Tag Archives: parks

Scenes From Earl Bales Park

The history of Earl Bales Park starts with the John Bales House. The family arrived in the Bathurst and Sheppard area in 1824, finding a hilly topography bordering on the West Don River. John Bales cleared the land and built a log farmhouse south of Sheppard and east of Bathurst. From there, the layers of story build.

Bales House, south-east view, date unknown. From North York Historical Society. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Tremaine’s Map of the County of York, Canada West, 1860. Credit: Historical Maps of Toronto.

Steps from the John Bales House is the Earl Bales Community Centre. The meeting place for classes and events came to us by 1981 (a revitalization project took place in 2018 too). Before its arrival, another complex of buildings were neighbours to the John Bales House: The York Downs Golf and Country Club.

York Downs Golf and Country Club near Armour Heights, North Toronto, 1926. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

In 1922, the York Downs Golf Course opened on the former Bales land (albeit by then property passed into the hands of Shedden Company). The John Bales homestead was actually the residence of the groundskeeper and the barn was part of the clubhouse.

“York Downs Course Ready Next Summer” The Globe, February 6, 1922. Credit: Toronto Public Library

Map of the Townships, York, Scarboro, and Etobicoke, 1916. Credit: University of Toronto Map and Data Library.

Ownership map – township of york showing unsubdivided area of 10 acres and over with names of owners and acreages, 1922. Credit: City of Toronto Archives

York Downs Golf and Country Club, 1953. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

Ownership map for the region formerly known as the Township of York including York, North York, East York, Forest Hill, Swansea, 1932. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

In 1968, the club’s executive voted to move to Unionville and to sell the property to Max Tanenbaum of Pinetree Developments for $6,400,000. Tanenbaum intended to build apartments and houses on the former course. After much debate, local protests under the banner of ‘Save York Downs’ stopped the proposal. Ultimately, Metro Toronto Council purchased the property in 1972 for $9 million to use for parkland. Council also did the same with the Tam O’Shanter Golf and Country Club in Scarborough, although that ultimately became mostly a municipally owned golf course. Earl Bales Park — named for a former North York Reeve and great-grandson of John Bales — opened on a chilly December 2, 1973 with one last round of golf on the 163 acre site.

“Max Tanenbaum and Morry Smith”, Toronto Daily Star, April 16, 1971. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Walking south from the Bales homestead, the landscaping leftovers of the York Downs course are still evident on the land with sand traps, mounds, and trees. Then and now aerial maps provide an interesting comparison of the layouts of the course and the park.

York Downs Golf Course & Earl Bales Park, 1947 & 2019. Credit: Sidewalk Labs OldTO.

Walking down the western half of Earl Bales Park, you can see several attractions added to the park over the years. Taking advantage of the park’s elevation, the North York Ski Centre came in 1973 to provide local skiing to the residents of North York and Toronto.

“North York’s Big Opener”, Globe and Mail, Jan 9, 1974. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

There is also the Barry Zukerman Amphitheatre, which came by 1989 and named for a prominent Canadian Jewish businessman. The theatre is notable for its great performances in the summer.

The most powerful installation in Earl Bales Park is undoubtedly the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial. It was unveiled in 1991 with The Wall of Remembrance devoted to victims and survivors coming in 2001. Particularly sombre is the portion dedicated to children, including Anne Frank. The obelisk is the Spirit of Bravery Memorial.

           

Finally, a bust of Philippine National Hero Dr. Jose P. Rizal came as a gift from the Philippine Government to the City of Toronto in 1998.

These additions to Earl Bales Park represent the notion that parks can be and should be reflections of their environs. For example, the John Bales House — a representation of British colonial York — is now the Russian House Toronto. Since the end of the World War II, the area around the park along Bathurst Street gradually grew with new subdivisions and new populations. Toronto’s Jewish population (and Eastern Europeans in general) moved north on Bathurst to Forest Hill by 1950 and even further to Bathurst Manor in 1957. Toronto’s Filipino population arrived to the city mostly in the 1960s, first to St. Jamestown and then to ‘Little Manila’ at the Bathurst and Wilson area.

