You don’t need to celebrate halloween to love pumpkin parades

North York’s Shoreham Walkway is a diverse neighbourhood where Halloween just isn’t a “thing.” It’s a diverse community where everyone respects everyone else’s holidays. Some celebrate Dwali, others Easter, but very few celebrate Halloween. Clara Stewart Robertson, from Toronto’s Green Change, a Jane/Finch Centre satellite space that connects people to places and nature, brought a Pumpkin Parade to her neighbourhood. And in her neighbourhood Pumpkin Parades thrived, even without Halloween.

Many of the newcomers in North York neighbourhood where Stewart Robertson works aren’t really “into” Halloween. The tradition of spending discretionary income on store bought costumes and buying candy, not to mention the holiday’s associations with witchcraft, get in the way of it really taking off in the low income community.

But, regardless of people’s feelings about Halloween, Stewart Robertson knew that pumpkin carving would be irresistible to kids in the neighbourhood, and could be used as a good tactic to lure parents into the park to build a relationship to their green space.

Green Change connected to their local Boys and Girls Club and organized a pumpkin carving party in the park where over 100 pumpkins were carved in a single night. Afterwards, parents were invited to walk around and soak up the creativity. Here’s how they made it happen for a community that was less than familiar with Halloween traditions:

Donated Pumpkins:

All of the pumpkins for the community carving session were donated by a local farm. The donation helped offset the costs and having them delivered directly to the park made transportation a non-issue. Many people in the neighbourhood rely on public transit and walking to get around. This makes purchasing a pumpkin highly impractical. “Can you imagine walking home from the grocery store with a pumpkin?” asks Stewart Robertson. Good point.

Animate the space:

In addition to having a very busy pumpkin carving station where kids could work on their pumpkin carving, the organizers set up two other game stations to keep kids busy while they excitedly waited for their turn to carve. Also, they served up hot chocolate and pizza to keep people’s spirits up.

Get Goopy:

“The kids particularly love getting messy because it’s not something they get to do often,” says Stewart Robertson, who notes that many of the kids showed up in their school uniforms. Of course, some kids cower at the idea of sticking their hands inside a dank, messy pumpkin the first time, but if you put kids in pairs, not everyone needs to go elbow deep in the pumpkin guts.

Frame it within the Harvest:

Even if Halloween isn’t popular in your community, there are often harvest festivals that happen in the fall when other key goodies like tomatoes and corn are at their peak. Don’t worry about skipping the whole Halloween “spooky” tradition and going straight to the joyful pumpkins. After all, any holiday can be a reason to celebrate.


Ottawa spreads Pumpkin Parade celebrations

The Toronto born tradition of Pumpkin Parades have taken on a life of their own as whispers about the phenomenon have spread across the country. We spoke with Anita Grace, who brought the parades to Ottawa to get the scoop on what it’s been like bringing the Halloween after-party to her city.

 Getting started

“I wasn’t that plugged into local parks until I had kids,” Grace says. “It was because of my kids that I started hanging out in parks, getting to know families in the area and then gradually getting involved with organizing little community park events.”

When a friend shared a story about the large and successful Pumpkin Parade in Toronto’s Sorauren Park, Grace was suddenly inspired to bring the annual event to her own Ottawa park.

She held her first pumpkin parade that same year, and now, nearly five years later, the Pumpkin Parade has become a much-anticipated annual event within her neighbourhood. She has learned important lessons from year to year and put that knowledge to good use to ensure that yearly, each parade has been bigger and better than the last.

“It started out small,” Grace tells us. That first year, the parade was held at Iona Park and there were about 25 pumpkins on display.  In the parade’s second year, Grace thought she would take her chances in a busier area and moved the event to Byron Park. Byron Park is located along an old tramline that was converted into a pathway with greenspace around it. “It’s a totally accessible space with a multi-use path that a lot of people use,” Grace tells us, “hosting the parade there was really good for publicity. That second year we got close to a hundred pumpkins and people who hadn’t even heard about the event just kind of stumbled on the display as they were taking their dogs out or casually walking.”

