Three years of Support for Sparking Change Has Helped Transform Toronto Green Spaces and Communities
With a three-year, $457,200 Grow grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation (OTF) that was awarded in 2017, Park People’s Sparking Change program has helped bring training, networks, seed funding and one-on-one coaching to community leaders to help them make their parks more vibrant and their neighbourhoods stronger.
“With this kind of long-term support, we’ve really been able to have a deep impact on communities and provide the training needed to help create a new generation of community leaders,” said Minaz Asani-Kanji, Park People’s Manager of Outreach who underscored the importance of OTF’s long term commitment to underserved communities.
Photo credit: Edith George. A planting tree activity in Rowntree Mills Park, in 2019
With support from OTF, Sparking Change supported 31 groups in 27 Neighbourhood Improvement Areas (NIA) across Toronto. Park People provided direct support to community groups to help them play a direct role in turning their parks into powerful engines of community development by building the capacity of park group leaders.
“I want to change the reputation and face of my community,” said Constance Boakye, a Sparking Change program participant from Friends of Fountainhead Park in North York. “I want people to know that it’s full of families and hard-working people. I want to show people in various social settings that the park is where people from various backgrounds, ages, et cetera, can congregate and have fun.”
Photo credit: Anne Ng, Black Creek, Toronto, 2019
“By animating our local parks, residents like Contance play an integral role in making our parks more vibrant and their neighbourhoods stronger,” said Tom Rakocevic, MPP for Humber River—Black Creek who recognized the impact that Constance, and Sparking Change, has had in his community.
Feedback about the program underscores the value Sparking Change has brought to communities across Toronto:
95 percent of park leaders said they gained new skills and knowledge through Sparking Change.
76 percent of park leaders felt more connected to local non-profit and community organizations.
76 percent of park leaders feel more capable of influencing decisions made about their community parks.
The Ontario Trillium Foundation (OTF) is an agency of the Government of Ontario, and one of Canada’s leading granting foundations. OTF awarded $115 million to 644 projects last year to build healthy and vibrant communities in Ontario.
Sparking Change is generously funded by
Park People takes part in a new Healthy Communities Initiative
COVID-19 has seriously impacted our access to and use of public spaces. This is especially true in communities that are already experiencing systemic inequalities.
The Healthy Communities Initiative is a $31 million investment from the Government of Canada to support communities as they create and adapt public spaces to respond to the new realities of COVID-19. Projects funded through the Healthy Communities Initiative will create safe and vibrant public spaces, improve mobility options and provide innovative digital solutions to connect people and improve health.
Photo credit: Wex POPS. This photo was taken in 2018.
Organizations have shown tremendous creativity and resourcefulness in developing temporary and longer-lasting solutions that enable people to connect and access public spaces safely while still respecting public health measures. In a recent Community Mobilization Session, Park People highlighted some inspiring projects we have seen in recent years.
These can inspire project submissions
Red Embers– Indigenous weaving and art installation on gates in a city park
Flemo Farm– A 2-acre community food garden in a hydro corridor
MABELLEpantry– A food security program in response to the COVID-19 shutdown emergency
WexPOPS–Temporary seating and native gardens in a parking lot
Park Ave Community Bake oven-Volunteer-run, wood-fired community oven that is located inside a custom-built structure that transforms into a food preparation area, alongside a community garden and orchard
The projects linked here are provided as to sources of inspiration. For eligibility details, please be sure to check specifics on the Community Foundation website.
With funding between $5,000 and $250,000, the Healthy Communities Initiative aims to support local efforts to develop small-scale infrastructure solutions, programming and services for communities across Canada. Local governments, charities, Indigenous communities and nonprofits are all welcome to apply for funding.
Funding can be used for adapting public spaces, or for programming or services that respond to COVID-19 and serve the public or a community disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. Organizations are encouraged to engage the community when designing their projects.
Watch our webinar on Simple ways to create vibrant and safe spaces during COVID-19
The Canada Healthy Communities Initiative is funded by
Winter for the Birds: Learning to Love Birds this Winter
One of the vignettes in Alan Zweig’s beautiful documentary 15 Reasons to Live features a Toronto musician who falls madly, head over heels in love with birds. He goes from disinterested to virtually obsessed with his bird brethren. In the doc, Jack Breakfast explains his obsession with birds saying something like:
“If the birds only came once a year, on bird day everyone would stop what they’re doing and just marvel at the birds.”
It’s true. Because they’re so ubiquitous, we take the birds that surround us for granted.
Turns out, winter is the ideal time to start your love affair with birds. Here’s what Kazeem Kuteyi, lead organizer of Flock Together Toronto, an urban birding collective for people of colour, and Andrés Jiménez Urban Program Coordinator at Birds Canada advise for kicking off your winter bird adventures–no khakis required.
