The Garden of Eden Takes Many Forms in our Minds and in our Hearts: Assiniboine Park, Winnipeg

This contribution from Mary Wiens 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.

For me, one of those eternal gardens came in the form of Winnipeg’s Assiniboine Park. Growing up on a farm in Manitoba, wide-open spaces were as natural to me as breathing. But the man-made landscapes of plowed and tended fields were designed for work.

Assiniboine Park – in Winnipeg, an hour away by car – was another matter. The sweeping swathes of manicured grass and gently curving roads were designed for pleasure – lending dignity and grandeur to family outings, a crowd which included my grandfather, plenty of cousins, uncles and aunts. The aunts brought blankets and picnic baskets filled with egg salad sandwiches, rhubarb Platz, thermoses of coffee and mason jars of lemonade, wrapped in towels to keep them cold.

The one hour drive to the city after the Sunday morning church service must have been carefully planned by our collective mothers. I don’t remember the planning. What I do remember is the expanse of cut grass when we arrived at the park and the view of the Pavilion at the far end. The Pavilion. Even the word was magical – all other pavilions mere shadows of that glorious first one at Assiniboine Park. It was built in 1930, just before the Depression eliminated the possibility of more such grand public gestures.

Mary Wiens’s mother in Assiniboine Park, Winnipeg

Part Tudor cottage, part pavilion, its steeply pitched gables, exposed timbers and formal pergolas epitomizi the dignified playfulness of Assiniboine Park. Equally magical was the park’s zoo. The zoo was built in 1904 to showcase a handful of native animals, and expanded over the years so that by the 1960s when I visited as a child, there was a monkey house, a tropical house and dozens of enclosures spread across 80 acres. But all the other animals — ducks, porcupines, gazelles, buffalo, and monkeys — were mere warm-up acts to the true stars — the polar bears. The enclosure for polar bears, the zoo’s most renowned feature, was built in 1967.


Wyman Laliberte, Assiniboine Park (1967)

Unveiled in that optimistic Centennial year, it showcased massive polar bears splashing and diving in groovy, water-filled pools painted a brilliant white. Has my imagination added fictitious turquoise to the mix? The bears’ wet coats, gleaming under the blue prairie skies, together with the turquoise pools, made it seem as though the bears, like us, had travelled from a very different landscape for a suburban vacation – the bears as sleekly mid-century modern as their surroundings – their streamlined bodies merging smoothly into small heads and long pointed snouts.

On those golden summer Sundays, we finished with one last gathering around the picnic baskets, the ice cubes in the mason jars long since melted, before we were corralled into our respective fathers’ cars. We were farm families and the milking and chores at 6 couldn’t wait, so we left gazing through the rear windows at the park still glowing in the late afternoon sun. At 17, I left the farm to take my first job in Winnipeg. I lived in Wolseley, a neighbourhood with plenty of cheap apartments on the second floor of houses with fading painted exteriors. By bike, we were only 20 minutes away from Assiniboine Park, cycling past the stately homes and towering trees on Wellington Crescent.

In Winnipeg, where nothing seemed too expensive or forbidding, I began to stretch my cultural muscles. The first time I saw ballet was on a summer evening in Assiniboine Park, the Pavilion serving as a backdrop to the Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s free performances, attended by thousands of people every year.

Forty years later, I still see that ballet – Rodeo, a playful, contemporary work by choreographer Agnes de Mille, set to music by Aaron Copeland with dancers in cowboy boots and fringed jackets. Another performance of Rodeo was scheduled for the 2020 season – part of a retrospective to mark the company’s 80th anniversary season – cancelled because of COVID.

Today, I live in Toronto, only a few minutes’ walk from High Park in the city’s west end – the private gift, also from an earlier era, of Toronto’s philanthropist architect John Howard. I am lucky to have lived in the long, green shadows of not one, but two great parks. But it was Winnipeg’s Assiniboine Park which taught me first, and many more generations of children before and after, to expect largesse, generosity and dignity in public spaces built with municipal funds – and to see summer pavilions as a wondrous architectural miracle.


About Mary Wiens

Mary Wiens is an award-winning journalist and producer who can be heard weekdays on CBC Radio One’s most listened-to morning show, Metro Morning, on 99.1 FM in Toronto.