“Bathurst Manor Shopping Plaza Grand Opening”, Globe and Mail, November 21, 1957. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

One neighbouring area tied to the history of the York Down Golf Course is Armour Heights. The community, located directly south of Earl Bales Park, is named for the Armour family who were contemporaries of the Bales clan. The Armour lands came under the control of the Robins Real Estate Limited in the early 20th century, who in the 1910s and 1920s intended on making three master-planned, upscale communities in north Toronto: Armour Heights, Ridley Park, and Melrose Park. Together these were to be the ‘Highlands of Toronto‘. Robins Ltd also had a hand in Cedarvale’s ambitious genesis. Much in the same way as that suburb, Armour Heights was planned with lavish roundabouts, gardens, squares, and tennis courts and bowling greens.

Armour Heights – being the subdivision of parts t lots 11, 12, 13, Concession 1, west of Yonge Street, circa 1913. Credit: City of Toronto Library.

“The Highlands of Toronto”, Toronto Daily Star, April 13, 1923. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

“Why People Are Buying in Armour Heights”, The Globe, April 9, 1923. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

The owner, Colonel Frederick Burton Robins, built a Tudor-style estate house near Yonge Street and Wilson Avenue. Marketing pieces highlighted a bus line between Yonge and Bathurst Streets via Yonge Boulevard and Armour Heights’ proximity to the York Downs Golf Course. Armour Heights hosted air demonstrations and was even considered by McMaster University for a campus.

Robins Country Estate, Wilson Avenue west of Yonge Street, circa 1930. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

“Robins Limited Motor Bus Service”, Toronto Daily Star, May 21, 1914. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

“A Plan of The Splendid Site on Armour Heights”, Toronto Daily Star, December 24, 1926. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Like in Cedarvale, Colonel F.B. Robins’ vision for Armour Heights never fully materialized. By 1929, he sold the 300 acres to R. K. Lillico and associates for $930,000. Their idea was to re-brand the area as ‘Beverley Hills’, but the moniker never caught on. The street grid developed under its current form, filling out completely by 1950. It did eventually receive its bus line with the Toronto Transit Commission’s Armour Heights route in 1952. Armour Heights Robins’ grand estate house is now used by the Canadian Forces College. Today York Downs Boulevard — one of the early streets — remains as a tribute to the golf club and fittingly connects the park and subdivision.

Back in Earl Bales Park, a man-made pond exists on the southern end. Earl Bales Lake is a storm-water management pond. Beyond it is the Don Valley Golf Course. The Hoggs Hollow Bridge portion of Highway 401 runs over the course. The Toronto By-Pass, as the expressway was known before it was numbered, opened here in 1953, splitting up the golf course and Armour Heights.

Don Valley Golf Course, Yonge St., w. side, from s. to n. of Macdonald-Cartier Freeway; looking n.w. to Macdonald-Cartier Freeway bridge over West Don River., 1955. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

The east side of Earl Bales Park is scenic walk through nature. One is struck by the tree cover, both on this hills and in the valley. A topographical map of the West Don River from 1915 shows off the contours and some cases the tree types of the land that would become the park.

            

Plan of west branch Don River Valley from Lawrence Avenue to corner Sheppard and Bathurst, 1915. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

One also gets a look from below at the ski slope. ‘Downs’ refers to a grassy hill, so this might explain the naming of golf course.

A shallow west branch of the Don River runs through the edge of the property. The river and the way across it has had a few interventions in the second have the 20th century. At one time, albeit north and south of the park, the waterway hosted saw and grist mills. In 1956, the river’s winding course was straightened.

West Don River, 1953-1956. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

Further up, at the park’s northern entrance, one looks up at the massive bridge carrying Sheppard Avenue West over the West Don River Valley. A marker dates the bridge to 1961, but it is not the first structure in this location

The history is unclear, but the first photographed bridge was a wooden construction that existed until at least from 1910 (its construction date is unknown).

