In Photos: The Rally for Education
Thousands converged on Queen's Park to protest cuts to education
“We have a fight on our hands”
Two teachers on what the Rally for Education meant
On April 6, thousands of people crowded the lawns of Queen’s Park. Union flags swung above the crowd while kids dodged through protesters’ legs, dragging cardboard signs behind them.
Jointly organized by five Ontario teachers’ unions, the Rally for Education was held to protest the Ford government’s proposed cuts to education funding. Teachers, students, and concerned citizens shook signs and fists at the Ontario Legislative Building, which loomed over those gathered in its shadow.
Under the government’s new plan, 3,475 full-time teaching positions would disappear, with 1,558 positions this coming school year alone. Doug Ford further plans to increase the average class sizes of both elementary and high schools, as well as introduce mandatory online classes for secondary students. The government also proposed sweeping changes to funding for students with autism, which would drastically reduce their overall support.
Teachers, already underpaid and overworked, are infuriated. But not out of concern for their jobs or their workloads. Overwhelmingly, they’re worried about their students and what these cuts will mean for their quality of education.
To get a better sense of what this means, I asked two Ottawa-based middle school teachers: Lori-Ann Zylstra and Cindy May, who’ve both worked in education for over two decades.
Cindy is my mom, and Lori-Ann is her sister, my aunt. They’re both represented by the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association and teach in rural schools outside of Ottawa. They woke up at 4:30 am to catch the bus to Toronto for the rally and went back that same afternoon.
“I went to the protest today because I felt it was really important to stand and be counted,” Lori-Ann told me. “I think there’s a lot of misunderstanding among the general public simply because they’re not teachers. When people hear 28 kids as a class size, for example, they don’t realize that that’s an average.”
Cindy nodded. “I have huge concerns about the impact of the cuts on the classroom. And what it’s actually going to mean, face to face, day to day with the students,” she added.
Classes are already dangerously large, they explained, and increasing them further will have significant negative effects on students. On rare occasions when a number of students are not in class, Cindy told me, “students who are remaining will almost always say, ‘Wow, this is so nice, we have so much time to talk about things and do things.’”
They’re also concerned about the impact the funding cuts will have on students with autism. “Doug Ford presents it like some new thing that there will be students with autism in the classroom,” Lori-Ann said, but “it is already common for me to have one or more students who are on the autism spectrum in my class.”
She’s received no special training in how to better teach children with unique needs, but there is usually extra funding to provide specialized support. But “what [Ford] is going to do is take it all away and fund them with the same amount as a kid who isn’t on the spectrum,” she explained. This will transfer sole responsibility of their care to already-overburdened teachers.
While Lori-Ann told me that she wouldn’t mind taking on those responsibilities, she explained that “the problem is that it is already challenging to adequately service the the academic and social and emotional needs in my classroom.”
“The government claims… cuts are about fiscal responsibility,” Cindy continued. “If this is what all these changes and cuts are supposed to be about, then let’s get to the real meaning of that. Let’s address the mental health needs of our students, the social determinants of their health, development needs and so on. What are we doing now to address those?” She shook her head.
Both Cindy and Lori-Ann were also deeply concerned about what mandatory online courses for high school students might mean. “Unless you are a student who is very self-directed with lots of initiative, you aren’t going to succeed in online-only courses,” Lori-Ann explained. Furthermore, “the strong possibility is that there’s going to be private companies administering these courses,” which would effectively “move us toward the two-tier educational system,” she said.
A two-tier educational system would look something like this: children from wealthy families would be sent to high quality private schools, whereas children from poorer families would be effectively ghettoized into lower quality public schools. “And I think this is just Doug Ford’s first step into privatizing education. He’s trying to Americanize it.” Lori-Ann warned. “And we see where that’s gotten the Americans,” Cindy added.
If this worries you, take action. Cindy and Lori-Ann both hoped everyday people would engage critically with the government’s rhetoric and “just ask teachers questions, ask [them] what [they’re] so upset about.” Members of the public are also welcome to join teachers in the #RedForEd campaign, wherein supporters wear red shirts every Friday in solidarity with teachers and education workers. But most importantly, show up! “Anytime that there’s any sort of rally or protest, everyone is welcome,” Lori-Ann smiled.
“This was just the first step, I’m certain, in a series of movements and initiatives that teachers are going to take,” she said.
“In my 25 years of teaching, I’ve never seen anything like [these cuts],” Cindy said. “We have a fight on our hands. And as teachers we need to be prepared to step up and fight for our students education.” We all do.