Don’t let ‘birding’ be intimidating
The first bit of advice Andrés is adamant about is to avoid labels. ‘Birder’ is cumbersome terminology that seems to be generally reserved for seniors in khakis with binoculars strung around their necks. And, frankly, it ups the intimidation factor and inhibits curiosity about birdlife.
Photo credit: Flock Together, Kazeem Kuteyi
Drop the moniker and instead, think of birds as curious outdoor companions you can become more familiar with overtime.
Kazeem has very similar advice based on the intimidation factor that comes with the ‘birder’ handle. Pre COVID, you’d find Kazeem DJing and promoting music events to 20-somethings who see him as an insider on Toronto’s club scene. He was the furthest thing from a birder.
When COVID hit and the clubs closed, Kazeem pursued his latent curiosity about birds and invited his community for a walk to check out the birds in Toronto’s High Park. He embraced the fact that he and his community didn’t look like typical birders:
“The idea is to take up space in a place where a lot of us have been conditioned to not feel comfortable in or feel like we belonged,” he said.
Flock Together embraced a decidedly ‘freestyle’ approach to birding. The members of the collective didn’t know a single bird name and had ten-dollar binoculars that they shared among themselves. They didn’t take any particular path to watch the birds. Rather, they meandered to their hearts’ content. Most of the 15 or so people who gathered in High Park that day just used their eyes and ears to experience the birds. Most importantly, Kazeem and his community ditched perceived notions of what a birder was to embrace their version of birding.
As Kazeem said in a recent interview: “We did talk about birds, but also about music, art, life. The same conversation that might happen in a loud club or over dinner. This way you get to be in this beautiful, peaceful setting. And it’s free.”
Andrés echoes this sentiment. He firmly believes that when you first try connecting with birds, your goal should simply be to become more attentive to your surroundings and let your curiosity guide you. You may end up photographing birds or sketching them, you may just listen to their sounds and not bother investing in binoculars until later. The point is to ditch the idea that you need to be an expert and instead just build a relationship with the birds that are around you. If that leads you to a deeper interest in birding, then so be it.
Winter Birding: A Traveling Exhibit
Andrés Jiménez, Urban Program Coordinator at Birds Canada tells me:
“We should stop calling the people who go south for the winter ‘snowbirds.’ The real snowbirds are the birds from the Arctic who usually hang out with the polar bears and come to Southern Canada once a year for warmer habitat and easier access to food.”
In other words, every winter, Canadians can get a fascinating view of birds that are just temporary visitors to Canada. Imagine, you can participate in a wondrous travelling exhibit of birds that descend from the Boreal like snow buntings, redpolls, snowy owls, and rough-legged hawks, just by stepping out your door.
Photo credit: Flock Together, Kazeem Keyeyi
Kazeem says he was looking forward to hosting Flock Together events this winter because “I honestly hate winter” and birding gave him a reason to go outside. Flock Together events were postponed due to COVID, but Kazeem’s point stands. Having a bird focus can take the dread out of winter walks.
Also, Kazeem says, winter birding is a particularly tranquil way to enjoy the quiet buffer that snow provides. It allows you to slow down and be more attuned to your surroundings on a wintery walk.
And, there’s an added benefit because the birds are more visible without all the leaves on the trees.
Building Bird Reciprocity
Andrés encourages new birders to take the opportunity to build a reciprocal relationship with birds.
Install a small bird feeder outdoors and use this as a start to a long term relationship with birds. Observing birds can be a gateway to looking out for their protection and well-being. Once you fall for birds you’re much less likely to let your cat roam free and more likely to put bird decals on your windows to prevent birds from crashing into them or turn the lights off during the night to avoid collisions. You may decide to plant native species in your backyard to provide food and habitat for winter bird-visitors that travel all the way from their arctic homes for a brief visit to your town.
Bird Canada’s Great Backyard Bird Count taking place February 12-14 and is an ideal way for you to demonstrate your reciprocal relationship with birds. All you need to do is watch birds for 15 minutes or more, at least once over the four days. Then, enter your data on the ebird.ca. Additionally, you can get a bird guide tailored for your neighbourhood using Birds Canada’s ID Tool. You can use Merlin Bird App to get a field guide to the birds of the region with photos, sounds, and helpful ID text for bird species likely to land in your backyard. Then, add your bird sitings to a super-cool live map and see the little flashes of light that show the findings of other backyard bird counters. Your local citizen science adds up to more knowledge about birds, globally. How cool is that?
Build-in Bird Animation
Community park groups have created brilliant safe, socially distanced birding activities that can be replicated by your group.
The creative chorus was a way for Vancouverites to celebrate birds.
“Bird watching and listening are valuable on your own because you can do it anytime anyplace and it helps you connect to our other-than-human neighbours with whom we share the habitat,” says Carmen Rosen, Artistic Director of Still Moon Arts.
