#90: Tisdall Park
“Best free outdoor gym I know in Vancouver.”
#1 in Oakridge
6210 Tisdall Street
A few years ago, we opined that the real dividing line in Vancouver isn’t between the west and east side, but north and south.
The take annoyed some folks on the east, presumably because they had carved out an identity based on Not Being A Kits Yuppie, but statistics around public amenities, cultural spaces, elected officials — even things like bike racks or electric vehicle stations — showed the most important geographic marker in the city wasn’t Main or Cambie, but King Edward or 41st.
And that becomes clear when you walk the city for an entire summer, looking for great parks. In particular, the area between 41st and 60th Avenue — east of West Boulevard but west of Fraser — feels like the person playing SimCity got lazy, clicked and dragged a whole bunch of low-density residential, and then panicked and plugged in a giant mall at Cambie and a few scattered parks.
Among those parks, Tisdall is one of the best — a sprawling, peaceful park, with plenty of big, leafy trees. With no slopes and no views, the overall feel is decidedly not Vancouver (for whatever reason, multiple people in our group felt Montreal vibes), but the field, shady area and basic but fairly modern playground are all separated nicely, and all do what they need to. There’s also an exercise area next to the playground, with a good number of contraptions for some light cardio. We came here twice during our research; both times there were plenty of people relaxing, neither time was it particularly full.
You have to travel two kilometres in any direction to get to any sort of comparable multi-use park, and that is disappointing. That we’ve reached our first “best park of the neighbourhood” so early in our rankings is somewhat surprising. Remove the disappointment that Tisdall exemplifies for the north-south gap in the city though, and you’ll have a pleasant time.
#89: Slocan Park
“Really just an open grassy field.”
#6 in Renfrew-Collingwood
2750 East 29th Avenue
A stout multi-field park in the heart of east Vancouver, Slocan Park is right next to the 29th Avenue SkyTrain station, and is the beginning of a quite lovely collection of semi-integrated parks that transition to Renfrew Ravine and then to Renfrew Community Park, with Beaconsfield Park just a couple blocks away after that.
Slocan is a good but not great park, especially now that it’s gotten a million-dollar upgrade of its grass fields, but suffers from a case of split vision: it’s sort of a destination for soccer, but not fully (though we do applaud the fields all being clearly separated in a way that a lot of giant Vancouver parks haven’t figured out). There are four good tennis courts, but they’re sort of lodged to the side. The playground is expansive but fairly old. And the SkyTrain station is convenient but doesn’t particularly integrate into the overall park.
Add in the relatively new washroom facilities, and it results in a park with a lot of good things for the community, but a lack of an integrated feel.
#88: McSpadden Park
“its ok i guess for a park.”
#6 in Grandview-Woodland
2125 Victoria Drive
There aren’t many superlatives to throw around for McSpadden, but it’s a big public space just a half-block east of Commercial Drive and 5th Avenue, well-used by the community and home to the beginning of the Vancouver Dyke March each year.
It’s your typical field+playground+tennis court setup, but the playground has a lot of elements and is sheltered at the bottom of a little bowl, adding visual flair. The field is, well, a field, but there’s plenty of room, and the grassy slope and tree canopy from the east provides good variety.
There’s a good bike bath around the perimeter, an average community garden, and a delightful painting of cartoon bees next to the playground.
All good things! Nothing that really screams an attraction unto itself! And yet, neighbourhoods need solid parks like these, and McSpadden achieves what it needs to.
#87: Ash Park
“Too small for dogs, not many dogs.”
#3 in Marpole
8288 Ash Street
A lot of these parks only received one trip by our team (such are the realities of a city with more than 240 of them), and sometimes our scores reflect certain conditions on the day.
To wit: Ash Park was the final destination on a day where we visited a number of parks in Marpole. It was the hottest day of the year, and Marpole is filled with large, flat parks with little tree cover.
