A Green City: Spaces & Places
Take some time to explore the open natural beauty within the city itself. Those thirsting for green experiences are met by 1,500 parks and 8,000 hectares of parklands, the far-reaching swaths of green extending to also cover 195 km of bike and pedestrian paths, all collectively home to 3 million trees. Experiencing it is easy – start by walking the winding paths of High Park, one of Toronto’s largest green spaces. For an authentic Toronto experience, in the summer months, take in Shakespeare outdoors at CanStage’s Dream in High Park. Bring a picnic to enjoy at the play.
Toronto's Lake Ontario waterfront – one of North America's largest recreational waterfronts – provides a scenic backdrop for many popular and entertaining attractions including Harbourfront, and many walking trails, Ontario Place, the CN Tower, and the Toronto Islands. For an introductory map of the waterfront and its attractions click here. Toronto’s own island community offers a quaint summer amusement park, paddleboats and bikes for rent, in-line skating paths, and plenty of grass and beach area for picnics. Best of all, there are no cars! Summer cottages from the 1920's are home to some 250 families, and feature charming English-style gardens. Some 1.2 million people visit the Islands each year, via a 10-minute ferry ride that departs from the foot of Bay Street. Ferries run year-round and are part of the city’s public transit system. The Islands provide the most spectacular view of Toronto’s impressive skyline, and are user friendly; There are no cars allowed, which makes the area a favourite for cyclists, walkers and rollerblade enthusiasts. The many lagoons and waterways are populated by ducks and swans, and some areas are off-limits to people, designated instead as “wilderness zones” for migratory birds.
The three major islands - there are eight islands with names and several without - are connected by a tram system. All of the islands offer great views of the Toronto skyline – great for photos. And each island has its own atmosphere. The most popular for children and families is Centre Island, which features huge picnic areas, greenspace, a maze, a beach, a chapel, and award-winning gardens. It also features an amusement park geared towards younger children. Centreville, has some 30 rides, a petting zoo featuring farm animals and pony rides, and picturesque swan boats circling a small lagoon. Also of note is Hanlan’s Point, Toronto’s official downtown nude beach.
Further east, take your shoes off and walk through the sand in The Beaches at the east end of the city. Take a dip in Lake Ontario and then bike back to the downtown on a series of cycling paths that run along the water. Also be sure to take in the Toronto Botanical Gardens, an array of 12 award-winning themed gardens spanning nearly four acres. Here, a complete range of innovative indoor and outdoor learning experiences include garden tours, nature day camps, field trips and an extensive horticultural library. The buildings are as green as the gardens – the visitors centre is LEED Silver Certified with an energy-efficient sloping green roof and an award-winning ecologically conscious design, complete with rental facilities, garden shop and seasonal café.
A tour of Rouge Park, just east of downtown, will provide welcome respite. At 19 square miles, Rouge Park is North America’s largest urban natural park where visitors can also set up camp. A variety of natural landscapes are found in the park, from the rolling hills of the glacial Oak Ridges Moraine north of Toronto, to the vast wetlands and sandy beach where the Rouge River empties into Lake Ontario. Rouge Park also includes the Toronto Zoo, world-renowned for its efforts to preserve and protect species at risk. The zoo operates under diligent sustainable guidelines ensuring the welfare of the park for years to come.
Just north of the city, in Kleinberg, you’ll find the McMichael Canadian Art Collection – home to works by the Group of Seven as well as many First Nations and Inuit artists. Since the gallery is surrounded by over 100 acres of conservation land, you’ll want to leave yourself time to walk the trails and explore the area.
The Kortright Center for Conservation features a number of renewable energy demonstration projects. Workshops can also be arranged. The Kortright Conservation Area is also home to the Earth Rangers Centre, a remarkable $23-million, 6670 square yard, state-of-the-art building that sets a new standard for technology and environmental design. It is one of the most energy-efficient buildings in Canada.
Located on the Toronto waterfront, Tommy Thompson Park is a unique urban wilderness that offers many public recreational opportunities in the heart of the city. The park is located on a man-made peninsula that extends five kilometres into Lake Ontario. The Toronto Harbour Commissioners began construction of the spit in the late 1950s and, since that time, it has been the site for colonization and succession of various plant communities. These wetlands, meadows and forests now support many threatened and unusual species.
The park has become well known as a significant nesting and staging area for a wide range of birds and other wildlife. In total, more than 290 bird species have been observed on site. Of these, 45 are known to breed here, including ring-billed gulls, herring gulls, common terns, black-crowned night herons and double-crested cormorants.
For a comprehensive list of additional parks, gardens green and unique green spaces across the Toronto region, click here.
Click here for a list of green members.