Toronto Through My Lens

Dr. Lillian McGregor Park

On September 29, 2022, a new park opened to the public – the Dr. Lillian McGregor Park. The park is located at 25 Wellesley Street West and encompasses the lot bounded by Wellesley Street West to the north and Breadalbane Street to the south. Bay Street condos to the west and the condo at 11 Wellesley Street West to the east form the rest of the border.

But who is Dr. Lillian McGregor, you may ask? Dr. Lillian McGregor (1924-2012), hailing from Whitefish River First Nation, was a dedicated nurse and community leader, recognized for her work in promoting indigenous culture and education. She received the City of Toronto Civic Award, the National Aboriginal Achievement Lifetime Award and the Order of Ontario and was the first indigenous woman to be awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Toronto, and was the University’s first Elder In Residence.

The park features include pathways, seating, a playground and artwork by Kenneth Lavallee, a Métis artist from outside of Winnipeg. The artwork in the park recognizes regional Indigenous histories and cultures and honours themes important to Dr. McGregor, including health, spirituality and language.

The art is inspired by Dr. McGregor’s family clan sign (the crane) and by the elements of her childhood home on Birch Island (rock outcrops, water, and reeds). The aim was to envision the Park as a small natural refuge in the midst of downtown Toronto, a home away from home. The artwork is weaved throughout the site and fully integrated with the landscape.

Crane Sculptures

A family of cranes consisting of four separate, bent aluminum sculptures are perched on stone foundations. Each crane depicts a different stage of life according to the Medicine Wheel: Childhood, Youth, Adult and Elder.

Reed Screens

The laser cut aluminum screens are painted a teal shade of green to mimic the tall reeds in which cranes make their home. The placement of the Reed screens is flexible and expandable to cover any structure within the Park.

Feather Canopy

An abstracted feather becomes a canopy over the Wellesley Street entrance, providing shade and protection from the elements. The white feather is made of laser cut powder-coated white aluminum and supported on thick steel tube quills.

Medicine Wheel

In the central gathering space, a mosaic medicine wheel is inlaid into the pavement, at the convergence of the main paths.

Children’s Playground

History

There is a very long and complicated history of this patch of land where the park sits.1

The original plans for the 2.1 acre site worth $75 million back in 1984 was to create a world class opera house. Premier Bill Davis’s Conservative government held a design competition where Moshe Safdie was chosen for the $311 million project. The Opera House Corporation was created to manage the property. Approval was granted in 1988 and the existing buildings on the site were demolished, with plans to begin construction in 1991.

In October 1990, Premier Bob Rae and the NDP were elected. In light of the recession, the province wanted to reduce the project scope. When the Opera House Corporation stood firm, the province pulled their funding. In 1992, the municipal and federal governments withdrew their financial support.
The property became known as East of Bay Lands. The property remained mostly vacant, with the exception of being briefly used as a temporary skateboard park. The land adjacent to Bay Street was sold to Morguard who constructed condo buildings Opera House at 887/889 Bay Street in 1998 and Allegro at 909 Bay Street in 2000. A small piece south of Breadalbane Street was designated as green space. East of Bay Park was opened in 2002 as Leaf Gardens, and subsequently renamed Opera Place Park. The balance of the land east of Bay to west of St. Luke Lane became known as 11 Wellesley and reverted back to the province when Morguard didn’t develop it.

In July 2012, Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam made a motion to City Council to purchase the land to be used as a park, but lost out in the competitive bidding process that started in August 2012. Lanterra was the successful bidder with a purchase price of $65 million. In October 2012, Councillor Wong Tam was successful in obtaining monies from the City’s Government Management downtown parkland dedication fund for the three Lanterra developments (The Britt, Murano and Burano) in the neighbourhood. Then-Councillor Doug Ford eventually ended up supporting the allocation of funds.

The City’s purchase of the land for the park was finalized in 2013, and a ground breaking ceremony was held in June 2015. The condominium building at 11 Wellesley started being built in 2015 and finished construction in 2020. The building of the park began when the building of 11 Wellesley was winding down, with substantial completion in November 2021. The title conveyance to the City of Toronto became complicated with blanket easements with the adjacent properties. The main portion of the park opened September 29, 2022 with the dog park portion scheduled to be open shortly thereafter.

Aerial photo courtesy of dtah.com

References

The City of Toronto, Planning & Development
1 Bay Cloverhill Community Association

2 Comments

  1. David

    Yes, this is a lovely little park. However, it took way too long to complete. It was vacant for years and years. Thank God it is now complete

    • Marvin Job

      Yes, I agree completely. For so many years it was either abandoned or overgrow, or turned into a skateboard park. So good to see another lovely green space downtown.

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