#200: Braemar Park
“Just a field.”
#4 in South Cambie
895 West 27th Avenue
Some of the city’s parks seem like the city ran out of money halfway through the process, and this field just north of BC Children’s Hospital is a textbook example of that.
A field house with washrooms and large lights for evening rugby and baseball provide plenty of potential, as do the grand trees that border the park’s north side.
But no benches, no changes in the topography and no amenities for kids make it underwhelming for any use other than sport, or a short reprieve from a hospital stay.
It serves its purpose adequately enough — until you consider that Douglas Park is just four blocks north.
#199: Gordon Park
“Crowded. Weed infested. No great vistas.”
#7 in Victoria-Fraserview
6675 Commercial Street
If one wanted to make a case that Vancouver gives less attention to the south side of the city when it comes to amenities, you could start at Gordon.
The park is one of the 30 biggest in the city, a huge expanse of land comprising eight full city blocks, the only park of any significant size for more than a kilometre.
And yet, for all that space, there is a small field house, an unimaginative playground from the 1980s, and endless fields. Lots and lots of fields.
No real delineation between the fields, mind you, or interesting seating, or separation in the middle where people can have a proper picnic. Just a bunch of space for a baseball or soccer tournament, taking up more space than necessary, existing in an awkward void.
Which is all well and good! Goodness knows that green space for sports is needed — but when it’s done in a way that excludes anything else, in an era where parks have become much more multi-faceted (see the north side of the city) it’s a big disappointment.
And lest you think that Gordon has some stronger historical lineage — the park board didn’t bother to mention it in its 1972 book describing virtually every park in the city. Pictures are nowhere to be found in the city’s online archives. Newspapers rarely mention it outside of event listings.
In short, it may be the least interesting park, acre per acre, in the city. And the fact that most of these types of parks are in the southern end of the city may or may not be a coincidence.
#198: Kerrisdale Park
“This ‘park’ is next to a school.”
#3 in Shaughnessy
5670 East Boulevard
Another plot of land next to a school that exists mostly for the purpose of excess green space, from Kerrisdale Park you can see the Cyclone Taylor Arena and Point Grey Secondary School, both of which teem with heritage. You can also see an excellent track facility belonging to the school, and you’re just a stone’s throw from 41st Avenue and the heart of Kerrisdale.
All well and good. In Kerrisdale Park itself though?
Well, you can play baseball. And you can watch people play baseball. And if you head to the park’s far east side you can get up on a hill and enjoy some shade, whether or not you’re watching baseball. And that’s pretty much that.
There’s a whole discussion of Vancouver’s growth coinciding with baseball being the biggest sport in America, and how that may have influenced our baseball-rich but basketball-poor park architecture throughout the city, but that’s for another time.
#197: Grimmett Park
“It’s a children’s park and less of an actual park park.”
#8 in Riley Park
169 East 19th Avenue
For a park that neighbourhood residents fought to make reality in the 1990s — it was land donated by a citizen explicitly for a park, but for decades was 95% concrete and a private lawn bowling club — Grimmett is surprisingly sparse.
A rudimentary playground sits next to a) a tiny hill, b) a mysterious cement holding pen too small for ball hockey, and c) a patch of grass too small for sports, but too close to the road to allow real serenity.
It’s fine enough for the community. Unless you live mere blocks away though, seek refuge elsewhere.
#196: Cambridge Park
“Can’t really say only walked by lots sorry.”
#15 in Grandview-Woodland
2099 Wall Street
The westernmost of the Wall Street parks, Cambridge offers a long strip of grass with some trees in the middle. There’s also a small community garden and library in the north end. It provides decent views of the port, but the park is pitched at an angle where there are better views to be had in better parks.
Still, for a long stretch of grass where a dog can roam, Cambridge will fit the bill.
#195: Helmcken Park
“More of a shady pathway.”
