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Joel Weeks Park

Equipment by Landscape Structures.

Surfaces: woodchips, sand.

In a city that is re-considering its statues, I nominate Mary Ann Barkhouse to be Toronto’s official sculptor for the remainder of the decade. A sculptor and jeweler living in Haliburton, Barkhouse belongs to the Nimpkish band of the Kwakiutl First Nation, and her work is what gives Joel Weeks Park its character.

Three of her pieces can be found here: a fox at the park’s north end, a beaver by the playground, and by the south entrance is the best one: four squirrels worshipping a giant acorn. It’s the rare kind of sculpture that somehow manages to be both surprising and unsurprising. It’s out of left field, but also completely makes sense. The artist herself was once asked why the squirrels were bowing in reverence to the acorn, to which she responded simply, “why wouldn’t they?” Hard to disagree with that.

The playground is unspectacular but passable. Some decent climbing options, a sandbox, some swings, and a small splash pad with a nice twist: rather than draining right there where it sprays, the water is carried part way around the perimeter of the playground in a kind of canal that makes for some fun (and shaded) water play. My kids delighted in making leaf-boats and watching them make their way down the artificial river.

The rest of the park, considering its small size, is thoughtfully laid out. There’s a basketball court at the south-western corner, and a little hill that is equally effective for tanning or rolling down, which, when you think about it, is really just rotisserie tanning.

But I have to admit that part of what keeps me coming back here is to say hello to those statues. They’re beautiful and quirky, and yet they pay tribute to the city’s wildlife in a meaningful way.

So while I’m not saying that any Toronto educational institutions should replace their recently-toppled statues with the whimsical works of Mary Ann Barkhouse…I’m also not NOT saying that.

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