What a pleasant surprise!

Value to the Community

 Grace says that she started running with this project more or less on her own, but that she has been overwhelmed by the positive response from the community. “I maybe have been the impetus behind these events, but the community has really taken ownership. If it was just me, there would only be my family’s four pumpkins out there, last year there were about 300,” Grace says. People show up to the parade one year and then come back the next year with more family, friends and neighbours.

The Pumpkin Parade has played an useful political role in recent years as developers have proposed projects in the area that threaten the greenspace at Byron Park. “The community has come out to be pretty vocal about wanting to hang on to this space as it is,” Grace says, “by hosting events like this at Byron Park along the pathway, we are drawing attention to this as a highly valued and utilized community space.”


Learn as you go

 Grace admits that, early on, there were issues with the pumpkin mess that followed the parade. “There’s a hill not too far from one section of the path, kids were rolling pumpkins down the hill and smashing them,” she says. She didn’t let this get her down though. “It’s not malicious, it’s just kids having fun. Sometimes there’s just something about a pumpkin that make it irresistibly kickable,” she tells us light heartedly. To  address this issue, Grace simply reached out to the community via social media asking people who were going to be in the area to keep an eye on things. A very Jane Jacobs approach indeed.

Grace says that social media and local media have been tremendously useful tools in spreading the word and gaining support for the parade. She has made event pages on Facebook and uses Twitter to connect with local community organizations and associations who have re-tweeted her posts to spread the word. Stories have run about the Byron Park Pumpkin Parades in the local Kitchissippi times and also on CBC Radio which spread awareness of the event to new and different audiences.

She has had a lot of success in putting information up on local schools’ announcement boards and leveraging different school and parent networks.

Grace says that she got in touch with her local councilor quite early on. “Having his support has been really helpful,” she says. “I also think it’s really important to foster a good relationship with the city. They have been really great about sorting out permits and helping with the clean-up,” she says.

Volunteer support

Five years on, Grace is finally ready to recruit some volunteers. “I have approached the city councilor to see if we can write off volunteer hours for some high school students,” she says.

I was surprised to learn that until this point, she hasn’t had any designated volunteers or partnerships. “I have sort of been doing it on my own, but it has been amazing to see how many people have stepped forward to help out,” she says. Grace tells us that she has been continually surprised how many people, often whom she doesn’t even know, have seen what she’s doing in passing asked if they can help. “People have really taken ownership of this, and the fact that so many people come out and bring their pumpkins and help get them lit and then hang around and come back the next morning to help pick up all the soggy pumpkins…it’s pretty incredible. It really is a community thing.”

Pumpkin Parade Founder gets to the core of her love of pumpkins

Yes, Pumpkin Parades are a Toronto-born cultural phenomenon. But, do you know the woman behind this great tradition? We sat down with the mastermind behind the 12 years and continuing Pumpkin Parade at Sorauren Park, Colleen Kennedy. And, it turns out that for her, as fabulous though the parades are, they are a happy by-product of what she considers their ultimate benefit- getting people to express their own, inner creativity.

Colleen is a special education assistant with a passion for textile art, photography and all things creative. When her children were small, Colleen would organize a special pumpkin carving night the evening before Halloween. That night, their family would stay in, order pizza and carve their own jack-o-lantern. Even though her kids have now grown, the sculpting of the pumpkins continues to be a treasured tradition for the family.

The idea for Pumpkin Parades came to Kennedy when her husband, Mark, came back from a trip to Nanaimo B.C. “He described to me their pumpkin event held the day after Hallowe’en where people put their lit jack-o-lanterns on fence posts all along a country road,” she says. Inspired by the notion of a darkened space filled with the golden glow of beaming jack-o-lanterns moved them to initiate the first parade solely with the neighbours on her street.


