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Ward 32 parks friends celebrated

Proponents of parks in Ward 32 gathered at the Naval Club at Gerrard and Woodbine on Nov. 29 for Ward 32 councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon's second annual Parks Social. Representatives of several 'friends-of' parks groups told the small crowd what they have been up to in their parks this year,  sharing ideas and inspiration.

First up was Geneviève Rochon-Terry, who along with her mother Lisa Rochon, represented Friends of the Beach Parks, a new group focused on the parks alongside the boardwalk on the beach. The group recently organized a fall flotilla of stand-up paddleboards and kayaks, to “show that Lake Ontario can also be a playground in the cold fall weather.”

An inaugural pumpkin walk and pie baking contest drew 30 pumpkins to the boathouse at the foot of Lee Avenue. The team also worked with the Beaches Library to create an open-air reading room outside the branch at Queen and Lee. There is a plan to bring in a fire pyramid, a functional metal sculpture that will be available for skaters to warm up beside at the outdoor skating rink in Kew Gardens this winter.

Shelley Darling spoke on behalf of Alison McMurray and the Danforth East Community Association, which more or less absorbed the Friends of East Lynn Park. East Lynn used to be a bit of a dingy spot, with underutilized children's play areas; 15 years of serious volunteer work from large numbers of neighbours later, and the park is home to a successful farmers' market, a fall art fair, movie nights and a very well-used playground and wading pool, as well as a small natural ice skating rink when winter weather permits.

Next up was one-man neighbourhood driving force Tak Bui, who has spearheaded efforts to improve Stephenson Park, just southwest of Main and Danforth. With a number of high rise complexes and community housing nearby, the park has had its brush with less than desirable characters in the recent past; as Bui put it, “for a while it was like crack city there.”

However, consistent efforts from Bui and whatever neighbours he could convince have resulted in a park that remains relatively safe at all hours of the day and night. Several dead spots along Stephenson Avenue have also been revived, with small gardens and a new bench built by Bui.

“All the neighbours came and planted flowers, which makes it a real, true community garden,” he said.

The wading pool at the park features paintings of whales, thanks to Bui, who has painted murals nearby.

Stephenson is also earmarked for $100,000 in Section 37 money from a nearby development; about 18 residents met late last month to form a 'friends-of' group and discuss plans for upgrades in the park.

Trish Feistner and Jason Balgopal shared the possibilities at Norwood Park, southwest of Main Street and Gerrard, which is set for $124,000 of Section 37 money as well. The park hosted a movie night this summer, and there is talk of a theatre group considering setting up shop as well. Balgopal said a natural surface skating rink may be set up this winter as well.

“It's a trial thing for this year; we're going to see how it goes,” he said.

The Friends of Woodbine Park, started this year, were also represented. The park has seen two new festivals added to the lineup – the Muhtadi International Drumming Festival and Afrofest were both added to the festival lineup. The park also hosts a large natural area and pond, a children's play area and a soccer field; along with the waterfront parks along the beach, it is split in use between hosting large events and offering park space to local residents.

Councillor McMahon said it remains her goal to have a 'friends-of' group in place for every park in the ward by the end of her time on council.

To keep up with the Friends of the Beach Parks, head to facebook.com/FriendsOfTheBeachParks. For the latest news on East Lynn Park, visit decadiaries.wordpress.com. The Norwood Park Residents Association can be found at norwoodpark.ca. To register a friends-of group, find out how to form one, or for ideas on how citizens can take more ownership of city parks, visit parkpeople.ca.

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