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Maps Parks Toronto Walking

Finding a washroom during Toronto’s pandemic winter

Sugar Beach in the wintertime

Update November 28, 2020: I have added the list of 51 temporary portable toilets that the city has or will be adding to its parks this winter as part of an effort to encourage Torontonians to get outside for winter walks. Many of these locations are along the major ravine paths, including the Don and Humber Rivers. Most location descriptions were easy to locate, though others were quite vague. I did the best I could with the information given. I also added the toilet locations at Tommy Thompson Park, which is operated by the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority.

There remain some critical gaps, including the absence of Guild Park in Scarborough and along the waterfront between Humber Bay Shores and Marie Curtis Park, but on the whole, this is a positive development. The city also announced new winter maintenance of additional park paths, though ideally, this service would be extended along the entire ravine network.



As of Monday, November 23, Toronto and Peel Region will be in another lockdown. Non-essential businesses and services will close or be open only for take-out and curbside pickup. Gyms, patios, and salons will all be closed. Though we may not be able to socialize with friends and extended family, we can still go for walks, runs, and bike rides to maintain our physical and mental heath.

But with indoor dining prohibited since October in Toronto, and most malls closing down, finding a washroom has become much more difficult. Many outdoor park washrooms are not winterized, so they must close as well. For many of us, having access to open and accessible washrooms is a necessary when leaving the home for long periods of time.

Happily, the City of Toronto has identified over 40 park washrooms that will be open during the winter months, with the promise of more to come, including portable toilets placed in strategic locations.

Though there is a list of washrooms open (or soon to open) on the city’s website, they are listed in alphabetical order, without easily-accessible location information. I took the liberty of mapping each park washroom location, as well as selected other city-owned public washrooms accessible seven days a week.

Though winterized public washrooms can be found across the city, there are a few areas left unserved, including the Etobicoke waterfront between Humber Bay Shores and Long Branch, the eastern Scarborough waterfront parks, including Guild Park and the Port Union/Rouge Beach area, and northwestern Etobicoke. Ideally, every Torontonian should live within walking distance of a four-season park.

Even with the impending lockdown, there are some other washrooms that will remain available when necessary. GO Transit has kept washrooms at its stations accessible even during the Spring 2020 lockdown. On the Lakeshore Line, stations are open seven days a week, including Guildwood and Rouge Hill. Many supermarkets have public washrooms as well.

I hope that there will be improved four-season access to public washrooms this year, and every year going forward. Simple outdoor activity, including long walks, are one of the safest and easiest things we can do to keep ourselves happy and busy.

I will update the map as more washroom facilities open.

Categories
Parks Toronto

A failure to communicate: a small, but meaningful example of the terrible messaging during this pandemic

On November 4, signage scattered around Allan Gardens leads visitors to locked doors

The ongoing pandemic, to quote the prime minister, “really sucks.” Ontario has been subjected to various levels of lockdowns and restrictions for nearly eight months now as COVID-19 case counts continue to be high. Restaurants, bars, cinemas, and gyms are currently closed in Toronto, as are most other indoor venues. Many of us are — if we’re lucky — working from home, but shut off from meaningful socializing from family, friends, colleagues, and allies. Many are left unemployed with few job openings out there. Those still working in factories, warehouses, public institutions, kitchens, and stores face increased pressures without many of their supports.

That leaves only a few outlets for selfcare: the support of immediate family, outdoor exercise, and passive entertainment such as streaming shows and movies online. Though I am working on several interesting projects here at home, I can attest that Zoom calls, Facebook chats, and occasional phone-calls are no substitute for in-person social interaction. Regular walks have been essential to my mental health, which has suffered during the pandemic. With so much construction in my neighbourhood, there has been one nearby oasis: the conservatory at Allan Gardens.

Sadly, that’s no longer an option, and I found that out the hard way. Though it is a minor complaint given the much larger failure to control the virus here in Ontario and properly communicate important public health information and advice, it’s just a microcosm of the mixed messaging from all levels of government that we have been enduring since February.