Colleen feels that each jack-o-lantern is a personal piece of art and an expression of individual creativity. However, in the bustle of Halloween night, the jack-o-lantern on the porch sometimes gets overlooked.  Now with the pumpkin parade on the night after Hallowe’en, each pumpkin gets its own chance to shine.

“I think it’s important for us as human beings to create,” Colleen tells us. “Increasingly in our modern culture, people are spending their days with their eyes glued to a screen.  Crafts and Arts in general, bring us back to active hands-on processes.  There’s nothing like the feeling of satisfaction you get when you’ve finished designing and creating your pumpkin.”


It’s true.  In our daily lives, we have fewer and fewer opportunities to partake in creative activities that nourish us. We know that complex creative activities, like pumpkin carving, are good for you.  Recent studies have shown that these kinds of activities can help to alleviate symptoms of stress and depression and give us a general feel good buzz.

Kennedy says that sharing the creativity of carving pumpkins and displaying them collectively with others, “really builds an atmosphere of community and togetherness.”

In the spirit of giving people a safe and inviting environment to showcase their work, Kennedy has tried to keep her parade at Sorauren Park as grassroots, uncommercial and uncompetitive as possible. She doesn’t want anyone to feel their creativity is being judged. People come out to the parade to show off their creations and to marvel at what other people have created. It’s not about being the best of the most extravagant.


At their gooey, pulpy core, Pumpkin Parades are a celebration of creativity, self-expression and community. Here are Colleen’s tips for making the most out of the pumpkin carving experience:

Set aside family time.

Make carving a special occasion for the whole family to sit together and work on their individual crafts. When people are creating together and relaxed and at ease, the conversation tends to flow more easily. Try not to resort to the internet to get ideas for images and designs. Just draw a few ideas of your own on paper and then pick the one you like.

Make it accessible to everyone.

Very young kids may not be able to carve intricate designs, but they can be creative. Whether they decide to draw on their pumpkin, stick on glittery stickers, everyone should get in the act. Remember, some seniors may have mobility issues that may make traditional carving a bit tricky.

No judging.

There’s no such thing as a good or bad pumpkin design, just overly judgey people. Put aside judgement (even of yourself!) and let creativity rule.

Get messy.

In our daily lives we tend to be so tidy! Carving pumpkins is a chance to get your hands dirty and make a mess. Lay out the old newspapers and get in there and have some fun.

A water fight to bring a community together

“A declaration has been made! East has been challenged by the West to an all-out water fight on Canada Day. Bring your buckets and your water guns and all of the neighbours that you can gather!”

This brazen challenge to a water fight was issued. It was the grand finale for Calgary’s Crescent Heights community’s two-month long Village Days Festival and marked the beginning of new possibilities for this community. A water battle might seem like a surprising way to bring people together, but this unique water fight, supported through a TD Park People grant, is a great, and playful way to build social connections. As we highlighted in our 2018 Park Summit, where play was the focus, being silly and whimsical opens people up and openness is the basis for building new relationships.

crescent heights water fight


Why a water fight?

Crescent Heights is a diverse community with some marked socio-economic differences that divide the neighbourhood. One half of the Crescent Heights community is quite affluent while the other half is more mixed to low-income. Crescent Heights Community Association (CHCA) dreamed up the idea of an epic water fight as a means of bringing the community together, not just geographically, but also socially and culturally.  Kevin Jesuino, the engagement coordinator at CHCA, thought a water fight was the right concept for the challenge at hand since:

“Play is a great way to bring people together and we were trying to tackle some of the social issues that we have in our neighbourhood in a cheeky and playful way”

Just to give you an idea of the degree of playfulness, the group invited Kathleen Ganley, the Minister of Justice for the Alberta government, to share the rules of the water fight, a detail which Jesuino says “was totally fun.” Along with the usual instructions about no squirting before the whistle and no head or face shots, one of the most important rules of the day was that this was to be a “leave no trace event.” People were asked to bring their own re-useable water-weaponry (no water balloons that would leave pesky bits of rubber in the grass) and everyone was expected to do their part afterwards in cleaning up the park.

