City reminds residents social distancing applies at playgrounds, parks, after Conservation Halton closures

The city of Toronto says while playgrounds and parks haven't been closed to the public, it's still very important residents are practicing social distancing in these spaces.

Conservation Halton says it closed parks due to 'poor behaviour' by visitors; Toronto parks remain open

David Peacock enjoys a sunny day at Sir Casimir Gzowski Park. He says since his gym is closed, he's been using green spaces in the city to exercise. (Michael Cole/CBC)

As Toronto streets are lined with closed businesses, many people have been going to city parks and green spaces to get fresh air and get out of their homes, which have turned into makeshift workplaces.

"Just got to get my exercise in," David Peacock says. He was one of few people getting active at Sir Casimir Gzowski Park on the Lake Shore while making sure to maintain the appropriate distance between others.

"All the gyms are closed so I'm here to go for a little run in the park."

Parks and playgrounds in Toronto are still open, but Conservation Halton was forced to shutter their parks completely this weekend, after what park authorities say was poor behaviour from visitors.

The city is reminding residents that social distancing still applies to parks and playgrounds.

"Our public health experts have been clear that people must practice social distancing — that means staying at least two metres away from people and staying home as much as possible," a statement from Mayor John Tory reads.

"Thus far in spaces like playgrounds, that advice has, for example, caused us to post signs at playgrounds reminding people of the need to distance themselves from one another."

The city of Vaughan is advising residents not use any public playgrounds and the town of Newmarket closed all playgrounds and outdoor parks with fitness equipment until further notice.

Tory says if health officials change their stance on parks in the city, he will have no hesitation in supporting stronger measures. Currently, there are signs at playgrounds reminding residents that play structures are not sanitized and children should be washing their hands before and after play, and shouldn't be sharing toys.

"The best thing people can do to help stop the spread of COVID-19 is to stay home and go out only when necessary," Tory said, adding that he recognizes exercise is important, but not to go where groups of other people may gather.

Conservation Halton says it had no choice 

Hassaan Basit, chief administrative officer at Conservation Halton says prior to the closures this weekend, the environmental agency had closed facilities but left trails open. 

"Our desire here was to keep these green spaces open," Basit said.

But when visitors started crowding the parking lots, accessing parts of the parks that were closed and not adhering to social distancing, Basit said they decided it was necessary to close the parks completely until at least April 5.

Cars filled the Hilton Falls Conservation Area on Saturday afternoon, with some parking illegally, according to a park spokesperson. This was among many rules visitors broke visiting the park this weekend. (Conservation Halton)

"Most people coming in were looking for other spots to park, rather than looking at the situation and saying 'ok I don't think social distancing is happening here so we're going to go back.'"

Basit said the team is looking into innovative solutions to open the parks again when its safe to do so — including potentially staggering the hours for seniors and families visiting and maybe using electronic gates to manage flow in and out of parking lots. 

"Everyone has to be part of the solution"

In a statement, Kim Gavine, general manager of Conservation Ontario says there hasn't been a collective decision by conservation authorities to close all the conservation areas at this time.

"However, there are no programs or events being run and facilities such as nature centres are also closed," the statement says.

"The individual conservation authorities will make the decisions themselves if and when to close and then inform the general public right away."

Back in Toronto, Conor Meek enjoys a sunny day at Trinity Bellwoods park in his neighbourhood.

He says he's been visiting the park to get fresh air, but understands if the city needs to enforce stricter measures down the road.

"Obviously it's not an ideal situation for anybody but if that's what we have to do to keep us and our loved ones safe, that's what we have to do."




Talia Ricci is a CBC reporter based in Toronto. She has travelled around the globe with her camera documenting people and places as well as volunteering. Talia enjoys covering offbeat human interest stories and exposing social justice issues. When she's not reporting, you can find her reading or strolling the city with a film camera.