Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Massey Harris Park

This is Massey Harris Park. It is one of Toronto's newest parks, and it is wonderful.

The site is nestled between a brand new condo development, and what was the Massey-Harris building, now a loft building full of the well-off urban professionals who make up a good number of the locals around here (you may draw your own conclusions about where I lie within that description.)

The park has its own website here, which gives a brief history of the Massey-Harris Company which, in its day, was one of the largest manufacturers of farm equipment around.

The Masseys were a tremendously influential family in their day. Vincent Massey was the first Canadian-born Governor General of Canada, and his brother Raymond was a well-known actor. Indeed, the University of Toronto would lack both Hart House and Massey College, the Commons and the Lords of St. George campus, had it not been for the munificence of this family. Or, to be more precise, my family.

In some strange, roundabout way, I am related to them, by blood or by birth I cannot remember. Long ago, I was told stories of moderately distant relatives being invited to the "Massey Family Reunion". In fact, as a small child, I considered myself a Massey, although this form of self-identification has long since expired.

The park itself is a mélange of outdoor styles, with manicured lawns:

and untamed shrubbery:

wooden walkways (which constitute the east and west edges of the park):

and stairs that lead to nowhere:

It is a cheeky place, where one is expected to wonder why there are stair that lead to nowhere, or why if you put you hand on a pole with a rounded tip (hmmmm....) water starts shooting out of the ground:

It's really quite a show.

For those of you who don't live here, Toronto has become quite the dog city. Reflecting that trend, we find a new style of water fountain, with three separate spouts - one for an adult, one for a marginally shorter adult, and, down at the very bottom, one for your poochy buddy:

And just when you thought things couldn't be any better, it also happens to be a free Wifi spot thanks to the fine folks at Wireless Toronto.

Picture this. A hot, sunny day, accompanied by your faithful dog and a sleeping infant. You find a spot to sit under the trellis, which both blocks and reflects the sun:

You have water, you have wilderness, you have pelouse, and you have internet access. Dare I mention there's a Starbucks just steps from the park?


As a Calgarian, I was amused by the generous number of "parkettes" that dot Toronto. They were small, and for the longest time, I didn't get them- what's the point of sitting in a park. Aren't parks for walking, listening to Beethoven's sixth symphony and imagining yourself strolling through Heiligenstadt?

How wrong I was. These small green spaces, these points throughout the city where one can catch their breath, have just as much value as a long walk through Edworthy Park would. They show an entirely different approach to bringing the natural back to the city.

We don't have to cordon off the nature already there - we can make it.

In fact, what makes Massey Harris Park work is that it is very much a product of thought. It is not a few trees surrounded by grass, but a deliberate attempt by some very creative people to create an oasis in the desert that makes up much of the modern urban landscape. The attention to detail is appreciated because it's obvious that they cared about what they were building here.

I would argue that it is how we treat the small spaces around us, the ones that don't get much publicity, and not the giant megaprojects Toronto Star columnists demand the city build, that speak to whether or not our urban landscape is improving or deteriorating.

If Massey Harris park, and the transformation at the Princes' Gates are any indication, and I think they are, then the Cassandras in our local media should find another hobby horse to ride because their discourse serves very little. except perhaps to sell papers.


k dough said...

Ahhh, if only it were still legal to masturbate in public parks. Oops- wait a minute...

But seriously- I thought it was Massey-Ferguson?

declan said...

On the off chance you haven't seen it, I recommend the little park next to the cloud conservatory between temperance and richmond (just west of Yonge).

Otto van Karajanstein said...

I have Declan, although I had forgotten the name! I should try to get over there again before the green melts away.

Conrad said...

It's always nice to see the real world in a blog; writing about writing sometimes feels like it's at two removes from what's real, which is why I am happiest writing about London.

Otto van Karajanstein said...

K dough, Massey Harris became Massey Ferguson in the 1950's. I'm not sure why the park is named after Massey Harris - it's an interesting question.

Thanks Conrad, I share your sentiment!

I enjoy walking around with my camera and my son, attempting to make something interesting out of my community. I come from a place (Calgary) that often seems, if not dismissive, not terribly interested it its own history. My new photographic entry will actually attempt to deal with this a bit.

chris miller said...

There's no sculpture !

Oh - the sadness of it all.

Otto van Karajanstein said...

Chris - too true! Perhaps I should suggest they commission one...