HALIFAX – With the cold weather here to stay, the Halifax Public Gardens has closed its gates for the season. As sad as this is, you won’t find tears in my eyes. Don’t get me wrong, I really do like the Public Gardens, I just wish it didn’t steal so much of the spotlight away from my favourite downtown green space: Victoria Park.
With the gardens now closed, Victoria Park can take back the limelight. Existing in the shadow of HRM’s most well-known urban park, you’d think it would suffer from neglect, vandalism or any number of a whole host of problems. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Victoria Park is teeming with life. Full of benches, monuments to old Scottish poets and gathering spaces, the park attracts people day and night (despite technically closing at 10pm), summer and winter like few other places in the city.
Part of this has to do with how the park relates to its immediate surroundings. With bus stops on its north, east and south sides, a bike lane running along its eastern edge (one of the few in downtown Halifax) and criss-crossing pathways for pedestrians cutting diagonally through the park, Victoria Park is a model for multi-modal transportation.
Lacking the rod-iron fence of its companion, the park is perfect for everyday use. It’s the kind of place you don’t necessarily see as a destination but a nice route to get downtown, which is part of what gives it its charm. Perfect for pedestrians cutting from University and Tower road to Spring Garden and South Park, it’s one of the best examples in Halifax where paved pathways align with walking patterns, and not vice versa.
Passing through at night is another experience entirely. With scattered lamps illuminating bench scenes in pockets of light, and glowing apartment windows looming down at you from the tall towers surrounding the park (with another one on the way), there’s a sense of being right in the middle of a dense urban centre that’s full of life. This sense that there are lots of ‘eyes on the park’ might help to account for all the late-night dog walkers, midnight strollers and solitary walkers keeping the park alive right into the early morning.
More impressive, however, is the role Victoria Park plays in the functioning of the city. Although its northern neighbour has the ‘public’ moniker, Victoria Park is actually the far more public of the two green spaces, and not just because it’s open 24/7 or because it’s not ringed by tall Victorian fences.
Few other spaces in Halifax can claim to have been the site of so many demonstrations, protests and marches as Victoria Park. As for people-gazing, meeting friends, eating outdoors or even sleeping, it’s hard to find a more popular spot. Likewise, for the many families looking for lawns to picnic on and the countless dog owners living in the nearby apartments it’s a godsend, since the tailored public gardens, despite their aesthetic charms, are off limits to both parties.
But nobody’s perfect. Even in my beloved Victoria Park, there’s still plenty of room for improvement. The park lacks adequate bike parking and could do with a few more benches in the southern half as well as some new drinking fountains. Aside from these relatively minor issues, however, other parks around HRM could benefit a lot from following Victoria Park’s example. Not only does it play a crucial role in bringing residents of the city together, it’s also a model for how future transportation improvements and increased density can work in Halifax.
photos by Lawrence Plug and Matthew Blackett