“Urgent notice” – anyone who continues past the signs directing visitors to the designated entrance to the Allan Gardens Conservatory is greeted with this notice indicating that the building is closed until further notice
Categories
Maps Parks Toronto Walking

All stick, no carrot: the problem with the city’s response to physical distancing

IMG_8327
Parks across Canada are closed, with the exception of walking through

On Saturday April 11, during the Easter long weekend, the City of Toronto announced that a team of over 350 police officers and bylaw enforcement officers would shift from an education-based campaign of verbal and written warnings to people congregating and using closed amenities in parks to a zero-tolerance ticketing campaign. Tickets for violating orders — intended to slow the spread of COVID-19 — include a fine of up $1,000.

In the press release, the city listed twenty parks specifically targeted for enforcement. Though most are located in the old City of Toronto and along Lake Ontario, there are several others located in Toronto’s inner suburbs.

The list of parks include several along Toronto’s waterfront, including Humber Bay Park, Woodbine Beach, and Bluffers Park. It also includes several small downtown parks adjacent to recent high rise residential development, including Corktown Common, College Park, and Allan Gardens. Large suburban parks known for family gatherings and picnics, such as Earl Bales, G. Ross Lord, and Sunnybrook Parks are also on the list.

These parks are illustrated in the map below.

Toronto_Target_Parks_COVID
Parks targeted by the City of Toronto for stricter enforcement (click for larger image)

Though many of us are at home, working remotely or waiting for schools and workplaces to reopen, those employed in essential industries and services do not have a choice. For the rest of us not required to self-isolate, an occasional walk or bicycle ride is good for our mental and physical well-being. It may be necessary to pick up food and prescriptions.

For those of us without yards and quiet residential neighbourhoods, going outside means either navigating narrow and occasionally crowded sidewalks, or going to nearby small and busy parks, especially those without access to a car. In my experience so far, the vast majority of people are respecting the calls for physical distancing.

Closing parking lots and amenities such as playgrounds and picnic facilities makes sense. Where possible, we shouldn’t be straying far from home while physically distancing, and we should be keeping close to those we’re living with. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of people live in apartments in Mimico and Humber Bay Shores; they shouldn’t be crowded out of their own backyard by others seeking a stroll along the waterfront.

But downtown and in the Yonge-Eglinton area, quiet open spaces close to home may be hard to come by. Sidewalks are narrow, construction barriers such as scaffolding make physical distancing especially difficult, and along Eglinton Avenue, Crosstown LRT construction has made getting around on foot especially challenging, with pedestrians often restricted to narrow passages.

These help to explain the problems at College Park, Eglinton Park, and Allan Gardens. Furthermore, Allan Gardens is close to several shelters and social services such as Seaton House, and has long been a place for marginalized residents to socialize and linger.

This is one more reason why dense, growing urban neighbourhoods require more space. Increasing the space allotted to pedestrians and cyclists by removing underused traffic lanes would provide some of that relief.

This was the argument made by two associate professors of epidemiology at Ryerson University, who sent an open letter to Mayor John Tory and the city’s medical officer of health, Eileen de Villa, arguing for more road space for pedestrians and cyclists.

It is disappointing to see the city respond only with increased enforcement without providing any alternatives for safe physical distancing.

Categories
Ontario Parks Politics

The province’s attack on conservation authorities

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View from the Niagara Escarpment at Mount Nemo Conservation Area towards Mississauga and Toronto

One of Ontario’s greatest success stories has been the development of conservation authorities (CAs). The provincial Conservation Authorities Act was introduced in 1946 to provide for new joint provincial-municipal bodies protect farmland and natural features from deforestation, flooding, and erosion, organized not by political boundaries, but by watersheds. In 1954, south-central Ontario was hit by Hurricane Hazel, which caused extreme and deadly flooding. This highlighted the need for strong local authorities to coordinate flood protection strategies, including dams, floodways and reservoirs, but also land use planning, the protection of headwaters, and the naturalization of important landscapes, such as the Niagara Escarpment and Toronto’s ravines. Planners at CAs help to ensure that any new development is protected from flooding or erosion and will not negatively impact other properties or the watershed as a whole.

