#70: Emery Barnes Park
“For a small City park it sure is well designed.”
#8 in Downtown
1170 Richards Street
Like many parts of Vancouver’s growth over the last 140 years, the people came to Yaletown before the amenities were fully there.
Per a 2008 article by Frances Bula in the Vancouver Sun, in the 1990s city planners had expected 11,000 people in the downtown south area by 2016 — but it happened in 2002. The city had promised to create 2.8 hectares of park space in the area, but for a number of years, there were pretty much no green areas for the thousands who moved in during the 1990s and early 2000s.
But bit by bit over a decade, an inland park in the heart of Yaletown grew — first as nothing more than a fountain and some benches, then a playground and an off-leash dog park, then more trees and chessboard tables.
The end result is…well, it’s a slightly above-average generic downtown park, the sort you would fully expect to see in any large metropolis: nicely integrated into the downtown core, full of hustle and bustle, nothing particularly exciting unto itself, with an off-leash dog park that is fairly tiny and fairly dusty, all things considered.
Still, the playground is full of fun curved shapes and quite excellent for kids under eight, the ample tables and benches are good for adults, and there’s just enough space for a wide range of activities.
There are plenty of small things to quibble with (and have been, in a period where crime in Yaletown came to the forefront), but a well-balanced green space in the middle of downtown is always something to be grateful for.
#69: Ash Park
“Design of this playground is inspired by space theme, looks very modern and unusual. I love it!”
#2 in Marpole
8288 Ash Street
At first glance, Ash is a small, mostly unassuming park next to the Marine Canada Line station. But there’s a lot of things, both loud and quiet, that make it quite lovely.
First: Marpole is filled with large, flat parks with little tree cover. But at Ash, there are several big trees giving ample amounts of shade.
There’s also a slow but meandering slope down the length of the park, providing opportunities for bocce. An adjacent school gives more options for a soccer or baseball game if desired. And the park fits quietly within the neighbourhood, even with a Canada Line stop a half block away.
And at the middle of it is a unique, space-themed playground, with little climbing walls and areas for kids 3-8 to squirm through. It’s not a big playground but it encourages creative play in a great way, and a nice bit of diversity from the standard slide/swings/climbing structure starter pack seen in most south Van parks.
With such a growing population in the area, there’s a need for an excellent community gathering space, and we think Ash stands a good chance of filling that need.
#68: Robson Park
“Great park to grab a coffee and play with your kids at.”
#5 in Mount Pleasant
Few people are going to rave about Robson Park, but the 111-year-old park has pretty much everything one needs.
There are tennis and basketball courts, a community garden, and a wading pool. A playground, a field house with a washroom, and serviceable field space. Paths going through for cyclists and pedestrians, and trees to sit under.
There aren’t too many parks in the city with that combination (less than 10, by our count), and it’s that variety of activities — in addition to its close proximity to a lot of great restaurants right at Fraser and Kingsway — that makes Robson a solid place to visit.
The main reason it doesn’t score higher is a general sense of lack of modern touches — everything outside the community garden looks a little tired, and while the playground is pretty new it’s also small and limited if you’re over six.
Difficult to mess up a big park with plenty to do however, and Robson provides what it needs to.
#67: Coopers’ Park
“A surprisingly attractive piece of green space which allows for great views of this Vancouver skyline.”
#7 in Downtown
1020 Marinaside Crescent
You probably know it more as “that quirky park under Cambie Street Bridge”, but Coopers’ — named for the barrel-making industry that flourished in this area in early Vancouver — has more than just a fun backstory.
There’s the basketball court right under the bridge, which is objectively super cool. The multiple playground areas (one for toddlers, one for slightly older kids) that are both perfectly acceptable. And the large, sorely-needed area for dogs to roam freely, complete with a pair of adorable dog-shaped water fountains.
And did we mention the seawall? Because having a park right next to the iconic seawall is pretty neat too.
There’s also a few pieces of art (including something that looks like an alien pod coming out of the water), and a few nods to the history of the area. That being said, the entire feel is somewhat cramped and more of a mismash of good things than a true park, and the giant cluster of awkwardly cramped benches to one side is a sign the design could have been better.
Having said that, it’s quite satisfactory for a thin piece of grass between the seawall and condos.
#66: CRAB Park
“Where else can you view the north shore mountains, watch the cranes of the dock operate, or see a helicopter take off?”
#7 in Downtown
101 East Waterfront Road
The most confusing thing about CRAB park are the pictures of crabs in the spay park.
That’s because the park’s name is an acronym: Create a Real Available Beach, the name of the committee led by Downtown Eastside residents that pushed for public water access in the area in the 1980s.
After a few protests and tent cities, the powers that be transferred some land from the port authority to the city on a long term lease, and CRAB Park was born. Today, there’s a small playground and spray park with a vague nautical theme, a bit of area in the east for dogs to roam, a small pier to fully take in the view, and a number of pieces of art, including monuments to DTES Missing Women and a Komagata Maru mosaic.
It’s all interesting to look at, and the gentle hills in the park help make what is very much an artificial green space feel a little more natural.
In recent years there have been protests about the port expanding its water encroachment (partly blocking the view) and a couple of tent cities, one of which is in place as of this writing. Given the park was created out of controversy, and even named out of controversy — the city originally named it Portside Park over local objections, only changing it to “CRAB Park at Portside” in 2004 — one can expect future controversy as well, such is its DNA.
