Last week I caught the tail-end of a newscast mentioning the existence of a place called Ireland Park in Toronto, so, without doing any research, I made a plan to go there and post about my visit today, St. Patrick’s Day.
All I knew about this park was its location, a strange one, at the foot of a quay along the waterfront. I couldn’t quite envision where it was, even though I’d been to that part of the waterfront a few times in recent years. I’d never seen a park around there, however the map said there was one and I was determined to find it, so I headed out to have a look yesterday.
As I said, I knew nothing about it but I envisioned that I was would come upon a cheerful space by the water, where people had picnics in the summertime. I thought that perhaps I’d find a place decorated for St. Patrick’s Day, with the likes of shamrocks and the colour green. I’m embarrassed to admit that now, but that is the norm around town during this time of year, when so many shops, restaurants and bars are decorated with green cutouts and garlands, and “Kiss Me, I’m Irish” t-shirts abound.
I couldn’t have been more off with my imaginations of Ireland Park though; you’ll know what I mean when you see the pictures of it.
But before we get to the pictures of the park, I’ll show you some that I took on the way over, so you get a good feel for how hidden it is.
Toronto’s waterfront is separated from the city by a wide swath of train-tracks, that you have to cross over to get there. I’ve previously shown you the neat old steel bridge (in this post) that I usually take to get down there, but this time I decided to try out the new pedestrian and bicycle bridge that opened a couple of years ago.
This is the Puente de Luz, which is Chilean for Bridge of Light. It bears this name because it was designed by a sculptor from Chile, Francisco Gazitua. A quarter of the bridge, which spans 125 metres, was even built in Chile.
↑ Looking left (east) from the bridge ↑
↑ Looking right (west) from the bridge. There’s the old bridge, built in 1903, that I usually take across. ↑
↑ Haha, I thought it was cool that I got a shot of a moving train, but you can’t even tell ↑
Once over the bridge, I continued south a couple of blocks to the waterfront.
I saw the huge concrete silos that had once belonged to the Canadian Malting Company. They’d been built in 1928 to store malt but were abandoned in 1980. Since then they have kind of lingered there on the waterfront. At one point they were going to be demolished, but then they were designated as an important historical site.
When I got closer I realized why I’d never seen the park before. It’s located at the very end of the quay past those silos and the walkway to get there had been completely blocked off when I previously visited. It turns out that they did end up demolishing part of the silos, so the path was closed for safety reasons while they did that. Then there followed some issues about zoning. So, for more than four years the park had been inaccessible. It opened again last July.
This time the path was open. Curiosity piqued as I walked alongside the silos.
It is March break this week and children are off school, so I expected to see some playing in and around the park, but there wasn’t a soul in sight.
I reached the end of the walkway, and there it was. Seeing these statues felt quite surreal. It didn’t help that I’d picked such a gloomy day to see them.
When I got home I discovered the significance of Ireland Park, at their website here.
The five sculptures were created by an Irish artist, Rowan Gillespie. They represent the 38,560 Irish immigrants who came to Canada in 1847, after leaving Ireland due to the great famine.
Toronto’s population at the time was only 30,000, so this unexpected influx of over 38,000 people arriving in a five month period must have caused quite an upheaval. The newcomers were very poor and many of them were ill, which had to have been a real challenge for the young city.
They initially landed very near to where Ireland Park is situated today, but only about 2,000 of them stayed in Toronto, with the remainder moving along to other towns in the province. Apparently they had all come to Canada, via Toronto, because the cost of coming here was less than going to the United States, since there were more ships bringing Canadian exports overseas, and therefore more room in the empty ships coming back.
These sculptures are similar to another set that the artist made, called ‘Departure’, that are displayed on the waterfront in Dublin. He thought it was ideal to also have some in a place where they went so these in the park represent their arrival at their destination.
It would have taken them 4 to 6 weeks to travel across the ocean, in the hull of freight ships. Their discomfort must have been tremendous. Many were relegated to ‘fever sheds’ located on King Street West at John street because they had typhus.
There are seven sculptures in Dublin and only five in Toronto, to mark the fact that many people didn’t survive the voyage or died shortly after arriving.
Behind the sculptures is an installation of limestone, that was brought over from Kilkenny, Ireland. Inscribed in the stone are the names of the 675 Irish people who died in Toronto during 1847, the year of their arrival.
After taking a look around I went for a little stroll eastward along the waterfront …
↑ a Long-tailed Duck ↑
↑ Mallards, a male and a female ↑
↑ Looking back to where the park is, to the left of the silos ↑
Then I headed home, feeling quite haunted by what I’d seen.
Thanks for taking a look,