5 more reasons to celebrate Ottawa’s city parks

Earlier this week I shared five reasons to celebrate Ottawa’s city parks as we look forward to Ottawa’s first Park Summit this Saturday April 22 (register for this free event here). But as I spoke with people in Ottawa, I kept finding more inspiring examples of how Ottawans are making parks their own – through stewardship, education, food and fun. Here are five more reasons to celebrate our capital’s incredible green spaces and the people who love them:

1. Winter opens up new citizen-led possibilities:

person grooming ski trail

“Don’t ever let anyone tell you that winter sucks” – Groomer Dave.

The SJAM Trail is a groomed, multi-use winter trail connecting the Canadian War Museum with parklands along the Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway to Westboro Beach, animating spaces that until now have been little used in the winter.

The trail exists thanks to the tireless volunteer efforts of ‘Groomer Dave’ Adams and his team. They groom the trail in a customized snowmobile to make it available for skiing, biking and walking year-round.

 

2. Camp in the city:

Although not in Ottawa proper, Gatineau Park is an enormous urban park, half the size of the City of Toronto, accessible by bus or bike from downtown.

Fall in Gatineau Park. photo credit: Xiaozhuli

Fall in Gatineau Park.           Photo credit: Xiaozhuli

The park has been home to people for more than 8,000 years, but today it is primarily a natural green space that you can enjoy for the day or stay in overnight by camping, renting a yurt or a cabin.

As Ottawa’s population increases by 50 per cent over the next few years, large green spaces like Gatineau Park will be even more critical to ensuring a livable future.

3. Learn indigenous history by taking a walk in the park:

If you are anything like me, your understanding of Ottawa’s history is pretty much ends at the edge of Parliament Hill. Jaime Koebel aims to change that, by leading walks through Major’s Hill Park, Confederation Park and Lansdowne Park that present public spaces from an indigenous perspective. Learn about Ottawa’s social, cultural and political history and present day through stories that centre the indigenous experience.

4. Keepers of the River:

The Ottawa River is a defining natural feature of the city, and it is lucky enough to be watched over by a fiercely devoted group of Ottawans. Ottawa River Keeper uses education, apps, advocacy and even a patrol boat to protect the river and its future. The organization is one of ten water keepers in Canada – non-governmental ombudsmen who serve as the full-time public advocate for a water body. Ottawans and visitors can download their swim guide app to find the best place to take a dip, or serve as a volunteer river watcher to spot issues like toxic algae blooms.

river at sunset

Ottawa River at Sunset. Photo credit: Bob Kelly.

5. From Burma to Canada:

Of the many working farms in the Greenbelt, the KLEO Karen Community Farm is probably the only place where you can find Chin Baung (roselle) and Mying Khwar (pennywort). These are key flavours in the cuisine of the Karen people, an ethnic minority from Burma who arrived in Canada after fleeing one of the longest-standing civil wars in history. With the help of KLEO, Just Food and other partners, Karen refugees turned to their traditional farming methods, combining them with Canadian agricultural practices to grow high-quality produce for local sale.

Featured image: Sorting the harvest at KLEO Karen Community Farm. photo credit: Just Food.

What’s Happening in City Parks Across Canada?

A strategy to make ravines more accessible while preserving crucial biodiversity.

A new road mural, painted by kids, to add even more vibrancy to a great neighbourhood.

A visionary new park built on top of rail infrastructure.

Exciting things are happening in Toronto. But these sentences actually describe projects in other cities across Canada. From Edmonton to Halifax to St. Thomas, people in Canadian cities are bringing their parks and public spaces to life.

And until a few weeks ago, I knew nothing about it.

I was born and raised in Vancouver, but over the past eight years I have morphed into a dyed-in-the-wool Torontonian. In my career so far, I have tried to find ways to make our city better, more inclusive, and more livable in an era of fiscal restraint and sometimes-limited vision.  It’s the best job there is – I love this city and am at my happiest when I am experiencing Toronto changing and growing before my eyes.

to-skyline

Toronto is an amazing city, but we are always looking for ways to make it better. From Swedish Vision Zero-inspired plans for pedestrian safety to a street fighter’s revolution in New York City, the United States and Europe are generally our go-to places for new ideas. When I scroll through my Facebook feed, the latest post from the Young Urbanists League often sparks a deep sigh along with the question – how could we ever bring that great idea from the US/Europe/Asia to Toronto?

Those magic words

Former Vancouver Chief Planner Brent Toderian says that the seven words you should never say when you hear one of those great ideas are “that would never work in my city.”

I couldn’t agree more. We always surprise ourselves when we think big. Toronto’s system of over 1600 parks, from Guild Park to Earl Bales, is a testament to this fundamental truth.

But to flip that sentiment, I would add six words that you should always say before embarking on a new city building project – Let’s see what’s happening across Canada. 

Building a Canadian urban parks movement

outdoor stairway and funicular

The new Mechanized River Valley Access project in Edmonton, Alberta. Rendering: Dialog Design.

At Park People, we have started saying those six words about urban parks, and the results so far are pretty exciting.

Since joining Park People as National Network Manager in July, I have been talking to people working in city parks across the country, including community groups, municipal parks staff, and park advocates. I have been consistently blown away by the passion of Canadian park people and the visions they have for their local parks. I’ve also had to stop myself from jumping on a plane a few times – I really want to ride this new funicular, explore Wascana Marsh and canoe down the Shubie Canal!

 

What’s next

Even though I could happily keep exploring the Canadian city parks landscape forever, finding great projects and meeting the Canadians who are making them happen is only our first step. Park People wants to go further. We want to find ways to support those projects and groups and connect them to each other in a network of Canadian park people that spans the country.

marsh with skyline

Wascana Marsh, Regina, Saskatchewan

We’re not quite sure what this network will look like yet. We know that our main goal will continue to be supporting the people who bring their parks to life, whether they are in Toronto or Kelowna or Laval. We also know that next March, we will be bringing park people from across Canada together in Calgary to talk about the future of our urban parks and what roles we can all play in making them bigger and better.

We will be writing stories and hosting events that showcase Canadian urban park projects and people, and, because most of us don’t have the time and money to travel all over this enormous country, exploring ways for us to connect and share ideas online.

As our Founder and Executive Director Dave Harvey has said, the opportunities are limitless. We can’t do everything, so that’s why I would love to hear from you:

What are the issues you care about most when it comes to urban parks? Who should we talk to or partner with? And how can we help you get engaged in your local park? Send me an emailtweet, or reply in the comments below.

One of our friends at the TD Friends of the Environment Foundation described Park People as ‘the facilitators of a crucial Toronto conversation about city parks.’ Let’s start the Canadian conversation.

 

 

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