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Historic Clarence Square gets a facelift

Posted by Guest Contributor / December 9, 2012

Clarence Square TorontoAt the intersection of Spadina Avenue and Wellington Street, in the busy downtown core, sits a little historic park called Clarence Square. In the summer, people sit or lay back on the park benches to read, nap or people-watch. Occasionally squirrels race down the enormous trees, chattering at each other, while small dogs, let loose by their condo owners, scrabble after them.

In moments like these, the park seems like a vision of what 19th century city planners sought to achieve - a green resting space amidst the bustling city. As one of the oldest parks in downtown Toronto, the square has been serving Torontonians a quiet slice of nature since before Toronto got its name, when it was known as the Town of York.

In 1833 Lieutenant Governor Sir John Colborne agreed to auction off part of the military reserve attached to Fort York to accommodate the growing Town of York. Eighteen lots went up for auction, and city planners and stakeholders snapped them up, building the quintessential city structures of the day (a church, burial grounds, a market, parks) based on the city planning models of the British Empire.

Clarence SquareWellington Street (then called Wellington Place) was envisioned to be an impressive tree-lined boulevard that connected two parks in the east and the west. The park in the west became Victoria Memorial Square, which still exists today, and the park in the east became Clarence Square.

Like Toronto, the square has been transforming to suit its citizens' needs. For seven months beginning in May of this year the square was under construction. In mid-November, the newly revitalized square revealed its new features: a fenced-in dog run to accommodate the area's large dog population; a dedicated bike lane that zips through the park from Wellington Street to the crosswalk at Wellington and Spadina; a new bench-lined walkway and 22 new trees scheduled for planting in the new year.

Clarence SquareThe only part of the park that didn't get much TLC was its centre, marked by a large circular concrete slab. From as early as 1870, a grand classical fountain crowned the centre of the park, with paths radiating outwards in the shape of a modified Union Jack.

The fountain was later removed, but, thankfully, plans are underway to restore the park's centre to its former glory. According to Councillor Adam Vaughan's office, by next year that lonely concrete slab could be replaced by a piece of public art or a classical fountain relocated from the Art Gallery of Ontario.

The charms of Clarence Square are not limited to the park. On the square's north side, quaint 19th century row houses host an eclectic mix of shops. The newly opened French cafe, Le Neuf, neighbours the hostel, Clarence Castle, on one side and fashion designer, Pat McDonagh, on the other. On a cold, crisp Saturday, if you look out to Clarence Square from one of the row house patios, you can see the realized century-old vision of York city planners: a congregation of people and animals, strolling decadently, enjoying a small preserve of nature in the busy city.

Clarence SquareWriting by Davina Choy

Discussion

17 Comments

Steve / December 9, 2012 at 01:48 pm
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It's good to see a post on the progress that's been made in recovering this space that's been under siege for so long. It was named for King William IV, who was Duke of Clarence before he came to the throne in 1830.
K. / December 9, 2012 at 04:10 pm
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What this park needs (and so do many other parks in the city) is something to isolate it from the nearby busy streets. Some parks in Europe and NY do this fairly well with a low wall and a row of hedges. Doing that in this park on the Spadina side would go a long way to making it a more friendly space.
The Doberman Mom / December 9, 2012 at 05:01 pm
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No photos of the amazing new HUGE fenced in dog park? BOOOO!!!
Rafa / December 9, 2012 at 06:51 pm
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Love how the description conveniently omitted "hordes of homeless drunks sleeping on the benches".
mike / December 9, 2012 at 10:59 pm
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re: rafa --- " she doesn't even go here"
mezimeen / December 10, 2012 at 09:33 am
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great walkway but I notice I missed shooting the off leash dog area to the south-eat of the park - its DISGUSTINGLY OBTRUSIVE TO THE EYE. Holy eye-sore! This city and its regulations for fencing is a freaking joke! You could hold back Lions with that. Seriously, take some shots of that and see what others think.
Davina / December 10, 2012 at 10:21 am
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Hi all, I'm the writer of the post, and I can assure that you I do pass through the square at least twice a day (sometimes just to spy on the cute dogs!). Before the square's revitalization there were homeless people around the park, but recently I haven't seen as many. It could be that the colder weather is pushing them into shelters like St. Christopher House or Scott Mission (the closest ones to Clarence Square).

As for the dog park, I took a few photos of the fenced-in area, but the day I went to shoot, it was minus 3 and there went there weren't a lot of dogs around. http://www.flickr.com/photos/90785694@N04/sets/72157632182852109/
Jason replying to a comment from K. / December 10, 2012 at 11:01 am
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If you put hedges up you create privacy in a public space. That also provides a place for people to shoot up, make drug deals and sleep, making the park a better refuge for drug addicts and homeless and making it less appealing for the rest of the public who want a space to enjoy and feel safe in.
Dan / December 10, 2012 at 12:58 pm
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Dog pics?
gT / December 10, 2012 at 01:37 pm
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Trust Toronto to pile an avalanche of negative bullshit on everything that gets done. The facelift is a big improvement. It's a decent city park. It has pathways and an offlead area. Dogs can do their running jumping and whatever without wrecking the park and leaving it piled high with dog shit. Accept that some things that get done are for the better every now and again.
Alex / December 11, 2012 at 12:10 pm
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Nice! I used to go to this park after work and it was beautiful. Despite being downtown next to a busy street the huge mature trees somehow made it feel enclosed and natural. A beautiful park, I'm really glad it got some TLC. Especially the dog fence! Those things used to own the park, I'm glad they've got their space now to separate them and keep the rest of the park beautiful while giving them some space to run around in.
Liam / December 12, 2012 at 06:15 pm
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I like the fact I don't have to walk through giant puddles on the gravel when it rains now.
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