Corktown is one of those neighbourhoods that I like to pretend I live in.
Don't get me wrong: I love my own neighbourhood, and as a born-and-raised Danforth resident I’m legally required to state that I’d never live anywhere else. But like everyone who lives east of the Don Valley, I have secret moments when I wish I lived just a teeny bit further west and a tiny bit further south. And if an errand ever takes me downtown, I’ll sometimes take my time while passing through Corktown, biking up and down side streets as if my house is just around the corner, and I’ll soon be reaching into my pocket for the keys to my 19th-century townhouse or ultra-modern condo.
As a make-believe Corktown resident, you can take it from me: there is plenty to love about Corktown.
There’s the old: the cobbled streets of the Distillery District and tiny rowhouses of Trinity Street. There’s the new: the pixelated postmodern condos built for the 2015 PanAm Games, and the pedestrian-friendly walkways of the Front Street promenade.
And for a playground enthusiast, there’s a lot of room for fun in a neighbourhood which, even if you draw its borders generously, doesn’t even cover a square kilometer.
Over the past few years, I’ve visited and reviewed over 125 Toronto playgrounds, with a bit of help from my two enthusiastic young playground testers; my kids, aged 6 and 3. Corktown has been a frequent destination on our adventures, as it offers a surprising amount of quality spots for family play, and is easily accessible by car, TTC, or via the Don Valley bike path.
Whenever we visit, I’m amazed by Corktown’s ability to be simultaneously serene and full of life, a quiet neighbourhood with the vertical walls of the financial district seemingly within arm’s reach.
Here are, in no particular order, my five favourite playgrounds in Toronto’s Corktown neighbourhood:
The Bright Street Playground
Bright Street is almost too cute to be a real street. Wedged between Queen and King, and crammed with tiny houses that lean against each other like kindergarteners packed into a school bus, Bright Street is a window into another era. Those houses were likely once home to people who worked in the Distillery when it was, you know, a Distillery. At Bright Street’s north end is a playground as tiny and adorable as the street it’s named for. A great place for toddlers, and a good use of modest space, but bigger kids might opt for one of the bigger playgrounds further down this list. Full review here.
Famous for its farmer’s market, and for its innovative use of urban space, Underpass Park is a Corktown must-see. At the east end, a small skate park and basketball courts hide beneath the Richmond Street underpass, protected from spring rain and summer sun. The western portion includes some challenging climbing equipment and highly Instagrammable overhead mirrors. The pillars that hold up the roadway (or “bents” as they’re technically known) are canvases for mural art. Full review here.
With a recent rejuvenation and its very own streetcar stop, the Sackville Playground is a solid playground for kids who love to climb. Mature trees provide some good picnic spots, and a splash pad can help to cool off your little ones on a hot day. Full review here.
St. James Park
Okay, technically this one isn’t within the traditional boundaries of Corktown, but it’s just down the street from Sackville, and arguably the best downtown core playground Toronto has to offer. The equipment is themed around the neighbourhood’s history as a market; giant asparagus stalks, fish crates, and carrots add to the theme while providing a magical play experience for the kiddies. It’s also one of the few newer playgrounds to feature a carousel, for those kids whose primary goal in life is to see how dizzy they can get. Add to this the every-15-minute dinging of the bells of St. James Cathedral, and you’ve got a great place to spend an afternoon. Full review here.
Like the title track on a band’s album, Corktown Common is this neighbourhood’s premiere play spot. Large open spaces, natural walkways, a splash pad, and an invigoratingly fast slide make this Corktown’s main attraction for park-goers. Parents will also appreciate the public washrooms, while train-obsessed kids will love spotting the Via and Go Trains coming to and from Union Station. The park also serves a secret function: sitting at the mouth of the Don River, Corktown Common’s large hill hides a protective layer of clay to guard against flooding. See the full review here for more.
There are some great new pre-construction condos in Corktown and downtown east neighbourhoods. Get in touch with Madiha Kahn to learn more about these and other downtown family-friendly neighbourhoods.