A learning opportunity

The water fight about fun and community engagement. It marked the start of a very important conversation about equity and inclusion. The goal was to use laughter and play to break down barriers and overcome perceived differences. The event also highlighted our shared connection to the land and water as limited natural resources. In the future, Jesuino says they would like to press this point even further. “We want to recognize that we are using this resource (water) that comes from the land, and yes, we are going to have A LOT of fun, but we want to take a moment to make sure that everyone is aware of what we are doing and show that we honour and respect nature and the environment.”

So, who won?

Jesuino laughs when we ask him about which side of the water fight came out victorious.

“It was just wild, everybody wins!” he says, “how do you decide who wins a water fight, anyways? In the end, we were all equally soaked!”

The organizers framed this event as a competition between the East and West sides of the Crescent Heights community, but the real point was to celebrate that they are all part of the same diverse and vibrant community. The group dispersed sopping wet and shivering but smiling from ear to ear. It was such a success that the community wants to make it an annual event. It sounds like another water fight challenge just might be in the works.





An Elaborate Show and Tell: Learning from Marpole’s Seniors Skills Bank

In 2013, Marpole Oakridge Family Place, a Vancouver agency that primarily supports children’s literacy, was asked to step up when the Marpole Place Neighbourhood House, known as the community’s “living room” for local seniors, flooded and was rendered unusable. MOFP rose to the challenge and, with few resources, has created a valuable Seniors Skills Bank.

The Seniors Skills Bank is a way for the community to learn about its seniors and their skills so that those skills can be used to benefit the entire community. In the process, seniors have a chance to contribute and feel recognized for their knowledge and experience. Andrea Krombein, the Seniors Outreach Coordinator at MOFP, roots her community development work in the belief that “information should be available and accessible to everyone.” Andrea has been working with seniors to identify their skills and build a database. She wanted to take the concept to the community and was able to secure a TD Park People Grant to host a Seniors Skills Bank this year at her community’s annual Everything Marpole Festival.

As a way of testing the concept, Andrea invited seniors to host booths which were set up along the event route. The demonstrations were led by artist and teacher, Lynn Onely, who taught watercolour painting; Alice Ng, who taught cupcake decorating; artist and exhibitor Billy Morton, a talented painter and Shichun Li, a retired professor who uses storytelling and folklore to teach people how to master the Rubik’s Cube. All day long, people walked up to the booths and learned a new skill from one of the many talented seniors in the community. It was a busy and exhausting day, but the concept was a winner.

“This is a cost-effective way that residents, some of whom are very low income, can actually connect with each other and also resource the neighbourhood,” Krombein says.

A TD Park People Grant helped Marpole Oakridge Family Place test out the idea of a Seniors Skills Bank, and now, Andrea is more energized than ever to build a database that can provide value to the whole community.

 Cultivating a culture of teaching and learning

  “The whole project is kind of a very elaborate show and tell, ”Krombein says

Krombein is actively building a database which will feature a wide range of identified skills local seniors possess from creative pursuits like watercolour painting through to practical skills like driving and cooking. The Skills Bank also includes seniors with more niche interests like whiskey tastings and mastering the Rubik’s Cube.  By collecting this information, Andrea has a vision of establishing a vast skill-sharing network that will benefit the entire community. The Skills Bank will not only help seniors interact with one another, but will also facilitate seniors demonstrating their experience and knowledge to the community at large.


Shichun Li, a retired professor who uses storytelling and folk-lore to teach people how to master the Rubik’s Cube.

