The Forest City: Victoria Park & Doidge Park, London

September 17, 2020

Park People

This contribution from Mary Rowe 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.

I grew up in London, Ontario, in the 1960s and 70s, which at the time promoted itself as “the Forest City”. I’m assuming this was due to the generous tree canopy found in the older neighbourhoods, one of which I was fortunate enough to live. I have vivid memories of parks there.

Victoria Park located in the centre of the downtown, every December decorated its evergreen trees with seasonal lights and turned the pavement facing its bandshell into a skating rink. Every year my sister and I would begin our petitioning that Dad ‘take us down to see the lights’. That same park was host to the Home County Folk Festival – which continues – for an August weekend of open-air music and craft.  Another park we went to as a family was Springbank Park, which included Storybook Garden, a modest children’s fantasy area (with a few captive animals which I suspect are no longer allowed) and picnic and barbeque areas, along with the forks of the Thames River. Perfect for a Sunday drive. Also along another branch of the Thames River was Gibbons Park, a few blocks from our house and home to the coldest swimming pool (and least attractive change rooms!) imaginable. We had family picnics there.

But the most meaningful park by far for me was Doidge, affectionately known as ‘the pit’. Very close to our house, tucked down a dead-end street was a playground and ball fields, with a clubhouse, run by the Public Utilities Commission. Almost a full city block, Doidge was at grade from its main entrance but had two very steep (at least to this 11-year-old) hillsides that led back up to the streets. Perfect for winter tobogganing, or just rolling down in warmer months.

In the summer of 1969, my oldest and closest school chum Kristi told me there was a summer activities program at ‘the pit’ and off we went one morning to check it out. The City had funded a program that included staffing a male and female ‘supervisor’ to create recreational programming for neighbourhood kids. We were hooked from the first moment.

My experiences there – which I returned to for three years – instilled in me invaluable lessons of sports, fun, and teamwork. It was also the only way I met kids not being educated in the protestant school system, gave me a sense of camaraderie, a sense of belonging, and triumph! It exposed me to role models that made an indelible impact on me as an emotionally vulnerable young person.

I will never forget it, ever, and have remained grateful throughout my adult life of the experiences public investment in that place, program and people gave me. That’s a park!



About Mary Rowe 

Mary is a leading urban advocate and civil society leader who has worked in cities across Canada and the United States. Mary is CUI President & CEO with several years of experience as an urban advocate and community leader, including serving as Executive Vice President of the Municipal Art Society of New York (MASNYC), one of America’s oldest civic advocacy organizations focused on the built environment. A mid-career fellowship with the US-based blue moon fund led her to New Orleans where she worked with national philanthropy, governments and local communities to support rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina. Prior, Mary was President of the Canadian platform Ideas That Matter, a convening and publishing program based on the work of renowned urbanist Jane Jacobs.

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This contribution from Mary Rowe 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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