Mary’s journalistic scope ranges from groundbreaking series on transit, such as “Joyless Commute” about the emotional strain of the daily commute, to a series exploring father absence called “Fathering Change: Strengthening the role of black fathers”.

Her feature stories have won numerous regional and national awards from RTDNA Canada – the Association of Electronic Journalists, as well as the international Gabriel award for Metro Morning’s series, “Stolen Children”, about Canada’s infamous residential school system.

Mary’s deep affection for Toronto is also expressed in her work as a community volunteer. As a founding member of Roncesvalles Renewed and RoncyWorks, she has been recognized with a Queen’s Diamond Jubilee medal for local projects that help build civic engagement.

Thank you to our generous sponsor: 

This contribution from Mary Wiens 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.

A Party in the Park: Overbrook Park, Ottawa

This contribution from Marie-Caroline Badjeck and her group ‘Overbrook Community Association’ 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.

Overbrook Park is an extension of my house. It’s where my son plays with his friends, where youth play basketball on steamy summer nights, and where outdoor musicals are performed. The park is adjacent to our community center, where the Overbrook Community Association (OCA) meetings take place, where free books are given to kids, and where community members practice music and sports or participate in after-school programs.

But in November 2018 our community was shaken to the core: gunshots were fired at 4 pm in close proximity of Overbrook Park. It was overwhelming – I felt angry that this shooting took place at a time where kids run free in the park, and I felt helpless to see gun violence so close to home. How can such a welcoming neighbourhood be the stage of such a senseless act?

With other members of OCA, we wanted to reclaim our park and write our own narrative, about a community that is strong, diverse, and proud of its youth. In partnership with the Rideau Rockliffe Community Resource Center’s Youth Advisory Council (YAC), we applied to a TD Park Grant to organize an event for youth, by youth, and to celebrate youth.

“Party in the Park” was the result of many brainstorming sessions and of a serendipitous encounter in the spring of 2019. After playing in the park with my son, I saw a flyer in the community center, “Free Basketball training for Overbrook Youth. Contact Manock”. I wanted to meet him. With the YAC, we had thought of organizing a basketball competition, but despite my enthusiasm for the Toronto Raptors and my high school days as a point guard, I knew we needed help. In the end, I just showed up to one of his basketball practices, and we started chatting. Five minutes in, I knew Manock was our guy: his passion for the game and the kids, his love for Overbrook and the fact that he did not blink an eye while my son wreaked havoc on his class with his toddler-level enthusiasm.

Fast-forward to September 2019. More than 100 people attended “Party in the Park”, with 40 players participating in the basketball competition, hopefully, the first of many more events of this kind.

The community links forged during this event are enduring. Manock Lual, CEO of Prezdential Media, is now the Chair of OCA’s Safety Committee. Since COVID-19 has forced OCA to cancel all events and find new ways to connect with residents, the Safety Committee launched a fundraiser to provide backpacks filled with school supplies, a reusable mask and a tee-shirt to local youth. OCA also continues to work with the YAC, including on a mural in the heart of Overbrook.

Parks connect us to nature. But they also connect us to each other, weaving the threads of the social fabric that makes our community stronger, no matter what.



About Marie-Caroline Badjeck and the Overbrook Community Association

The Overbrook Community Association is a group of motivated residents collaborating to make life better for everyone in their dynamic community on the East side of Ottawa. At OCA, Marie-Caroline coordinates special projects with youth and environmental focus. Since the start of the COVID pandemic, the OCA has devoted their volunteer resources to delivering food to community members in need, conducting regular check-ins and providing support with financial aid applications and connecting people with community resources. 

To find out more about the work of the Overbrook Community Association, Prezdential Media and the Youth Advisory Council, follow them on Instagram @613HumansofOverbrook @PrezdentialHoops @ward13yac and on Facebook.

Text edited for length by Marjolaine Provost, Overbrook Community Association.

Thank you to our generous supporters:

This contribution from Marie-Caroline Badjeck and her group ‘Overbrook Community Association’ 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.

A park named Queen Elizabeth: Queen Elizabeth Park, Vancouver

This contribution from Naomi Steinberg 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.

