Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Trinity-Bellwood Park and Little Portugal

A Walk in Bellwood Park

Last Sunday I was able to get away for a nice long walk. I had been unable to go on any long walks in a while. I had wrecked my knee the month earlier and I have been babying it along trying to let it mend before going on one of my "marathon walks". I decided it was well enough to attempt a longer walk and worse case, I would take public transit back. So Bella and I set off.

Bella is a great walking companion. She and I regularly go on 4 hour walks during the warmer weather and she seldom complains although she must take 10 steps for every one that I take. Today was no exception although we were only walking for a couple of hours.

We headed up to Bellwood Park first. The Park's southern entrance is marked by a gate which used to be an entrance to the University grounds. The community and the area around the park is called Trinity-Bellwood, which according to Wiki is "the heartland of the Portuguese community in Toronto".

According to the website maintained by Friends of Bellwood Park:

Trinity Bellwood Park in Toronto’s western downtown neighbourhood is a 37-acre park constructed in the post-landfill remains of the Garrison Creek ravine. It is one of the city’s best-loved and used parks. Home to a soccer pitch, baseball field, hockey rink, tennis courts, and a recreation centre, the park hosts a significant amount of organized sports activity. In the summer months, the park is programmed cultural festivals, a contemporary dance series, an art exhibition and a large community lawn sale.

There is a Farmer’s Market held at the park on Tuesday evenings from May through Oct. Lots of stuff goes on at the park.

After spending a while in the off leash area of the park we wandered north and then east along Dundas Street. This area of Toronto is officially called “Little Portugal”. Let me digress a moment for the benefit of my non GTA Toronto readers to explain diversity in the city of Toronto.

The Diversity of Toronto

Canada, and in particular, Toronto is not a melting pot of cultures. Having said that, we are definitely a country populated almost entirely by different cultures. The cultures here however, generally, do not melt. Most immigrants in recent history come to the larger cities as that is where there is work. The Toronto area gets a large share of newcomers each year and 30% of all recent Canadian immigrants live in the Greater Toronto Area. Toronto celebrates diversity and rather than having a culture which is one amalgam of many cultures, we have many distinct cultures which live – relatively happily, within the whole. Diversity is celebrated in many ways, but that is another blog, for sure!

Newcomers tend to congregate in areas where there are a lot of other newcomers with their ethnic background I am sure this is true everywhere. Toronto’s ethnic communities have partitioned the city into quite a few communities centered around various ethnic cultures. However in Toronto we have so many folks of different cultures. I took the following from the City of Toronto’s website on diversity.

Toronto, with a population of 2.48 million people (5.5 million in the GTA - Greater Toronto Area) is heralded as one of the most multicultural cities in the world and is ranked as the safest large metropolitan area in North America by Places Rated Almanac. Over 140 languages and dialects are spoken here, and just over 30 per cent of Toronto residents speak a language other than English or French at home.
Toronto's rich multi-cultural diversity is expressed by the more than 200 distinct ethnic origins residents identified in their response to the 2006 Census.

With half of Toronto’s entire population having been born in another country and with almost half of the city’s immigrant population having lived in Toronto less than 15 years, diversity is the cornerstone of our city.

Over the years, newcomers have created these pockets of ethnic communities where they not only find comfort in the familiar, but also introduce everyone else in the city to their food, language and customs. For all of us Torontonians, this means we can travel the city and experience a sampling of a foreign culture for the price of a bus ticket. Because of the number of foreign nationalities represented here this means we have a great number of extremely diverse communities within our city – and probably the best collection of ethnic restaurants to enjoy rivaling any city in the world.

Little Portugal
In the coming months I will write about some of our communities – and all the celebrations our newcomers have brought here from afar – but today I want to focus on Little Portugal.

Portugal is one of the top 5 represented nationalities in Toronto with over 113,000 (2006 census) who identify it as the language spoken in the home. Perhaps this is not quite correct, as there is a large contingent of Portuguese speaking Brazilians in the area as well, so it is not just Portugal the country represented in this statistic.

OK, so back to my walk.

Bellwood Park runs north from Queen Street to Dundas Street, which is in the heart of Little Portugal. As I strolled east on that street, I noticed what a great job our City does in jazzing up these communities. The side of the Portuguese Cultural Centre was painted with a prominent sign announcing “Little Portugal”– the same sign that hung as banners on the light posts all along the street. The banners mark the commercial section of Little Portugal. One can’t help but notice all the espresso shops and Portuguese restaurants and businesses on the street.

A major hub of activity in the area today is McCormick Park, home to McCormick Recreation Centre and Arena on Brock Avenue. Interestingly enough, my mother grew up living on Brock Avenue and has spoken about going to McCormick Rec Centre and as a matter of fact, I have memories of going to a pre-teen dance at that Rec centre so many years ago. I had cousins who still lived on Brock Street at the time. My mother is not Portuguese, but her family had moved into this area when they came to Toronto from Newfoundland in the early 1940s. They were immigrants as at that time Newfoundland was not part of Canada. They joined the immigrant community of Toronto’s inner city.

Portugal Day
The largest annual cultural event in Bellwood park is Portugal Day, organized by the local residents and businesses of Portugal Village and the Portuguese community of Toronto. This year the ACPO’s (Alliance of Cultural Portuguese Organizations) celebration of Portugal Day is June 6th. There will be a parade along Dundas Street and there will be celebrations at Ontario Place (as well as Bellwood Park). There are events all that week (including a Fado night on June 10th!) I will be sure to attend and blog about these events.

St. Helen's Church
As I approached St. Helen’s Church I happened to arrive just at the right time to see a procession as they were leaving the church, complete with marching band and flag bearers with of course the Portuguese Flag. It was a sombre procession, as all religious processions are. I wasn’t able to figure out what the occasion for the procession was.

This Photo was taken around 1910. St. Helen’s is, of course, a Portuguese congregation and is the 2nd largest Catholic church in the City of Toronto. I stood and listened and watched the progression as they went around the corner and into the community area of the church at the back to continue their celebrations inside. I continued my walk and did a big circle tour around the area and ended up home having had a great afternoon.

The inner city of Toronto is in the process of slowly gentrifying, and I wonder what will happen over time to the Portuguese uniqueness of this community in the coming years. I hope we don’t turn into a melting pot but instead turn into a stratified “lasagna”.

While I was walking I was able to snap pictures of all sorts of spring flowers. This was my favourite. The flowers on the tulip trees don't last very long. This one was in its peak of bloom.


  1. I like that you are blogging about Toronto. I find it interesting to read about. I can be an armchair traveler. Your blogs about Toronto have given me an idea. Perhaps I can do something similar about the town I live in. *Linda thinking*...

  2. How interesting it was to come across your blog and even more intersting was the fact that I was looking for a vacation home in Little Portugal to spend 2 weeks next summer. I lived in Toronto on Brock Ave. so as I was reading your blog good memories surged of McCormick Rec Centre.I haven't gone back for 25 years. By the way, I live in the Azores. If you happen to come across a nice furnished place in that area, I would appreciate you send me some information.

  3. Nice see you stumbled across my blog and it evoked memories - I assume good ones since you are planning on visiting for a few weeks next summer from Azores.

    You might try Craig's list for a rental - I don't know of any short term rentals, sorry.


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