It truly is an oasis from the bustle of downtown, but that’s partly due to it being a bit cumbersome to get to if you’re not driving — you’ve got to walk on a long overpass across the rail lines to get there. And when you do arrive, you’ll find that the “beach” itself is only about 60 metres of substandard sand in length, which also lessens demand. At the moment the encampment also lessens demand, though we found that people living at CRAB tend to stay at the far west of the park — which makes the vast majority of the park still plenty usable for others, even if it does take away the pier.
All these caveats ignore the fact that it’s still a quiet waterfront area in Vancouver, one of the rarest things you can find, with plenty of room to walk, to sit, to run or to contemplate.
The playground could be bigger and beach longer, sure, but then it might become more popular, and who would want that?
#65: Templeton Park
“New playground is amazing.”
#3 in Grandview-Woodland
700 Templeton Drive
Let’s get the sophomoric humour out of the way: the sign here used to read “Templeton Park and Pool”, until one too many children (physically or spiritually) drew over the “l” in pool, leaving us with, well, you know. Which is why the Park Board likely changed it.
Strip that away (stop laughing!) and you’re left with a couple of nice fields surrounding a pool, with a playground and a running track on the north side.
The running track is quite nice though, and the outside of the building with the pool has dozens of murals by children that bring ample charm.
And the very new playground is quite good: woodchips and rubber on the ground, a number of different slides and things for small children to worm their way through.
It all creates a nicely balanced park, one that doesn’t try to be too much, but is always well populated for a reason.
#64: Sunrise Park
“This park is a hidden gem, I almost don’t want to review it to keep it a local secret.”
#4 in Hastings-Sunrise
1950 Windermere Street
Some parks you look at and wonder where they got their name. Sunrise offers no such surprises.
Perched at the edge of a hill that sharply descends down to Burnaby, Sunrise offers stunning views of everything to the east, be it the sun, Brentwood, Burnaby Mountain and much more. The elevated nature of the park also means it’s quiet: even though busy Rupert Street is on the east edge, the hill and tree cover give it a removed feel.
Other than the wonderful atmosphere, Sunrise is a standard large field park: washrooms, a wading pool, and a pair of older playground structures are all here.
One drawback of the park is a decent amount is less usable due to being on a fairly steep slope; but that’s mitigated by its use as an off-leash dog area, making good space of what would otherwise be inefficient land.
Little wonder then that the park is generally full of families — or young couples with dogs — with a large mix of activities at all times.
A good view goes a long way, but so does a well thought out design that’s great for the neighbourhood.
#63: Arbutus Greenway Park
“Fairly near lots of shops but a bit secluded from traffic.”
#6 in Kitsilano
2205 West 11th Avenue
From the outside it sort of seems like private property: four narrow green pathways, with a number of mixed-use townhomes and mid-rise apartments encroaching on all sides, all leading to a small playground and gazebo in the middle.
But Arbutus Greenway Park is:
1) a real public park.
2) weirdly not actually part of the Arbutus Greenway.
3) a place that’s definitely worth checking out if you’re in the area and enjoy parks.
Aside from the stately green corridors, that middle area is quite excellent. There’s not too many places in Vancouver with covered gazebos (for reasons), and the one here sits on top of a large staircase, adding to the fun.
The big highlight though is the playground — specifically, the giant tunnelled slide that goes down a steep hill. It’s a top-5 slide in the city, evoking that feeling of 2% terror and 98% thrill you want in a slide, in our humble opinion.
Add in plenty of grass to picnic on, and a large piece of art honouring the O’Keefe brewery that used to sit here, and you’ve got a stew going.
#62: Sun Yat-Sen Garden
“worth the price of admission. Incredibly peaceful.”
#6 in Downtown
578 Carrall Street
We aren’t architecture critics, so we’re in a place to judge the classical merits of the Ming Dynasty era Chinese garden built in the 1980s on the western edge of Chinatown. And we can’t say whether its place as the top city garden in a 2011 book by National Geographic was deserved or not.
What we can say is Sun Yat-Sen Garden is an incredibly peaceful place to be.
Technically there are two parts: the Sun Yat-Sen Park to the east, which is free and dominated by a pond. Then there’s the more intricate, authentic and walled-off Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden to the west, which costs a fee.
This helps fund the separate non-profit society that operates the park, but both parts integrate into one another well, and there’s so much to explore in the relatively small space — it’s the type of experience you would have at a top-tier museum more than a small urban park.
If you want, you can get right into the displays about how the garden embraces yin and yang, the specifics on how the tiles were made, the rotating exhibitions. Or you can simply enjoy the beautiful trees, the reflective pond, the enchanted patterns.
If how much kids enjoy a park wasn’t factored into our scores, Sun Yat-Sen would be the 11th best park in the city. But it is, and we’re realistic about the patience of children to enjoy a slow historical nature walk while avoiding running around and screaming.
You’re reading this though. Which means you’re not a kid — or if you are, a highly discerning one! — so you really have no excuse not to visit the garden.
#61: Connaught Park
“This park is a great example of a successful, multi-use space.”
#5 in Kitsilano
2390 West 10th Avenue
Connaught is like many parks in Vancouver: a big old flat field next to a community centre, with a playground and washroom in between. Hoo. Ray.
All neighbourhoods in the city have one of these parks, yet Connaught is among the best for a few reasons. One is the old school clubhouse operated by a rugby team, a great meandering building erected in 1925, right at the middle of the park, full of memories and character for generations of Kitsilano residents.
There are other little additions, like a good walking path that breaks up the sprawling green space, one of the rare cricket pitches in the city, stout oak trees lining the south side of the park, and a new splash pad for kids.
It may be similar to a lot of large green spaces in the city, but it all adds up to a park that feels well-used, well-loved, and enjoyed for many different reasons. And isn’t that all one can ask for?