#19 in Downtown
1103 Pacific Boulevard
A small walking path that connects the main Yaletown area with Pacific Boulevard, Helmcken Park serves as a reminder that generations of British Columbians have been confused by the lack of an “e” between the “m” and “c” in countless things named for John Sebastian Helmcken, one of the most influential leaders in the colonizing of British Columbia, partly because he married James Douglas’ daughter.
What’s that? Oh right, the park. It provides some benches and shade in an area of the city where it’s much appreciated, but otherwise is tremendously underutilized, including a large fountain that former city planner Brian Jackson called “an over-thought piece of junk.”
#194: Shannon Park
#9 in Oakridge
1575 West 62nd Avenue
The city describes the birch trees that surround this small park as “majestic”, which is fairly generous. But it’s another field next to a school — in this case, the Vancouver Hebrew Academy — that’s meant for baseball and soccer, and little else.
A basketball court and small playground are right beside the park, but it is fenced off and clearly meant more for school use. That being said, the park provides adequate space for people living in the 62nd Avenue and Granville area, even if one or two extra amenities would go a long way.
#193: Pigeon Park
“Be kind be fair be safe ❤”
#18 in Downtown
399 Carall Street
In 1968, in a story on Vancouver’s “skid row”, a reporter for The Province described Pigeon Park as “loaded with drunks” and “dangerous now for women and children to walk through.”
“A dreary panorama of human misery,” declared a Vancouver Sun reporter in 1970.
“Do away with it” declared reporter Harvey Oberfeld in 1972, saying that the park had “gone straight downhill” since the very day it was created by the city in 1938, saying “let’s face it, the battle for Pigeon Park has been lost.”
Well, it’s still here. So are the folks who carve out space for themselves in a little triangle of land at Carall and Hastings. After a multi-year political skirmish that saw “Pioneer Place” transferred over to the park board in the 1970s, Pigeon Park — named for the birds that frequent it — has continued to be a place where the most marginalized in the Downtown Eastside have a bit more outside space than just a sidewalk.
It is far from perfect or ideal for anyone, and many of the adjectives used in the 60s and 70s could be used today, if you were so inclined.
But it’s a well-used park by those who perhaps need it the most.
#192: Cardero Park
#17 in Downtown
1601 Bayshore Drive
A small area across from the Westin Bayshore Hotel, Cardero Park is a small strip of green space surrounded by walking and bike paths on both sides. Huzzah.
But! While the green space in the middle is too small and too much a hump to do anything on, there are plenty of benches that indent the area, giving folks an opportunity to take in the beauty of Stanley Park and the surrounding Coal Harbour visage. There’s also a small bit of the park that juts out into the middle of English Bay, creating a mini pond that provides a little more visual interest.
That’s about the extent of what you can say for Cardero. Still, it’s waterfront property in downtown Vancouver, and it’s hard to truly dislike a park that has that going for it.
#191: Choklit Park
“This site was formerly the location of the Purdy’s Chocolate factory, hence the name!”
#9 in Fairview
2400 Spruce Street
If we were ranking parks for interesting architecture and backstory, Choklit Park would be significantly higher on this list.
Leased to the Purdy chocolate company in 1970, the company created a children’s playground on the steep embankment between 7th and 6th Avenue in the Fairview neighbourhood. In exchange, Purdy’s created a driveway that helped with the loading issues for their trucks entering and exiting their headquarters, another example of the interplay between commerce and community desires that has characterized much of the city’s park development.
“That’s the way a kid would spell it,” said Purdy’s owner Charles Flavelle of the name, and it stuck around even when the land was transferred back to the city in the 1980s.
In the end, the playground was taken away, and the land was turned into a winding brutalist park, with ample trees and flowers to provide a pleasant background as you walk down the path, or stare at the slightly obstructed view of downtown.
And yet, the park loses serious marks for being designed with the abled-bodied solely in mind — there’s no way of getting down to the lower tier. And while it’s a pleasant place to sit and enjoy a view, there are literally hundreds of places in the city where that’s the case. It’s part of the reason why Vancouver is Vancouver(™).
It’s an interesting place, with an interesting backstory, and such places enrich the heritage of a city, even when they’re not much of a park on their own.