Sheppard Avenue bridge over the Don River near Bathurst Street., 1910. From North York Historical Society. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Wooden bridge over Don, 1908-1910. From North York Historical Society. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Its replacement — a more sturdy setup — came by 1920. Flood damage from Hurricane Hazel briefly closed the bridge in November 1954. The storm did, however, completely wipe out the nearby Bathurst Street Bridge. The event might have led to the bridge’s replacement in the following decade.

Sheppard Avenue West bridge over West Don River, 1920. This is the same view as the above wooden bridge photo. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

“Find Flood Damage, Close Sheppard Bridge” Globe and Mail, November 26, 1954. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Don River (West Don R.), looking w. across Sheppard Ave. bridge, 1954. Photographer James Salmon notes the bridge’s washout after Hurricane Hazel. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

The third – and present – bridge began construction in 1961 and opened by 1962 or 1963The section of the West Don River below it was channelized with concrete holdings. Also in 1962, the Don River Boulevard bridge was replaced. The short and quiet street curiously dates to the 19th century – at least to 1860 by cartographic accounts – and ran through the Shepard family property in Lansing to Bathurst. When both bridges were replaced in the 1960s, Don River Boulevard was also reconfigured to circle up the Sheppard Avenue, linking the street with the park. 

Sheppard Avenue over Don River, 1962 & 1963. Credit: City of Toronto Archives.

 

Exiting Earl Bales Park, one may go up to the main street or cross the bridge into the Hinder Property, leaving behind a great history.

 

Useful Links

Marshall’s Musings – “Exploring Earl Bales Park”

North York Historical Society – “June-August 2015 Newsletter” 

OldTO Mapping historical photos

Scott Kennedy – WillowdaleYesterday’s Farms, Today’s Legacy

Scenes From Kensington Market

What presumably started as pristine wilderness for many Indigenous peoples, the area that came to be Kensington Market began to take shape under the 1793 colonial park lot system established and administered by John Graves Simcoe and his successors. Here, plots 17 & 18 passed through several owners, eventually falling to Denison family. While today we associate the block between College & Dundas Streets and Spadina Avenue & Bathurst Street with a dense mix of narrow streets and an unlikely mishmash of altered structures, the only built form in the first part of 19th century was the Denisons’ Georgian manor, Belle Vue (also spelt Bellevue).

1842 Cane Topographical Plan of the City and Liberties of Toronto. Credit: Old Toronto Maps.

Denison, George Taylor, ‘Bellevue’, Denison Sq., n. side, e. of Bellevue Ave. 1912. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Lost in the modern geography of Kensington Market is the waterway and pond situated just above Belle Vue. Named for a rather unpleasant character in Toronto history, Russell Creek passed through the southern half of the block towards today’s Entertainment District before flowing into the old shore of Lake Ontario near Front & Simcoe Streets.

1862 HJ Browne Plan of the City of Toronto. Credit: Old Toronto Maps.

In the mid-1800s, the Belle Vue Estate was subdivided and town lots were put up for sale. Several marketing pieces at the time advertised the lots for sale. Notably, an 1854 pitch highlighted their location in “the most healthy and pleasant part of the city” at a great elevation from Lake Ontario. It also promoted the great proximity to the new Ontario Legislative Buildings and Government House, which as far as I know might have been proposed but were certainly never built (the current legislature opened in 1893).

1854 Plan of part of the city of Toronto showing the town lots on Bellevue for sale by the trustees for the Denison Estate March 1854. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

1869 Plan of building lots on part of the Belle Vue estate in the City of Toronto, the property of J. Saurin McMurray, Esq.. Credit: Toronto Public Libary.

To make way for the residential neighbourhood, Russell Creek and its pond were buried in 1876, following a trend with other creeks in Toronto. Today, there is little trace of its existence. Compared to Garrison and Taddle Creeks though, Russell Creek seems to sit lower in the psyche and awareness of Torontonians as it is not as readily mentioned. Belle Vue would last for a few more decades, disappearing by 1890. Strangely, it seems to shows up in the Goads fire insurance maps as late as 1903, however. It was replaced by houses and then finally the Kiever Synagogue in 1927.

