#90: McSpadden Park
“a nice place for dogs to run around i guess.”
#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 a good variety of places to hang out.
There’s a bike path 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.
#89: 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 2022 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 dreams 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, provides 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.
#88: Jones Park
“Ship climbing apparatus is slightly too small for adults. Fitting through the openings will be a tight squeeze!”
#10 in Kensington-Cedar Cottage
5350 Commercial Drive
Jones Park recently completed a million-dollar renovation, with mixed results.
First, the good: the new playground is pretty fun for young children, with a giant pirate ship and a sea snail providing a nautical theme. It’s surrounded by shady trees, and there’s some new exercise equipment. The picnic tables and lounge chairs nearby for adults make it a perfectly fine place to spend an hour with the kids.
All things considered though, the playground is on the smaller end of things. And 90% of the park continues to be a big field exposed to the sun with little to do but play soccer. There was also an excellent chance to make the main entrance of the park — right next to a stretch of good food options along Victoria Drive — a really inviting area and gathering area in the southeast quadrant of the city.
Instead, it’s just a plain flat cement area with virtually no picnic tables.
It’s still a big green space with a good playground in a busy area of the city. But given the extensive work put into the upgrade, it feels like a missed opportunity.
#87: 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 just a few acres of land owned by the Callister family, it was turned into a sports field by local promoter Con Jones — best known for his local cigar store empire — in 1912. 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 condition 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 enough 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.
#86: Glen Park
“Nice quaint little park.”
#9 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.
#85: 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 — which is actually called Guelph — that said “Dude Chilling” in 2012, referencing the park’s charming art piece, 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 local 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.
#84: 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 back 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.
#83: Renfrew Ravine Park
“Filmed to goth videos here 10/10 goth.”
#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 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.
#82: Bobolink Park
“No idea why this nice neighborhood park is named after a bird that has likely never ventured this far west.”
#4 in Killarney
2510 Hoylake Avenue
A fascinating chapter in the history of Vancouver names (or eye-rolling, depending on your perspective) came in the late 1940s, as the city was developing its Fraserview/Killarney neighbourhood, and decided the most appropriate theme for about 20 new streets was to name them after golf courses that had no connection to the city.
One of them was Bob O’Link, a men’s only course in northern Chicago, which got shortened to Bobolink, and now that you’re sufficiently delighted or grumpy at this origin story, let’s discuss the park.
It’s a solid fields/playground/wading pool/washroom combo, with good grass for the fields and trees separating each section quite nicely. The playground is quite good, with ample swings, slides, and climbing areas, and there’s also a basketball court and a couple of larger trees that are good for climbing or hiding in.
A good well-proportioned park, in an area of the city without a lot of them. Even if the name doesn’t make a lick of sense.
#81: Carnarvon Park
#3 in Arbutus Ridge
2995 West 19th Avenue
Another big fields-and-playground-and washroom park taking up several city blocks, Carnarvon has a few interesting elements to raise it above the pack a bit.
One is the weird old-timey fitness course, a collection of equipment that looks like it hasn’t been upgraded in decades, but seems usable for basic chin-ups or whatever it is one does on a balancing beam. Another is a pair of excellent play structures between the fields and the school, one with rubber turf and ramps and plenty of climbing equipment for all ages. And the baseball fields are popular, with just the right amount of space in between each of them.
Factor in a decent amount of trees providing cover in the summer, and you’ve got a park with a lot of different elements that work for a lot of different groups.