The creation of the community and bird collaboration began with an online talk facilitated by environmental educator Sara Ross (RedSara). Participants learned about the birds they might encounter in the early dawn and what birds are singing about as the sun starts to rise.
In Toronto, Friends of Sam Smith Park received a TD Park People Winter Grant for a Facebook-based photography contest where the winners are selected by the online community. The contest runs until the end of February.
Thank you to our generous sponsors
The winter within: Bringing nordicity to life in parks
“Winter represents a season, a space, and an emotion.” (Hamelin, 1999)
The Quebec geographer Louis-Edmond Hamelin (1923-2020) coined the concept of Nordicity by highlighting that winter is a physical and natural season, and a state of mind.
Will this first COVID-19 winter in Canada allow us to finally embrace the concept of Nordicity in our daily lives ?
The art of Nordicity means first and foremost harmonizing our lives with the rhythms of nature. It means slowing down, taking time to rest, to go and play outside, or curl up indoors. It also offers numerous opportunities for us to examine our perceptions, attitudes and behaviours as we face the elements and build seasonal resilience.
Snow sculptures designed after the snow storm that hit Montreal in January 2021.
As a winter nation, the season enriches our culture, shapes how we live together, and move about the city. For example, we are seeing a growing number of homemade skating rinks in backyards and laneways. Winter biking has seen a remarkable rise in popularity this winter. Our urban parks are packed with walkers, joggers and people tobogganing, cross-country skiing or snowshoeing. In Montreal, parks have even created the perfect setting for an open-air museum made of snow castles and sculptures.
“You have to first come to a better understanding of winter before you can experience it properly.”
Urban parks: where winter experiences come together
Our local urban parks are ideal places to explore our Nordicity and where we begin to truly love the city in winter. City parks where we can discover the potential of winter and build warm memories that will open us up to future outdoor adventures.
Winter is unpredictable: be prepared for anything and everything
Winter is a variable and unpredictable season and requires the right gear. The choice of clothing and equipment is key to managing extreme weather conditions, such as cold, ice or slush.
In order to properly prepare for those unforeseen situations during your daily travels or outings to the park, choose multi-layered clothing and breathable material known for their ability to retain heat (e.g. merino wool).
Being properly outfitted helps ward off the dangers of ice or black ice. Adjustable ice cleats, for example, are one low-cost solution for ensuring that your walks are always safe and enjoyable.
Spend time outside to support your physical and mental wellbeing
To get all the benefits for our mental and physical health, we need to spend at least 10-20 minutes a day outdoors, especially in winter. Of course, this is even truer now in these times of pandemic and lockdown.
Whether you choose to engage in outdoor activities like photography or winter birdwatching or prefer active transportation like cross country skiing, biking or snowshoeing, you can enjoy additional hours of light and the invigorating and meditative effect of moving about outside in the cold winter air.
Accept winter and the cold at face value
“In order to change our attitude, we need to become aware that our perception of our surroundings, and the language we use to describe the various phenomena play a key role.” (Pressman 1985, quoted in Zardini 2005.)
Mental Nordicity is a state of mind. It is the acceptance of winter and the cold as they are. Through acceptance, we can mindfully decide to enjoy winter. And to help you do that, here are a few practical tips:
Maintain a logbook to write about winter in your neighbourhood. This can be done with a handwritten journal, or by sharing notes, photos, videos or testimonials in a blog or on social media.
Focus on your perceptions: What is your relationship with winter? How do you perceive the natural winter elements (e.g. snow, cold, slush, etc.) from a sensory point of view? What are some of the keywords that come to your mind in reference to winter activities in your local park?
By adopting these practical strategies and questioning your perceptions of winter and of the cold, you can better understand what brings you pleasure or what concerns you when the cold weather comes. This will help you feel more confident about yourself and about winter. Your journal can also serve as a reminder of the pleasures of winter next time you struggle to step outside.
Look for the beauty in winter
As you bring your children back from school or during a short break from work, take the time to look around and to observe the natural and urban landscapes. Look for white or immaculate banks of snow, snow-covered trees, frozen ponds or rivers, or urban developments that create microclimates (sunshine, wind protection, etc.).
Montreal Park Jarry swimming pool after a snow storm
This quest for natural and urban beauty is one way to appreciate and contemplate winter every day.
The ephemeral nature of snow in the city also becomes an opportunity to celebrate and honour it. Take advantage of the next snowfall to enjoy the effects of the slower pace, the calm and the reduced noise. And why not use this opportunity to start the next snow sculpture contest in your local park?
Urban parks: a place made for winter and any season
The more time we spend outdoors in the winter, the more we adapt to the temperatures and the elements, and the more we love this season. Dealing with winter in the city means getting used to the changing seasons that punctuate our lives.