Ontario universities must slash tuition by 10 per cent, non-needs-based OSAP to be eliminated, government says
Non-essential non-tuition fees no longer mandatory, potentially affecting student unions, Hart House
In an unexpected move, the provincial government announced sweeping changes to domestic tuition, the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP), and student levy fees on January 17. In her press conference, Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities Merrilee Fullerton repeatedly stated that the government was “putting students first.”
LIVE: Minister Merrilee Fullerton makes an announcement.
— Merrilee Fullerton, MPP (@DrFullertonMPP) January 17, 2019
Sweeping changes to OSAP
Fullerton announced changes to the six-month grace period on loans, an expansion of grants to low-income students, and decreases to the number of grants and loans provided to students with a household income of above $50,000 — stating that all Ontario students will still be eligible to apply for OSAP, but that the government will be focusing on helping lower-income students.
Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, and MPP for Northumberland—Peterborough South David Piccini, who stood behind Fullerton as she announced these changes, spoke to The Varsity on the specifics of the announcement and echoed Fullerton’s sentiments.
According to Piccini, the six-month grace period, which allows students to begin repaying provincial student loans six months after graduation, will remain. However, interest will accrue on the loans immediately after graduation, a change from the former system, which delayed interest until after the six-month period.
Piccini justified this decision by saying that it would align with the process of repaying federal government loans.
The government will also be eliminating the non-needs-based portion of the Ontario Student Grant for recipients of OSAP, according to Fullerton’s press release, giving a larger portion of grants to low-income households.
“We’re restoring trust and accountability. We’re restoring the integrity of the OSAP system so that it’s there for those who need it.”
Ontario universities and colleges will have to slash domestic tuition by 10 per cent for the 2019–2020 academic year and freeze it for another year, Fullerton also announced.
“Tuition was never free,” she said.
In response to a question about how universities and colleges will be expected to make up for lost revenue, Fullerton said, “There are different ways they can adapt… They will be able to determine what they need to do.”
Based on the 2017–2018 intake numbers, current tuition fees, and current university-wide operating budget, The Varsity estimates that the proposed 10 per cent cut to domestic tuition would cost the university at least $43 million in income from undergraduates alone.
According to The Varsity’s estimates, the cut would be equivalent to about $10 million less than all OSAP loans awarded to first-year Arts & Science students in 2017.
Currently, most domestic first-year Arts & Science undergraduate student at U of T pays about $6,780 and would see an annual savings of $678, with savings potentially increasing depending on year and program of study.
A student entering deregulated programs, including Rotman Commerce and computer science, paid more than $12,500 this academic year, and may see a minimum saving of $1,250. Engineering students may see a minimum $1,500 reduction from their average $15,000 annual tuition. It is currently unclear whether or not these programs will be affected by the tuition cuts.
Piccini emphasized the benefits of tuition cuts to students, saying that most student unions and groups prioritize rising tuition costs when addressing concerns on postsecondary education.
“I think everyone’s going to benefit from a tuition decrease,” said Piccini. “My phone has been blowing up overnight from constituents and students in my riding who are very excited at the prospect of cheaper tuition.”
Official Opposition Critic for Colleges and Universities MPP Chris Glover told The Varsity that he had consulted with the Canadian Federation of Students after learning of the tuition cuts.
“Students are not going to benefit from this. Students are going to be the losers in this announcement.”
“Student fees no longer mandatory” is a nice way of saying “Student unions no longer exist”
— Daman Singh (@sbdaman) January 17, 2019
Opting out of student fees
Finally, the provincial government has also announced that most non-tuition student fees will no longer be mandatory. This would apply to “non-essential” groups and services, which appear to range from student handbooks to clubs. The services identified as “essential” by the government include walksafe programs, counselling, athletics, and academic support.
Institutions will be required to create an online opt-out system for non-essential fees. However, the distinction of what falls under “essential” and “non-essential” will apparently be made at the discretion of the institution.
When asked by The Varsity if the government had consulted with universities and students, Fullerton affirmed that it had but did not provide specifics regarding which groups.
“Students are adults and we are treating them as such by giving them the freedom to clearly see where their fees are currently being allocated,” said Fullerton. She added that institutions will adapt, and the government was trying to challenge them to innovate.
Fullerton clarified that it will be “up to the institutions” to decide the “essential categories for student fees and… fees that they will be able to opt out of.”
“There is leeway for the institutions to have a say in that.”
