Seven-figure park renovations near completion

The new veil in Kew Gardens. PHOTO: Anna Killen

As Kew Gardens reaches the end of its renovations, local councillor and parks chair Mary-Margaret McMahon says the price tag hasn’t changed since the million dollar contract was awarded.

“The cost is finished but the work is not,” said the Ward 32 councillor, referring to numbers that were revealed in late 2015, and the handful of projects to be completed in the next few weeks.

The $1.1 million dollar contract, awarded to Pine Valley Corporation, was nearly double what was initially budgeted for the redesign. McMahon said in early 2016 that it came down to factors out of the city’s control, and took into account that the work would be finished over the course of a year, instead of over several years.

Now, with the work nearly complete, McMahon said she is “hearing from a lot of people who are happy with the park, they’re excited to have some public art and real community space to create a community hub.”

A number of readers have voiced concerns about the park renovation to Beach Metro via letters to the editor, emails and phone calls.

McMahon said she is “surprised that people would be upset about us spending money to improve their public space. In other areas of our ward and in the city, they would be more than thrilled to have a park improvement. Original numbers are always quoted before things are drilled down and they’re never accurate.”

One element that appears to be top of mind to some is the new public sculpture, in honour of Kew founder Joseph Williams, at the park entrance beside the library.

McMahon said none of the design elements should come as a shock. The 17-metre aluminium screen, also referred to as a veil, was a signature element in the architect’s initial design.

The city “did extensive outreach and community consultation about the park, we had a couple of public meetings and we had a working group that met regularly,” said McMahon.

McMahon explained that the design, created by PLANT architects, took inspiration from the Kew Williams Cottage and the veil was meant to incorporate the Chinese influence in its architecture.

“If you look at the cottage and the pavilion, there is Chinese influence with the architecture, so [the architects] pulled that up to have the decorative part of the veil and then they wrote a quote from Williams. They tried to make it thematic and connect it to the Kew Williams Cottage,” she said.

As for the Joseph Williams quote, noting the park as “an innocent place of amusement”, McMahon acknowledged that the ‘J’ in Joseph could be mistaken for a ‘T’.

“It is what it is at this point. I’m not sure what happened, but we’re going to leave it,” she said. “You know, it’s just kind of a folksy Beach character thing – like The Goof’s burnt out sign for years and Donald Summerville pool being a couple inches too short to be an Olympic pool.”

There are still a couple of small projects to complete, including lighting to be placed along the seats of the benches, resin to be installed around the trees to keep them in place, and lighting to be incorporated into the design of the veil. McMahon said bollards – short, vertical posts – have been installed to dissuade drivers from entering into the area with their vehicles.

“Now we look forward to animation and activation so if anyone is interested in running entertainment – busking, music, drama, story-time, anything like that – contact my office and the [Beach Village] BIA,” she said. “[I’m] looking forward to seeing how it’s enjoyed this summer.”

What do you think about the Kew Gardens refresh, now that it is near completion? Let us know in the comments.

This post has been updated.

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What McMahon doesn’t understand is that this isn’t a “park improvement”. Leaving aside that this project has been underway for well over a year and is not yet finished, what was there before $1.1 million was wasted was far superior.

I would have done improvements for Queen Street , such as street benches , hanging flowers, potted flowers, wires underground, seasonal decorations, sidewalk ramps, bicycle parking, local shuttle bus that requires a receipt for a ticket. The enhancements would have been from Northern Dancer to Neville Park to help out the businesses rather than change a perfectly wonderful park.
I personally have taken to walking on the north side of Queen near the park so as not to be clipped by a stray scooter or skateboard.

Exactly – you came up with the ideas. Therefore if you were the Councillor you’d be gutted as one who did no formal public consultation and that seems to be the biggest criticism.
I’ve been here for over 50 years and have ideas as well and I took them to the public meetings.
Anyway all I am getting at is-MMM is retiring and the Beach will be looking for a replacement. I read the criticisms of her and don’t see anyone with any suggestions to fix things i.e. the Tuggs contract. There is no leadership apparent.

The park is very unsafe to use because of all the illegally off-leash dogs in it — despite the 8 acres of dog park starting just a few metres to the south. The issue gets worse ever year. as the canine population in the Beach explodes owing to indensification. Please, we have dog parks that are safe for dogs: is it too much to ask for a park that is safe for people?

