"This doesn't seem like Toronto." By yesterday, I had lost count of how many times those words were uttered on the little triangular stretch of green space and plaza between Front and Wellington. In the days and weeks leading up to Berczy Park's official opening on June 28th, I heard it each time I passed by the reinvented Downtown park. Friends, colleagues, and strangers remarked on it; if I was alone, I couldn't help but think it. And as hundreds gathered to celebrate yesterday's festivities, the words weren't hard to overhear, and the thought seemed to drift across each of the faces looking up at the golden bone with guileless joy.   

Berczy Park, Toronto, by City of Toronto, Claude CormierBerczy Park on opening day, image by Marcus Mitanis

But Berczy Park didn't come to life when John Tory and co. cut the ribbon. The golden novelty scissors made contact with the fabric, the dignitaries posed for the cameras and Berczy Park was open. Nothing much changed. That's because the playful Downtown park was already brimming with human and canine life, as it had been for the past weeks. 

A popular destination as soon the fences came down and the fountain burst into action (which took some calibration), the park has been full of activity on every fine evening in recent memory. And in the wake of however many news articles and Instagram photos, it's hard not to know about Berczy Park, which has immediately become one of Toronto's most talked-about—and photographed—public spaces.

Berczy Park, Toronto, by City of Toronto, Claude CormierLooking east towards the fountain, image by Marcus Mitanis

Designed by Montreal-based Claude Cormier + Associés, the reimagined park is centered around a showpiece fountain. 27 dog sculptures shoot jets of water toward the golden bone that marks the installation's peak, while a single cat looks away, focusing instead on the two sculpted birds sitting atop a nearby lamppost. An elegant plaza—with a pair of bandstands—surrounds the fountain, while a miniature landscape of rolling green hills and grassy lawns frames the park, along with an off-leash area that abuts the neighbouring flatiron building.

Berczy Park, Toronto, by City of Toronto, Claude CormierBerczy Park's cat looks away from the fountain, image by Craig White

Throughout the park, the carefully chosen new trees were planted using Silva Cell technology. Allowing roots to grow more freely in compact—and somewhat inhospitable—urban settings, the benefits of the technology are already in view, with the park's relatively new plantings, appointed by DeepRoot Green Infrastructure, beginning to fill out a healthy canopy. 

For a city that retains traces of its not-so-distant puritanical past, it's still hard to believe it's there. "No one walks by without noticing," Coucillor Pam McConnell told the crowd, "no one walks by without smiling." Long a steadfast supporter of the project, the Ward 28 Councillor hailed the design's willingness to "embrace the unconventional and the interesting." 

John Tory had some fine words of his own, and was quick to sign-post the design's playfulness as yet another favourable precedent for Rail Deck Park—in recent times, this has become a frequent refrain for the Mayor. Cormier himself was on hand to join in the celebration, admonishing Torontonians to feel a sense of ownership over out new space. "It needs care, it needs attention," Cormier stressed. 

Berczy Park, Toronto, by City of Toronto, Claude CormierCutting the ribbon, image by Craig White

Unfortunately, the first cracks have already started to show. Public utility crews have already marked up stretches of paving with spray paint—a slightly worrying portend of maintenance strategy—while skateboarders have also damaged one of the dogs. It's a credit to Cormier's grace and intelligence that his response has not been to invoke the warning signs and fences so common to Toronto's public spaces. Instead, he plans to make the park "more skateboard-friendly," adding skate infrastructure that will passively block the dogs—and cat—from harm. As the guest of honour, the landscape architect was cheered by the crowd. 

Yet, behind the jubilations, Berczy Park is not quite universally loved. In an intelligent critique, the Toronto's Star's Murray Whyte compares the showpiece fountain unfavourably to more challenging—and socially critical—works of public art. The dog fountain is certainly playful and whimsical, but it doesn't exactly ask questions. 

Berczy Park, Toronto, by City of Toronto, Claude CormierAnother view of the fountain and plaza, image by Craig White=

Whyte is right to bemoan the state of public art. In a city where developers are typically mandated to spend 1% of a project's budget on public art contributions, the results are often either banal or brainless, and sometimes both. The more thought-provoking works of artists like Eldon Garnet, Micah Lexier, and Douglas Coupland, are still a relative rarity, while Toronto's indigenous culture and history continues to be shamefully under-represented. 

Yet, there's a difference between landscape architecture and public art. Berczy Park wasn't commissioned as artwork, and doesn't deserve to be judged by the same criteria. Artful though the fountain may be, it isn't really art—it's a public realm improvement. Whyte, on the other hand, contrasts the fountain with "Indigenous artist Jeff Thomas’s Imposition of Order, an enormous, billboard-sized work of images exhuming the area’s not-terribly-playful history: A steely portrait of Thayendanegea, also known as Joseph Brant, the Mohawk chief who in the 18th century threw his people in with the British against both French and American forces in wars spanning more than 20 years."

Berczy Park, Toronto, by City of Toronto, Claude CormierNight comes on, image by Marcus Mitanis

Indeed, Thomas work is undoubtedly a powerful example of public art, engaging the dark history we so often brush under the rug with stifling Canadian politeness. But Berczy Park is something entirely different—it's a place to be, not a thing to consider. And if good public art can offer opportunities to reflect on who we are, then a good public space offers the opportunity to become it.

Ultimately, that's why Berczy Park has been so successful: for all of us astounded by the fact that it "doesn't seem like Toronto," it invites a new definition of our city. The place feels energized; it feels fun, whimsical, and welcoming. And believe it or not, I think it feels like Toronto. 

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More information about Berczy Park can be found in our Database thread, linked below. Want to share your thoughts? Leave a comment on this page, or join the ongoing conversation—full of photos from yesterday's opening—in our dedicated Forum thread. Woof.