Gazebo or pavilion or what? That was the question debated by about 75 residents, mainly from the St. Lawrence Neighbourhood, at the second public workshop on a revitalization proposal for St. James Park held by the parks department at St. Lawrence Hall on March 24.
The city and its lead consultants PMA Landscape Architects presented three conservative concepts to improve the park, which was first laid out in the 1960s and which is sometimes described as Victorian in style.
The formal gardens will remain largely unchanged but walkways will be widened and accessibility will be improved. Better lighting and public seating will also be planned. Street edges will be more defined and major walkway entrances may be more formally indicated. Ailing trees will be replaced with healthy ones.
A new playground will be added either in the north (Adelaide) or east (Jarvis) side of the park. One proposed playground design explored a natural theme while another took a nostalgic look at the bygone Market Lane.
The most discussed issue of the night was what to do about the gazebo.
The gazebo only looks Victorian. In fact, it was erected sometime around 1956 and is a miniature Victorian band shell capable of holding perhaps six musicians. For many years it—and the plaza it faces to the south—were focal points for the neighbourhood Canada Day celebrations until those moved to Market Lane south of King St. But it is showing its age, is a haven for far too many pigeons, and is no longer compliant with AODA (disability) standards.
As the park is also a venue for film showings and small concerts, there is a desire on the part of the city, supported by the St Lawrence Neighbourhood BIA, to have an expanded and technologically improved pavilion for local cultural activities.
Deputy Mayor Pam McConnell told The Bulletin that the revamped public space will be named after the late Michael Comstock (d. 2012), a great supporter of the neighbourhood and an active community volunteer deeply involved in the BIA, Old Town Toronto, Corktown, SEDERI and other organizations.
Two different designs for a larger replacement pavilion were presented. One proposal is for an oddly box-like structure which on second glance reflects the neo-Gothic arches of the neighbouring cathedral. The other is a more abstractly curved latticed canopy.
The location of the new structure is also up for discussion, with one proposal siting it to the park’s north toward Adelaide, the other east of the plaza toward Jarvis. The pavilion issue attracted the most attention and the heaviest flak, mainly on the grounds that the size might be overwhelming.
One anonymous resident expressed the view to The Bulletin that “squirrels and trees don’t sell tickets and make money, events do and the BIA knows it.”
Stakeholder committee member Rollo Myers pointed out in an interview that the park and its functions and furniture have to evolve with the times, and the user population of both the neighbourhood and the park is far denser than when the park (and the gazebo) first came into existence. Myers also noted that the eventual replacement for the gazebo will have to serve not only as an entertainment venue but will be used by the general public for more mundane but vital purposes such as lunchtime picnics.
The feedback gathered at the meeting will now go back to the city for review. A public open house will be held sometime in the spring followed by a report to council confirming priorities and plans. For more information on the next stage of the project,, visit stjamesparkmasterplan.wordpress.com.