BMX anyone?

It's quite possible that Toronto will have a new urban BMX park come early Spring if everything falls into place. Everything being more paperwork, more approval stages and a few more details to be worked out.

You would never believe how much time and effort goes into planning and executing the rise of a new park! I had no idea. Thanks to the perseverance of one Michael Heaton, it is coming up on six years for this urban youth park to finally become a reality.

Just two weeks ago there was a meeting in Parkdale regarding the proposed Marylyn Bell BMX/Skate Park. The community came forth to hear about the proposal and it seems like everything went quite smoothly.

I touched base with Michael Heaton whose dream has been to see a BMX Park in the city after being introduced to the sport while teaching in Australia one year. There have been many obstacles along the way - here's the inside story of how it happened and what's in the store for the new park!

1.How long has this been in the making? What was your role in all of this?

In 1999 I sent a letter to Toronto Parks and Recreation suggesting that the City should build an extreme sports park for youth somewhere in downtown Toronto. I had just returned from a teaching exchange for a year in Adelaide, Australia and had been introduced to this sport I had never heard of before - BMXing. In Adelaide, there were facilities for BMX riding in every community and the sport was so widely accepted and practiced that I was surprised that nothing existed in Toronto. Back in those days, BMXing really was the odd sport out in Canada - the only way to have anything at all was to try and get a skate park built and link BMXing to skateboarding.

2.What was the response to your letter?

At first there was no response from Parks and Rec, then later they invited me to talk to them and outline what I had in mind. Following this, there were a number of meetings as Parks looked for some property that could be used for such a park, but the search was a little less than whole-hearted and so the whole thing just kind-of dropped. Unfortunately, I kept at it and kept asking them if they'd found anything yet.

3.What happened next?

Well, later on, I met with a chap from Parks and Rec, Al Crawford. He thought that building a sports park made a lot of sense because there was so little for youth in the downtown area and skateboarding was such a popular sport. He introduced me to Councilor Korwyn Kazynski, who also saw the logic of youth recreational facilities, particularly in Parkdale (just north of the Exhibition grounds). Also, there was a site on the Exhibition grounds that would be perfect for such a facility. Exhibition executive were very interested, as they had considered opening up such a facility on their site.

4.What were some of the obstacles you had to overcome in getting the proposal & plans for the fully sanctioned BMX track together?

The Councilor of Parkdale changed, and Councilor Sylvia Watson took on many of the projects opened by Councilor Korwyn Kazynski, including the idea of a sports park. At about this time in the history of this project, BMXing became an Olympic full-medal sport, scheduled to start in Beijing in 2008. Also at the same time, the City found itself without a lot of money for building recreational facilities.

5.What kind of costs are involved?

Looking at the sports park, the cost of providing BMX facilities was in the neighbourhood of $50,000 while the cost for skateboarding (cement park) started at $250,000 and went into the millions. So it rather made sense to focus on getting the BMX Park up and running, and consider the rest later. That was certainly okay by me, considering that initially, getting a BMX facility built was my original idea. It also made sense to others as well - promoting a form of cycling in a City that had a Cycling Plan.

6.Once this was decided, were there other obstacles?

At this time, 2 tenants in buildings adjacent to this rather superb location on Exhibition grounds raised red flags, saying that they didn't want these kinds of kids in their area. So the project went back into search mode. Councilor Watson looked at several possibilities, but none of them were as ideal as the Exhibition Park location. However, a close second went to a site south of Exhibition Place in the Marilyn Bell Park. Thus this site won by default - it seemed that there was nowhere else in the entire "downtown" area for such a facility.

City Council gave approval for the start of a reserve fund so that money could be collected from people and companies in the Toronto area to gather enough funds to build the dirt track and jumping part of the park.

7. How did the recent community meeting go regarding the Marilyn Bell BMX Park?

City Planning is now tracking the project. The requirements are that an official design be drawn that can be examined by all of the various departments within the City to ensure that it will "fit" the location. The biggest concern was any possibility of conflicts that the track would have with trees. Other services and facilities on this site also tied into numerous reviews. That completed, the design was presented to the community at a Public Meeting. This occurred on December 14 and was well received by the 70 or so people in attendance.

8. What can you tell me about the Marilyn Bell Park?

It's the park named after the first young lady to swim across Lake Ontario. She had a dream of something that perhaps she could do, and this location saw her completing her goal. What a great spot for other young folk in the City to come and realize their dreams as well.

9. What is it about this location that makes it suitable for the new BMX park?

Building such a youth oriented facility in Marilyn Bell Park has turned out to be a good choice. Its location is ideal. It's a picturesque spot for kids to be and to enjoy a new sport. It has lots of trees, and space to plant more trees.

The initial history of BMX has kids, armed with shovels, heading off into the forest to construct jumps and berms that they can ride without being caught and thus have all their labours destroyed. In Australia, tracks are built in forested areas - probably mainly because it's so hot during riding season that the trees offer shade and a little coolness. So this site had the potential to link the sport to its origins.

Another feature of the location is its proximity to the GO station at Exhibition Place. That makes at least 3 BMX Parks near GO stations - Mississauga's BMX Park in Clarkson, about 5 minutes west of the Clarkson Station on the Hydro corridor, the Marilyn Bell Park, then the Port Union Skate Park right across the road from Port Union Station.

10. Can you tell me a bit more about any other BMX TRACKS in the city?

The closest track to Toronto is in Milton, at Trafalgar Road and Britannia Road. The first BMX Park in Toronto is in the North York area, behind the Bayview Arena on Bayview just north of Finch.


11. What's the next step for approval?

The next steps call for finalizing the design for the area, making sure that everything done meets the approval of the Ontario Cycling Association (so that it will be an officially sanctioned track), and turning the plans back over to City Planning for their last review. If all goes well, a date will be established for the start - the day we can actually dump dirt in the area and form the track.

12. What are some of the plans for the park?

We'd really like to see the park open in the Spring of 2006. Ideally, a grand opening event can be planned for Bike Week - end of May, beginning of June time period. We'll have a great time with competitions, prizes, food, and music! After that, we'll work to try and get some programs running like regular race days, instruction sessions for kids in the area and in the City, beginner sessions, advanced sessions, fun sessions. Whatever everyone expresses interest in. We've already had 10 bikes with helmets donated to such a program, so we'll be able to offer possibilities whether potential riders have bikes or not.

13. How can people get more information about the evolution of this proposed park? Any websites they can check out?

There isn't a web site yet. We really need one. Hopefully, we'll have an info booth of some kind at the March Bike Show down at Exhibition Place. The track will all be planned at that point. We should have a projected opening date at that point. We're certainly moving into the "finding cash" stage - we need to come up with a total of $50,000 (or its equivalent in terms of donated equipment, supplies and materials). Any thoughts, ideas and suggestions are always welcome. I can be contacted by phone or at torontobmx {at}

If you're interested in getting involved in BMX racing, you can contact the Ontario Cycling Association,

photo #1 credit: Leigh Hargrove. Rider unknown.

photo #2: courtesy of Michael Heaton. North York BMX Park

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