Most of Ontario’s 36 CAs also operate conservation areas, open to the public as parklands. These may contain hiking trails, wildlife sanctuaries, campgrounds, lakes and reservoirs for swimming, boating, or fishing, as well as waterfalls, caves, scenic lookouts, or other unique natural features. A few conservation authorities also operate historic sites, including old mills, or even entire pioneer villages, such as Black Creek. Many CAs also hold special events, such as festivals, school tours, and even concerts.

Many of these programs and services are incredibly important, but all are beneficial to the public. And they are under attack by the provincial government.

Earlier this year, the province cut funding for natural hazards planning by 50 percent. Late last week, the minister for Minister of Environment, Conservation and Parks, Jeff
Yurek, sent a letter to all CAs and their partner municipalities to begin to wind down any programs not directly related to their “core mandate.”

Yurek commented that “over the years, conservation authorities have expanded past their core mandate into activities such as zip-lining, maple syrup festivals and photography and wedding permits.”

One such CA, Conservation Halton, operates several conservation areas in Halton Region and the City of Hamilton.

Kelso Conservation Area includes a ski hill, a reservoir that provides for paddle boating, fishing, and a swimming beach, and a campground. There are also outdoor movie nights. At Mountsberg Conservation Area, Conservation Halton operates a Raptor Centre, where injured birds of prey are treated and shown to the public. It also has one of those maple syrup festivals in its sugar bush.

26437885398_1405516057_o.jpgFeeding chickadees at Hilton Falls Conservation Area

Conservation Halton has a $30 million annual budget, but it only gets $145,000 from the province for core programs. The rest of its funds come from municipalities and from park user fees, rentals, and sales. The festivals, event bookings and wedding permits help fund the important conservation work. Offering festivals and other special events also help engage the public, especially children.

Of course, the Doug Ford-led Progressive Conservative government’s attack on conservation authorities isn’t about saving money. Instead it’s about restricting their mandate, reducing their ability to raise funds and engage the public.

Perhaps this all has to do with the influence of the development industry. Ontario Proud, a third-party advertiser connected with the Progressive Conservatives, ran attack ads on social media and on outdoor billboards against the last Liberal government in 2016 and 2017. It was funded by the development and construction industry, with Mattamy Homes being its largest contributor. The province also weakened planning legislation and municipal power to restrict new development through Bill 108, the so-called More Homes, More Choice Act.

If the Ford government gets its way, conservation authorities will have fewer resources to protect watersheds and natural lands and reduce the risk of the effects of climate change. Without maple syrup festivals and other “non-core” programming, there will also be less fun and reduced awareness of Ontario’s wonderful natural landscape. This isn’t about fiscal responsibility. It’s about ideology and payback.

27035683581_ff87c274c6_o.jpgThere are plenty of developers who’d love to pave over the Greenbelt

Categories
Election Parks Toronto Urban Planning

Why closing Toronto’s public golf courses is a boon to the public

IMG_8013-001.JPGDentonia Park Golf Course

Yesterday, Thanksgiving Monday, mayoral candidate Jennifer Keesmaat proposed closing three of Toronto’s five municipally-owned golf courses. Keesmaat, Toronto’s previous chief planner, pointed out that the municipal golf courses operate at a loss, and that $10 million is allocated for improvements to those three courses. Furthermore, she intends to consult the local communities to best re-program the sites to address local wants and needs for the opened-up greenspace.

The three courses are:

  • Dentonia Park Golf Course, located on Victoria Park Avenue north of Danforth Avenue, next to Victoria Park subway station, in the Massey Creek ravine.
  • Don Valley Golf Course, located in the West Don Valley near Yonge Street and Wilson Avenue, near York Mills Station. It extends under Highway 401.
  • Scarlett Woods Golf Course, located near Eglinton Avenue and Scarlett Road on the Humber River.

Tam O’Shanter Golf Course, near Sheppard Avenue and Kennedy Road in Scarborough, and the Humber Valley Golf Course in north Etobicoke, are not mentioned in Keesmaat’s proposal.

I’m very happy that Keesmaat has put forward this bold idea. Despite the municipal ownership of these lands, they are fenced off from residents. For example, Dentonia Park is located in a lower income neighbourhood made of many high-rise rental buildings. As Toronto continues to grow in population, greenspace reserved for golfers could be put to better uses such as sports fields (soccer and cricket, especially), playgrounds, natural wetlands and woodlands, and public paths.

