Exploring Earl Bales Park

IMG_8535-001View from the top of the ski hill at Earl Bales Park

Last Sunday afternoon, I went for a walk around Earl Bales Park. The large, multiuse green space is located near the corner of Bathurst Street and Sheppard Avenue in North York; it also descends into the West Don Ravine. It was a delight to explore this park, but as I discuss below, it could be much better connected to the city on the south end.

Earl Bales Park originally was a farm established in 1824 by English settler John Bales and his family; their house still stands in situ. The land later became a private golf course, and was purchased by the Borough of North York in 1975, named for one of the Baleses’ great-grandsons.

A lot is packed into this popular green space: walking trails, playgrounds, picnic areas, a community centre, an amphitheatre, an off-leash dog park, a memorial, a seniors’ woodworking shop, and even a ski hill. Even on the first weekend of April, the park was full of picnicking families and groups; families represented a diverse cross-section of suburban Toronto.

After English, the most commonly spoken languages I heard were Russian and Tagalog — the Bathurst Street corridor north of Highway 401 is popular among immigrants from the Philippines and Eastern Europe; many businesses and community organizations in the area cater to these communities.

IMG_8530-001Picnicking at Earl Bales Park, April 2, 2017

IMG_8522-001Park entrance sign from the former City of North York

From the main Bathurst Street entrance, the park’s dominant feature is the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial, opened in 1991. Names engraved on the walls are in memory of some of the millions who perished in the Shoah, many of whom were family members of Toronto’s Jewish community. Most heartbreaking was a wall in memory of 366 child victims, in order of their birthday, one for every day of the year. Nearby is a monument to Raoul Wallenburg, a Swedish diplomat and humanitarian that saved many Jews, but later captured and killed by Stalin’s Soviets.

IMG_8525-001Memorial, designed by sculptor Ernest Raab

Beyond the memorial are the picnic grounds, the ski hill, playgrounds, as well as trails through the woods to the south. The official trails do not connect with the West Don below, but it’s not too difficult to get down to the valley.

IMG_8537-001Path through Earl Bales Park’s woodlands

At the bottom of the hill, there is a large stormwater management pond, and beyond that, the publicly-owned Don Valley Golf Course. Despite the golf course’s civic ownership, access is fenced off and closed circuit cameras monitor the perimeter; only those  in proper golf attire and paying green fees, entering from Yonge Street, can make use of these beautiful lands. Both the Avenue Road and Yonge Street crossings of Highway 401 are unpleasant, and even dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists.


A missing link along the West Don Ravine

With public access, even limited to a designated pathway, would provide a safe and comfortable access under Highway 401 and over to York Mills Station. It is very unfortunate that the city does not allow this.

IMG_8538-001View south from lower Earl Bales Park to the Don Valley Golf Course. Highway 401’s high mast lighting can be seen in the distance. 

IMG_8540-001
The fast-moving West Don River

Back at the top of the park is the Barry Zuckerman Amphitheatre, which has a large stage. There are weekly music series here during the summer as well as some outdoor theatrical performances and outdoor movie screenings.

IMG_8543-001
View from the stage at the amphitheatre

Finally, near the corner of Bathurst and Sheppard, in the shadow of 1960s-era rental highrise apartments, the 1824 Bales house still stands. It was the home of the private golf club’s groundskeeper, and remained on site when the property became a public park. It is now used by Russian House Toronto.

A house built by immigrants in the early 19th century is now used by immigrants in the 21st century, fitting for the urban context of Toronto.

IMG_8545-001
John Bales House
IMG_8546-001Heritage Toronto plaque for the historic farmhouse

Earl Bales Park is one of Toronto’s many great green spaces. Even though I have family living nearby, I never took the opportunity to properly visit, so it was a delight to explore Earl Bales Park, and see it so well used. I look forward to returning in the summer and the fall.

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