When I was a toddler, my grandparents, visiting from France, would watch over my sisters and me as we explored the park’s duck pond. Like many children, I tested comfort zones and capacities, hurtling down a steep slope just above the pond on a sled in snowy weather. These days, in my innocence, I peer into flowers, honk at geese, and enjoy hearing families singing together.

As a teenager, I remember a romantic kiss while sitting under the spreading maple trees of the North facing slope, just below that same duck pond. Many fine formative explorations of the semi-wild fringes of the park occurred, basalt outcroppings – volcanic vestiges, with fascinating mossy toppings were found. These days, in my passion, I weep when seeing fir trees more than 150 years old, cut, lying on the ground, sawdust all around.

Now an adult, the formal lushness of the garden, cultivated over the remains of a quarry, pleases and soothes me as much as the cedar and fern stand still growing in remarkable contrast, squirrels and coyotes wild. The park’s tropical plant conservatory sits buckyballish, high above, glowing, a welcome alien. These days, in my inspiration, I can imagine a dragon, descended from an ancient craggy volcano, here to exercise our delight and to nurture right-action.

For four years I have been fortunate to live near QE park, this place where I can move my body, finding solace and respite from the pace of the city, gaining in health and wellness. Yet, when I consider the encroaching condominiums crowding the view, the need to protect, maintain, and enhance green spaces and parks in urban environments seems evident. Concern regarding access to fair and adequate housing arises, as does regard for indigenous Coast Salish protocols. I wonder what could emerge through a community process committed to decolonizing the park’s name. These days, in my desire to weave meaningful inter-cultural and intergenerational relationships off the spindle-whorl of our collective humanity, I asked a question: what do place, home, belonging, and indigeneity mean?

Calling on experience as an arts-based community engagement worker, and focusing on an approach to the park, Dragon Walk inaugurated a pop-up shrine where the Cambie Heritage Boulevard (running South-North) crosses the 29th avenue bike path (extending East-West). This location is within the city’s only heritage designated landscape, which is of city-wide importance and recognition. The boulevard is an extension of QE Park and its intended function as an arboretum and celebratory sightline to the North Shore mountains has been well described by the Parks Board.

Inviting contemplation and conversation, the shrine uses the dragon metaphor to honour the park’s geologic history, to appeal to all cultures, and to call on each person’s inner fire. It is through our innate capacity for warmth and creativity that we can forge resilient, caring communities. I feel strong forces weaving together an irresistible flow.

These days, is it innocence, passion, inspiration, or desire being called in to play? With a dragon’s roar perhaps we can say: civic engagement, fostered through fun, relevant activities are the basis of a healthy, empowered society where folks have agency. I love QE Park very much and celebrate how much has been given me by the plants, animals, earth, air, water, and fire. We are grateful to the TD Park People Grants for supporting Dragon Walk.



About Naomi Steinberg

Naomi Steinberg is an internationally recognized artist and storyteller. She has brought traditional folk stories, fairy tales and community-based art projects to life in countries around the world since 2001. In 2014 Naomi voyaged around Earth without taking an airplane. She told her hand-spun story, Goosefeather, wherever she went and has since published a book about the experience.

Recent projects include Dragon Walk, an opportunity to engage in a joyous celebration of the ecological diversity found in Little Mountain. Recognizing the need to foster resilience and neighbourliness, over Summer 2019, six arts-based community engagement activities culminated in a parade. Ongoing place-making is occurring. As part of this legacy project, Naomi hopes you feel invited into the contemplative space located on the 29th ave. bike path and the Cambie Heritage Boulevard in Vancouver, Coast Salish, supernatural land.  

Thank you to our generous supporters:

This contribution from Naomi Steinberg 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.

What is a Park? Dawson Park, Edmonton

This contribution from Raquel ‘Rocky’ Feroe 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. 

Now that I’m older, my days often start the same way. I take a walk in Edmonton’s Dawson Park with both my two-footed and four-footed housemates. People ask if I get bored going to the same park every day. To which I answer. Does life get richer with time? Can relationships grow?

As is typical, by the end of our walk my husband has carefully selected spots for the dog to “do her business.” She tucks her offerings in the undergrowth. She is discrete, unlike the coyotes who leave their piles right in the middle of the shared path. Because of peer teachings and expectations, I pick up the dog poop but leave the coyote scat alone. Sometimes I feel conflicted putting these “gifts” in the trash can.