Golf is an expensive leisure activity with a large environmental footprint: the tending of golf courses require lots of water and pesticides. (Golf courses are exempted from a provincial ban on certain types of pesticides.) They may not adequately address the local community’s needs either, especially in lower income areas. Interest in playing golf is waning in North America as well. It makes sense to open up these publicly owned lands.

Golf courses get in the way of potential linear parks. As I mentioned before, the Don Valley Golf Course blocks access to Earl Bales Park from the south. Opening up the grounds to the general public would provide a continuous path from York Mills Station to Bathurst and Sheppard and beyond. This would provide a safe and pleasant walking and cycling route across Highway 401, compared to the unpleasant and dangerous crossings at the interchanges with Yonge Street and Avenue Road.

Dentonia Park Golf Course sits in between the path through Warden Woods and the Taylor Creek Ravine. If opened to the public, there could be a car-free path for pedestrians and cyclists all the way from Warden and St. Clair Avenues all the way downtown via the Don Valley trail system.

Keesmaat’s plan to close money-losing, poorly-used golf courses is a great idea, much like her promise not to go ahead with the costly replacement of the eastern section of the Gardiner Expressway, instead going with the locally preferred boulevard option. Both of these ideas may not be popular with some, but they are both fiscally and environmentally sound.

Categories
Parks Travels

How two Ontario cities are re-imagining abandoned railway relics

Brockville and St. Thomas are two small Ontario industrial cities that wouldn’t normally attract much attention. But both communities are working on remarkable projects that re-purpose former railway infrastructure to create interesting public spaces that don’t just lure out-of-town visitors, but add a significant asset to be enjoyed by the entire community. The St. Thomas Elevated Park and the Brockville Railway Tunnel are the type of local, community-driven projects that I can get excited about.

St. Thomas likes to call itself the Railway Capital of Canada. One hundred years ago, five separate railway companies served the city. The Canada Southern (CASO) Railway, later purchased by the Michigan Central Railroad (which became part of the New York Central empire), built its headquarters and shops here; its double-tracked corridor was the fastest route between Buffalo and Detroit. St. Thomas was a stop on the London and Port Stanley Railway, a busy electric railway that ran regular passenger services until 1957. On the edge of town is the Jumbo monument, near the site where the famous Barnum and Bailey circus elephant was killed during a train stop.

IMG_1330-001Jumbo Monument, at the westerly entrance to Downtown St. Thomas

IMG_1310-001The 1873 Canada Southern Station. The tracks it once served have disappeared.

Today, most lines into St. Thomas are abandoned, including the once-mighty Canada Southern; major rail customers such as Ford Motor Company closed local factories. The last passenger train, Amtrak’s Niagara Rainbow, departed from St. Thomas in 1979. The Port Stanley Terminal Railway runs tour trains along part of the old L&PS route, but its trains — for now — only board in Port Stanley.

Despite the loss of the railways, St. Thomas has retained much of its railway heritage. The Elgin County Railway Museum has made its home in the old Michigan Central shops. The station building still stands too — built in 1873, it is one of the longest stations in Canada, extending 108 metres. It was recently renovated and houses offices and retail businesses. A replica of the LP&S station was built downtown, with the hopes of accommodating Port Stanley-bound tour trains. Just west of Downtown St. Thomas is the Kettle Creek Viaduct, which is slated to become a new signature park.

IMG_1326-001Kettle Creek Viaduct, the future St. Thomas Elevated Park, in August 2017

Categories
History Parks Toronto Walking

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

Categories
Brampton Canada Travels Urban Planning

A check-up on Downtown Barrie

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“Spirit Catcher” by Ron Baird on Downtown Barrie’s Waterfront

Last weekend, I made a trip up to Barrie on GO Transit. Most people in the Greater Toronto Area know of Barrie as a place you pass on Highway 400 on the way north to Collingwood, Wasaga Beach, or Muskoka, but it has a population of 140,000 people, many of them commuters to the Greater Toronto Area.

