City proposes major renovations to Cawthra Park

Concrete paving, outdoor adult gym and yoga pad among proposals

UPDATE FEB 7: Local Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam has provided Xtra with a copy of stakeholder meeting notes, which present a number of ideas for the park and two conceptual drawings. They can be viewed here.

FEB 7: Big changes are on the way for Cawthra Park, now that the city has found $450,000 for “park improvements” that could change the area from somewhat of a naturalized green space into something more like Yonge-Dundas Square, according to one proposal.

That proposal, which is only an early design concept, replaces much of the park’s grassy area with hard paving. Trees are banished to the edge of the park along Monteith St and adjacent to the 519 Church St Community Centre under the proposal. The current drawing does not indicate any benches in the space but does include a number of pillars that would display park and neighbourhood history, a built-in yoga pad, and an outdoor adult gym. A permanent red-ribbon sculpture indicating the way to the AIDS Memorial would stand at the south entrance to the park at Church St.

Local Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam says the funding for the park renewal comes from the Section 37 grant the city negotiated in exchange for granting a zoning exception to a new rental apartment tower at 66 Isabella St. According to the agreement, the developers agreed to pay $450,000 to the city to be used toward “park improvements” in the neighbourhood. The only parks in the neighbourhood are Cawthra Park and the parks that run parallel to Yonge St north of Wellesley.

Wong-Tam says the city will have the money as soon as the developers are issued their aboveground building permit, which she anticipates will be before the end of the year. She speculates that construction will take place between the end of Pride 2013 and the opening of WorldPride 2014, so that neither event is disturbed by the renovation work.

“That’s a herculean ask, given it’s not in [city’s] capital budget,” Wong-Tam says. “This was not in the capital works at all. There was no money to go into Cawthra Park until we started the conversation about improving. We didn’t inherit any plans from the previous councillor.”

But Wong-Tam says the project will be tailored to be complete in time for WorldPride.

“Until the conceptual drawings are completed, we won’t be able to do a tender. It could be $250,000 to 500,000, but either way we’re covered. It’s about the capacity of city to do the projects. The money is there,” Wong-Tam says.


In addition to the Section 37 funds from 66 Isabella, Wong-Tam hopes to tap into the city’s general park improvement funds to get the most bang for the buck.

Not all park users are satisfied with the proposals on the table.

Matthew Cutler, manager of resource development and communications at The 519, says he would prefer that the park remain grassy.

“We have no interest in having the park paved over. The entire basis of our [Pride season] fundraising is that it’s the Green Space on Church St,” Cutler says. “I would like to see levelled grass so that it would improve the drainage. It’s almost impossible to keep grass there even when it’s not Pride.”

“The vast majority of people in our catchment live in apartments, so the parks are their backyards,” he says.

Users of the park’s dog run expressed frustration that the dog area is not being considered for improvements. The off-leash area was added in the first phase of park improvements and is not scheduled for renovation.

“The local community has been taking care of the dog park,” said John, who refused to give his last name. He pointed out a broken fountain in the dog area, a bench that residents repaired, and sand that residents carefully sweep back into the park after rains wash it away to the edges. John says residents want the sand removed entirely from the park and replaced with “pee pebbles,” which dogs won’t track back into their owners’ houses.

Whatever the city does to the park, he wants the city to articulate a clear and realistic maintenance plan.

“If you don’t have a maintenance schedule in place, what’s it going to look like in two years or more?” he says.

But Matthew Cutler says that although the first proposal leaves some elements to be desired, he’s hopeful the city will respond to community input.

“At this stage, the key to Cawthra Park is rejuvenating it in a way that the community will use it again. The park has found itself in a place where there’s a mismatch of things that are broken. It does feel like a space that isn’t meant to be lived in,” he says.

Rob Salerno is a playwright and journalist whose writing has appeared in such publications as Vice, Advocate, NOW and OutTraveler.

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