For many, the Village of Yorkville Park may just seem like a nice place to eat lunch on the bistro-style tables, but it is one of most unusual and intriguing outdoor public spaces in our city.
After a Cumberland Street block of Victorian row houses were demolished to make way for the new east-west subway line in the 1950s, the razed site remained a parking lot for 40 years. Then in 1991, after much lobbying by local residents and business owners, the City of Toronto agreed to transform the one-acre lot into a park, Not just a standard patch of grass with a couple of trees and benches, but a new kind of urban public space.
A Parks Working Group Committee was formed with members of the community, the Bloor-Yorkville BIA and the City of Toronto working with Architects Oleson Worland of Toronto, and Schwartz Meyer of San Francisco, on a radically new approach to public space downtown – landscape as art. Approachable from a number of access points, the park connects to our larger national landscape, showcasing various geographies found in Canada as well as reflecting the scale and character of the original Victorian village. Ten unique ‘zones’ stretch along Cumberland Avenue in a succession of narrow landscapes. The frames of the gardens are symbolic of the lot lines of the row houses that once stood on the site and contain a distinct collection of plant communities.
Visitors can meander through an urban forest of pine, birch, alder, crabapple and maples, prairie wildflowers, herb rock garden, and marshy wetland traversed by crisscross boardwalks. Along the way, they will encounter innovative architectural features. A sea of metal columns provides light as well as an intermittent mist to the nearby evergreens that are surrounded by inner tube benches. The stainless steel water curtain becomes a sculpture of icicles in winter. A 650-ton rock transplanted from the Canadian Shield and a relic wall evoking an open-air museum complete the novel elements. The result is a contemporary variation on traditional gardens that engages the imagination as well as the senses.
This beautiful park is a true jewel, heavily used by visitors and Toronto residents alike. As an important part of daily life in Yorkville, the park plays host to the Bloor-Yorkville BIA’s Holiday Magic Tree Lighting in November, Icefest in February, and Music in the Park over the summer, as well as other special events. The next time you walk by the park, take a moment to appreciate this multi award-winning gem of green space.