Thomson Memorial Park

Updated: Jul 21


City of Toronto site.


Equipment by Little Tikes.

Surface: sand.


Some of the city’s more high-profile parks (High Park, for example) might accurately be described as “tourist” parks; places Torontonians visit to get a taste of nature without leaving the city. Nothing wrong with that. But if you want to see a neighbourhood getting out and using a public park as it was intended to be used – a place for families and community groups to gather and get active – look no further than Thomson Memorial Park.


In fact, if you want to see a public place that embodies everything Toronto claims to be in terms of diversity, Thomson Memorial Park is a much better example than most of the city’s better-known public places.


Here’s a cursory list of some people who shared the park with us on an afternoon in June:

  • A Brazilian capoeira percussion circle

  • A Slovakian fiddle player who told us the history of every violin he’s ever owned

  • Families in headscarves reading under the shade of the trees

  • A couple in their 70s playing tennis

  • A middle-eastern man sitting casually with a parrot on his shoulder (her name is Ruby, and she’s delightful)

  • A group of kids in yarmulkes chasing each other through the playground

  • Kids of every description pelting each other with water guns

  • A family making jokes in Tagalog

Seeing all this, and realizing that the park is also home to the Scarborough Historical Museum, it struck me that Thomson Memorial Park might be one of the best spots on the city to contemplate the contrast between what Scarborough was and what it is.


The name “Thomson” refers to the Scottish family that settled and farmed the area in the late 1700s, and whose houses comprise most of the museum. The playground offers a half-hearted echo of this theme, with a climbing structure that looks a bit like, if you squint and use your imagination, a settler’s cabin. There’s also a climbing element that looks like a farmer pushing a wheelbarrow.


But Scarborough, I hardly have to tell you, isn’t home to many Scottish farmers anymore, and it feels like the right time to give this playground a thorough upgrade.


The park is basically in the exact geographic centre of Scarborough, and near the site of a Huron-Wendat village that was inhabited until approximately the 13th century. Can you imagine what this playground could be if it acknowledged the site’s Indigenous history, early settler story, and contemporary significance? Children with roots from every corner of the world already play here; can you imagine the kind of civic statement we could make by incorporating design language from a multitude of cultures into the space where those kids play?


We can keep the splash pad; it’s a good one, with a wonderful water element I’ve never seen anywhere else that is so difficult to describe I’ll just post a video of it here:


But the rest of the playground is aging rapidly. It’s not bad, but I can’t look at it without imagining its potential. A rejuvenation (and, dare I suggest, a re-naming of the park) might not be far off; several other Scarborough playgrounds have already seen impressive renovations. Until that time, however, Thomson Memorial Park remains a well-used, visit-worthy park with only a mediocre playground.


UPDATE: A REJUVENATION IS PLANNED, WITH CONSTRUCTION SCHEDULED TO FINISH IN LATE FALL 2021! DETAILS HERE.


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