When I went looking for the human place to “do my business,” I met two people who were surprisingly friendly and welcoming. “Can we help you?” they asked. They explained they were hired by a social enterprise to help keep the washrooms safe during COVID. “Thanks,” I said, “you give the park an even better vibe.”

It’s so nice to be greeted (Note, my dog taught me that).

I learned later that a social enterprise hires these folks as washroom attendants. They are people who are hard to employ because of addiction recovery issues, legal issues, and the like. After I thanked them for being in the park, we got into a long discussion. I explained that I am used to city staff being in the park with loud two-stroke engines polluting the air in an effort to win the “war on weeds”. The bathroom attendant said, “white man brings the weeds then tries to destroy the weeds, good luck.”


Parks are all about relationships and it’s not complicated. Here’s some of what I’ve learned on my walks with two and four-footed companions:

Parks are for people. People can be in good relationship with the land and learn how to be in a better relationship with each other by just being there and observing.

I am left wondering if urban parks could become a model for how we could shift to a new view of prosperity. One that:

Stops the war on weeds and embraces coexisting in the right relationship with nature.

I am going to keep thinking about this possibility and what it might look like. I am going to think more about the question: “what is a park?”.

Photo credit: Marcia O’Connor, Flickr Creative Commons



About Raquel Feroe

Rocky started as a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Economics before earning a Medical Degree from Dartmouth Medical School in Hanover, NH. She is a practiced specialist in Internal Medicine in Alberta. Rocky was happy to retire from her medical profession in May of 2018 and focus on SPICE and other projects that advance sustainability.


Thank you to our generous supporters:


This contribution from Raquel ‘Rocky’ Feroe 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. 

It Takes a Park: St. Mary Park and Amberlea Park, Toronto

This contribution from Janelle Richards 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. 

They say it takes a village to raise a child- that the lessons and love a child receives from the people around them is formative. What you don’t hear as often is that it also takes a park and that these two forces are just as important to new parents. The fresh air can heal, the rustling leaves can soothe and the sun can encourage smiles and discovery for both baby and parent. This is a lesson that I learned first-hand over the last few months.

When I became a new mom in the fall, it wasn’t easy. In the winter as people made their way inside, I found it difficult to navigate motherhood, meet new parents, and get around as I suddenly wasn’t as mobile as I used to be. Add in a pandemic and things didn’t seem as they should. My village was lacking and I was feeling it. Soon, getting outside was the only time I was able to breathe, and one of the only times the baby slept peacefully! So we would walk.

In the snow, I would labour with the stroller over uncleared paths, bumping my bundled baby to sleep. Soon, I learned how to wear her in a carrier, allowing me to walk through the hydro corridor to follow deer paths and test my animal tracking knowledge. In the spring we would go over to the unused sports field in St. Mary Park and practice crawling in the fresh grass to pick dandelions for jelly. Or watch the pond in the nearby Altona Forest transform as it melted and became home to tadpoles. The playgrounds and benches were off-limits but we would set up a blanket in Amberlea Park and watch people pass by- she missed seeing people. When social circles opened, we were even able to safely meet some of our baby friends again thanks to parks!

The postpartum period is one of the hardest, most demanding times in a mom’s life. The addition of physical isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic made it even harder for many. As magical as I was able to make these times with my daughter, I knew I was lucky. I was lucky that I was able to find another way of getting around with Baby to overcome the physical barriers to the outdoors I experienced. I was lucky that I had access to green spaces within walking distance and that I felt safe going there by myself. I was lucky that I knew the healing nature of parks and fought to experience it. Without parks to help raise my daughter, I know this time in my life would’ve been much different. I truly believe that safe and accessible outdoor spaces are critical for the healthy growth of parents and their children.



So, although my first year of being a parent has been anything other than what I imagined, parks made it something more than I couldn’t have imagined- connecting, healing and growing us both in these unprecedented times.



