Toronto doesn’t have many parks of this shape: a square with houses facing towards the park on each side. It’s a wonderful design that can make a park feel really homey and shared.
The late urban guru Jane Jacobs, who lived just around the corner from Jean Sibelius Square, must have loved it. She believed that streets (and parks) needed “eyes” on them – but not the eyes of police. Rather, the eyes of the people who lived there.
That’s just the feeling I get from Jean Sibelius Square park: safe, open, quiet, friendly. And to make it even better, the playground is excellent.
It’s small, but makes good use of its space. The main feature is a large faux-rock wall, which runs up the centre of the playspace. On one side of the wall, it connects to a big rope climber. The other side is the more open sandy play area, with plenty of shared toys, and a sandbox with a water feature. The whole playground, and the park around it, is thoughtfully landscaped, and the bathroom facility is a big plus.
Far away from the noise of Bloor street to the south and Dupont to the north, this is a great spot that is no doubt treasured by Annex residents.
And now, a quick true story.
Years ago, after earning my teaching degree but before landing a teaching job, I lived just down the street from Jean Sibelius Square.
My roommate and I would go there in the middle of the night to play Frisbee. I’m not sure why exactly. I guess neither of us had jobs or obligations or money, and we figured that in a few years’ time our lives wouldn’t allow for spontaneous late-night Frisbee playing, so we carpe’d the diem.
Most nights we were the only ones there, but one night a group of high school boys were sitting on the picnic table smoking pot. They asked us if we wanted any. We politely refused, and, trying not to sound too much like grown-ups, reminded them that it was a week night. We talked a bit, they threw the Frisbee around with us for a while…they were nice kids. Then my roommate and I left them, and they went back to their loitering and world-weariness.
Now, it’s not quite true that I didn’t have a job; I was on the supply teaching list for a number of schools in the area. And it just so happened that the next morning I got a call from the local Private School to cover a phys-ed class. I hung my whistle around my neck, and voila: phys-ed teacher.
The instructions called for the boys to begin the class by running laps. I watched them go, keenly aware that I was already, at 24, past my physical peak. But then I noticed a couple of kids who appeared to have even less energy than I did. And you can guess who those kids were, right? Yup. The boys from the park.
I trotted alongside them: “Hey, guys, let’s pick up the pace!”
“Yeah, yeah,” they replied.
“You had a lot more energy than this in the park last night,” I continued.
Their heads swivelled with such quickness that I’m surprised their necks didn’t snap. They turned a pale white and ran as if their lives depended on it.
Those kids would be entering their 30s now, and whenever I go to this playground with my kids, I wonder if I might run into them again someday, as they play with their own tots in the playground where we had our chance meeting so long ago.