Is Downsview the Next Central Park?
Published in the Toronto Star – December 17, 2016
It was a sunny day in late September and the air was crystal clear. Not bad for an urban environment. We were planting trees in Downsview Park for the Highway of Heroes Living Tribute – one tree for each of Canada’s war dead (www.hohtribute.ca). David Anselmi, Director of Real Estate for Canada Lands Company, offered to chauffeur me around in a golf cart. This is a park that he lives and breathes every day, as do many others in the Company, and clearly he is proud of it.
As we took off from the north-west corner of the property we drove up a rise on a hill towards a common area featuring new public washrooms. Ok, good start, I thought. If I am going to visit a public park, I want washrooms. And I need the doors not to be locked as they are so often in places like this.
We dismounted the cart to walk the orchard, a beautiful collection of specially chosen trees that are planted to serve the public. Downsview is a place of recreation and food. What a wonderful idea! I was reminded of a similar park in Strathcona, Alberta where large planters full of edible flowers and vegetables feature a sign that reads, “Help yourself”. Imagine, a smorgasbord of fresh food to nibble on while watching the kids. But I digress.
Back on the power cart, we motored over the hill to a magnificent view of a 9 acre man-made lake. No one needs to know that this is actually a storm water retention pond for over 400 acres: it is full of waterfowl, water plants and has a walking/running path that goes all the way around it. On this particularly pedestrian-friendly day, there were a few people using the paths, but not many.
Other features of the new Downsview park:
– William Baker wood lot. This is the perfect place for kids to play and people of all ages to cool down and absorb some oxygen. The original homestead 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 1930’s.
- Love sports? Chances are you will find a sport to your liking at the Hangar Sports Complex. Soccer, basketball, volleyball and other recreational activities are all accessible to the public. Details at http://www.hangarsportevents.com/view/thehangar
- Love wildlife? This park is teaming with wildlife. The aforementioned pond provides a magnet for much of it, as it does on the Serengeti Plain. But everywhere in the almost 300 acres there is evidence that Mother Nature is making a home here for herself. Song birds and no doubt many beneficial insects are enjoying the substantial wetland areas that have formed naturally through a disciplined approach to development of the land on the part of Landscape Architects.
- Love to walk/run/bike? There are more than 2.7 kilometres of paths available for all who wish to use them. Many are well lit and wide enough for a couple with a stroller to share with a runner and a bike rider without bumping into each other.
- There are thousands of new trees planted widely across the property. The best thing about trees is that they enhance a park in unique ways: nothing man-made can match their contribution to our social and recreational well-being while enhancing the health of our environment quite like trees do. The only problem is that they need time to grow. Time will make this park spectacular.
- You can live here. If you don’t already live in the Downsview area, you have the option to buy a new home. Mattamy Homes is building there now (a new phase is being released this month in their Stanley Greene community) but many more units are to come over the next 10 years. http://mattamyhomes.com/gta/communities/toronto-downsview-park.aspx
Will Downsview become to Toronto what Central Park is to New York City?
Central Park is 843 acres. Downsview is almost 300 acres.
Central Park includes a ‘lake’ that is 22 acres.
Central Park took 25years to build and is now 160 years old. That is, give or take, about 7 generations.
I have no doubt that in 7 generations Downsview Park will hold a significant place in the hearts of Torontonians. While the park is not well known and not travelled nearly as much as it could be at this moment in time, a new subway station and a general growth in awareness of this gem will change all of that, I am sure.
Like they told us when we were pre adolescents, anxious to grow up and meet the world of adulthood: it takes time. It takes time. The pre adolescent Downsview will no doubt grow into a beauty.
By the numbers:
$45 million has been invested in Downsview Park to date by Canada Lands Company.
Over 125,000 people visited the park in 2016.
22 organised events occurred at Downsview in 2016.