To talk about why I think Trillium Park is Toronto’s best park right now, I have to start with a break-up story. The story of breaking up with Trinity Bellwoods.
For years, Trinity was my go-to Toronto park. A meeting place for me and my West End Girls to laze on blankets, picnic, play tennis, people watch, set off fireworks (sorry neighbours), make fun of the drum circles, sell our stuff at the neighbourhood garage sale.
It is now officially a “Destination Park” — a place the young and beautiful come to make a scene. On any sunny day, you can’t see the grass for the long legs in jean shorts sprawled on every available warm patch. I’m happy for them, truly. More citizens enjoying public space is good for the city. But the more popular Trinity Bellwoods became, the more it felt like a club I had grown out of.
The good news is that Toronto has around 1,500 parks. There’s one for every personality type, activity and mood. And while I can’t say I’ve tried them all, I believe I’ve found the best downtown urban park for those who don’t want crowds but do want a beautiful place to walk, run, or relax alone or with friends.
What is downtown Toronto’s best park and why don’t you know it’s at Ontario Place?
Trillium Park opened in 2017 on the west side of Toronto’s waterfront, a rare example of a parking lot being returned to nature, and to the public. It’s right beside and attached to Ontario Place, the once beloved and now abandoned family theme park. Together, these two connected spaces take up around 7.5 acres. Here are 10 reasons why I think Trillium Park is Toronto’s best park.
Sunrise person? Sunset person? Either way, this is your park. On its south east side, Trillium Park provides a clear view of the downtown skyline, complete with CN Tower, that is especially beautiful at sunrise. And the far west side of Ontario Place has become a go-to place to watch the sun set over the water, but it’s still a chill, quiet scene. It’s no wonder you’ll often find couples having their engagement photos taken down here. It purdy.
William G. Davis Trail
There are parks for sitting. There are parks for hiking. Trillium Park is a park for walking. The William G. Davis Trail is a fairly flat 1km loop around the park popular for easy strolls enjoying the lake views, with plenty of benches and rocks somewhat tucked away for private moments. Cyclists and runners know it as good detour/extension from the nearby Martin Goodman Trail. You can do the loop to/from from the Trillium Entrance or continue west to Ontario Place.
If you’re lucky enough to score a reservation to Trillium Park’s fire pit, you’ll spend a lot of time answering questions from passers-by. Because everyone who walks by and sees a group of friends gathered round a fire with a perfect view of Lake Ontario seems to have that same thought, “that looks cool, we should come back and do that.”
Ontario Place runs four different fire pits throughout the grounds. My favourite is the Trillium Park location, with its granite rock benches and oversized open air pit. Reservations for 2.5 hour slots are required and can be made in advance on-line, costing $50. (Bring Your Own Firewood). Or at least they were, in normal times.
The bonfire pits are officially closed during Ontario’s stay-at-home order/lockdown, although plenty of people just show up with firewood and claim it, first-come-first-served, and hope not to get shooed away by security. Whenever or however you manage to go, it’s a beautiful place to spend a warm night, roast marshmallows, light sparklers and go home smelling like you’ve been away camping.
There’s no lifeguard here, no change rooms, and no sand. It’s rocky, windy, and cold. Which is why most Torontonians don’t consider the small stretch of shoreline on the south west side of Ontario Place a place to swim. But if you just want to be in the water and you don’t need amenities, well, this secret beach is a sweet spot. (Use common sense and check water quality reports for surrounding beaches before you jump in here, like anywhere in Lake Ontario.) Each summer it seems more people are discovering this place to cool off, but it’s still secluded enough I feel comfortable in a bathing suit here. Come on down but don’t ruin it by bringing any jerks!
The City of Toronto is on the traditional territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat peoples. This park actually acknowledges sitting on Indigenous land.
Outside of Trillium Park, you’ll find a large Inukshuk – a traditional Inuit stone structure meant to guide travellers. This one is apparently one of the largest in North America at 30 feet. It’s a good spot to meet up with friends. Inside, there are Moccasin Identifiers carved into the rock and three so-called marker trees – bent and tied down as saplings to grow in a certain direction. These were created in consultation with local Indigenous communities and invite you to reflect on the grounds you walk upon.
One my favourite elements of Trillium Park is the small grove of pine trees on the western side of the trail loop. When the wind blows just right, the smell of pine needles reminds me of camping, takes me out of the city. It’s also where I tend to see the most birds. Seagulls, Canada geese, swans and ducks are fixtures of Toronto’s waterfront, and can be spotted on the Ontario Place side. But amongst these pines, you can see and hear swallows, sparrows, grackles, finches, robins, warblers and others including my personal favourite Ontario bird, the red-winged blackbird.
Did you know the first permanent IMAX theatre was in Toronto? And that it’s still here? The Cinesphere, built in 1971, is a gleaming white dome on the water housing a giant movie screen 80 feet wide by 60 feet high. When theatres are operating, it’s still an excellent place to see an IMAX film (or, say, your annual Christmas screening of Die Hard). It’s also one of Toronto’s most photographed landmarks, and brings an air of retrofuturism to our waterfront.
Ontario Place is often the site for special art events, and lot of installations seem to get left up afterwards, so there’s usually a random assortment of art to discover. There’s also what looks like a large abandoned ship you can walk on along the water’s edge. Apparently, it’s actually three large ships, which were deliberately sunk to provide a protective breakwater for the marina back when Ontario Place was first built. Then there’s the leftovers of the amusement park itself. You may or may not find entry to former rides. It’s always worth poking around corners.
Don’t underestimate this feature! Toronto is not exactly known for maintaining the best public washrooms. But the entrance of Trillium Park offers clean, spacious, gender neutral single stall washrooms, and on the Ontario Place side there are several other permanent facilities. Unlike Trinity which can get overrun with drunk dudes urinating on trees or wherever they feel like it, this park never smells like pee!
It’s a Work in Progress
As one of Toronto’s newest parks, there are some things it doesn’t have. Like large trees for shade. And if you drive a car, you’ll find out that parking near Trillium Park/Ontario Place is not cheap. So it’s perhaps not for everyone. Which is fine. Because the people who love it and use it will make it their own, and I’m excited to see how this public space grows over the years.
What is your favourite Toronto park? Maybe I don’t know it yet so tell me in the comments!