Does Downsview Park have a future as Toronto’s version of New York City’s Central Park?
This idea was shown to me — literally — on a recent tour of the park in a golf cart. We were there, planting trees for the Highway of Heroes Living Tribute (check it out at hohtribute.ca) on one of the beautiful, clear days we’ve had this past fall.
David Anselmi, a director with Canada Lands Company, the crown corporation in charge of the park, offered to drive me across the 291-acre swath located in northwest Toronto, at Sheppard Ave. and Keele St. For nearly 50 years it was the military base CFB Toronto before closing in 1996.
Canada Lands has invested $45 million in a new chapter for the park that will make the property into a multi-purpose urban centre. In its 20 years as a city park, progress has been quiet. Among Downsview’s biggest achievements was hosting 800,000 in 2002 for Pope John Paul II’s World Youth Day. Today, things are quieter but progress is underway with some iconic features such as the Lake, the Meadow and the Mound. And Anselmi is clearly proud of it. This past year, 125,000 visited the park that hosted 22 major events.
One of the first things on our tour that I spied were new public washrooms. “OK — good start,” I thought. If I’m going to visit a public park, I want washrooms and I want the doors to not be locked as they are so often are in places like this.
Next: The Orchard, a variety of 400 specially chosen apple trees. This wonderful idea reminds me of a similar park in Strathcona, AB., where large planters of edible flowers and vegetables include a sign that reads: “Help yourself.”
Then we motored over the hill to a magnificent view of a nine-acre man-made lake. This is actually a stormwater retention pond that serves more than 400 surrounding acres of land. The lake is full of waterfowl, water plants and has a walking/running path that goes around it.
Other features of the new Downsview Park:
WILLIAM BAKER WOODLOT: This 27-acre park is the perfect place for kids to play and adults to absorb some oxygen. The 1856 homestead of the Boakes family was located here, and the forest provides a reminder that the property provided a real home to real people long before it became an Air Force base in the late 1930s.
LOVE SPORTS? Chances are you will find a sport to your liking at the park’s Hangar Sports Complex. Soccer, basketball, volleyball, ball hockey and other recreational sports activities are all accessible to the public. Details at hangarsportevents.com
LOVE WILDLIFE? This park is teaming with wildlife. The lake provides a magnet for much of it, but everywhere in the almost-300 acres there is evidence that Mother Nature is making a home here for herself. Song birds and beneficial insects are enjoying the substantial wetland areas that have formed naturally through a disciplined approach to development of the land.
LOVE TO WALK, RUN AND/OR BIKE? The Circuit Path stretches 2.7-kilometres along the outer ring, with paths criss-crossing through it, to The Meadow in the middle. Most of the paths are well lit and wide enough a baby-stroller, a runner and a bicyclist to share.
TREES: As well as the mature trees in Boake’s Grove, thousands of new trees have been planted across the property. Nothing man-made can match the contribution trees make to our social and recreational while also enhancing the health of our natural environment. The only problem is that they need time to grow. And time will make this park spectacular.
LIVING THERE: Mattamy Homes is building there now, in their Stanley Greene community. Many more units are to come over the next 10 years.
Will Downsview become to Toronto what Central Park is to New York City? A few comparisons:
- Central Park is 843 acres. Downsview is almost 300 acres.
- Central Park has a 22-acre lake.
- Central Park took 25 years to build and is now 160 years old. That is, give or take, about seven generations.
I have no doubt that in seven generations Downsview Park will hold a significant place in the hearts of Torontonians. While the park is not currently well known and not travelled nearly as much as it could be, the new subway station at the park (on the Toronto-York Spadina extension) and growing awareness of this gem will change all of that.
As all of us are told when we try and grow up too fast: “It takes time.” The pre adolescent Downsview will no doubt grow into a beauty.
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