Reasons to go: This park is a hidden gem and close to St. George station. Located at the corner of Huron Street and Lowther Avenue, the park is quiet, shady and pretty well maintained. It’s also another one of the Annex parks that have since been set free from the COVID-19 shackles leaving the swings open for business. Now children can freely enjoy the unique swing set, rope climber, sandbox and a small rock climbing wall. There’s also lots of green space and some seating, most of which is nice and cool in the shade thanks to some beautiful trees as well as one of the Uno Prii buildings that casts a shadow over most of the park. The city approved an off-leash dog park addition to be added to Huron Street Playground last fall. Construction is supposed to start this summer, which might impact the calmness of the park this year but will be great for dog owners. 

Overhead: A book club discussing their newest read.

Did you know: An off-leash dog park addition to this park will make it the fourth one in the Annex. The other ones are Bickford Park, Vermont Square Park, and Wychwood Barns Park.

Taddle Creek Park.

Taddle Creek Park

40 Bedford Ave. 

Grade: A- (Last year A-)

Time: 1:00 p.m.

Reasons to go: Unfortunately, not much has changed in Taddle Creek park when it comes to the famous massive public art piece called “The Vessel.” Created by Ilan Sandler for the park renovation back in 2011 the massive sculpture usually has a water feature but it was turned off last year due to the pandemic and has yet to be turned back on. The metal benches and the grass are still looking a bit worse for wear but overall, the park is clean and quiet. The playground structure is still holding up well and makes a worthwhile stop for the family or some friends for a nice socially distanced hang at one of the picnic benches.

Overheard: A group of girls laughing over their bubble teas.

Did you know: Taddle Creek is named after the stream of the same name that used to pass through the area. The creek that has long since been buried used to start at a small creek-fed pond at Wychwood Barns park that still exists today. 

Bloor Bedford Parkette.

Bloor-Bedford Parkette

245 Bloor St. W.

Grade: B- (Last year: B)

Time: 1:30 p.m.

Reasons to go: This parkette is a great place to stop and take a rest out of the sun, maybe with a coffee, while you’re out and about downtown, but don’t take too long. The building beside it with the Tim Horton’s at street level is under construction.  It is noisy and there’s a construction awning outside to protect pedestrians from falling debris and a bright orange fence at the front of the park. This means from pretty much any of the seven benches your view is of a fence whether it’s the orange one or the slightly nicer fence that looks out onto a not-as-nice parking lot. If you work in the area or just happen to be coming out of St. George station, it would be a relatively nice place to sit with some beautiful trees lining it to give you shade but due to the construction the relaxing atmosphere just isn’t what it used to be. 

Overheard: “How long has she been in heat?” A woman asked the owner of a pitbull as the dog rolled on its back in the grass. 

Did you know: This parkette was actually the spot where the Encampment Support Network Toronto (ESN TO), an advocacy group that focuses on supporting the homeless and decommodifying housing in the city, held a demonstration earlier this year where attendees taped eviction notices to a cardboard cutout of Mayor John Tory as a response to the city trying to remove housing encampments in parks. 

Matt Cohen Park.

Matt Cohen Park

393 Bloor St. W.

Grade: C- (Last year: C-)

Time: 11:00 a.m.

Reasons to go: Parks have really been an escape for a lot of people throughout the pandemic, being a safe place to be outside while also enjoying the benefits nature has to offer. Matt Cohen Park does not in any way feel like an escape. Located directly at one of the busiest intersections in the city, Bloor Street and Spadina Avenue, this park is filled with sounds of traffic and construction and lacks greenery. There are a decent number of places to sit (most of which have been graffitied) so it would be a good place to take your lunch break outside if you worked close by but it is by no means a top park destination. 

Overheard: Sounds of loud traffic and a man peeing on the adjacent building. 

Did you know: The park used to be called the Bloor-Spadina Parkette before being renamed in honour of Toronto writer and novelist Matt Cohen in 2002. Cohen spent most of his life living in the area which led to it making its way into many of his books including the last book he finished before passing away, a memoir where he called Spadina “the centre of the universe.” 

Queen’s Park North.

Queen’s Park North

11 Wellesley St. W.

Time: 2:00 p.m.

Grade: A (Last year A-)

Reasons To Go: There are plenty of reasons to get out and enjoy the newer park that is Queen’s Park North. Renovated in August 2019, this park still feels fresh and is arguably much more grand than most of Toronto’s parks. The gorgeous and wide paved paths that stream from every side and connect at the middle are strewn with beautiful benches and statues of historical figures. Despite being in the middle of a busy central point of the city, the park is very quiet due to its sheer size and the many trees, which you can actually identify using the ROM’s “Trees for Toronto” project. There’s no playground equipment but because of all of the open green space this would make a great alternative to some of the busier parks to spend a day with the kids or even with a group of friends for a picnic. Being so close to Queen’s Park also means it definitely benefits from being very well maintained.

