#120: Tea Swamp Park
“Love the name!”
#9 in Mount Pleasant
266 East 15th Avenue
A small park that opened in 1986, Tea Swamp’s name comes from the wild labrador tea that flourished around the giant bog that used to sit around 17th and Sophia.
A rudimentary climbing-based playground is on the north side. There’s a lovely sitting area on the south side, full of benches and large rocks and grass.
And there’s a bit of a mini-amphitheatre leading out to the street, providing an interesting integration with the neighbourhood, but the concept is half-baked and the curved back to the stage isn’t actually covered (a continued issue in Vancouver parks).
That’s about it, and the area is a bit too exposed to traffic to truly be a hidden gem.
Still a cute space in a small area.
#119: Charles Park
“Beautiful park but it could have been groomed better.”
#10 in Hastings-Sunrise
3400 Charles Street
Tucked on the other side of Highway 1 — in the northern part of the city that is technically still Vancouver, but spiritually Burnaby, this is not up for debate — Charles is a little treasure of a park.
Finding the park takes some effort, owing to the fact it’s between the highway, an extended alleyway and a cluster of light industrial and commercial outlets.
Get there though, and you’ll find a nice little walking area with a pond and lazy creek full of ducks. There’s good lighting surrounding the pond, and the bike paths make it a bit more accessible, particularly in the winter time.
There’s not too much more to it than that, but it’s a unique peaceful park that achieves what it’s trying to do, and must be lovely for those working or living nearby for a quiet lunch spot.
#118: William Mackie Park
“Kids need better slides and swings.”
#4 in Marpole
1592 West 71st Avenue
Continuing our tour of some of the city’s smaller parks, William Mackie is a small space in a sedate area in the far southwest of the city, between the 70th/Granville intersection and the industrial area next to the Fraser River.
Walk down steps to the quasi-sunken area, and you’ll see a couple of tables, a playground, a small field and a small basketball court. The ample tall trees provide lots of shade, and it integrates into the Arbutus Greenway fairly decently.
At the same time, the playground is both small and in need of serious upgrades, while the green area in the middle is a little too cramped for anything but a small family or friend gathering, or perhaps light play with children.
Still, there are good bones here, and with the park board committing to an upgrade, (including new playgrounds and a washroom) there’s potential it could become a top-tier tiny park.
#117: Balaclava Park
“A simple green space, two and a half city blocks in size.”
#5 in Dunbar-Southlands
4594 Balaclava Street
A big beefy park in the heart of Dunbar, Balaclava’s unique feature is its dark black running track, part of the training grounds for the 1954 British Empire Games (which youngsters will just have to trust was the biggest international sports thing after the Olympics once upon a time).
Aside from the running track, there’s a regular baseball field, a simple play area for toddlers, washroom facilities and an off-leash dog area in the middle.
Plenty of amenities for plenty of purposes — but the park is so vast and so flat, with so little trees, it’s not particularly a place to explore. And the dog park being right in the middle of the park with minimal separation can create some tension.
Your mileage will vary, mostly based on how many miles you like running.
#116: Fraserview Golf Course
“Great suburban course.”
#5 in Killarney
7800 Vivian Drive
Ask people what the best public golf course in the city is, and few will say something other than Fraserview.
Originally built in the 1930s and receiving a substantial upgrade in the 1990s, the course in the southeast corner of the city is defined by the large trees that line virtually every fairway, making each hole self-contained on the property.
There are a few views of Richmond farmland, but otherwise it’s the sort of course with doglegs and ravine crossings and changes in elevation that define the Pacific Northwest style. And the 18th hole, with a dramatic crossing across a gorge to a green in front of the clubhouse, is the stuff of postcards (or nightmares).
Add in a solid walking trail and holes that are short enough to be playable for just about all skill levels —so long as you drive it straight — and it’s little wonder that it’s next to impossible to find a weekend tee time.
#115: Volunteer Park
“It is a park made from a property along the waterfront. All of these palaces should have been expropriated 50 years ago.”
#8 in Kitsilano
2855 Point Grey Road
Volunteer Park is easily the best of the Point Grey Road pocket parks, mostly for the fact that it’s simply the biggest, taking up what would be three or four housing lots instead of one or two.
It also gently slopes down to the water, with a wide area for spectacular views at the bottom. The grass is well maintained in a sort of “gentle meadow” way, and the trees are varied and tall. And car traffic is completely blocked in front of the park, making it a little quieter than the rest of the miniparks.