It is therefore important that our urban spaces be adapted for all seasons, including winter. This is what we call “the seasonal resilience of public spaces”. This phenomenon is taking on ever-increasing importance and is becoming part of the “Winter Cities” trend. This movement was born out of a desire to better adapt our urban environment to the reality of winter, to promote innovative practices in urban design and to show the impact resulting from the appropriation of public spaces by local communities, regardless of the season.
Getting a better understanding of how our Nordicity is reflected in our daily lives is a continuous process, like the seasons that follow one after the other. But one thing is certain: the pandemic has been giving us a thirst for nature, even after the arrival of winter. Therefore, it is essential that our urban parks and public spaces remain accessible and adapted during the cycle of the seasons.
Thank you to our generous sponsors
Humber River Black History Walk
Guest post written by Jacqueline L. Scott. Jacqueline is a PhD student at the University of Toronto, OISE, in the department of Social Justice Education.She is a hike leader with two outdoors clubs. Jacqueline leads Black History Walks in Toronto. She is the author of travel and adventure books, from a Black perspective.
With the arrival of fresh snow, I find myself heading into nature. Today’s walk was along Toronto’s Humber River, through the ravine, and down to Jean Augustine Park – this route combines my love of outdoor adventure with my search for Black history in natural spaces.
Jean Augustine, the first Black woman elected to the Parliament of Canada, in 1993, in the park named after her.
Leaving Old Mill subway station, I turned left, down the hill, crossed the bridge, and in about three minutes I was in the river valley. I paused under the bridge and checked if any salmon were in the river, swimming upstream to spawn. It was not the mating season, but still, I looked just in case there were any stragglers. They might have got confused by the unpredictable weather caused by the climate crises.
With the sun kissing my lips, I headed south in the valley and followed the river. A few cyclists were in the ravine, sharing the paved path with walkers, runners and strollers. Everyone kept their social distance.
The timeless and endless flow of the river allows the mind to wander and imagine this same place at other times – I can almost see Daddy John Hall canoeing that river in the early 1800s. In the winters he would have snowshoed in the ravine. Hall was Black-Indigenous and lived in the Humber Valley, fishing, hunting and trading with Indigenous people. When the USA invaded Canada in the War of 1812, Hall became a scout in the Canadian militia. He was just one among the many Black Canadians who fought in the war. They enlisted because they wanted to remain free. Hall was captured, and instead of being treated as a prisoner of war, he was taken and enslaved in the USA, in Virginia and Kentucky. He escaped after about 12 years and made the long trek home. Nothing was going to keep this man down! Hall later moved to Owen Sound where he is still a local legend due to his exceptionally long and storied life.
The life of John ‘Daddy’ Hall, a man of Mohawk and African-American descent who survived war, capture and slavery to become a pillar of the community in nineteenth-century Owen Sound, Ontario.
I wandered slowly, with no need to go fast on this sunny winter afternoon. A family played football over on the right. Dogs and their owners meandered along other trails in the park. Snow makes the ravine pretty. Yes, it was cold, but dressed in layers of clothes I was cozy. My hat was big enough to cover my dreadlocks and keep my head warm. Two layers of socks and boots with grips kept my feet toasty. And I had a flask of hot spice tea to sip.
There need to be more stories about Black people in nature. We have always been there, but so often our stories and our histories are erased. Knowing our nature stories, and walking with a friend, can make us feel safe when exploring the ravines. Being in nature is calming, it revives the body and the spirit. A walk in nature is one of the best ways of beating the winter blues and reducing the Covid-19 stress. Of course, we have to do so while following the lockdown guidelines. There are lots of stories about the white stuff and the Great Outdoors in Canada, it’s time to add stories about the black stuff too.
Wandering south, to the mouth of the river I’m awed by the expanse of Lake Ontario as I drift over to Jean Augustine Park. In 1993 Jean Augustine became the first Black woman elected to the Parliament of Canada. It is thanks to her efforts that February is now officially recognized as Black History Month in Canada. You can Listen to Sheldon Pitt, AKA Solitair Jean Augestine’s nephew on Metro Morning talking about how his aunt Jean Augustine inspires him. Every year we find more stories about our 400 years of history in this enchanting land of summer heat, and winter ice and snow.
I found a sunny bench overlooking the lake – I was physically tired, but mentally revived. I drained the last of the still-hot sweet spiced tea, with ginger and cinnamon. It hit the right spot. Mallards, swans and Canada geese bobbled in the water; ring-bill gulls circled overhead. Birdwatching and daydreaming, the minutes and the coronavirus stress floated away on the waves.
Rain on me: A Vancouverite’s Survival Guide for Rain Days
I’ve always been drawn to the sun. Like a housecat, I’ll seek out a sunbeam and bask in it all day. So needless to say that the dark and damp Vancouver winters are not usually my favourite time of the year. We don’t even get the soft fluffy white snow and all the accompanying fun soft fluffy white snow activities that the rest of the country looks forward to in the winter.
