Earl Bales Park is one I’d heard a lot about in the last year, but had never actually seen myself. That is, until I took the 35 minute transit trip from my apartment to the park in Ward 10 as the first in my goal to visit a park I haven’t been to yet in each of Toronto’s 44 wards this year.
The reason I’d heard a lot about Earl Bales is because my coworkers at Toronto Park People have worked with several partners in the park, including the volunteer-run Friends of Earl Bales Park. Angie Buado from the Friends was lovely enough to meet me at the park’s community centre and take me on a little tour.
I knew the park was going to be big, but I was surprised by how big. There was a lot to see and I only really explored the top half. Earl Bales has a bunch of unique features that make it pretty different than other parks in Toronto. One is the small rolling hills of the park itself, which are a remnant of when it used to be a golf course. This gives it a very pleasant, country-ish feel. If I owned sheep I would bring them here to graze.
But even before it was a golf course it was a farm owned by John Bales, the great-grandfather of a former mayor of North York, Robert Earl Bales who the park is named after (the City has a nice little history on its website). One of the things that Angie showed me was the old farmhouse in the park, which is pretty cool, if in need of a little TLC. At least a bird had made its home in one of the windows.
Aside from all this, there are two other things that make this park different. One is the ski hill and the other is the amphitheatre. When I heard there was an amphitheatre at Earl Bales I thought maybe it meant just a bandshell set amidst some grass, but no: it’s an actual amphitheatre with a nice stage and stadium-style seating. Angie told me the Friends of Earl Bales help organize music performances there, which would be great.
The ski hill was something I already knew about, but was surprised to see how much of an operation it was. While the rest of the park was fairly empty on this cold January day, the hill was buzzing with people in brightly coloured jackets and pants who were way too excited to hurtle themselves down a slippery slope on what basically amounts to two skinny sleds strapped to their feet (I don’t ski).
I just appreciated the nice view of the Yonge skyline in the distance and the strange but charming view of a ski chairlift in the middle of the city. I would come back and ride it in the summer if they kept it open, like a very slow amusement park ride (related note: a zip-line was once proposed for the park!).
Earl Bales is also part of the western branch of the Don ravine system, so there are some lovely trails and connections to other nearby parks. It’s interesting to stand in the park and realize it’s part of a system that connects all the way down to the waterfront and has branches that flow off into other parts of the city–something I’ve written about before.
I walked a little ways down a trail that went around the bottom of the ski hill where there is a nice off-leash dog area and a little river where a bit of rushing water could be seen through spots in the ice. If my toes hadn’t turned into complete ice cubes by this point, I would have continued on walking.
I’ll definitely be back. Perhaps to take in a show at the amphitheatre in the summer or just lay on one of the lovely little hills and read a book.