How a small, random patch of grass becomes a City-recognized landmark.
Though Toronto can seem like a concrete kingdom, our city has made a concerted effort to maintain a certain amount of green to round out the grey; we’ve even adopted the mantra “a city within a park” as our unofficial motto. Among the most noteworthy spaces are the robust and kingly High Park, the picnic paradise of Trinity Bellwoods, Colonel Samuel Smith in the Etobicoke, and the sloping Christie Pits in the Annex. However, many of our parks are much smaller, less picturesque, and decidedly stranger in terms of design and location. These oddities fall under the category known as “parkette.”
Some of these spaces seem worthy of official City of Toronto classification, like those that feature a playground or wading pool, or boast a plethora of benches and shade-giving trees. But then there are the eyebrow-raisers, the head-scratchers, the parkettes that confuse and amuse—the ones that exist in that purgatory between being a proper park and a mere patch of grass. Designating these slivers of green as fully fledged parks is akin to adding sriracha to Kraft Dinner and calling it gourmet. Yet, rather than have them remain a nameless grassy afterthought, the City has given them a big ol’ sign and a name to boot. Here are some of the more peculiar parkettes to be found around town:
Name: Bill Johnston Park (pictured at top)
Location: 65 Western Battery Rd., #LIB
The scene: Tucked between train tracks and a stretch of sidewalk, amid a sea of townhomes and condos, lies this narrow strip of long, linear lawn.
Noteworthy features: It has two benches and (bonus: operable) water fountains, including one especially for canine companions. As far as foliage goes, there’s an onslaught of overgrown goldenrod and other Canadian wildflowers and grasses, a live cedar wall, plus a lawn that could use a good trim.
Human activity: None. The construction beginning just a step away from the park’s benches certainly adds to its overall “nothing to see here, move along” vibe. There’s a sectioned-off and busy dog park just around the corner (between East Liberty and Lynn Williams) that seems far more worthy of its official Liberty Village Park designation.
Why is this a park?: This parkette officially opened on August 29, 2006, in homage to Bill Johnston, who was an advocate for his community and worked with the development of community gardens (including the one found at the nearby Garrison Flats) and the closure of a lead smelter, among other local efforts.
Name: Birchview Boulevard Parkette
Location: 38 Birchview Blvd., #ETO
The scene: This parkette is located directly across from the Kingsway Baptist Church, and snuggled up among the higher-end houses of the Kingsway community. In fact, the northeast part of this plot appears to be someone’s property, as the owner of the home adjacent to the parkette uses it as a leeway to his backyard.
Noteworthy features: This sectioned-off piece of sod, which looks more like a traffic median, has two trees to its name. The path, bordered by a crumbling square stone overhang (perhaps used as a bench for the walk-weary), angles onto Montgomery.
Human activity: The path is frequented by many a school-bound student or casual passerby. Sadly, during my visit, no one stopped to admire the scenery.
Why is this a park?: “Currently, the park-naming/renaming [process] falls into two categories: honourific—those honouring a person, place, or event—and non-honourific, such as those reflecting local geography/neighbourhood, flora or fauna,” says Ron Andrusevich, manager of public relations for the City’s Parks, Forestry, and Recreation department. This would be an example of the latter.
Name: Ed & Anne Mirvish Parkette, #ANX
Location: 843 Bathurst St.
The scene: Cuddled up next to Bathurst station is this rectangular grassland formerly known as the Bathurst Subway Parkette.
Noteworthy features: One bench, a few trees, and the delightful sounds of the 511 streetcar barreling into the station or the 7 bus dancing in the air as it rises and lowers itself for commuters. There’s a cement stoop running the length of its western edge that many use as a seat when the one lowly bench is occupied. The eastern edge features a black fence that prevents access to the parkette from the station platform. (Safety first!)
Human activity: When I last paid this parkette a visit, the bench was taken by a father and his young daughter and an empty bird cage, with the bird (a pigeon) perched on the bench next to the overly amused little girl. Odd, but charming.