Although the house is gone, Belle Vue’s geographic imprint remains in a few locales. Bellevue Square, which historically served as the promenade grounds for the manor, was donated to the city as public space in 1887. Denison Avenue was the driveway to the grounds. The names of the streets themselves offer links to the Denison Estate and the English motherland in general with monikers such as Lippincott Street, Bellevue Avenue, Oxford Street, and of course, Kensington Street. The latter is a throwback to the London commercial district of the same name (it is not clear who in Toronto drew the connection and offered the designation, though).

1889 Insurance Plan of the City of Toronto. Belle Vue House, while now housing an address at 22 Denison Square, is positioned with its corners aligning with the directions of a compass. By the end of the century, one can see the modern roots of Kensington Market’s layout of narrow streets and closely bunched structures. Credit: Old Toronto Maps

Of course, there is also the Victorian housing stock whose architectural style by definition is referential to the reigning monarch at the time. The early occupants of the neighbourhoood were unsuprisingly of largely White Anglo-Saxon Protestant descent. What happened to some of these houses over the next few generations erased that early connection to Britain, however.

Around the turn of the 20th century, the WASPs migrated to more favourable parts of Toronto. Finding opportunity and low rents, the Jewish community already situated in The Ward moved into those empty houses. It’s a common story to Toronto: a group occupies a space, leaves after it outlives its utility, and then a new group moves in and remakes it accordingly.

These East European Jews settled on Kensington, Augusta, and Baldwin Streets, not only residing in the former homes of their white predecessors, but also altering their fronts to accommodate commercial enterprise. And so began the ‘Jewish Market’. This ‘creation and re-creation’ happened over and over in Kensington Market. The Jews’ out-migration around World War II left their storefronts to other populations of Italian, Portuguese, Caribbean, and South & East Asian entrepreneurs, allowing new histories to be created.

The former Sanci’s fruit shop was the first non-Jewish merchant in Kensington Market. There’s a cross in the brickwork atop the store hinting at the building’s roots.

Baldwin Street, 1940s. Credit: Library & Archives Canada.

The importance of Kensington Market in the lives of generations of Canadian immigrants led to its designation as a place of national significance and as a National Historic Site in 2006. In 2017, Historica Canada neatly and creatively distilled its layered history into its first animated Heritage Minute. The clip nicely showcases the physical and cultural transformation of a shop through the decades, moving from the outside to the inside and back out again to show the masses of people who have frequented the Market through the ages.


The grand narrative of Kensington Market has then been this intersection between tangible (geographic) and intangible (cultural). That is to say, the histories of the people within the same physical space they have all come to call “home” over the years. Many writers have explored the theme, including Na Li in her book Kensington Market: Collective Memory, Public History, and Toronto’s Urban Landscape. The original Victorian homes, as altered as it has become after generations of use and reuse, become vessels to tell these stories.

From the Baldwin family countryside to the cafe- and bar-filled nexus of today, Kensington Market’s evolution was unplanned, organic, and anarchic, and yet somehow still falling in line with what came before. It survived urban renewal plans in the 1960s whose purpose to preserve the neighbourhood would have actually destroyed it. The quirks in its murals, hidden backways, street sights, and people can only exist within its borders. It cannot be replicated.

1889 Insurance Plan of the City of Toronto showing Kensington Place and Fitroy Terrace as part of the initial layout of the subdivided neighbourhood. Credit: Old Toronto Maps

Useful Links

Doug Taylor – The Villages Within

JB’s Warehouse & Curio Emporium – “Toronto Back Streets: Denison Square”

Kensington Market Historical Society

Lost Rivers – “Bellevue”

Toronto Park Lot Project

Scenes From Berczy Park

If I could sum up the new Berczy Park, it would be a heavy expression of changing landscapes mixed in with a bit of whimsy — in a city that perhaps needs a lot more whimsy. One gets that immediately with the cat greeting patrons on Scott Street.

Dogs populate the inside and outside of the pool, water cascading out of their mouths and into the bone-topped fountain. Well, there is one confused feline among the canines, too.