I wonder what this means for campus journalism… often the only entity that actively keeps an eye on the administration. Mainstream media doesn't have the resources to provide local coverage to every post-secondary institution. https://t.co/4hhTim9Xo6
— Robyn Doolittle (@robyndoolittle) January 17, 2019
However, there is confusion around who has the ultimate say in determining what is “essential” and “non-essential,” as well as how the government would enforce its mandate.
Piccini said that universities will be able to develop these policies “at their discretion.”
“Universities are autonomous, and we’ve outlined a policy to give students choice, and we certainly hope students will be given choice in this.”
However, Piccini also said repeatedly during the interview with The Varsity that “there has to be an opt-out option.” He further added that, while these changes might not mean much to students in “downtown Toronto,” students he has seen struggle with paying for postsecondary education will greatly benefit.
The historic policy decision on mandatory fees could mean that certain student groups will lose a debilitating portion of their funding if students choose to opt out of fees.
The University of Toronto Students’ Union’s (UTSU) 2017–2018 audited financial statements shows that about 72 per cent of its $2.2 million revenue came from student fees. UTSG students currently pay around $200 per semester to the UTSU, although $171.54 of that is refundable, including the Health and Dental Plan.
Hart House also heavily relies on mandatory fees, as its 2017–2018 budget states that 52 per cent of its $17.7 million revenue comes from students. The typical full-time UTSG undergraduate student pays $86.38 per semester, while full-time UTM and UTSC undergraduate students pay $2.65.
— With files from Kevin Lu and Julie Shi
Chaos erupts at legislature amid protests against Ford government decision to cut size of city council
Protesters arrested, MPPs walk out from heated debate
The Ontario legislature descended into chaos on September 12 after members of the opposition and the public spoke out against Premier Doug Ford’s decision to invoke Section 33 of the Canadian Charter, also known as the notwithstanding clause. This landmark decision comes after a Superior Court ruling struck down Bill 5 on September 10, which would have downsized Toronto City Council from 47 to 25 seats. The invocation of the notwithstanding clause by the government overrules the court decision, and allows Ford to continue with his plan to cut down city council. The provincial government is also appealing the Superior Court ruling.
Ford will be the first Ontario Premier to invoke Section 33 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in the province’s legislative history. This section of the Charter allows the federal or provincial government to override certain sections of the Charter; in this case, Ford is using it to bypass the court ruling. Most instances of its enactment were in Québec as a form of protest.
Ford made the sudden announcement to use the notwithstanding clause hours after Ontario Superior Court Justice Edward Belobaba ruled against Bill 5. After he invoked the clause, Ford boasted of “not being shy” to pull such a move.
As a result of this bill, a single city councillor would be representing 120,000 residents in a riding — up from around 70,000–95,000 residents currently. Ford said that by doing this, he will be “saving taxpayer dollars.”
“By invoking the notwithstanding clause, he should expect the people to respond and that the people of Toronto are not going to take their rights being ignored very simply,” said Kate Schneider, a second-year Political Science student who showed up to protest the bill. “They’re not going to just let him override their rights.”
Most protesters were escorted out of the public gallery, and none remained after the first reading. Two protesters were arrested by security, one announcing that she was a “77-and-a-half-year-old woman.”
Members of the opposition criticized the arrest, calling it an attack against democracy.
Andrea Horwath, Leader of the Ontario New Democratic Party (NDP), was especially critical of the premier’s motives, calling his move a vendetta against Toronto City Council and the people of Toronto.
“All this time to get back at, to get revenge on NDP city councillors that he didn’t like — that’s not what a Premier is supposed to do. And then to use this heavy hand, to use the notwithstanding clause to attack people’s charter-protected rights?” said Horwath later in a media scrum. “It’s a black eye on our province. It’s a shame that our premier is such a petty, vindictive human being, whose focus is on himself and his own quest to ‘show those folks in Toronto that he’s the boss of them.’”
Horwath also questioned Ford on why there was no mention of such an initiative in his 2018 provincial election campaign, claiming that he is “tramping over people’s right to override the initiative that he did not have the guts to run on.” She, like many other members of the opposition, were ejected from the chamber for disrupting the reading of the bill by banging on desks, coughing, and yelling words such as “democracy.”
Speaker of the House, Progressive Conservative (PC) MPP, Ted Arnott, Ford, and members of Ford’s cabinet left the chamber abruptly at around 10:50 am, reconvening roughly 20 minutes later.
