Sherbourne Park Breaks Ground
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Sherbourne Park Breaks Ground

From left: John Campbell, CEO Waterfront Toronto; Mayor David Miller; Federal Finance Minister Hon. James Flaherty; and Deputy Premier and Ontario Minister of Energy and Infrastructure Hon. George Smitherman.

Standing on the industrial site known as East Bayfront, which extends from Jarvis to Parliament streets and south from the rail lines to Lake Ontario, Mayor David Miller addressed a crowd gathered in the rain on Thursday morning to witness the groundbreaking of Sherbourne Park.
“One hundred years ago,” Miller pointed out, “you would have been standing twenty to thirty feet deep in Lake Ontario.” That’s when the shores of Lake Ontario lapped at the edges of Front Street and before landfill extended the shoreline to serve the vibrant port at the foot of Lower Sherbourne Street. For most of a generation, this area of the waterfront has been an industrial site that marred and scarred the shoreline and barred public access to the lake.
With the financial assistance of the federal and provincial governments as well as the City of Toronto—to the tune of $28.7 million—the area is about to be transformed into the revitalized East Bayfront community, which will incorporate urban housing, streetcar (light rail) transit, and George Brown College’s new Health Sciences Centre.

Sherbourne Park, looking north.

At the heart of East Bayfront is Sherbourne Park, a multi-use green space scheduled to open in the summer of 2010. Designed by landscape architects Phillips Farevaag Smallenberg of Vancouver, the park aims to meet the social and civic needs of community and city residents as well as regional visitors of all ages in all seasons, says company principal Greg Smallenberg.
Before designing the park, the team from the landscape design firm looked at old photos of the lakeshore for inspiration. What they saw—rivulets of water, groves of trees, and open land—became the three iconic Canadian landscape elements that shape the design of Waterfront Toronto’s Sherbourne Park: woods, water, and green spaces.

Children’s play area, looking south.

The north end of the park has a neighbourhood feel with play areas for children. Here, the “woods” are represented by groves of Pacific Sunset maple trees. At the south end of the park, which is designed as a public gathering place and special events venue, red oaks shade the Sherbourne Promenade and American beech trees flank the Eastern Walkway, both of which form part of a water’s edge boardwalk that spans the East Bayfront community.

Top: From the waterfront promenade, looking north. Bottom: Water filtered on-site cascades from three dramatic art sculptures.

Running the length of the park’s east side and skirting its wide-open lawns is a stunning 240-metre-long Water Channel, the centerpieces of which are a pond-cum-skating rink and three dramatic sculptures entitled Light Showers. Designed by visual artist Jill Anholt, the nearly nine-metre-tall art pieces allow water filtered through the park’s bio-filtration system to cascade in sheets down a stainless steel mesh scrim.
The park is both public space and stormwater management facility, a feat that brought together architects, landscape architects, and civil engineers in an integrated team that Smollenberg views as the project’s biggest success.
“[The park] works on two levels: design and engineering,” says Smallenberg. It collects runoff from rainstorms in tanks located under the boardwalk. Here, gravity removes sediment and other impurities before the water is transferred to a large tank at the Parliament Slip where a WaveDeck, much like the recently opened Simcoe WaveDeck, will be built. Holes in the platform allow UV rays to further purify the water. Then, it’s transported to the Sherbourne Park UV Purification Facility located beneath the park’s Pavillion café, to remove any residual impurities. The fresh water is then directed through the three Light Showers art sculptures, before flowing the length of the Water Channel and finally spilling into Lake Ontario.
Not only will Sherbourne Park combine design and function with elegance, but it will be one of only a few LEED-certified parks. Sustainability practices in addition to stormwater management include bicycle storage, reduced light pollution, and renewable energy sources.
With so much going for it, let’s hope Sherbourne Park lives up to its potential—we need more groundbreaking projects in our city.
All photos and renderings courtesy Waterfront Toronto.