Part of the appeal of parks is the context they exist in. Think Withrow Park, Christie Pits, and Trinity Bellwoods and how crucial they are to the larger Riverdale, Christie Pits, and Queen West Queen neighbourhoods, respectively. While the revitalized Berczy Park is going to be huge in the Old Town-Downtown Core area, the interplay between the park and its immediate surroundings is most intriguing. Having the fountain and the 19th century streetscape to its south as a backdrop makes for a perfect scene.

Robert Rotenberg in Old City Hall describes this stretch of Front East as having a  “comfortable, almost European feel”. With the addition of the park, I think this holds even more true. In particular, the Beardmore Building, 1872, is my favourite of the row with its beautifully restored yellow brick and arched windows.

The existence of Berczy Park is bittersweet in that the triangular block was once filled with warehouses and shops like the Beardmore. Beginning in the late 1950s but accelerating in the 1960s, these historic rows were knocked down, became parking, and then finally usable public space in 1980.

It’s easy to lament the loss – and indeed, we should (a plaque showcasing the former streetscape, anyone?) – but at some point we should move forward and make the best with what exists. Fortunately, that point has been taken very well Berczy Park.

Looking east, above more seating and gardens, one sees the giant mural draped across the back of the Gooderham Flatiron Building. The artwork was commissioned for the opening of the park in 1980.

Below it, an art piece stands for the park’s namesake, William Berczy, a settler in the Town of York and the communities along German Mills Creek in Markham.

Then, there’s the Gooderham Flatiron Building itself, at one time the great headquarters of Toronto’s brewing and distilling industry. It’s perhaps the most imaged structure in the city. With the updated Berczy Park, it’s in a position to be captured even more.

While its lasting existence seems so natural, the Coffin Block actually manned the odd intersection before it. I would say this is a case where heritage replacing potential heritage was not so bad.

Wellington St. E., looking w. from Church St., 1888. Credit: Toronto Public Library.

Scenes From Grünerløkka, Oslo

I’m going to be venturing outside of Toronto and even Canada for this post. Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to travel to Oslo, Norway to visit a friend. Even before I got there, I had a list of what I wanted to do and see: taking in the nature the city had to offer as well as the typical tourist-y, sightseeing, museum-y stuff.

But I also wanted to explore. More specifically, pick a neighbourhood, run around, and see what it’s all about. I do that in Toronto already, so why not bring that overseas?

My choice of where to go wasn’t completely random. One of the running themes I love to explore in Toronto is former industrial neighbourhoods and the layers of history within them. Gentrification, transformation, adaptive reuse…it’s all very compelling stuff. I wondered if there was something like that in Olso.

Enter Grünerløkka.

Grunerlokka Map

Grünerløkka is a former-manufacturing district located for the most part to the east of Akerselva (river Akers), considered the boundary between East and West Oslo. Are there parallels to Toronto? Definitely. Grünerløkka is basically Oslo’s bohemian, hip(ster) neighbourhood. It’s a cross between Leslieville and West Queen West with a little bit of Yorkville, Liberty Village, Kensington Market, and the Distillery District sprinkled in there.

To get to Grünerløkka, I take the 11 trikk from where I’m staying in Majorstuen and get off at Thorvald Meyers gate at Olaf Ryes plass (square). As I’ve written about before, place names are often important ‘ins’ into understanding the makeup and history of a locale. ‘Grünerløkka’, for instance, refers to Friedrich Grüner, an early property owner in the area. Grüners gate (street), the northern boundary of Olaf Ryes plass, also is an homage to him.  Thorvald Meyer was a businessman who bought  substantial property in Grünerløkka in 1860. Grunerlokka became part of Oslo in 1858, suggesting there was a distinct identity to the district even before it was absorbed into the city – much like the many annexed communities that would eventually become the city of Toronto.

Exiting the streetcar, I immediately browse my surroundings. Thorvald Myers is one the  main commercial throughways in the neighbourhood and is thus quite lively. Across the street, there is the plass; behind me is a building with large words above the door. I don’t know the significance, but imagine there could be a story there. Doing some research after the fact, ‘Paulus Menighetshus’ translates to St. Paul’s Parish, and according to this Digital Museum entry (have to love online museums) has been around since 1965.