When asked about the events that took place in the galleries, Ontario Attorney General Caroline Mulroney said, “I am fully supportive of our government’s decision to appeal the decision of the Superior Court, which we believe was wrongly decided, and so, we’re appealing that case. And because time is of the essence — there’s an election in the City of Toronto in a few short weeks — we have decided to use a tool that is a available, a legal tool that is available to the legislature.”
“We are using that tool to ensure that… the people of Toronto have rules they need and the clarity that they need for this election.”
Her father, former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, was a staunch advocate against the notwithstanding clause. When asked what she would say to her father, she replied, “With respect to my father, his views on the notwithstanding clause have been well documented. He is open to the opportunity to speak to those, and he was opposed to the notwithstanding clause when it was introduced — but he recognizes and said yesterday that it is a legal tool available for democratically-elected legislatures to use.”
Steve Clark, PC MPP for Leeds—Grenville, commented on the decision to invoke the notwithstanding clause, saying that “we came here with the mandate to reduce the cost and size of the government.” Clark said that constitutional experts have indicated that the government is “well within” its rights to invoke the clause.
When asked if six hours was enough time for a thoughtful, measured response to the judge’s decision, Clark responded, “Time is of the essence. We’ve got, on October 22, a municipal election. We need to be able to have some certainty around those 25 ridings and that’s why we’re reintroducing the bill.”
Survival strategies for the Ford era
We need to stick up for each other, whether with our time, words, or money
As Ontario’s favourite Labels and Tags aristocrat sweeps into office, the future of our sweet settler province is starting to seem a little cloudy. We no longer have a kindly lesbian with a no-nonsense haircut representing us in Queen’s Park and, like, bleeding on stuff or doing whatever it is that female politicians do.
Instead, we elected her very antithesis — and now we need to deal with it. However, unlike white wealthy men stumbling into positions of power, this is easier said than done. Everyday, we’re inundated with a range of international issues that demand and deserve our attention. The fact that many of us get to choose what to care about or pay attention to is an incredible privilege.
Nevertheless, the constant onslaught can be a lot to carry.
Personally, the rotting trust fund club that is global politics smacks me in the sternum whenever I open my phone to a goddamn New York Times push alert. That alone gets tiring.
Now I open CBC — usually the home of classical music and soothing radio personalities — to distressing headlines from my home province, my home cities, my home schools. It’s a stark and startling change. How to cope?
1. Do something about it. If you care about health curriculum rollbacks, email the Education Minister. Thanks to bureaucracy, if there’s an issue, there’s a minister. So make your voice heard. Go to protests — heck, organize a protest. Sit on the lawn of Queen’s Park and just fart loudly for a few hours if it makes you feel better. But don’t sit still and complain. If you’re lucky enough to not be directly impacted by the Ford government’s new policies, care for those who are.
2. Okay, now you’ve done something. Keep doing the thing. Get others to do the thing with you.
3. Alright, you’re really doing the thing. So are your roommates and your mom and your chiropractor. Are you tired? Yes. Okay, I respect that. Go home! Make a big pot of pasta. Cover the pasta in something rich in cholesterol and low in nutrients. And have it with a glass of wine on the side and someone you love in front of you. Talk about something silly. Like farts. Can you tell I have a true weakness for scatalogical humour? Oops.
4. Another nice way to unwind? Queer Eye. Say what you will about the show, but there is something so precious and wholesome about its lovely cast that it makes everything seem a little lighter. Plus, with Jonathan van Ness around, you’re pretty much going to church.
5. Turn off the tech! I tend to roll my eyes at The Olds constantly bemoaning the rise of smartphones and the decline of ‘real, human interaction,’ but sometimes it’s nice to swipe over into airplane mode. You don’t need to dissociate entirely, but give yourself a few hours off the news cycle. The news will go on. Haven’t you heard? CTV never sleeps.
6. Do all the classic self-care ritual junk that has been floating around the internet like single use plastic on our oceans’ surfaces. Will a Korean face mask make Ontario Great Again? No, but it might clean out your pores. And honey, based on how stressed I’ve been lately, those boys are clogged!
7. Oh god, okay, I’m gonna have to hit you with another Wholesome Tidbit — but, exercise. I know, I know, I just mentioned heavy carbs. But balance! Yes, our bodies are just flesh vessels, but sometimes it’s nice to get the blood going. I am the kind of embarrassing person who lip syncs along to my music while on the treadmill and occasionally — okay, often — air drums. I also sometimes upper-body dance, which manifests in a strange abdominal wiggle. Do I get hit on at the gym? Rarely.
8. Sit in the park with someone you love, or could love, or might be falling in love with. Friends or otherwise, INTJ or ENTJ, sometimes we all need a little human connection.