Self-empowerment and confidence


Billy Morton, Showing off his painting skills at the Seniors Skills Bank

 We live in a rapidly growing and changing world and without adequate opportunities for people to connect and engage, it can be very easy for people to feel like they have been left behind. Loneliness and social isolation are issues that need to be addressed for the senior members of our communities who often feel alienated, undervalued and alone. Andrea says that early on some seniors didn’t feel they had any experience worth sharing, but following the example of some of their bolder peers, more and more people gradually came forward.

“Some of the group members were a bit shy to begin with, sort of reticent and nervous, but once they saw that other people were teaching about things that were important to them, they wanted to contribute something as well.”

Creating a virtuous circle


Alice Ng’s decorated cupcakes

Krombein says that she was absolutely delighted to learn that some of the seniors have moved beyond the Seniors Skills Bank to organize outings and programming on their own. “I’m always happy when they start to take it on for themselves,” she says. Shichun Li, has taken his Rubiks Cube lessons to local schools, helping others acquire math skills through play and keeping himself active and meaningfully engaged.

The Seniors Skills Bank pilot project demonstrates the power behind the idea. By stepping forward to showcase their skills, the seniors gain confidence in their abilities and build social connections. In that context, they are more willing to try new things. As their confidence grows, they become more active in their communities and more willing to participate and contribute. “It is evident to me that the magic formula is setting up places where people can learn, share and connect,” Krombein says.

The Seniors Bank highlights what indeed is possible when this virtuous circle is set in motion.






The park people have spoken!


The park people have spoken! Responses from last year’s Park People Survey guide our work as we continue to help you make awesome things happen in city parks.

We hope that the survey will also help you to see your work in a broader context.  What do park groups see as their primary focus? What are the main challenges they face? These are the questions you can find addressed by our survey results.

Before we delve in, we would first like to take a moment to thank everyone who participated. We are truly grateful to be part of such an engaged and expanding network that provides us with meaningful and thoughtful input to inform our work.

Park groups build social connections:

 “We work in a mixed-income community and have been using the garden as a tool of bringing people from diverse backgrounds together” –Riverside Green Initiative

For the first time ever, this year’s survey shows that social connectedness underlies people’s decision to join or start a community park group.  In previous surveys, people have said that, primarily, their park group was valuable because it helped them engage in greening initiatives.

This is an important finding. It shines a light on the fact that park groups not only provide social connectedness to communities by animating their parks, but that park groups are, in and of themselves, a way for people to find and foster community connections.

At a time when people are increasingly facing social isolation and living in dense urban environments, park groups build connections.

At the same time, park groups say the primary focus of their group’s work is to build community cohesion.

Park groups say they have acquired new knowledge and skills as a result of being involved with their local park groups:


 An animated movement:

“Our volunteer activities and advocacy have brought 20% more visitors to Guild Park in 2017” –Friends of Guild Park and Gardens

In the last year, the community park groups that responded hosted 639 community events in their parks. These events were made possible through the tireless efforts of 4,632 volunteers and engaged an astounding 54,036 participants.

The efforts of park groups are making a difference. In fact, 76.2% of park groups found an increase in the general use and enjoyment of their community parks as a result of their events, activities and outreach efforts.

“We are seeing a wider range of people in the park. Not simply kids and parents/caregivers.” –Friends of Masaryk Park & Melbourne Parkette


In addition to the many positive insights, the survey helped identify some of the common stumbling blocks that park groups face. Some of the most common obstacles park groups experience are:

Many groups also shared that permit and insurance costs and communicating with the City can be a challenging part of their work. However, at the same time, 68% of respondents to this year’s survey shared that they have experienced positive changes in working with Toronto Parks, Forestry and Recreation and their local Councilor’s office since they started working in their parks.


Addressing park groups’ biggest challenges:

Park People has been actively addressing the challenges park groups face through a number of initiatives we’ve launched in the past year. These include:


Park People’s impact.