Overheard: “Hey bud can I get a picture to send to mommy?” A dad asked with his phone pointed toward his son who was running with outstretched arms like an airplane. 

Did you know: Queen’s Park is one of the first public parks in Canada and is still the largest public green space in the central core of Toronto.  

Philosopher’s Walk.

Philosopher’s Walk

78 Queen’s Park Cres. W.

Time: 2:30 p.m.

Grade: A (Last year: A)

Reasons to go: Philosopher’s Walk may go unnoticed by people not familiar with the University of Toronto’s St. George campus but, that doesn’t mean it isn’t a gorgeous park. Running straight through the campus and located in a busy part of the city, this park still manages to feel like a hidden oasis. Surrounded by Trinity College, the Faculty of Music and Law, The ROM and the Royal Conservatory of Music, and lined with beautiful trees, there’s something that feels a bit magical about the Philosopher’s Walk. The grass is well maintained and the mostly shaded benches lining the paved path make this a great spot to read a book, catch up with a friend over coffee, or just simply stroll through on your way to Bloor Street. 

Overheard: “He’s an IT guy, you’d think he’d be on Facebook.” A woman says to her friend over coffee. 

Did you know: The Alexandra Gates at the head of the park were originally made at the corner of Bloor Street and Avenue Road in 1901 to commemorate Prince George and Princess Margaret’s royal visit. The gates were later moved to the north entrance when Avenue Road was widened but you can still find an E and A on the posts which stand for Edward and Alexandra who were the reigning King and Queen at the time.  

Bickford Park.

Bickford Park

468 Grace St.

Time: 7:00 p.m.

Grade: A- (Last year: A-)

Reasons to go: If you want to have a socially distanced park to hang out with your friends but don’t want to have to deal with the large amount of people that Christie Pits and Trinity Bellwoods often bring in, Bickford Park is the one for you. During the day the park is pretty quiet, with a few people scattered amongst the hills reading, catching up with friends and even sunbathing while joggers run through or take a rest and dogs enjoy the off-leash dog area. The baseball diamonds are sometimes occupied with people practicing their catches and the soccer fields are often used by people working out. Then in the evening the park really comes alive, picnic blankets and friends laughing over drinks and snacks fill the hills. People playing frisbee and catch can usually be found at the bottom enjoying the open space. On a clear day you can even watch the sunset behind the CN Tower. Compared to the virtually spotless washrooms at Jean Sibelius Park, these washrooms needed cleaning. Overall, this park is a top destination for anyone wanting to get outside and avoid the busy patios this summer.

Overheard: “I told her that when I ask her to keep it down upstairs I’m not asking her to hover above the floor or anything. I just want her to stop stomping everywhere.” A woman tells her friend while sitting on their individual picnic blankets. 

Did you know: Bickford Park used to be owned by Colonel Edward O. Bickford who was a wealthy landowner, former businessman and politician. Then in 1908, Bickford’s widow sold the land that the park sits on to the city for $44,250. 

Christie Pits Park.

Christie Pits Park

750 Bloor St. W.

Time: 5:00 p.m.

Grade: A (Last year A+)

Reasons to go: Christie Pits Park is easily one of the best parks in Toronto and with over 20 acres of land it’s the perfect place for all ages and all interests. With a few playground structures, swings, and a wading pool it’s a popular spot for families and their children. The basketball courts, soccer fields, baseball diamonds, and even table tennis means that all types of sport players can find their place here. At the top of the park there’s lots of picnic tables and benches where you can sit and enjoy some beautiful live jazz music played by local musicians. You can also usually find a group of slack liners and hula hoopers hanging out which really adds to the creative energy that seems to fill the park. There can be some litter to be found scattered across the ground and with summer in full swing the line to the washroom can get a bit long and there’s often no soap in the dispensers. Overall, Christie Pits will still beat out most of the other popular parks in the city. 

Overheard: “Do you want to get back in the stroller?” A caregiver said to the child. “No! I want to kick!” The toddler yelled back while punting a soccer ball that looked about half its size. 

Did you know: Christie Pits briefly became a temporary trash site during the 2009 Toronto strike. In June of 2009, approximately 24,000 city employees went on a strike that lasted six months which greatly impacted garbage collection. The city eventually announced 19 temporary garbage disposal sites and Christie Pits was one of them.

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Tags: Annex · Life