A tale of two parks: Glenn Gould and Amsterdam Square

I like going to parks alone. Give me a book, a blanket, and a comfortable tree trunk to lean against and I’m set for a few hours. But part of visiting parks in each ward in the city means I need some help. There are 1,600 parks after all, so if I didn’t get some help I might as well choose them by throwing a dart at the map we have on the wall in our office, which would actually be really fun, but also probably not welcomed by my coworkers.

Luckily, two very nice people, Sharon and Terry, contacted me to show me around two parks sitting across from each other in their neighbourhood in Ward 22–Amsterdam Square and Glenn Gould Park.

Amsterdam Square sits on the north-east side of St. Clair Avenue and Avenue Road and contains pleasant criss-crossing pathways and lots of shade. The park was named Amsterdam Square in 1974 when Toronto and Amsterdam became sister cities–too bad Toronto doesn’t take more cues from its sister regarding bike lanes.


One thing Sharon pointed out to me was that there was one last old City of Toronto bench in Amsterdam Square, while the rest had been replaced with new benches. I really dislike the new standard benches. Not only do they have the middle armrest to prevent people from lying down, but they are made from plastic. They have none of the romance of the old benches, which have thin wooden slats with elegant metal arm rests on each end. It’s a shame we’re losing these, especially in a park like Amsterdam Square with its European style, only to replace them with benches that look like they come from Toys R Us.


But forget my bench snootiness. The really special thing about Amsterdam Square is the fountain in the north corner. It was donated to the City by a local realtor, H. H. Williams, who also donated the land for the park in the late 1920s. (A lot of the information in this post comes from this great Lost Rivers article.) Williams was inspired by a fountain at the Peace Palace in The Netherlands and so created a replica in the park. Like all good fountains, it has a lion that shoots water out of his mouth.


The same day that the fountain in Amsterdam Square was unveiled in 1929, the City also unveiled a Peter Pan statue in the park across the street. Because why unveil one thing when you can unveil two!

peter pan

Like the fountain, this statue was also a replica of one in Europe, this time in London’s Kensington Gardens. The statue looks like a boy playing a flute atop a big molten blob, but if you walk closer you find it is really intricate, with fairies, squirrels, and even small rats nests. On the top there is Peter Pan and a girl who appears to be trying to look up his skirt. The bronze is worn in many places and it became pretty clear why after two children ran up to the statue and began scrambling over it. Public art as play structure.

This park is actually called Glenn Gould Park, but aside from the park sign stating so there’s no information about Glenn Gould or any other reference to him in the park. A block east on St. Clair reveals a historical plaque noting that Gould lived in the apartment there. Having something in the park would be nice, though. Otherwise one may get the wrong impression that Glenn Gould was actually a small child who liked to play the flute atop a hill of rats.


Both parks are pleasant, but Amsterdam Square is noticeably quieter because it has more trees around its edges to create a buffer from the traffic noise from the nearby busy intersection. I also like the apartment building that opens up onto the park, which makes the park feel cosy and gives its edge more interest.Thanks to Terry and Sharon for the tour!

Screen Shot 2015-05-27 at 6.52.00 PM

This post is part of the City within a Park project, where I’m exploring Toronto by visiting a park I haven’t been to yet in every one of the 44 wards in 2015. (Sorry for the ads, if you see them. WordPress, etc etc.)

3 thoughts on “A tale of two parks: Glenn Gould and Amsterdam Square

  1. Correction! According to Toronto By-law No. 437-2003, which designated the property at 525 Avenue Road (Amsterdam Square Fountain) as being of architectural and historical value or interest, H.H. Williams did not donate the land for Amsterdam Square Park:

    “The City of Toronto acquired three vacant lots from the Dovercourt Land, Building and Savings Company in 1920 and opened the Avenue Road Parkette on the site in 1927.”

    Click to access law0437.pdf

    (I live in the same building that Sharon & Terry did (they’ve since moved).)


    1. …and the Toronto Daily Star reported in its second edition of June 12, 1929, that “The board of control to-day decided to buy 30 feet of the lot north of the parkette on the northeast corner of Avenue Rd. and St. Clair.

      “This is the property which is located between the new residence of Premier Ferguson and the existing parkette.

      “Representatives of College Heights Association stated that they had a buyer for the remainder of the lot, consisting of a 40-foot frontage.

      “The owner would not sell the part required by the city unless a buyer was found for the remainder.

      “The property acquired by the city will even off the eastern parkette with that on the northwest corner.”

      So, although the fountain had been purchased by H.H. Williams in 1928, the City did not acquire the land on which it sits until just before its installation in 1929.


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