About Janelle Richards

Janelle is an environmental educator and a new mom based in Pickering, Ontario. Her passion is connecting all people to nature. She has experience leading school groups, community groups and more in environmental explorations and advocacy. With an education in wildlife biology, she loves insects and teaching whoever will listen about pollinators and interesting plants. She is also finding a new love in watching how little people learn and explore in the natural world.


Thank you to our generous supporters:


This contribution from Janelle Richards 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. 

First Photos: Queen Elizabeth Park, Vancouver

This contribution from Zahra Ebrahim 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 have few photos of our first years in Canada.

We moved from Nairobi to Vancouver when I was eight months old. It was a time of transition for my parents, both of them in their twenties, carrying dreams and two kids under 3 – trying to figure out how their new life might support both.

Back in Kenya, my grandparents had owned a film and camera shop, which meant that every family moment, every family minute really, was documented. In this new reality of ours, where time and resources were scarce, the taking and developing of photos didn’t happen at the same pace – but I did notice recently, that the precious few photos I do have are always in public parks.


Zahra Ebrahim 

Like so many immigrant families, parks were our backyards. Our weekends were filled with their barbecues, jungle gyms, gathering places. It’s where we met friends and the first place we took extended family members who had just landed in town. We were always in the park. This photo, taken in Queen Elizabeth Park – a sprawling, lush, urban park in downtown Vancouver – is one of the first photos my parents took and developed, and every time I see it, I feel such deep joy.

Mostly because the contentment seen on my face is the exact same as it is today when I’m in a park. I know that it was the consistency with which we made public spaces an extension of our home that shaped the sense of belonging I feel today, and instilled in me a sense of responsibility for public space. Growing up, parks were all possibilities: spaces for play, togetherness, reflection, celebration, and creativity. If you see me in a park today, I don’t look much different than I do in this picture – barefoot in the grass and smiling.

Parks remain an essential service for so many individuals and families now. The risks to public health that have us encircling the jungle gyms in caution tape are understandable – there are so many unknowns about the pandemic we continue to face – and yet, at the same time, it’s important that while we tell people what they cannot do, we must also encourage what they can.

The process of rebuilding from COVID-19 will need to include a strategy for leveraging the power of parks to do what they’re best at: bringing us together and holding space for all of our stories.

Cover photo credit: s.yume



About Zahra Ebrahim

Zahra Ebrahim is the co-Founder of Monumental, an organization focused on bringing justice, fairness and equity to the heart of public and private institutions across Canada. Twitter: @zahraeb


Thank you to our generous supporters:


This contribution from Zahra Ebrahim 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. 

From small towns to cities, green space is for everyone: Toronto

This contribution from Carolyn Schotchmer 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. 

In the 20 years I have lived in Toronto, I’ve seen how much parks and green spaces can transform this city and the experiences of those that live here. With our busy lives, it can be easy to forget how much we enjoy these spaces, as we too often, intentionally or unintentionally, overlook them as we run through our daily routines. A patch of trees that line your walk home, a small park in the neighbourhood that provides a moment to connect with nature, a community garden that brings people together – these are spaces that nurture something great for everyone and are just a few of the many examples that demonstrate how green space can completely change a city for the better.


Rosedale Valley Road. 


Looking back on my years growing up in a small town, I didn’t feel the same need for formal parks, simply because we had so much more space to enjoy. The opportunities to connect with nature in small towns and rural areas are generally more abundant – I spent hours as a child exploring the trees, plants and other critters in our yard and those of our neighbours. But when you visit or live in a city, those opportunities are not as obvious and nature is not as integrated into life. I struggled with living in Toronto at first for this reason, feeling disconnected from the natural world, and under the mistaken impression that I had to leave the city to find it. It wasn’t until I found a job that connected me to natural parks all over the city that I realized Toronto could be a place I belonged to. Aside from the large, well-known ‘signature’ parks like High Park and the Toronto Islands, Toronto is also home to great natural areas that aren’t immediately noticeable. The next time you are walking around the city, pay special attention to green spaces – big or small – that you may have glossed over the first time you passed by. From ravines to courtyards, there are examples across the city of spaces that we forget about but that can provide a meaningful connection to nature.


Grange Park.