Are these viscous or rabid dogs that are making the park unsafe for you Randall? Please share your statistics on attacks by dogs on humans in Kew Gardens.

I agree with Randal. I am a life long dog owner but find the off leash dogs at Kew, the boardwalk, and Ashbridges, way out of control. It’s sad that a few people ruin it for everyone else.

The worst part of this Kew “renovation” to me is that big black “veil”. It is not attractive at all and blocks the view of the park. We now have more paving than gardens and so this makes it even worse. I really miss those beautiful flower beds right on Queen. We don’t mind spending money on improvements but this does not improve.

I have been very fortunate to have spent a lot of time over the years along Queen Street between Woodbine and Beech Avenues. The park has always been just one of street’s many great features along with the varied and interesting businesses, the Kew Beach Public School yard, the glimpses of the lake at almost every intersection along the way and, of course, the many tall trees.

However, I had gradually come to the conclusion that the street and park could benefit from a renovation where the two meet and so I was very pleased to hear of the new plans when they were introduced so many months ago. Although I had always intended to participate in the public planning process for the renovation, I somehow managed to miss every single meeting, I regret to say! As it happens, the overall result appears to be perfectly successful.

I have rarely spent much time on the benches that used to line Queen street (because my big feet would take up too much space on the former, relatively narrow but busy sidewalks). But the new benches are attractive and well laid out, so now I have been taking advantage of those benches to enjoy the area from a new perspective. Thank you! Congratulations to everybody who had a positive impact on changes to our park and our beautiful slice of Queen Street!

Key Gardens is the focal point for many organizations ( charities and not-for-profits) who wish to earn money by conducting various activities in Kew Gardens Park and its surrounding area. Potential opportunities to do so in the Park and along the Board Walk are locked out because of the unfair advantage given to the proprietor who has the exclusive rights for food and beverages in the area from Ashbridges Bay to the Balmy Beach Club.. These organizations contribute tremendous value to the community and I think help to make the area a desirable place to live and consequently help to increase property values.

It seems to me that it requires a person or an organization to organize and supervise the activities that may occur on the renovated area and that means not waiting for proposals, it means cultivating ideas from local artists and musicians etc.
The renovated area would then have much to offer the community, and its businesses. If there is no one activity promoting its use, the area will simply be a nice place to pass a few hours and then move on. They have to be proactive not reactive. On the other hand maybe people just prefer a quiet place to reflect and have a coffee.

I think the litmus test for this will be how will the new space be operationalized. Will it simply become a place to sit or will it be filled with animated activities and if so who assesses the activity as appropriate. If the City has to issue permits for the use of the space, the requirements are generally crippling and most people and small groups can’t afford the millions in insurance you need to conduct an event on City property. My bet is and knowing the bureaucracy, the pace will be assumed by residents and others sitting to enjoy a sunny day. If hat happens then the question may be-what was wrong with the space as it was, other than not enough seating.

Time will tell I suppose

Personally, I think Kew Gardens needed updating, and for the most part I like it.. The 7 not 6 figure cost leaves me wondering though, did we get our money’s worth? If the cost remained the same, what happened to our agreed upon items that were not implemented-there are not 30 new trees as proposed, and why do they not continue along the sidewalk towards the library to bring much needed shade to the open paved area, Cenotaph-why was the new granite slab not installed, and why was the fountain not made functional again within it, where are the chairs and table area, there is not a drinking fountain for us and our pets in this public area, why was the sod not laid down along the library where the detour was, there is no signage for dog related by laws and no vehicle entry, why are there vehicles allowed on the new surface when we were told there were to be no vehicles? As of May 30, yet to be done-electrical, and whatever is going on at the base of the large trees.
Randal-Off leash dogs are not just a problem in the Beach but worldwide. Not just you, but even some responsible dog owners don’t want to be approached by off leash dogs. Dogs in the animal world are looked upon as predators. They stress our wildlife and natural habitats, especially at Ashbridges. Call 311 to complain, By Law have told me they want to hear the complaints. For your information, we have all paid in total $17,000,000, at an average cost of $250,000 per dog park in Toronto.

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