But, with the Covid-19 health guidelines in place, and few options for indoor activities, this was the year to get outside and brave the elements. And I have to say, I’ve never appreciated the wet winter weather more.
Feelings of freedom and pure joy overtook me as I welcomed the raindrops splashing on my face. I felt like a little kid again as I ignored all the usual nagging worries of frizzy hair. I accepted the rain and to my surprise, it was delightful.
Even in a non-pandemic situation, it’s important for us to get outside and enjoy nature in any kind of weather. Here are some tips and ideas on how to embrace your inner pluviophile and enjoy the rain this year!
10 ideas for activities that will get you and your community looking forward to the next rainy day
“Anyone who says sunshine brings happiness has never danced in the rain.” – Author Unknown
Here are 10 ideas for activities that will get you and your community looking forward to the next rainy day. You could do most of these with your bubble or as a distanced gathering when public health guidelines allow.
Photo credit: Camilla Topola
Invasive pulls. Pulling out invasives in the rain is much easier as the soil turns into soft mud. It’s a ton of fun and gives you a sense of accomplishment while also helping out our native biodiversity, consider volunteering with groups such as SPES, the Lower Mainland Green Team, or Wildcoast Ecological.
Adopt a storm drain. Many municipalities run these programs. When it rains, leaves, debris, and litter can block catch basins and stop rainwater from properly draining. By adopting a catch basin you’ll help to protect water quality, reduce the risk of flooding, and keep the sidewalks dry while having fun. They’ll even send over materials, a training guide, and safety equipment.
Nature boat races. Create a little raft using natural materials from around you and float them down a small stream. Make sure you only use biodegradable materials that have already fallen in case your raft accidentally floats into a storm drain. We encourage you to read this resource on honourable harvesting before collecting your materials.
Get your cliche on. Go dancing in the rain! Find a safe open space and borrow some waterproof speakers and twirl away. You can even use your umbrella as a prop – just make sure everyone is spaced out far enough so that nobody gets an unwanted poke in the eye. Make a Dancing in the Rain playlist or try this one on Spotify.
Raingear fashion show. Single Line Theatre has been hosting an Umbrella Fashion Show for the last three years at Jim Deva Plaza. Participants get an umbrella and $50 to spend on supplies. A community jury then scores and chooses a winner.
Mudpies and structures. When’s the last time you got really muddy? Mud is a textural wonder and better yet, scientists have found that microbes in the soil such as Mycobacterium vaccae, mirror the effect on neurons that drugs like Prozac provide. The bacterium is found in soil and may stimulate serotonin production, which makes you relaxed and happier! While you can always play with mud with some water and soil, take advantage of the rain to help wash you off after you’re all done.
Make art! There are many ways to use rain for art. Take some paper outside and see what patterns the raindrops leave on your canvas. Rain also transforms watercolours and chalk. You can also try shining some flashlights at a wall, the shadows from the raindrops can look beautiful.
Make some noise. Grab pots of varying sizes and place them out in the rain to see what sounds the raindrops make. Try different kinds of materials to see if you can come up with the next #1 hit. If you’re feeling ambitious, consider making your own version of one of the winning entries in the Life Between Umbrellas competition to create wind chimes.
Nature walks and hikes. Take a moment to tune in with all your senses. What do you hear, what do you smell? The same trails you walk on sunny days may transform on a rainy day. The forest colours might appear more vibrant and raindrops can create interesting ripples in the water. Keep a special eye out for ducks and slugs that may be hiding in the bushes when the sun is out. As a plus, the tree canopy should also help to keep you dry while you explore.
Snow blitz. Of course, every once in a while we get a little bit of snow in Vancouver. Esther Moreno, a vibrant and inspirational leader in the Fraserview community never lets a rare Vancouver snow dump go to waste. She texts and calls all her neighbours whenever there’s snow in the forecast and keeps extra layers, sleds, and hot chocolate handy to share when the time is right. Organize a meeting spot in advance and keep an inventory of the winter items that neighbours are willing to share so that everyone can participate.
A step further
Despite my newly rediscovered love of the rain, Covid-19 has shone a light on the need for more covered outdoor spaces in public spaces. Vancouver’s winters have always been more dark and damp than the snowy winter wonderlands we see across other parts of the country or Hallmark holiday movies. And yet, there are only six undercover areas across the city’s park system. While preparing to write this blog, I searched up “rainy day activities” multiple times only to get a list of museums and malls in the area. With research showing how important it is to get outside for our mental and physical health in every season, this is a major gap that needs to be addressed.
Photo credit: Camilla Topola
Stemming from this need for more rain-friendly public spaces, our friends at Vancouver Public Space Network and Viva Vancouver held a design ideas competition in 2019 for an initiative called Life Between Umbrellas. Open to everyone from professionals to creative youth, it generated a wide array of creative ideas for improving Vancouver’s public spaces during the wet weather months. There were so many inspiring ideas submitted! However, rain-friendly infrastructure in our parks and public spaces can be expensive and require maintenance, so a continuous demonstration of community desire for such structures is necessary to get ideas like these off the page and implemented in real life. City planners are always searching for feedback on park plans and new developments. Keep your eye out for open houses in your neighbourhood, surveys, and opportunities to participate in volunteer community councils and neighbourhood plans.