Why is this a park?: Unclaimed green space adjacent to a bustling subway station? Let’s put a sign on it and make it feel wanted! To give it more community cred, the parkette was renamed in 2008 to honour the Mirvish family’s significant contributions to the Annex community and Toronto theatre scene.
Name: Kiwanis Parkette
Location: 186 Hopedale Avenue, #EYK
The scene: Right at the mouth of Millwood Road, which hovers above the autumnally resplendent Don Valley, rests this triangular piece of turf. There is a fenced-off backyard on its western edge, and Pape Avenue on its eastern edge, where a bike lane ends.
Noteworthy features: Scant, somewhat shade-giving trees and blade-upon-blade of grass.
Human activity: None whatsoever. A few cyclists rode past during my recent walk-by, but no one paid any mind to this curious corner.
Why is this a park?: The name is a reference to the Toronto Kiwanis Club, which dates back to 1917. The club adheres to the motto of “We build: better communities, relationships with youth, much needed programs for children.” Too bad this neglected patch of grass doesn’t truly reflect the club’s ideals.
Name: Lakeview Avenue Parkette, #DNW
Location: 2 Lakeview Ave.
The scene: Nestled up all cozy-like to the Churchill restaurant on the corner, and just across the road from The Beer Store.
Noteworthy features: This parkette boasts a delightful flowerbed, with mums with bright, warm colours. It has four square path stones that lead nowhere, a path that stretches the length of the parkette in a subtle curve, and a few trees here and there.
Human activity: During my observations, the path was used by a few pedestrians as a shortcut from Dundas onto Lakeview, and the sign post was adorned with a bicycle that was using it as a makeshift ring-and-post (so hard to come by these days). No one paused to give the mums a sniff or gander.
Why is this a park?: “Non-honourific park naming follow a procedure and are approved by the General Manager of Parks, Forestry and Recreation,” explains Andrusevich. A better time can be had at Trinity Bellwoods, a Toronto-park classic that is about 10 minutes away.
Name: Twelfth Street Parkette
Location: 1 Twelfth Street, #ETO
The scene: Found at the dead end of Twelfth Street, this parkette measures (approximately) 110 steps by 30 steps of freshly trimmed grass that stretches down towards Lake Ontario. A hop-skip away from the outdoor Eleventh Street Public Pool and its accompanying playground, and a stone’s throw from the grand expanse that is Colonel Samuel Smith Park, this parkette awkwardly finds itself positioned between two private properties, whose backyards stretch just as far and long towards the lake. There’s an odd sense of “am I trespassing?” when visiting this parkette.
Noteworthy features: By lake’s edge, you’ll find a cement platform overlooking a sewage opening of sorts. Twelfth Street Parkette also features a grand willow tree, one lightpost, recycling and garbage receptacles… and not much else.
Human activity: None at all. The allure of the nearby Colonel Samuel Smith Park is too hard to ignore.
Why is this a park?: Another instance of non-honourific park-naming approved by the City’s Parks, Forestry, and Recreation department.
Name: Platsis Parkette, #ETO
Location: 2454 Lake Shore Boulevard St. W.
The scene: This teeny-tiny diamond-shaped grass plot is situated right at the spot where the 76 Royal York bus makes that wide left turn onto Mimico off of Lake Shore. Surrounding landmarks include the Canadiana Dining Lounge, a Bank of Montreal, Birds and Beans coffee shop, and Mimico Square.
Human activity: None. This space does not quite allow for that sort of thing. You cross the street, give the sign a peek and carry on with your stroll, really. You could stop and smell the flowers, but you may annoy an oncoming motorist in the process.
Why is this a park?: Poor thing can’t even be found on the Toronto parks listing online, making this one a bit of an anomaly. Really, this is less of a parkette and more of an homage to Kyriakos “Domenic” Platsis, who is known around those parts as the “Mayor of Mimico.” After settling in the area in the 1960s, he opened the Canadiana Dining Lounge—located just behind the parkette—in 1969, and founded the Etobicoke-Lakeshore Santa Claus Parade. (Platsis was even presented with a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee medal, a week before his passing in December of 2012.) For his efforts, he is awarded with a parkette where the sign is almost bigger than the plot itself.