Life is a picnic: Scarborough Bluffs, Toronto

July 21, 2020

Park People

This contribution from Wayne Roberts is part of Park People’s A Day at the Park series, exploring how city parks shape us. Be sure to check out all of the contributors throughout the summer months. 

The scene was just as I imagined it almost 60 years before when my grade 5 teacher asked someone in the class to name one of the seven wonders of the world. I waved my hand wildly, and then without waiting for the teacher to nod at me, I blurted out “the Scarborough bluffs.”

A decade ago, my wife Lori and good friend Harriet began what is now our annual ritual of celebrating Canada Day with a picnic along the memory lane of the wild haunts of my boyhood. The Bluffs were as magnificent as ever, and the secret cliff and paths overlooking the beach below were still as overgrown and untamed as ever. The clover and grapes smelled like they used to, and the clear blue eyes of Lake Ontario still beckoned us to climb down – poison ivy and scrapes and bruises be damned.

Below, I could see what I had wrought in the name of progress when I was in my 20s, working my way through university with a summer job as a garbageman. Our crew of four filled the garbage truck twice a day and brought it to a depot in one of the valleys below, so the valley could be filled and smoothed for a road and the beach claimed for progress — with a dock, formal beaches, walking trails and picnic grounds.

Looking down from the still-wild cliff, I could see parking lots, manicured lawns, public washrooms, rain shelters, barbeque [its and picnic tables galore, as well as boathouses and sailboats along the dock. It didn’t look as much like “progress” as when we imagined the beautiful and easily-accessed park that would be fashioned from our garbage and landfill.

I am so happy there are still unplugged and wildish places and views for picnics enjoyed while sitting on a ground blanket, surrounded by wild bushes and open sky. They remind us of why we bring flowers as a house gift when invited to a friend’s home for dinner. The flowers and the candles that serve as settings for a special meal could well be rituals honouring ancient memories when we picnicked outdoors, surrounded by the fragrance of wildflowers by day and staring into a fire pit by night.

After our picnic, we walked off our meal with a stroll through Bluffers Park below. Admission was free, as is the case in city parks. There’s also no price of admission akin to my childhood days when we paid for entrance to the unruly beach with poison ivy rashes and mosquito bites.

I was not saddened by the crowds of people enjoying family and extended-family picnics throughout the park. I was as happy a wanderer as ever seeing families enjoying their view of Nature.

It is now a place of great happiness and daydreams for thousands of newcomer families who picnic there on summer weekends. Thanks to free admission, people with minimal financial resources can enjoy the sun, clear air, a huge beach with a view of unruly bluffs that still disrupt development, and the bracing water of one of the world’s biggest inland lakes. It’s the perfect place for a family outing that combines food, fun, games and childish imaginings.

I love to see my old stomping grounds used this way. A simple picnic enjoyed in the midst of water, cliffs, beach and trees is paradise enough.

Now a temple for multiculturalism, the park remains a Wonder of the World.



About Dr. Wayne Roberts

Dr. Wayne Roberts managed the Toronto Food Policy Council for a decade, earning an international reputation as the champion of “solutionary” approaches to link food security, health, economic, justice, and environmental benefits.
Since 2010, Wayne has worked as a speaker, writer, and consultant who helps cities form food policy councils that promote “people-centred food policy.” He writes a free weekly newsletter to boost the people skills of Good Food For All enthusiasts. He serves on the board of Farm to Cafeteria Canada, on the International Board of an Ontario-based UNESCO chair on food, biodiversity & sustainability, and is an associate editor of Landscape Architecture Magazine.


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This contribution from Wayne Roberts is part of Park People’s A Day at the Park series, exploring how city parks shape us. Be sure to check out all of the contributors throughout the summer months. 

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