Toronto Parks: Trinity Bellwoods Park
White squirrels, a buried bridge and regular art installations — all things you won't find in Toronto's parks. That is, unless you're talking about Trinity Bellwoods.
Indications of Trinity Bellwoods' hip West Queen West digs are easy to spot. Most of the park's garbage bins and signage have been splattered with fluorescent paint and tags. Signs have been altered to encourage feeding the birds and keeping dogs unleashed. The park lives up to its role as one of the hippest and most cultured of Toronto's public spaces, playing host to many art shows and cultural events.
This area, between Queen and Dundas just east of Ossington, has gone through many transitions in the last century and, while it may feel like it, it hasn't always been Toronto's hip hangout. Up until the 1960s the remnants of Garrison Creek shaped much of the north end of the park. It was eventually decided that the creek would be filled in using earth from the construction of the Bloor subway line.
Today the creek has been integrated into Toronto's sewer system. When the park's surface was leveled to the height of Dundas St. it was decided that the Crawford Street Bridge at the park's north entrance from Dundas would be buried intact. Today, as joggers trot through, just feet below their rubber soles is a (once) fully functional bridge dating back to 1915. The only indication of the park's geographical history is the off-leash dog park, which has kept its steep slopes. For more historical photos of the park, see our overview here.
Signs of the park's transformation can also be found by taking a look at the greenery. If you walk north from the Queen entrance up to Dundas, you'll notice the trees begin to shrink. If you were to read the rings on the trees in the south end they would date back over 100 years, whereas many of the trees in the north end are only 40 years old. The trees in the south end cast massive shadows, making them a great place to lounge and read a book under on a scorching day. While you're there make sure to keep an eye out for the white squirrel. These animals have become something of folklore in the park, and the nearby White Squirrel Coffee Shop takes its name from the many white squirrel sightings in the park.
The parkland was purchased in 1851 by Bishop John Strachan (of Strachan Ave.), who wanted to provide Toronto with an Anglican option to education that would run in opposition with the secular University of Toronto. The park was fully converted into Trinity College campus in 1852, but by 1904 the secularists won out and the college had amalgamated with the University of Toronto.
The City bought the campus grounds in the early '50s and with a swift wrecking ball had the buildings demolished. The stone and iron gates facing Strachan Ave. now serve as one of the few reminders of what once occupied Trinity Bellwoods. The only other reminder of the park's history is the St. Hilda's College building, now serving as a senior's residence (John Gibson House).
Today, anarchist book fairs, live theatre, impromptu drumming circles, performance art, and of course bicycle polo fill the parks' green spaces on any given day, taking the place of the soccer teams and other more conventional sports and activities that tend to dominate in other parks. In this way the park imitates the neighbourhood, its many art shows reflecting the many art galleries found steps away on Queen West.
Trinity Bellwoods is the home of the Queen West Art Crawl, summer-long art camps, and section 3 of garages on Crawford St. facing the park. Another big draw is the weekly farmers' market which runs every Tuesday from June to October. One event the park's advocates refused to let it be host to was the 2010 G20 protests. The city proposed using Trinity Bellwoods as the designated "Protest Zone" but faced strong neighbourhood opposition, and they eventually gave that honour to Queen's Park.
Trinity Bellwoods has become such a big part of the community it has inspired a few local businesses to cater to the hordes of park goers. At 198 Walnut Street near the southeast entrance to the park you can find the unofficial tuck shop. At Trinity Tuck Shop you can rent out racquets, blankets and games for your park trip.
And if you're in the market for some new threads the tuck shop also has some vintage clothing at the ready. As of June The County General at 936 Queen Street West has launched their full menu available for picnickers. Their menu includes fried chicken sandwiches, calamari tacos and bunch fare will all be available for takeout. If you forgot to bring a picnic basket and heaven forbid your bocce ball set, The County General also rents these out to park visitors.
Don't get the wrong idea from all the eclecticism, though. Trinity Bellwoods is still a conventional park with three baseball diamonds, eight tennis courts, two multi-use fields, an outdoor hockey pad and many jogging trails. The southeast corner of the park provides a great view of the CN Tower and the towering financial district serving as the ultimate juxtaposition to Trinity Bellwoods and its periphery. If you were to trek down to Trinity Bellwoods today you'd find swarms of summer camps, unleashed dogs, picnicking lovers, strollers, joggers and maybe a discarded PBR can or two.
Size: 37 acres
Dog Friendly? Both on and off leash
On-site facilities: recreation centre, eight tennis courts, three baseball diamonds, wading pool, two mult-use fields, shinny/skating rink
Transit Accessibility: 501 Queen/505 Dundas streetcar
Writing by Matt Stephen