1. Paulus Menighetshus

I do a quick walk through the square, passing a table of fresh strawberries on the way to the park’s centrepiece – the fountain. All the benches are full. And why not? It’s a gorgeous day to sit around. I head to Grüners gate, noting the row of restaurants with giant patios.

2. Olaf Ryes plass

3. Villa Paradiso, 1892

4. Grüners gate

One of my goals in coming to Grünerløkka was to find some of the remaining industrial architecture, and through a pretty educated guess, I figure that there might be some by the river. At the western terminus of Grüners, there’s a nearby grain silo which has been converted into residential space for students. Of the many examples of adaptive reuse I’ve come across, this is one of the most crafty and ingenuous. I wonder about the logistics of such a conversion, though.

In the other direction, there’s a path leading down to some parkland. Sunbathers rest on grassy hills, and I can see dog and their owners meandering below. Getting close to Akerselva, I note how shallow it is. I think fair to suggest that this is the end-product of vigorous industrialization. This is Oslo’s Don River – the heart of early industry in the city. Like the Don, it has taken a beating over the years, and only recently has there been real attention put toward its value. This article by the City of Oslo tells me of the rejuvenation of the Akers. After years of pollution, a beautifying initiative has sprung up to make the river and the surrounding infrastructure a gorgeous hub for new ecosystems and human activity. Further up I can see a group of people standing in the middle of the ankle-deep waters. It reminds me of parts of the Mimico Creek in Etobicoke. I pass a bridge and a man convening with some pigeons (not quite at a Home Alone II level, though).

5. Akerselva river

6. Birdman Akerselva

7. Akerselva bridge

Then, I gladly come across a complex of brick buildings, unmistakably industrial in design. The one nearest to me has what I interpret to be a historical plaque (the old years hint toward it). I think about getting a dog-walker to translate for me, but I settle for Google’s help after the fact.

9. Factories Grünerløkka

10. Akers Mek. Verksted plaque

Akers Mek. Workshop. Founded here in 1841. Delivered equipment and services to businesses along the Aker River. Moved in 1854 to the islet in the bay. Was the city’s biggest shipyard pioneer in oil industry. Closed in 1982

I pass another bridge – this one with charming love locks (not quite Paris worthy, though). Up the Akers is a waterfall, one of a few along the river’s course. I head back to the buildings and ascend the stairs. At the top, I find out their adapted purpose (a fine arts school campus) and then a little further down along the cobblestone path a clue on their historic use. Christiana Seildugsfabrik. Christiana was Oslo’s name between 1624 and 1924. Fabrik might refer to clothes. After some research, I’m partially right. Seildugsfabrik was a hefty operation which made textiles for ships. Our friend Thorvald Meyer even had a hand in it.

13. Lock Bridge Grünerløkka

14. Seildugsfabrik Factory Grünerløkka

12. Seildugsfabrik Factory Grünerløkka       15. Seildugsfabrik Factory Grünerløkka

16. Oslo National Academy For the Arts

Known as Khio, for short

17. Seildugsfabrik Factory Grünerløkka

19. Seildugsfabrik Grünerløkka This Is It

Is This It?

20. Seildugsfabrik Factory Grünerløkka

The collection of buildings under this former entreprise give it a Distillery District feel. Especially with the brick flooring between them.

21. Seildugsfabrik Grünerløkka

 I find my way to the road network at Seilduksgata. I arbitrarily turn north on the next street I come across (someone’s had fun with the street sign). Walking a bit, to my right I see the back of a church tower. To my left is a school, rich in great masonry and the use of arches.

23. Steenstrups (Patrick Is Gay) Gat

Erm…

24. Paulus Kirke back               25. Foss Skole

Heading up to and across Sannergata, there’s a different vibe to the district than what I experienced near Olaf Ryes plass. For one thing, the streets are for the most part barren. But the most striking characteristic is the prevailing graffiti. Grünerløkka might be a renewed working class district, but elements of its seedy past still linger on. It reminds me a bit of Toronto’s Leslieville, a neighbourhood in transition. Even with gentrification, hints of the days of yore remain. Travelling south on Toftes gate, a tattoo parlour and an animated mural.