“I feel like we have gained insight into more possibilities for our park, in the way it is used. I really value being able to contact you by phone or email with any question about our park and have an educated and helpful response. I find my conversations and interactions with you inspiring and it motivates me to have our group do more in and for our park.” –Rosewood Taxpayers’ Association

When asked if you would recommend Park People to other community members, a resounding 92% of park groups said yes. We are thrilled to know that we have been able to meaningfully contribute to your efforts in engaging your local communities in parks and public spaces.

We were also thrilled to learn that, unanimously, community park groups are continuing to find real value in direct support from Park People Staff and in workshops and events like our Park Summit. In addition to these pieces, the top three ways that groups have experienced Park People’s impact are in helping them:

  1. Connect with other park groups,
  2. Feel like a part of the city park movement and
  3. Build partnerships with other organizations.

Our interactive park map is a great way for you to find other groups across Canada working on events and activities like yours. Be sure to check out the listings, add your park group and use the filter function to find groups that are undertaking activities similar to your own.

This survey was conducted amongst Toronto community park groups. Going forward, we look forward to getting feedback from our whole national network, which has now grown to include over 400 park groups across Canada.

We will continue to build opportunities to support your vital work in city parks. Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter to make sure that you stay in the loop about funding opportunities, events, resources and other offerings so that we can be of greater service to you. Thank you again to everyone for your thoughtful responses and we will look forward to seeing you out at your local park!

A Walk in the Park at Rowntree Mills

Park People recently launched A Walk in the Park, a program to establish community-led walking programs in parks across Toronto. The program will help train walk-leaders and support them in leading walks that connect older adults, seniors, and newcomers with easily accessible walking activities in their local parks and ravines to improve the participants’ fitness and to help them form new, valuable and long-lasting social connections.

I had the pleasure of joining the Rowntree Mills walking group on their debut walk through Rowntree Mills along the Humber River. It was my chance to get a first-hand look at the program and experience it as a participant.

Gathering Together:


After some unseasonably warm weather, the morning in question was cool, grey and blustery. I wasn’t sure that there would be much of a turnout for the walk, but as I made my way to the meeting spot at Rexdale Women’s Centre, I was happy to find 13 smiling walkers ready to hit the trail. I was warmly greeted by Adassa and Jackie, this group’s enthusiastic leaders. There were snacks, walking sticks and pedometers available for anyone who was interested. Once everyone was signed in, we got on our way.

Getting Walking:

We did a bit of light stretching before descending down the sloped and tree-lined path into the park. Just a few minutes into our route, several ladies shrieked with delight as a young deer wandered into our path before bounding off into the trees. I was playfully teased for not being able to get my camera out fast enough.

As the walk progressed, everyone found their own pace and the group spread out along the trail. Some of the more athletic participants lead the way, while others strolled more leisurely behind, pointing out various birds and plants and exchanging tips on using walking sticks.


Slowing Down to Chat:

I asked one cluster of women what had motivated them to join the walking program. “It’s a nice way to get a little bit of exercise and spend some quality time with our friends,” one woman replied. Another woman chimed in to tell me about her Fit-Bit, saying that these walking groups are “a good way to get those 10,000 steps in for the day!”

Afterward, I caught up with our walk-leaders who said that they were quite pleased with the turn out for their first outing. Adassa said that people were already expressing excitement about walks to come. I very much enjoyed my first official Walk in The Park. It is truly heartwarming to see how such a simple activity can bring people together in such a big way.

We at Park People are looking forward to supporting walks like this one all through the summer and into the fall. We hope you’ll join us for A Walk in the Park near you!

Thank you to our generous funders the Government of Ontario and the Government of Canada. 
A huge thanks to our community partners Access Alliance, Rexdale Women’s Center, Delta Family Resource Center, and The City of Toronto Parks, Forestry, and Recreation staff at Stan Wadlow Club House and Earl Bales Community Center for helping us connect with the local community and get the project started.

Thank you to also to the Ontario Trillium Foundation for supporting this program


Stay in the loop about Park People opportunities, programs & events

Subscribe to our newsletter!