This Note is part of a series of Notes on key City issues to update City Council at the start of its 2018 – 2022 term.

Issue description

Torontonians want safe parks and public spaces, easy access to recreation facilities and programs, and natural spaces that respond to and reflect changing demographics, and community needs.

City Council has adopted the Community Recreation Growth Plan, Parks and Recreation Facilities Master Plan, Ravine Strategy, and Parks Plan to guide decision-making and investment in parks and recreation facilities, increase public engagement in parks, and preserve and enhance Toronto’s natural heritage. These plans further align with and help to advance, citywide strategies including the Toronto Seniors Strategy Version 2.0., Strong Neighbourhoods Strategy, Toronto Poverty Reduction Strategy, and TransformTO Climate Action Strategy.


In 2019, City staff will continue work to:

  • Modernize recreation program registration and the recreation facilities and space booking.
  • Plan for the development of the “Rail Deck Park,” an 8.5 hectares (21 acres) park, to be located in downtown Toronto over the rail corridor between Bathurst Street and Blue Jays Way.
  • Implement the approved Community Recreation Growth Plan, which will add 70,000 new program spaces in summer camps, learn-to-swim and other introductory recreation programs over the life of the plan. In 2018, 20,000 of 70,000 new spaces were created.
  • Transform the Meadoway, a stretch of urban greenspace and meadowlands that connects downtown Toronto to Rouge National Urban Park in Scarborough.
  • Implement strategies for the Facilities Master Plan as well as the Ravine Strategy.


Toronto’s parks and recreation system consists of approximately 8,000 hectares of parkland, covers 13 percent of the city’s land area, over 1,600 parks and nearly 700 sports fields, 123 community recreation centres of all sizes, 118 (59 indoor and 59 outdoor) swimming pools, 53 outdoor ice rinks, six skating trails, 50 arenas, and hundreds of sport courts and other smaller facilities.

Renewing and Upgrading Existing Parks and Facilities

The average community recreation centre is almost 40 years old (built in 1978), and the average arena is 50 years old (built in 1967). Many City facilities are reaching the end of their lifespans and are not keeping pace with public needs and expectations.

In 2017, City Council adopted the Parks and Recreation Facilities Master Plan 2019 – 2038 to guide investment in parks and recreation facilities such as community recreation centres, ice rinks, and sports fields. The plan serves as the City’s long-term blueprint for building and renewing facilities across the city.

Addressing Gaps and Growth-Related Needs

Toronto is growing and changing at a rapid pace. Over the next 20 years, the city will grow by 450,000 people. The population is aging, and high-density vertical neighbourhoods are on the rise. These and other changes in the size, composition and diversity of the city’s population have major implications for parks and recreation facility planning. As the city changes, so too must its parks and facilities.

Demand for parks and recreation programs and facilities is high and rising. Between 2007 and 2016, the waitlist for Parks, Forestry and Recreation programs more than doubled from 90,528 in 2007 to 198,228 in 2016. In 2017, City Council adopted the Community Recreation 2018-2020 Growth Plan and Waitlist Management to increase the supply of high-demand programs to address current and future demand due to population growth and other demographic changes.

Through the TOcore study, the rail corridor between Bathurst Street and Blue Jays Way was identified as a significant opportunity for parkland acquisition in the downtown. In 2016, City Council adopted the Rail Deck Park Plan, which provided direction to assess the feasibility of constructing a new park above the rail corridor.

Work is underway to advance the proposal for Rail Deck Park with City Council direction. The implementation strategy focuses on a range of issues including real estate and property ownership matters, structural design and engineering, early-stage costing, funding options and partnership and engagement opportunities.

Additionally, Council has requested that an update to the 2001 Parkland Acquisition Strategy be considered concurrently with the Rail Deck Park Implementation Strategy. The Parkland Strategy will identify the supply and distribution of parkland across the city through coordination with other city-wide and area-specific plans. These plans will inform and be informed by the Parkland Strategy.

Expanding and Protecting Natural Spaces

Population growth, new development and climate change are also putting increased pressures on the City’s natural spaces. The City has several strategies in place to expand and protect its natural spaces.

The Toronto Ravine Strategy provides a framework to guide the management, use, enhancement and protection of the city’s ravines. It will help manage the multiple pressures and interests within Toronto’s ravine system by balancing the ongoing maintenance of a healthy ravine system with improving connections and amenities for people to connect with nature.

Toronto’s Strategic Forest Management Plan sets a goal of achieving a 40 percent tree canopy target. The Plan’s strategic goals include increasing Tree canopy cover, supporting biodiversity and environmental resilience, promoting awareness and stewardship, and improving monitoring of the urban forest.

Working with others and explore new opportunities

The provision of parks and recreation facilities is an important City mandate. There are many facility and service providers, institutions, funders and others that the City should continue to work with to improve access to parks and recreation facilities across Toronto and to support innovative partnerships and service delivery. Recent examples of partnerships that provide a foundation to build on include:

  • the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre with the University of Toronto;
  • Regent Park Community Centre in partnership with the Toronto District School Board, other City divisions and community partners;
  • the Bentway, a new public space that transforms 1.75 km under Toronto’s Gardiner Expressway, maintained, operated, and programmed by The Bentway Conservancy; and
  • the Meadoway, an initiative to revitalize the 500 acres and 16 linear kilometers of hydro corridor between the Don River Ravine and Rouge National Urban Park, being undertaken in collaboration with the City of Toronto, Toronto and Region Conservation Authority, Province of Ontario, and W. Garfield Weston Foundation.

Actions or Plans

There are many actions and plans that the City has undertaken and are currently has underway to ensure easy and increased access to its parks and recreation facilities and programs.  The table below summarizes these actions and plans.

Date Actions
December 2017 City Council adopted the Community Recreation 2018-2020 Growth Plan and Waitlist Management which seeks to increase the supply of high-demand programs to address current and future demand due to population growth and other demographic changes.
November 2017 City Council adopted the Parks and Recreation Facilities Master Plan – 2019-2038 which will guide decision-making about the development and revitalization of the City’s recreation facilities and amenities.
November 2017 City Council adopted the Toronto Ravine Strategy, including a Prioritization Framework.
November 2017 Executive Committee adopted the Parkland Strategy Preliminary Report.
November 2017 Planning initiated for the Implementation of the Parks & Trails Wayfinding Strategy which will establish a standardized approach to signage in parks as a means to provide consistency and ease of information to park users.
2017 Implementation of social gathering spaces as recommended by the Parks Plan to incorporate more shade, seating, family gathering spaces, barbeques and fires in parks begins.
April 2013 City Council adopted the Parks Plan 2013 – 2017
December 2013 Expansion of Free Centres to increase equitable access, reduce financial and administrative barriers, encourage social inclusion, and increase overall participation in recreation.
November 2012 City Council adopted the 2013 – 2017 Recreation Service Plan