26. Factory in the distance Sannergata

Former factory(?) in the distance at Sannergata

27. Grafitti Grünerløkka

28. Tattoo place Toftes Gate Grünerløkka

30. Toftes Gate Mural

Then I come to Birkelunden, the third park of the day. Grünerløkka is coloured with them. Birkelunden has its own tint. I enter from the side that houses the formidable looking Grünerløkka skole. My sights move across the park to get my second look at Paulus Kirke today, this time from the front. The creation and planning of public parks is a fascinating topic. It looks like Birkelunden was always intended to be a park from the start, but I wonder about the planning that goes into the surrounding environment. More specifically, I wonder if it was deliberate to pit a school and church across from each other with a park in the middle, but something about it works. There’s a religious institution, an educational institution, and then this public forum at the centre.

31. Grünerløkka skole school

32. Birkelunden fountain

33. Birkelunden Paulus Kirke

Then, I unexpectedly come across a market. This is the park’s Sunday bric-a-brac. I meander around the tables, looking for anything eye-catching and useless. I take the time to look for a wallet, but see nothing that suits me. I do come across CDs and used vinyl, though. I find  a copy of Queen’s ‘A Day at the Races’. With my takeaway for the day, I exit via the familiar Seilduksgata. I take a moment to examine what looks like an upcoming development. Even the signs and gate are littered with spray paint.

34. Birkelunden Bric-a-Brac

35. Lou Reed Bric-a-Brac     36. Birkelunden Abba

38. Seilduksgata development

39. Seilduksgata development

40. Seilduksgata development

Heading south, I come across Sofienbergparken – park #4 of the day. It’s the biggest of them all thus far. I spoke about the planning of parks earlier. Well, this one has an interesting story – turns out it was once a cemetery. Following a cholera outbreak in the city in 1853, the block that contained Sofienberg, then outside Oslo’s borders, was chosen as a resting place for the victims. Over time it seems people opined it was a bad and unhygienic idea to have a cemetery in the middle of a growing, dense neighbourhood, so it was gradually made into a park.

There’s a Toronto connection, too! St. James Park was also once a graveyard. In 1844, the overcrowded cemetery was moved to its present location on Parliament Street. But before that, Toronto suffered cholera epidemics in 1832 and again in 1834. The story is a portion of St. James Cathedral still holds the unmarked graves of cholera victims. More than that, there was idea that a cemetery in the centre of town (metres away from the financial core no less) was not the best scenario.

44. Sofienbergparken

42. Grünerløkka_map_1917

Grünerløkka, 1917. Source: Wikimedia

Oblivious to this bit of hidden history, I join the masses in reading and relaxing on the grass. I pull out some Toronto fiction, the classic In The Skin of a Lion, which I keep with me to remind me of home, and then I move on.

45. Sofienbergparken

46. Sofienbergparken

I admittedly get lost after this. I’m trying to find my way back to Olaf Ryes plass. Just when I think I’ve found it, I realise it’s not the right place. This is Schous Plass and, in addition to being park #5, has a nice old library. I have to consult a map, which shamefully tells me I’m actually not to far from where I need to go.

47. Streetscape Grünerløkka     48. Deichmanske bibliotek

A short walk up Thorvald Meyers and I find the park! Before jumping on the tram, I make the executive decision to grab some lunch. I pass by a number of establishments including a famed watering hole in the area, Grünerløkka Brygghus (Brewhouse), and Valouria Vintage (because vintage shops are a must in hipster neighbourhoods – just as Queen Street West) before settling on a sandwich from Something Hotel. It’s an investment I immediately regret for its taste and price point, but it’ll have to do. I eat while I wait for the tram that got me here. I have just as many minutes wait as the number trikk I need. When it does come, it swoops me back to Majorstuen.