9. I am earnest to a fault and can’t help myself with this one, but don’t lose heart! We’ve got a long road ahead, and speaking out can get tiring. Don’t try to do everything all the time. You’re only human and you only have so many hours in a day.
If you’re lucky enough to be ensconced in privilege and emerge intact from Ford’s rollbacks, congratulations! But that’s no free pass. We need to stick up for each other, whether it’s with our time, words, or money. Just remember to put your own oxygen mask on first, too.
In conversation with Greg Essensa, Ontario’s Chief Electoral Officer
Essensa talks student engagement, first-past-the-post, safeguarding the ballot ahead of June elections
Ontarians will head to the polls on June 7 to elect their representatives at Queen’s Park. In the three months until then, Elections Ontario will be hard at work organizing the ballots. Greg Essensa has been Ontario’s Chief Electoral Officer since 2008, and he is the former Toronto Director of Elections and Registry Services. The Varsity spoke with Essensa about how the province was engaging younger generations to vote, and the issues that can prevent them from doing so.
The Varsity: A problem the province has had in the past is engaging students and young people to vote in elections. Do you have any concrete plans to address this issue?
Greg Essensa: This past September, we launched our e-registration application, and we were on all 50 college and university campuses across the province. The idea was to engage students, to let them know their rights, and to ensure that they are registered at the appropriate location.
We’re also educating students, because most students aren’t aware that under the Elections Act here in Ontario, they have the ability to pick their residence. If they’re, let’s say, a student that lives in Toronto but is going to Western, they have the opportunity to pick their riding in Western as their home riding for the election.
TV: This year, the provincial elections are during the summer, specifically in June, rather than in the fall, when most students have classes. Do you think this will encourage students to go vote if they aren’t in class at the time?
GE: I think it encourages students to go vote. One of the challenges we often have with fall elections are the students are engaged in their academic studies. If they have a term paper, if they have some examination that’s coming up, they get very engaged in their studies — which they should — sometimes voting becomes a secondary thought to them.
But in June, for most students,
schools are out, students are very engaged. It also allows them to participate in the democratic process. They can work for us, they can get engaged with political parties, and it allows them to become proactive civil society students and getting involved in that democratic process, in the means and the ways that they wish to.
TV: Ontario has for years debated moving from the current system of first-past-the-post to a mixed-member-proportional system. Even the University of Toronto Students’ Union has shifted to using ranked ballots. Does Elections Ontario swing one way, or support any kind of referendum movement to decide a shift or not?
GE: Our role at Elections Ontario is to be neutral and impartial, which means we don’t really engage in a public policy debate. Should the legislature examine a different means of voting, like they did in 2007, Elections Ontario’s role becomes primarily about educating the electorate on what those changes are.
Our role is to provide them what we would need, how it would be administered, are there costs implications, et cetera. Our role in public policy debates is to remain neutral, and to ensure that we are providing factual evidence and information to the various stakeholders who require it.
TV: In recent elections, both in Canada and across the world, accusations have been made regarding the validity of the elections process. What processes does Elections Ontario have to safeguard the elections?
GE: Fundamentally, our elections process in Canada has been very well regarded because of the fact that it’s very simple. When you come to a poll, we have a deputy returning officer, a poll clerk to ensure that there’s no one ‘stuffing the ballot box.’ We balance the process.
The beauty of the electoral process here in Ontario and in Canada is the fact that the confidence that electors have that once they drop their ballot in that box, they know that the ballot will be voted in a fair, transparent fashion, and that the result that I reported will reflect the will of the people. I think our job is to ensure that that integrity and that confidence in the electoral process is maintained.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
UTSC hosts Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Development
Mitzie Hunter talks OSAP, transit improvements at student town hall
The Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) and Centennial College Students’ Association Incorporated (CCSAI) hosted a student town hall with Minister Mitzie Hunter on March 14 at the UTSC campus.
Hunter is the Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Development and the MPP for Scarborough-Guildwood. She is currently running for re-election as the Ontario Liberal candidate in Scarborough-Guildwood.
The town hall discussion focused on accessible tuition, which is highlighted in the recent provincial budget’s reformed OSAP program, as well as issues surrounding domestic and international tuition fees, experiential learning, and transit affordability for students.
Hunter reminisced on her days at UTSC as an undergraduate student. “It was on this campus that I found meaning and strength to that voice,” she said. “We would sit as students and debate for hours… It was on this campus, in this university, that my scope and definition of the world and my place in that was expanded.”