In the meantime though, get out and play in the rain! You might realize that you actually don’t mind getting a little soggy. Maybe you’ll even inspire your neighbours to slip on their gumboots and follow in your splashy steps.
Some Last Tips
“A rainy day is the perfect time for a walk in the woods” – Rachel Carson
If you are going to be spending your winter splashing around in the rain, here are some tips to help keep you as safe and happy as possible.
Invest in some waterproof rain gear. The Norwegians have a saying, “there is no bad weather, only bad clothing”. If you can afford it, waterproof rain gear in a city with wet weather is a great investment. However, it can be quite expensive. Keep an eye out for anything that says Gortex on it, in the sale rack, thrift stores, and your local Buy Nothing Project Group. These items are often built to last and you can find them at decent prices as people decide to upgrade or outgrow their raingear. In the meantime, an extra pair of dry socks can go a long way. Pair this with under layers of wool and fleece to keep you warm, but stay away from cotton which traps moisture against your skin.
Stay visible. It can be really hard for drivers to see in the rain, especially when it gets dark. To stay safe, make sure you’re wearing bright colours with reflectors and lights in case it gets dark while you’re out.
Stay active. Rainy winters can also be really cold. Make sure you stay warm by coming up with activities that will keep you moving (see examples below).
Seek covered spaces. While we encourage everyone to embrace the rain, it’s always nice to be able to take a little break while you grab a snack or adjust your raingear. Sometimes you can find undercover spaces under bridges, on school grounds, and under thick tree canopies. Sara Bynoe is keeping a running list of undercover spaces in Vancouver. Feel free to add to her handy list if you make any discoveries, or consider making a list for your own neighbourhood!
Reward yourself with some coziness. Come up with something to look forward to when you get home. Maybe a hot bath, some hot chocolate, or plans to read by a fire.
Please note: Not everyone has the means to warm up in a warm home after it rains. Please consider donating your lightly used rain gear or supporting a local organization that provides hot meals and shelter for those who cannot always escape the rain.
Do you have any other tips or ideas for rainy day activities? We’d love to hear from you!
Thank you to our generous sponsor
Credit cover picture: Camilla Topola
Six Things We Need More of in Canadian City Parks in 2021
Last year was tough. But it was also illuminating.
We learned how resilient our communities can be and how parks are a big part of that by providing a place for people to stay active, de-stress, and connect with others (safely).
But we also learned we have work to do to ensure equitable access to parks and inclusive policies and programming that help everyone feel welcome and safe.
We’ve assembled this list from research we’ve done through our Canadian City Parks Report and COVID-19 surveys, our COVID-19 webinar series, our 2020 program learnings, and the resources and writings of others.
With that, here are six things we want to see more of in Canadian city parks in 2021.
Leading with equity
Photo credit: Aboriginal Fridays at Cabot Square Montreal by Lori Calman
If 2020 was anything, it was a bright hot light exposing the already present inequities in our cities. We often speak about parks as “for everyone,” but this obscures the racism, inequitable enforcement, historic underinvestment, unequal access to amenities, and social judgement that excludes many in our cities from enjoying, benefiting from and accessing these spaces.
As experts noted in our webinar on Urbanism’s Next Chapter, in 2021 we need less talk about “returning to normal” and more conversations leading to actions that address systemic discrimination, the displacement of people experiencing homelessness, and anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism in our park systems, policies, and organizations. Let’s take a look at who is at and who is not in decision-making circles, and make sure that community engagement and consultation exercises are additive, not extractive, by working with communities to address core needs.
Last year we were told to stay home to stay safe from COVID-19 and that message continues into 2021 in many communities. This heightens the importance of our local neighbourhood parks as places of respite. But we know these parks are not distributed equally–and this has real impacts on people’s mental and physical health. Our own research also shows that Canadians who said they didn’t have a park within a five-minute walk were 5x more likely to not have visited a park at all between March and June 2020. In order to derive benefit from parks, you first have to have one nearby.
In 2021, we foresee a renewed focus on the local park. Access to quality, nearby green spaces will be on the agenda and we hope to see more emphasis on basic amenities like washrooms, drinking fountains, shade structures, and plentiful seating. Many parks have seen heavy use during the pandemic, so an increase in maintenance will be key. But we can go further. Integrating urban agriculture and even local economic development opportunities like markets for locally produced goods and food will help these parks become resilient hubs. Planning our neighbourhood parks in these ways ensures they will be solid ground during times of crisis, providing accessible space and services.
