City park girl ventures to the municipality of Leamington

Where are you from, and are city parks important to you? Is there a difference between city parks in big cities like Toronto, and parks in towns and smaller municipalities? I honestly don’t have much experience in smaller places – but here’s what I think! Did I get it wrong?

My holiday at the end of last year was spent split between my beloved old stomping grounds of Toronto, and a new stomping grounds – Leamington, Ontario.

Leamington is a municipality located in Ontario’s Essex-County. It features the southernmost point on Canada’s mainland: Point Pelee. For those who get a kick out of saying, “I’m the most southern person in all of Canada right now!”, (me) it is a treat to go to Point Pelee National Park. My gracious hosts in Leamington told great stories of Sunday afternoons in their youth, down at the “Tip.”

Image from Blain Trucking… apologies – this was the most straightforward map I could find on Google.

Leamington is also famous for being Tomato Capital of Canada. Balmy weather, sunshine, and a landscape of greenhouses famously made Leamington a Heinz town from 1909 until 2014 when the plant was recently closed after more than 100 years in operation. (100 years!)

I was visiting Leamington because my gent’s family lives there. His family and their friends like to joke a little about their small “L’ton”. I think they might expect me to be unimpressed with their town, being a city girl from the Big Smoke.

On the contrary, for me, getting to visit Leamington is an adventure. I’m try to maintain my starry-eyed mantra that every place is a gem to be discovered, and every place can be the setting for many stories if you just look close enough. (I also don’t want to be known as the arrogant city girl who thinks she is better than town folk. That is so very far from my perspective and personality) 

I did make a City Girl fumble, though. (There really was no fooling anyone!)

I came across, on the Municipality of Leamington website, the “Parks and Trails” map. I made my fumble when I suggested we visit ALL THE PARKS OF LEAMINGTON (every single one!) Now, I’ve made similar suggestions for the parks of Toronto and Waterloo, and while I haven’t actually achieved this goal visiting ALL THE PARKS OF TORONTO AND WATERLOO (every single one!), it is the same sentiment that I was trying to apply to Leamington. Looking at a map, I wonder about the tiny greenspaces. The thrill of a list, the possibility of adventure, the desire to gain new appreciation for these spaces: these are reasons I  have wanted to do ALL THE THINGS!

I am not alone in my gusto for municipal parks. There is an organization in Toronto called Park People that acts as an alliance for Toronto park groups. Friends of the Don, Friends of Trinity Bellwoods Park.. there is a list of them. These local park groups are made up of of volunteer citizens who gather around their local community greenspace and seek to make it better. From advocating for better recreational infrastructure or getting hands and knees dirty by caring for plants, streams and animals, these groups demonstrate that many Toronto citizens care for their parks, and have gusto for outdoor life and nature.

So, it is with the gusto for outdoor life and nature that I make the ridiculous suggestions that we try and visit every single park in Toronto and Waterloo. But while this gusto may be alive and kicking in Toronto, I realize that municipal parks do not play the same role to the community of Leamington – at least not in the same way.

Seacliff Park in Leamington, where my hosts graciously took me after my ridiculous suggestion that we visit all the parks of Leamington

Local park groups, organizations like Park People, and the cultivation of a love of urban parks is especially important in larger municipalities like Toronto because they are are often highly urbanized and concrete. It seems to me, that for those who live in Leamington, the parks in town can seem like little scraps of grass, especially compared to the majestic Point Pelee National Park (an important migration thru-way for songbirds in the spring and fall), and to the general agricultural (read: outdoor, duh) history of the region. What’s more, there may be less of a great need for a public green space in Leamington, as many people have large yards, fields, or at least access to the countryside and open space. The same is not always true, for example, for inner suburb Torontonians who live in a desert of parking lots, high-rises, and highways.

An appreciation for outdoor life and nature is very much alive in Leamington. In fact, it is more holistic and life-encompassing than in Toronto, where the greenspaces are zoned and fenced in and isolated from each other, cut off by stores, sidewalks and streets of cars. In the big city, in order to get into nature, we either have to settle for these islands of green (and usually quite ecologically poor), or drive out of the city.

In Leamington I experienced great richness of both human history and ecological significance. Point Pelee not only has much to teach with regard to bird species, monarch migration, and Carolinaian Life Zone, but also about the human-environment relationship. It was not always protected for its ecological elements, but has a long history of recreation and commercial use. This big city girl will definitely be looking forward to new adventures to little “L-town,” learning about its rich cultural and natural history.

What do you think? Did I interpret this difference in the role of urban greenspace between Toronto and Leamington correctly? Where are you from, and are urban parks held to high importance there?