Barrie features a lovely waterfront, situated at the end of Lake Simcoe’s Kempenfelt Bay. After the abandonment of the Canadian National Railway tracks north of Allandale Station in 1997, a new waterfront trail was created and Lakeshore Drive moved inland to provide more park space. The waterfront trail connects on the north with a rail trail that extends to Orillia. The waterfront has three swimming areas, a marine, food concessions, playgrounds, and gardens. On a warm Sunday in March, the boardwalk and waterfront paths were very well used. Work is being completed on further enhancements to the public realm.

IMG_8386-001A busy March Sunday on Barrie’s waterfront

In 2012, GO Transit extended the Barrie line to Allandale Waterfront Station, at the closest point possible to Downtown Barrie where tracks remained. The old Allandale Station, built by the Grand Trunk Railway in 1905 and abandoned by CN in the 1980s, still stands just north of the GO station, newly restored. Yet the station is fenced off and is awaiting re-use.

IMG_8372-001.JPGAllandale Station is fully restored on the outside, but remains fenced off. The GO Station is to the far left.

Downtown Barrie hosts many heritage buildings. Despite a catastrophic fire in 2007, the downtown core boasts a mostly-intact inventory of heritage commercial and institutional buildings. The old Carnegie Library was incorporated into the MacLaren Art Centre (a new central library was built in the 1980s). The Queen’s Hotel on Dunlop Street, established in the 1850s, retains its historical veranda. Brampton and other county towns had similar hotels, but many were lost to fire or development.

The downtown business improvement area has been active as well. During the summer months, patios are brought out into the streets, and festivals are put on year-round. New condominium towers built along the waterfront and downtown bring new residents that can support the historic city centre.

Despite my positive impressions, one thing really bothered me: Downtown has many signs posted reminding people of a 2004 by-law prohibiting “aggressive behaviour, panhandling, loitering, and skateboarding/bicycling” with a maximum fine of $5000. Surveillance cameras are positioned at several downtown corners.

IMG_8396-002Sign reminding of Downtown Barrie’s Zero Tolerance Bylaw. The historic Queen’s Hotel is in the background.

The intent of the rule against cycling probably refers to bicycles ridden on sidewalks, rather than on roadways (there are some bicycle lock-up locations downtown and along the waterfront). That said, the signage and the by-law have the effect of telling young people and low-income residents that they are not welcome.

Signs and specific bylaws such as this are not uncommon in Ontario. In Brampton, signs in public parks and along its pathways prohibit loitering as well. Yet sidewalks and parks are public spaces; parks in particular are places where one might wish to relax, have a picnic, or just sit and enjoy nature or to people-watch.

IMG_2362-001.JPG“No loitering” in Brampton’s parks

Downtown Barrie has struggled with poverty, vacant lots, derelict properties on the periphery, as well as crime, such as assaults, and drug trafficking. Downtown Barrie has many of the support services for economically and socially marginalized people; there are affordable rental apartments and rooming houses in the core as well. Downtown has several cafes and restaurants, a few clothing and furniture stores, as well as a craft brewery, but many of the businesses along the main streets are convenience stores, hair salons, vape shops, tattoo parlours, bars, and nightclubs. Especially missing are businesses such as a drug store, and a supermarket.

To discourage loitering, benches were removed from Dunlop Street, Barrie’s main street. However, seniors in particular benefit from places to sit and rest while going on walks or doing shopping. Payphones downtown were also removed in 2013; the local councillor said that they were “degrading the quality of the neighbourhood.”

In 2014, the City of Hamilton was looking at adopting a similar by-law to discourage low-income and homeless people congregating and creating a nusiance in Downtown Hamilton. Councillor Jason Farr pointed to Downtown Barrie’s success, but noted the importance of consulting with poverty advocates to “include that social side of the argument.”

Instead of merely implementing aggressive regulations and ticketing, there’s a need for inclusive urbanism. Are there adequate recreational and social activities for youth and marginalized populations? Barrie has a skateboard/BMX park nearby, at Queen’s Park, but that might not be enough to satisfy local youth. What urban interventions would Barrie’s low income populations like to see? Sadly, I doubt they were consulted.

Barrie’s waterfront is one of Ontario’s best: accessible by transit, connected to its downtown, hosting many activities and events. As construction concludes, it should help revitalize the neighbourhoods around it. Barrie should not further push away its already marginalized populations; it should find a way to be welcoming to all.