Which meant that when we arrived at Ash, we enjoyed big trees giving ample amounts of shade as we lay down and liquidated after a long day. We enjoyed the slow but meandering slope down the length of the park, providing opportunities for bocce. We appreciated how the adjacent school gave more options for soccer or baseball if desired. And we liked how the park fit quietly within the neighbourhood, even with a Canada Line stop a half block away, which also conveniently got us home quickly. Meaning there may be some grade inflation at play here.
We didn’t like how old, stained and rusted the playground was — but we did enjoy that the Park Board said an upgrade was coming soon, even if the timeline has already been delayed six months (park board gonna park board).
There’s a need in the area for an excellent community gathering space, and we’re hopeful Ash is very close to meeting that.
#86: Coal Harbour Park
“This unique park was built at a cost of $1.5 million with all costs borne by Marathon Development Inc. as part of their community amenity contribution.”
#9 in Downtown
480 Broughton Street
You won’t find too many people in 2020 gushing about Vancouver’s Coal Harbour neighbourhood.
The lack of commercial outlets, strangely quiet streets, and relative lack of transit mean it’s the type of place that quickly bows out in a region-wide neighbourhood bracket, for example, or becomes a punchline for empty condos.
But while it’s fair to say the 1990s planning for the neighbourhood didn’t pan out, the park and community centre right in the middle — funded through one of those newfangled development contributions — hit the mark.
The park is located essentially on top of the community centre, creating a number of fun transitions between the building and the serviceable green space on top. It’s slightly domed, but not so much that you can’t do stuff on it. The circular path along the outside, along with the variety of mid-sized trees and plants, gives a cohesive feel. And the playground is quite good for the 4-8 year old demographic, with a number of slides and tunnel bridges to explore.
Plus, there’s a giant sign that says “PARK”. And that a fun flourish of literalism in a small park that accomplishes its goal, even if the neighbourhood as a whole doesn’t.
#85: Callister Park
“It was a nice park to be stuck in traffic beside.”
#7 in Hastings-Sunrise
2875 Oxford Street
Callister is a nice park but fairly generic, the type we’ve mentioned a few times, with basic amenities but small design touches that elevate it.
So let’s do some more history time, because Callister has plenty.
Originally a few acres owned by the Callister family, it was turned into a sports field by local promoter Con Jones in 1912, best known for his local cigar store empire. Over the years, the field’s ownership transferred from Jones, back to the Callister family, and to the City of Vancouver, with a few jurisdictional skirmishes between the park board, city and PNE over the years.
The arena was home to soccer, baseball, rodeo, even demolition derby. It was the type of place less remembered for its architecture or design, and more for the fact it could hold all sorts of events and all sorts of memories for two generations of the city.
By the time it was destroyed in 1971, it had been in deteriorating conditions for decades, eulogized by Vancouver Sun writer Denny Boyd as “a place of sweat and controversy, of athletic achievement and political bickering. It was burned down, plowed up, returfed and damned.”
Now it’s a perfectly acceptable park. There’s a small forest in the middle that little ones can explore, an older playground in a bowl shape, lots of benches and trees and green space, ideal for either light sports or chill hangs. Renfrew Street can get busy, but the park is deep enough and there’s trees that it fits in comfortably with the rest of the neighbourhood
Not bad for a place with plenty of history that bellies its modest stature today.
#84: Glen Park
“Nice quaint little park.”
#8 in Kensington-Cedar Cottage
3999 Glen Drive
Established in 1930, Glen is one of the older parks in Vancouver, but one without much fanfare — no newspaper notices when it opened, few amenities or upgrades in its history, just a quiet park with a playground and a basketball court in the middle of an east side neighbourhood.
The playground has a lot going for it though: a large sandy area with multiple slides, separate play structures for different ages, and a zip line. And the park is right next to the street, but the classic Vancouver motif of large trees overhanging a quiet neighbourhood street gives extra character and serenity to the area. The field is dotted by a number of tall trees, ideal for quiet contemplation or hide and seek, giving it a feel far from the big city.