Photo credit: Hives for Humanity in Vancouver, photo by Park People
As our stress levels rocketed in 2020 and Canadians’ mental health declined, many turned to spending more time outdoors as a way to re-centre themselves–often taking solace in nature. Our own survey in June 2020 found that 80% of Canadians said parks had become more important to their mental health during the pandemic. The connection between human wellbeing and spending time in nature has long been established in science. But access to nature is not an experience everyone enjoys. Racist acts and exclusionary programs and policies can keep people feeling unsafe and unwelcome in natural spaces.
In 2021, we hope to see more focus on neighbourhood greening projects that insert naturalized gardens into the places where we live our everyday lives: our streets, yards, parks, laneways, and schools. Let’s build on the heightened awareness of the connection between mental health and nature through new programs and stewardship opportunities, providing funding specifically to Indigenous land stewardship practices and community-led projects in underserved neighbourhoods. Local greening projects are also key in increasing the climate resiliency of our communities, mitigating climate change impacts by reducing flooding and cooling the air.
Responding to the need for more space for physical distancing, many cities quickly “found” acres of new open spaces in 2020 in roadways and other public spaces to open up to people. This created more space for cycling, running, rolling, and walking. Our research found that people wanted more of this type of intervention. However, many of these interventions were focused more on downtown neighbourhoods.
In 2021, let’s continue creative rethinking about the space in our cities to be more people-friendly, but expand it so more neighbourhoods can benefit from slower streets, expanded public spaces, and safer walking and cycling connections. We can learn a lot from projects like plazaPOPS, which provided community green space in a suburban strip-mall parking lot, and projects that animate the green spaces around the base of high-rise tower communities. Let’s also look for ways to continue these spaces in a modified format in the winter to encourage people to get outside.
Photo credit: Women from the Jamestown community plant native flowers in outdoor children learning centre in Toronto
Community park groups have always been the backbone of Park People’s work. Many grassroots park groups struggled in 2020 with the impacts of COVID-19 restricting access to park amenities and the need to keep track of fluctuating public health guidelines on safe gatherings. Despite these hurdles, over 40% of park groups we surveyed in June 2020 said they had provided support to those in need in their communities during the pandemic. Some even pivoted to activities like sewing masks to distribute.
As we start the process of recovery from COVID-19 in 2021, we hope to see greater support for the value park programming provides to communities. We heard that the top two areas park groups will need help with are funding and re-engaging community members in participating in park gatherings. City staff can work with communities and partner organizations to provide funding and institute policies like simplified permits that allow park groups to do more with less paperwork and fees. Working with local leaders and community organizations can help spread information about safe gathering practices and collaborate on programming that gets people back enjoying the park together.
Photo credit: A Montreal park in winter by Park People
It’s often said that Canada is a winter nation–and it’s true: for many months of the year, our weather is wet and cold. But people are continuing to turn to parks and trails this winter to get outside, keep active, and lessen the winter blues. Some Canadian cities certainly do winter in parks better than others (we’re looking at you Calgary, Edmonton and Montreal), but in many, park infrastructure and maintenance practices don’t reflect the winter reality, including non-winterized washrooms and trails that aren’t plowed regularly.
Let’s jump into winter in 2021 by making parks and trails accessible to more people by keeping washroom access open and clearing snow and ice for safe use. And to keep people connected and active, we want to see more support for local communities to provide safe and engaging winter programming. It doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated–it could be as simple as bringing your Christmas tree to the park for others to enjoy.
What are some of the things you’re hoping to see more of in parks in 2021? Tell us on Twitter by tagging us: @park_people.
Thank you to our generous sponsor
Credit cover picture: Naturalized Mouth of the Don River by Waterfront Toronto
A Second Life for Christmas Trees at The Ephemeral Forest at Parc Jarry, Montreal
They say all good things must come to an end. But sometimes, if we are lucky, endings can be the start of something even more beautiful. That is exactly what happened at Parc Jarry in the Villeray-St-Michel-Parc-Extension borough of Montreal, where the community park group Coalition des amis du Parc Jarry (CAP Jarry), recipients of a TD Park People Winter Grant, turned the cast-offs of the Christmas season into a beautiful Ephemeral Forest of recycled trees that reflected community members’ hope and dreams.
Every January, once the holidays come to an end, bare Christmas trees are tossed to the curb. In fact, there are approximately 6 million trees in Canada that await the landfill every year. If not recycled properly and simply thrown out, every tree can create approximately 16kg of carbon dioxide. Not only does this have a significant impact on the environment, but it also misses a great opportunity to give the trees a more impactful second life.
CAP Jarry, led by Michel Lafleur, set out to tackle this challenge. Instead of the landfill, they invited all Montreal residents to bring their old Christmas trees to Parc Jarry, plant them in pre-made wooden stands, and create a magical Ephemeral Forest where park-goers could wander in a safe and socially-distanced manner. After a two-weeks on display in the park, a company specializing in repurposing wood removed the trees and gave them a new life.