For those living in Canada’s urban areas, it is crucial to have spaces where we can connect with nature and each other, because without those moments, city life is exhausting. During times like these when gathering indoors is incredibly limited, we are reminded even more of why we need to maintain, revitalize and support green spaces in Toronto. A shortage of green space isn’t just an issue for local ecosystems and city infrastructure, it’s an issue for residents too. We need areas where we can unplug, and for those that cannot easily travel to places with fewer people or larger open spaces, we need local spaces that we can enjoy safely. We can help ensure this exists by continuing to build green space into the urban design process and improving existing spaces at the municipal level.



Greenest Citys Hope Garden Masaryk Park in 2011.

Parks and other green spaces make cities like Toronto more sustainable and inclusive. They contribute to our individual and communal well-being. The next time you’re enjoying a natural area, take in what that means to you and to your community. It’s the difference that makes a city flourish.



About Carolyn Scotchmer

Carolyn Scotchmer is the executive director of TD Friends of the Environment Foundation (TD FEF), where she oversees the operations of the Foundation and leads a team of regional managers to support community-based environmental initiatives across Canada. She is also responsible for the Canadian corporate environmental giving portfolio for TD Bank Group, to help deliver on the bank’s corporate citizenship platform, The Ready Commitment.

Carolyn joined TD in 2012 to manage the Foundation’s giving in Ontario and the Atlantic provinces and to help raise awareness of TD’s corporate environmental programs in the regions. Prior to joining the bank, she spent more than 10 years in the charitable sector in Toronto and Calgary, developing and managing programs focused on community development through urban greening and community gardening.


Thank you to our generous supporters:


This contribution from Carolyn Schotchmer 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. 

Nearby Nature: Vancouver

This contribution from John Lee 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. 

From the sawtooth crags of Yukon’s Tombstone Territorial Park to the mist-fingered shores of Loch Lomond and the wild woodlands of New Zealand’s Abel Tasman National Park, I’ve visited some spectacular outdoor attractions over the years. But in recent months, I’ve discovered that far less famous nature spots can be equally rewarding.

Growing up as a city kid in England, parks were for playing soccer and chasing your friends around. But in our current unanticipated period of staying close to home, my partner and I have been slowly exploring all the alfresco areas and green spaces we’ve previously overlooked in our south Vancouver district. It helps that Maggie is an expert birder who knows exactly where to find all our park-dwelling avian neighbours. We’ve seen yellow warblers singing lustily in treetops, feisty hummingbirds swooping like fighter jets and shrieking gulls and crows uniting to chase away nest-raiding bald eagles.


A baby crow. Photo credit: John Lee 

Starting our walks in spring also meant watching new life unfurl around us like a fast-paced feathered soap opera. We’ve spotted the empty shells of infant robins, the stuttering first flights of plucky chickadees and a gape-mouthed gaggle of 10 tiny bushtit babies huddled beside watchful (and probably exhausted) parents.

I quickly fell for the bushtits––especially after we found one of their teardrops-shaped nests dangling from a low branch.


A bushtit nest. Photo credit: John Lee 

I’d never seen one of these mossy baubles before but I couldn’t believe it was built by such small birds and was just inches from the heads of passing humans. It was hiding in plain sights, like most of the urban nature we’ve been freshly discovering.

Our park visits haven’t just been for the birds. We’ve leaned in close to watch bees at work, each landing for less than a second on lavender or fuchsia blooms yet never visiting the same flower twice. Butterflies have also fluttered past, including some huge yellow and black western tiger swallowtails. When we see one, I stop and whisper as if I’m gazing at a rare artwork in a gallery.
We’ve also been perusing the plant world on our slow-paced nature strolls.


A huge yellow and black western tiger swallowtails. Photo credit: John Lee 

From the Pollock-like paintbox of countless poppies to the teetering steeples of gangly foxgloves and the mysterious succulents that spread their alien-like whirls across the soil then burst forth with surprising purple or yellow flowers.

Buying a tree ID book also added an extra layer to our park walks. We previously barely glanced at these lofty locals, but now we search for their distinctive features and read up on their life stories. We’ve loved discovering the rose-like little blossoms on English hawthorns, the gnarly limbs of elderly Garry oaks and the cooling cover provided by massive, broad-leaf chestnuts on hot summer days.