A blessing for any neighbourhood, really.
#83: Dude Chilling Park
“Imagine youself as a dude, lost in Vancouver, in dire need of a good chill. Then suddenly his park appears seemingly out of nowhere as the prime location to chill real hard. It is some sort of Narnia within Vancouver..”
#7 in Mount Pleasant
2390 Brunswick Street
(cracks knuckles, flexes elbows)
Here’s the Fun Story About Dude Chilling Park That Shows Just How Cool We Are: a local artist put up a deepfake sign for the park that said “Dude Chilling” in 2012, referencing the park’s charming art piece of a wooden reclining figure.
The park board took it down, because that’s what bureaucratic bodies do when regulations are broken, but the people signed petitions, and the board voted to install a new version of the sign, and there was much rejoicing and online virality.
Now it’s commonly called Dude Chilling Park, and fits completely with the ethos of a hipster East Van park, where 30somethings can let their dog roam off-leash, or share a couple beverages with friends — both activities technically banned, but after all, the dude abides.
It’s a fun story! You can tell your friends from out of town about it, and it makes our city look silly but ultimately responsive to public demands!
(it’s also another story about a political party that ran vancouver for a decade which was very responsive to things that made millennials excited, and then very unresponsive for years when home prices started exploding beyond the reach of those millennials, but that’s another story!)
Unfortunately, ultimately, Dude Chilling is a flat piece of grass, with a very underwhelming playground, a couple of older tennis courts, and a port-a-potty in lieu of a real washroom. The grass is not great for sports, and the vibe is not ideal unless you’re there for Millennial drinking or dogs running.
Claiming Dude Chilling is a great park is something said by a person who barely leaves Mount Pleasant; it’s something said by a person who enjoys talking about culture more than actually being in parks.
It’s a fine patch of land, particularly if you’re a large group of young adults, and particularly if you enjoy a park with some recent history and character.
But let’s not go crazy here: this is a city blessed with amazing green spaces. Dude Chilling isn’t one of them.
#82: Malkin Park
“It’s a bit small but has lots of nice features.”
#3 in Kerrisdale
6001 Balaclava Street
There’s an unkempt feel to Malkin that makes it seem more like a happy accident rather than a fully regulated park.
The land — formerly the expansive backyard of 1920s Vancouver Mayor William Malkin before he donated it to the city — is mostly a mid-sized field next to a school annex, a fairly good playground (two slides and a number of climbing apparatuses) and fun murals to look at.
However, the only entrance is off a little side street that ends abruptly. The rest of the park is surrounded by the school annex, a couple yards that blend into the park, a small forest, and a large slope on the eastern edge covered with tall trees. And inside the forest, there’s a couple of amateur mountain bike trails and little walking paths.
The net effect is a park that feels isolated in a good way, with a sense of exploration that’s impressive for a park of medium size and ambition.
#81: Renfrew Ravine Park
“Not a good park in any way at all.”
#5 in Renfrew-Collingwood
3900 Renfrew Street
In the midst of all of Vancouver’s treasures at the water’s edge, Renfrew Ravine is a nice little inland surprise.
A large natural gorge that stretches seven whole blocks just north of the 29th Avenue SkyTrain station, the park is essentially a series of trails down to Still Creek, along with a long flat walking trail along the eastern perimeter filled with interesting art.
How much you enjoy the park depends on a couple of things: some of the trails are quite manufactured and accessible (mostly on the north end), while some are steep and scrambly (mostly on the south end), but there’s no signage to help people determine which is best for them. And while the bottom of the park is a peaceful oasis, there’s a bit too much garbage and other assorted paraphernalia around for some people’s enjoyment.
It’s hard to fault a large nature area too much though, and in 2020 Renfrew Ravine is a wonderful thing to have right in the middle of a metropolis.