50. Velouria Vintage

This marked the end of my venture on this particular day, but I would return with company to Grünerløkka two more times in the coming days. We would head to the western part of the district on the other side of the Akers. Here one finds the grand Mathallen Food Hall (which was sadly closed when we tried to go) and little alleyways that lead to riverside entreprises. Ingens Gate (which comically translates to Nobody’s Street) in particular is a fun little nook with entertaining street art.

51. Ingens Gate Street Art

On another occasion, we fuel up at the two microbreweries: the already mentioned Brygghus, and at Schouskjelleren Mikrobryggeria, which is just south of Schous plass. It’s a dimly lit basement bar (really, ‘kjelleren’ means ‘basement’). No music, no trinkets on the wall, no nothing. There is a a sweet fireplace, though! And it’s fittingly located on the grounds of the former Schous Bryggeri (brewery). Christian Schou, a brewer, is another name synonymous with the local history of Grünerløkka that lives on in the neighbourhood.

52. Schouskjelleren Mikrobryggeria

53. Schouskjelleren Mikrobryggeria

Actually, the growth of amazing drinking establishments that has (in part) made Grünerløkka the “to go and be” district in Oslo might be attributed to the growth of the craft beer industry in Norway. The beer industry as a whole has been re-animated because of microbrews. It’s interesting because there have been breweries in Oslo for a long time (look at the above 1917 map and look for anything with Bryggeri in the title – I can count 3 of them), but the industry went stagnant. With Oslo and Norway playing catchup, the bar scene in the city – something that Toronto has been doing very well at in recent years – is better than ever.

54. Schouskjelleren Mikrobryggeria

I’d say that’s a good reason to say “Skål” to Grünerløkka.

Related links

Google Maps – My Route through Grünerløkka
Oslobilder – “Grünerløkka”
Industrimuseum – “Seildugsfabrik Christiania”
SkyscraperCity Forums – Never fulfilled urban renewal/developments plans for Oslo, Norway (Includes early plans for Grünerløkka)

Scenes From Smythe Park

Located on the west side of Jane Street between St. Clair and Eglinton is Smythe Park. Somehow this park fits into Toronto’s sports heritage, industrial heritage, and natural heritage.

The naming of this park was intriguing to me. Any hockey fan will recognize the surname Smythe as synonymous with the National Hockey League and the Toronto Maple Leafs. Indeed, Mr. Conn Smythe was at one time the Leafs’ coach, general manager, and owner, and the man who built Maple Leaf Gardens.

Smythe Park 1

Unknown to me was the fact that, along with running the Toronto Maple Leafs, Conn Smythe had several business operations in Toronto. Beginning in the 1920s, one of these was a sand and gravel enterprise on Jane Street – a very lucrative one at that. Smythe Park sits where that operation once was.

East Side of Jane Street, north of Alliance Avenue. Jane Plaza is located here today. Source: Toronto Public Library

East Side of Jane Street, north of Alliance Avenue. Jane Plaza is located here today. Source: Toronto Public Library

Following a descent north of the creek, I follow the path – the aptly titled Black Creek Trail – into the park. To my right there is a baseball diamond. To my left, a bridge (the first of two in the park) across Black Creek is gated up and inaccessible.

Smythe Park 2Smythe Park 4

Smythe Park 3

The downpour from earlier in the day has left the path wet and puddled, but it is an otherwise a nice walk. The willow trees that hang adjacent to the creek make it somewhat scenic.

Smythe Park 6

Smythe Park 8

I come to a second bridge, which at first glance are marked with two randomly placed giant rocks at either end. At closer inspection and deliberation, they are tributes to the industrial heritage of the area – and a reminder of the remarkable transformation from a quarry to a park. I look through the bridge’s unexpectedly high railings and see the muggy, depleted, manipulated, flowing creek.

Smythe Park 10

Smythe Park 11

Smythe Park 12

Smythe Park 13

A look on the other side of the bridge produces a view of the park’s outdoor pool facility. I follow the path up a very windy climb back to Jane Street, stopping to look down into valley – no doubt dug in from the gravel quarry.

Smythe Park 14