Winter Design and Food in Toronto’s Public Spaces

Today it was extremely cold in Ithaca with a wind chill near -20F. However, the sun was still shining, and I had to remind myself that the temperatures today were still not as cold as I experienced recently in Toronto. Some thought we were a little crazy to travel farther north during this particularly cold February, however the prospect of exploring a new city, its food and its public spaces lured us. While the majority of our trip was spent indulging in food not easily found in Ithaca (like Jamaican Chinese food, Singaporean Chili Crab, and Canadian smoked bacon), another portion of our trip led us outside, in the cold, to experience innovative design, historic preservation, and more food. Of course doing all of this in the middle of Canada’s winter also made this experience more memorable.

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Kites on Toronto’s frozen Kew Beach

Two sites drew us outside simply to play. Both were intentionally designed, interactive spaces located in unexpected places. The first was Underpass Park, a park, as the name suggests, located under an elevated highway. Completed in 2013, the 2.5 acre park has a playground with swings and climbing structures on one side of a narrow road, and basketball courts and a skateboarding area on the other side. Even though it was just after dark, the cold didn’t keep us from using the park’s climbing structures and swings.  Although we were the only people at the park that evening it was nice to see that it had been well maintained and relatively cleared of snow in the middle of winter so neighbors could use it.

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Underpass Park in Toronto

Next we explored one of Toronto’s most unlikely winter destinations, its frozen beaches, to see a series of new warming stations. Using the existing lifeguard stands, this set of five warming stations, were selected out of over 200 designs as part of Toronto’s new Winter Stations Competition. This collaborative project is similar to a competition Winnipeg has been hosting since 2010, to provide warming huts near an ice skating area. On the opening day of the exhibit in Toronto, I was pleasantly surprised to see a number of people exploring these projects at the frozen beach despite the cold. Our two favorite stations were the “Wing Back,” a curved wing-backed bench with a coal fire at its center, and the “Snowcone” a colorful pinecone inspired structure that invited you inside to climb the life guard stand. Both of these pieces invited us not just to warm ourselves but also to interact with people we didn’t know over a fire or inside a the colorful snowcone-like green house.

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“The Wing back” Winter Station in Toronto

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The exterior and interior of the “Snowcone” Winter Station in Toronto

Finally our love of good food led my friends and I outside yet again into Toronto’s Distillery Historic District. This former distillery, dating back to 1832, was reinvented in 2003 as an arts, cultural and entertainment destination known for its pedestrian and patio spaces. The event which drew us there was the city’s first HeatFest, a Great Canadian Comfort Food Festival featuring a number of local food trucks. While our multiple servings of inventive poutine did warm us up a little, a series of Winter Warmup Workshops including Latin dance and various exercise sessions, helped us stay warm by moving. Had this event taken place under warmer conditions I doubt we all would have been so willingly to join in this dancing workshops in a public plaza. However the cold led us to let go of our fears and jump right into this collective event for the sake of keeping warm.

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Heatfest at Toronto’s Distillery District

While cities like Boston are still suffering deeply from this winter’s devastating cold and snow, those of us in less severe winter cities might instead look towards ways our cities can cherish this last month or so of winter. Like Toronto, cities shouldn’t shy away from outdoor events in these cold months. Instead thinking of events that draw people together, like food and play, while also including some physical elements for warming, might lead to more of us bundling up and heading outside.

All photos were taken by the author and her friends while visiting Toronto in February 2015.

2 comments

  1. I love especially the Snowcone photo. In every county winter offers cool surprises.

  2. Pingback: Urban Inspiration: Winter Playgrounds | Encountering Urbanization

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