How Ontario Parks Became Lifeguards In A Pandemic

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It’s Saturday March 20. It’s not just the first day of spring, but the first warm and sunny day after a long pandemic winter.

Cullum McConnell and his nephews, Ray, 8, and Frank, 6, enjoy a day of skateboarding at Cedarvale Park in Toronto. Newbies Ray and Frank happily skate around the dry paddling pool while Cullum demonstrates some basic flips.

Cullum McConnell and his nephews Ray, 8, and Frankie, 6, skateboard at Cedarvale Park in Toronto on March 20, 2021. MORGAN LIGHTLE / TORONTO OBSERVER

“It’s a nice park to have nearby,” said Cullum, a teacher.

Located at the western end of Toronto, between St. Clair Avenue and Eglinton Avenue, Cedarvale Park has extensive green spaces, as well as sports fields, a dog park, a wading pool and from a deep cricket ground. A path also crosses the wooded ravine.

“I’m going to run here,” Cullum said. “Sometimes the kids ride their bikes here, they like to watch the dogs in the dog park, play baseball in the field or go sledding in the winter. There are a lot of facilities that we all use, and the park was used a lot more during the pandemic. “

He’s right about the Cedarvale Park business. Several passers-by on the cobblestone path, a father and son play table tennis nearby, and friends and families have gathered on the distant grass.

Parks have offered people relief from stay-at-home orders from the COVID-19 pandemic. They have become must-see and popular spaces for activity, entertainment and social connection. Park use is on the rise – and it’s increasing a lot.

Adri Stark of Park People explains the increased use of Toronto’s parks:

Google has maintained a COVID-19 mobility report since February 17 of last year, collecting mobility data from the location history of people’s phones and comparing them to pre-pandemic numbers. On the weekend of March 20, Google reported that park use was 30% higher than pre-pandemic figures in Canada. And last summer, visits to Canadian parks steadily exceeded pre-pandemic levels by 100%, peaking at 179%.

Park People also conducted a COVID-19 Park Survey which found that 55 percent of Canadian cities recorded increased park use; coinciding with the increase in Toronto. The organization, which supports and mobilizes local groups and cities to realize the power of parks, obtained this data from 1,600 questionnaire responses distributed to park staff, city officials and park visitors last June. .

People gather and enjoy the spring weather at Christie Pits Park in Toronto on March 21, 2021. MORGAN LIGHTLE / TORONTO OBSERVER

“The pandemic has driven people to parks, trails and natural spaces like never before,” said Terri LeRoux, senior manager of PARCS (Property, Assets, Recreation and Conservation Areas) at the Credit Valley Conservation Authority, in a report. E-mail. “There remains a sense of normalcy and calm in our parks and conservation areas. “

With this increase in the number of visits to parks and conservation areas comes an increase in gratitude for green spaces. The Park People survey found that 70% of people had developed a greater appreciation for parks during the pandemic.

According to Park People, 70 percent of Canadians say their appreciation of parks and green spaces has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. GRAPHIC BY MORGAN LIGHTLE.

“I find that I appreciate the park space more in light of the pandemic and use it more than I would otherwise,” said Mike Burekas as he and his partner Anastasya Kurivean lined up to use the Cedarvale Park tennis courts.

They don’t usually play tennis but decided to give it a try due to the nice spring weather.

“It’s a beautiful park,” Burekas said. “It’s a green space where it is good to get away from it all. She lives in a condo and I live in an apartment, we don’t have a yard and it’s a nice open space.

The closure of indoor recreation centers and gymnasiums means that the outdoor spaces are a great place for activities. Containment has led some people to discover and learn new outdoor hobbies. For example, Annette Carlucci and David Morrison tried cross-country skiing.

Annette Carlucci and David Morrison cross-country ski at Wasaga Beach Provincial Park in the winter of 2021. PHOTO COURTESY OF ANNETTE CARLUCCI.

“We usually went downhill skiing, but Blue Mountain was closed,” Carlucci said in a Zoom interview from the couple’s home in Collingwood, Ont. “I had the opportunity to borrow my friend’s skate skis and enjoy them at Wasaga Beach Provincial Park.

The closed hobby shops meant Morrison couldn’t invest in new ski equipment, so he borrowed skis, even going so far as to wear extra socks so the boots could fit.

“We improvised, but we have fun learning something different.

—David Morrison

On a sunny March 21, a group of music students from Humber College performed jazz for a large, well-spaced audience at Christie Pits Park, near the intersection of Bloor Street West and Christie Street.

“This specific thing is mostly organized,” said Nick Marshall, the band’s trombonist. “Anyone can come. We mostly call tunes, we don’t rehearse, and we play tunes that we all know and we work on the bandstand.

Nick and trumpeter Marcus Thompson are roommates, while everyone is a friend or acquaintance from Humber College who lives nearby. The pandemic has closed indoor venues, so the group is playing in parks to train safely, entertain visitors and earn money. The group tries to maintain social distancing and wipes out all cash.

“Where else could you have safe live music, other than a place like this?” »Said Marshal.

Friends Angel, Sumaya and Jasmine brought Christie Pits a picnic and enjoyed the jazz.

“Music brings people together,” Jasmine said. It is very calming and relaxing. It is the perfect setting.

(Left to right) Jasmine, Sumaya and Angel enjoying a picnic and listening to jazz music at Christie Pits on March 21, 2021. MORGAN LIGHTLE / TORONTO OBSERVER

Sumaya works at a store a two-minute walk from Christie Pits, which has led her to make frequent visits.

“I don’t come to the park anymore, because of the pandemic,” Sumaya said. “In the summer, after work, I ate and hung out. “

The health benefits of parks

Scientific research has found that spending time outdoors has health benefits, such as decreased stress, decreased blood pressure and stress hormones, as well as increased self-esteem, decreased anxiety, and improved mood.

In his bestseller 2018 delivered, Forest Bath: How Trees Can Help You Find HappinessDr. Qing Li noted that spending two hours in nature can provide physical and mental rejuvenation.

As lifelong nature lovers, Morrison and Carlucci have attested to the benefits of nature. After they finish their day at home in graphics and accounting, they go outdoors for activities such as hiking and biking.

Annette Carlucci is cross-country skiing at Wasaga Beach Provincial Park in winter 2021. PHOTO COURTESY OF ANNETTE CARLUCCI.

“Nature gives you energy,” Carlucci said. “It relieves the mind. There is nothing for you to grieve.

According to the Park People poll, 82 percent of Canadians said parks are important for their mental health and 70 percent for their physical health. Clearly, the time spent outdoors is a relief when the pandemic has forced Canadians to stay at home.

However, Park People’s Adri Stark warned that not all Canadians feel comfortable or welcome in outdoor spaces.

“For some people, parks are places where they need to be on high alert,” Stark said. “Because they are scrutinized by their peers and undergo social judgment. Then there are the homeless people, for whom traffic tickets and law enforcement are a major concern. “

As spring and summer approach, Cullum and his nephews know the best about their local parks.

“This is the closest park –

“The second closest,” Ray interjected, stopping his uncle’s description of Cedarvale Park.

“The second closest,” Cullum agreed. “Except the first one is very small.”

“It’s the closest park that’s good for skateboarding,” Ray concluded after a short break.


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