Not surprisingly our walks are far longer than they used to be. And we now see puzzled Vancouverites routinely watching us as we peer closely at dense shrubs and the dark branches of tall trees. It’s exactly the way I used to look at people in parks who seemed to have too much time on their hands. Now I finally know what I was missing.

Cover photo credit: Becky Matsubara



About John Lee

Vancouver-based John Lee has been a full-time travel and feature writer for 20 years. A Lonely Planet guidebook author with 25 titles to his name––including the new Vancouver & Victoria City Guide––his stories have appeared in more than 150 different outlets around the world, including The Globe and Mail, Los Angeles Times, Guardian and BBC Travel. Winner of 15 Canadian and international writing awards, his Twitter account (@johnleewriter) is always active while many of his stories can be viewed online at


Thank you to our generous supporters:


This contribution from John Lee 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. 

Life is a picnic: Scarborough Bluffs, Toronto

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.


Thank you to our generous supporters:

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. 

Parks can be that again: Old Orchard Park, Vancouver

This contribution from Adrian Crook 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. 

In 1980, my parents moved my sister and me from East Vancouver to Port Moody, one of the “Tri-Cities” of Metro Vancouver (Coquitlam and Port Coquitlam are the others) and a suburb of about 15,000 at the time. I was five years old and would spend most of the next two decades growing up in a house that overlooked Old Orchard Park and the ocean, separated only by train tracks.

Old Orchard Park sits at the Northern terminus of Port Moody’s 2.5km foreshore trail. Tracing the water’s edge at Burrard Inlet’s Eastern shore, the trail was my highway growing up, letting me walk or bike on my own from Old Orchard Park to all the other destinations a kid could want: Rocky Point pool, the rec centre or the ice rink.

But I had most of what I needed in Old Orchard Park.

Old Orchard Park taught me risks, with its exciting but unforgiving concrete, rope and timber playground with nothing but the hard ground underneath. If I was ever supervised, it was back before I was old enough to remember. As much as I loved the park, my parents likely loved it more, for keeping me outside of the house all day.

The park’s beach provided a launching point for my ill-advised treks across the muddy flats left behind by the retreating tide. By the end of summer, my feet were a crosshatched mess of barnacle scars, inflicted whenever I stepped deep into tidal muck before my foot scraped to a halt on a rock.

As a teenager of no more than 13 or 14, I dragged our kayak or aluminum boat with outboard motor down to the same beach, exploring areas as far off as Deep Cove with no one but my friend Daniel. His parents were the caretakers of Old Orchard Park and lived in a small, mid-1900s house that sat on park grounds.

I don’t recall doing that thing most people do at beaches: laying in the sun. Instead, I hunted for small fish and crabs I could catch by hand, chasing them while bent in half at the waist, squinting through the glare on the water’s surface.

Today, the park’s been upgraded. There is a dedicated bike and stroller path around the entire inlet, and the portions of the old foreshore trail that used to be no more than muck have footbridges. The old play structures were razed long ago and replaced with equipment that looks to have passed many levels of government approvals before installation.

But Old Orchard Park remains mostly the same. The small “island” just off the beach that I would often wade to. The covered BBQ area my high school friend Grant and played soccer under when it rained. The picnic tables that gave me an ideal surface to write on or jump off.

Today, I live with my five kids in an apartment in downtown Vancouver. Nearby parks are still central to my family’s life.

But while parks are as great as ever, the world’s changed around them. Today’s kids are rarely trusted to use parks alone, and that’s an incalculable loss to parents and children. For me and many of my generation and before, parks were how we found our independence. For every kid, there should be an Old Orchard Park. Parks can be that again.

Cover photo credit: Geoffery Kehrig



About Adrian Crook 

Adrian Crook is a dad of five who lives in beautiful downtown Vancouver, Canada.

He started 5Kids1Condo to share the unique benefits of raising children in an urban environment. He’s passionate about creating strong family bonds, achieving life/work balance, and living sustainably. With his five children, he lives in a 1000 square foot condo in Vancouver’s Yaletown district. Every day, he makes conscious decisions about how to live big but leaves a small footprint. He’s an advocate for rental housing and public transit.


Thank you to our generous supporters


This contribution from Adrian Crook 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. 

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

Subscribe to our newsletter!