To make the trees even more magical, community members were invited to write their wishes and hopes for the new year on little pieces of paper tied to their tree. This gave every tree a personal touch and it gave people a chance to express their vision for the future. At a time when social interactions are rare and we long to interact with others, reading the personal wishes on every tree felt like an intimate exchange with the Christmas tree’s new owner – their ideas, their hopes, and dreams for the future.
The forest created a sense of human connection at a time when people need it most. Walking through the hundreds of trees in the middle of the vast Parc Jarry created an inspiring, joyful and frankly magical experience.
“Everyone was smiling”, remembers Villeray’s mayor Mme. Fumagalli, who helped facilitate the project from a political and administrative point of view. “There was a lot of curiosity, a kind of mutual help, above all, such synergy… The project had an enormous positive impact”.
Mme. Fumagalli found it especially extraordinary how citizens got involved and took ownership of their parks this winter. From the Ephemeral Forest to the hordes of Montrealers who built snowmen across city parks after a snowstorm, she says we clearly see “the necessity during winter to have some kind of animation, especially with the current COVID context”.
Another key to this event’s success was in its simplicity: the idea is easily transferable to other parks, boroughs and cities to create their own magical Ephemeral Forest. “I am certain that it is an idea that will have a snowball effect”, assures Mme. Fumagalli. “There is so much potential, from vacant lots to small parks, the reproducible aspect on a small scale, and the fact that it requires few resources”.
Made possible by a great collaboration:
TD Park People Grants Build Vital Connections Between People and Parks
The COVID-19 pandemic has given Canadians a greater appreciation for the role parks and green spaces play in supporting our physical and mental health as well as the resilience of our communities.
In 2021, TD Park People Grants will support the work of 72 community groups across the country with micro-grants of $2,000 to support activities that promote environmental education, sustainability and stewardship in Canada’s parks and green spaces. This year, at least 50% of all grants will be given to underserved community groups, ensuring equity-seeking groups are involved in shaping the natural spaces that matter to them.
An activity organized by Le Carré et sa ruelle in 2020 thanks to the TD Park People Grants Program. Photo credit: Marie-Hélène Roch.
Throughout 2020, we were amazed and inspired by the in-person and virtual activities that connect people to parks and nature.
Some examples included:
Vancouver’s Still Moon Arts Society invited the community to tune into nature and create a virtual symphony of bird songs to celebrate bird month. A local expert delivered an online presentation about early morning bird songs and what they mean. Then at 5:00 am the following day, participants headed outdoors to listen to the dawn bird chorus and record a minute-long audio clip of birds in their neighbourhood. These recordings were shared with Still Moon Arts, who compiled them into the Spectacular Dawn Chorus playlist available on their website.
Springbank Hill Community Association in Calgary celebrated the city’s annual Neighbour Day with the Tokens of Hope Project. Over 200 wooden tokens and paints were given away at the community park. Then, neighbours decorated tokens with personal messages of hope and returned the tokens to the park, decorating a bridge. The tokens remained on display throughout the summer to lift the spirits of anyone walking by, and to beautify the park.
The Neighbours of Meadowvale Park in Ottawa coordinated an Eco I Spy Challenge for the residents and children of the neighbourhood. A list of pollinator plants in bloom and native tree species with photos was provided to participants and the hunt was on to search for examples of these plants in the neighbourhood. Participants could submit pictures of their successful finds for a chance to win a gift certificate from a local business.
A pollinator garden. Photo credit: Friends of Dallington Pollinator Garden.
Starting today, qualified organizations and community groups who are interested in connecting their community to their parks and green spaces are encouraged to apply to receive a $2,000 grant to host their activities between April 17 and December 31, 2021. The application process is simple, and we’ve developed a number of resources to help groups host engaging community events that help build the vital connection between people and parks. The deadline to apply is March 1, 2021.
Made possible by a great collaboration:
A recipe for Community: Making winter warmer in city parks across Canada
A very special time of the year is right around the corner. For many, it means exchanging gifts, hanging decorations, and enjoying delicious meals with family and friends. Thanks to Park People’s National Network we’re helping you prepare special treats this holiday season.
No doubt, your holidays will look different than any before. One thing Park People hopes will remain the same is that you will find meaningful ways to share the spirit of the season with your loved ones.
More than ever, people in cities are experiencing the magic of parks: spending time in nature as well as hosting birthday parties, cultural celebrations and more. This holiday season, community parks across Canada will be filled with the kind of community love and delicious food that is shared when parks’ community ovens are lit. Community ovens are a fabulous park resource that fills community members’ bellies and souls all year long.
A gift of any amount will improve local parks and support communities’ mental and physical health this winter. Your support will help keep parks lit with warm community-building events and initiatives all year long. Give the gift of magic this holiday season and help make the city warmer.