All of this means it’s usually quite packed, and it’s honestly ridiculous that Vancouver has so many of these tiny pocket parks in one neighbourhood. And planned upgrades for the future include the restoration of the creek that once went through here and adjacent Tatlow Park, which will make a good thing even better.
#114: Strathcona Park
“i got a profound sadness as to why it has to be this way.”
#3 in Strathcona
857 Malkin Avenue
Scoring a park which was turned into a homeless encampment and one of the city’s biggest hot-button issues is hard.
We know this because each week when we ranked parks in a different neighbourhood, there were some who angrily told us we should focus on drug use in Strathcona instead.
We know this because when we said the only negative interaction we had visiting any park in the city happened on the city’s west side, a former city councillor who opines often about Strathcona implied this reporter was a creep.
We know this because when we visited the park for our review, everyone’s scores were wildly different, with different explanations as to why.
What we *can* say about Strathcona Park is it was the site of the city’s main dump for a number of decades, before community outcry forced the city to move the dump and make it a park.
We can say that the park was originally built on top of the old landfill in the 1940s and called “False Creek Park”, back when there were people alive who remembered how False Creek originally continued well past Main Street, before it was filled to create industrial and railroad space.
We can say that the park was renamed to Strathcona in the 1970s, had its two community gardens developed in the 80s and 90s, and had extensive upgrades in the 2000s. It’s regularly been a place in flux, it’s always been a centre of the community, it’s been home to controversies over homeless people in the past and will probably be again.
As for the park? It’s big enough to do just about anything, with basketball and tennis courts, ample field space, washrooms and an older-but-adequate playground.
The real highlight is the two community gardens on the south side: the Strathcona Community Garden to the west is fairly standard but has some lovely sitting areas, but the Cottonwood Community Garden to the east winds around trees, has a variety of different themed areas, and feels completely removed from the city.
Those community gardens are still quite tranquil; the middle of the park was mostly unusable for much of 2020 and 2021 unless you camp there, and our scores reflect that as best we can. In 2022 the park will likely be fully refurbished, and we look forward to a more fulsome review then.
So here it sits, somewhere in the middle, waiting for another revitalization in a story already full of them.
#113: Devonshire Park
“Low key park if you wanna chill and not have tons of people around.”
#2 in Shaughnessy
1250 Devonshire Crescent
A quiet meadow in the southern part of Shaughnessy, Devonshire is a large field with not much else happening.
But! That meadow is so peaceful, with so many trees and so much green space, that it’s hard to be too upset. The trees and benches provide plenty of options for meetups, but there’s also enough space in the middle for an informal game of soccer or croquet.
And the demographics of Shaughnessy mean it’s considerably less crowded and more quiet than a number of other parks, should you be explicitly seeking such a thing.
If you believe such a simple park should be given a lesser score, similar to other parks with minimal amenities, that’s your right. It’s still one of the best in its genre, however.
#112: China Creek North Park
“Nice place to workout or chill out and tan!”
#8 in Mount Pleasant
1001 East 7th Avenue
Built after decades of squabbling between the park board, city and residents in the first half of the 20th century, China Creek is dominated by a huge and ultimately generic field, with little tree cover or areas for people to do anything except sports or tanning.
There’s been renovations on the far west side of the park, which is dominated by a huge hill that provides an excellent view of Great Northern Way Campus and the surrounding industrial area.
It means there’s a winding path through some plants, which is excellent if you enjoy a bit of nature, but disappointing if you want a giant toboggan slope. There’s also a new playground with a steep slide, which we concede we might have underrated. At the same time, the playground is fairly small and jammed awkwardly between the hill and field.
There’s also lots of fitness equipment, and judging by the number of people working out when we’ve been here, it is to flexing what nearby Dude Chilling Park is to chilling — no doubt the ample amount of sun the park gets helping with that.
#111: Killarney Park
“A green space but devoid of anything interesting currently. Needs some TLC.”
#4 in Killarney
6205 Kerr Street
Killarney has virtually everything a park *needs* — large fields, a playground, an area for dogs — but like a lot of parks that surround community centres, it seems very much to be a situation where amenities were checked off a list one by one to surround the building, rather than creating an interesting exterior that feels connected and cohesive.
The baseball fields are fairly solid though, and the playground (minimal if fairly modern) has some mosaic art with fun messages for the youths. And the dog area is the largest field in the southeast quarter of the city, which is no doubt appreciated.
Another example, however, of a community centre with underutilized outdoor potential.