She also spoke about her work on OSAP reform. “Over 224,000 students, in fact, have access to free tuition through OSAP… Students are graduating with less financial burden than otherwise,” said Hunter.
Hunter said she was dedicated to making postsecondary education more accessible to students of all backgrounds, especially underrepresented groups.
“We’re very committed to that as a government, continuing to invest in the skills and in the talent of our people and making sure that Ontario is a province that is fair and inclusive for everyone,” she said.
In the Q&A session, students asked questions about the future of transit systems and infrastructure in Scarborough, investments in postsecondary education, accessible education for Indigenous people, experiential learning, and the rising costs of tuition fees.
Regarding transit systems, Hunter talked about the many projects that are both currently underway and planned – one of them being the Guildwood GO Station.
“It’s being completely redesigned, and we’re adding a third track… so that at the end of the day, we can introduce a GO Regional Express Rail, which means that we will have faster service across our system,” said Hunter.
She also mentioned the possibility of extending a transit system to the UTSC campus: “I am going to fight to expand the [Scarborough] RT from Kennedy station along Eglinton Morningside to the UTSC campus, so that students can get where they need to go faster and more comfortably.”
Hunter brought up her annual youth career fair program to reflect on the importance of experiential learning. She believes that “students as young as grade seven, as well as high school students, need to get a sense of who they want to be in the future.”
She also highlighted the importance of experiential learning outside of school, which she said can further contribute to students’ success in postsecondary education and the job market.
“Experiential learning is really helping to bring students closer to the jobs of the future, because it’s really about work-integrated learning, so while students are learning in school, they have an opportunity to have hands-on real-world experience, which actually enhances what they’re learning in the classroom,” said Hunter.
Hunter has also helped in creating a program called Career Kickstart to help students coming out of postsecondary to get their first job.
“Employers need to be more open to hiring students, so we’ve created a program to help bridge that,” she said. “We’ve invested in many different programs across the province that are helping students to get real hands on experience while they’re learning.”
When one student asked why the government is drawing funding from postsecondary institutions, which they said is leading to higher tuition costs, Hunter replied that contrary to popular belief, the government has actually increased investments in postsecondary education and will “continue to increase our support” for postsecondary education.
Hunter says that access has improved with the reformed OSAP program. The reformed program removes the age limit so that people can easily access postsecondary education at different stages in their lives. It also takes away the requirement that Indigenous students contribute $3,000 to the program.
North end of Queen’s Park to close for revitalization project
Popular shortcut from Vic, St. Mike’s to remain fenced off until October
The north end of Queen’s Park will be closed from March to October as part of a revitalization project tackling the aging infrastructure and damaged green space in the park.
The Queen’s Park North Improvements plan comes after years of increased usage of the historic downtown park by the booming population of nearby residents and tourists alike. The current infrastructure of the park lacks reliable paths and consistent benches.
Queen’s Park North makes up the section of the park north of Wellesley Street. The north end of this section — from the central King Edward VII Plaza to the top of the circle — will be closed for the first phase of the revitalization until October. The south side of Queen’s Park North will be closed off from March 2019 to August 2019. The construction notice states that “a pedestrian access path will be provided,” but it is unclear whether that path will lead through or around the closed-off area.
The project began in 2014 with extensive community and stakeholder consultations. The city’s plan for upgrading the park’s usability is to create better infrastructure for moving through the space, adding seating, and improving access points to the park, particularly at the Hoskin Avenue entrance, which is also a vital connection to campus.
A permanent walkway encircling the park will be built, replacing the well-trodden dirt path currently there and making the park more accessible for jogging. Some of the existing dilapidated paths will be demolished in favour of a more structured system of main walkways in and through the park.
One major addition coming with the project is a new Queen’s Park Promenade, connecting the Highlanders Monument of Canada Plaza at the northernmost end of the park with the King Edward VII Plaza in the centre with a wide walkway lined with benches.
Another objective of the project is the revitalization of its trees and lawns. The large trees of the park are a unique quality in the middle of the city, and the city will be planting more trees to ensure that the “urban canopy” is protected. Ninety large canopy and 70 understorey deciduous trees will be added to the park, alongside new grass turf and spring flowering bulbs along some walkways.
“When walking through the park, I often notice how empty the physical space is. With few benches, statues, and trees, the park itself is not visually appealing,” said U of T student Karel Peters. “I think that green space, especially in large cities, is very important. It’s nice to know that parks are still valued. Hopefully the improvements will create a more inviting atmosphere.”