Formerly a derelict and polluted industrial brownfield, HTO Park is now a lush public park. It was also the flagship park project that symbolized the changing relationship between Toronto’s residents and the waterfront. Designed by Claude Cormier Architectes Paysagistes, in conjunction with Janet Rosenberg + Associates Landscape architects and Hariri Pontarini Architects, the park shares many design similarities with Sugar Beach, another project by Claude Cormier.
HTO is Toronto’s first “urban beach” and features a long stretch of sand and boardwalk along the water’s edge that’s dotted with iconic yellow beach umbrellas and Muskoka chairs. Inspired by one of Georges Seurat’s most famous artworks, Un dimanche après-midi à l’Ile de la Grande Jatte (A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte), Claude Cormier’s landscape architects describe HTO Park as a “modern re-enactment [of the artwork]…with its bright colours, play of light and shadows, and sense of peaceful refuge.”
To recreate the scenes of social gathering in Seurat’s painting, the park features large, raised grassy “sand dunes” to give people a place to gather beneath the shade of the willow trees.
The bucolic green surface belies the underground layers of contaminated soils capped by thick layers of clean dirt, a necessary remediation method to make the park safe for public use. HTO Park also uses a sustainable and cost-saving approach towards landscape management. Lake water, rather than potable city water, is used to irrigate the landscape; the park’s interconnected paths are installed with porous pavement to allow rainwater to infiltrate the soil and to alleviate problems of sewer overflow.
Unlike the more recently constructed Sugar Beach, however, urban conditions have taken a toll on HTO Park. Chairs are missing from the beach front, perhaps taken away due to vandalism as reported on Yelp. Still the sunny, sandy haven is inviting, even if it’s not quite as exciting as its newer cousin, Sugar Beach.