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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Sometimes, it’s about the small public spaces

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The sign for the new Robert Leek Memorial Park

On Sunday, September 26, I attended the official opening and dedication of the new Robert Leek Memorial Park, a small, yet thoughtful public space tucked away between the Downsview neighbourhood and the Bombardier Aerospace plant.

The park is named for Toronto Fire District Chief Robert (Bob) Leek, who died from a heart attack while assisting in the response to the August 10, 2008 Sunrise Propane Explosion, which occurred just a few blocks away. The other person to die directly as a result of this local tragedy, Sunrise employee Parminder Singh Saini, is also remembered by a plaque affixed to one of the landscaping rocks.

Children enjoying the new playground at Robert Leek Memorial Park

Included in the design is a new playground, with equipment installed specifically for small children. As there was a deficit of such facilities for this specific age group in the area, it was incorporated in this formerly empty lawn. While swings, slides and climbing structures have already been erected, with an appealing design, other features yet to arrive are miniature fire engines mounted on springs. The path from the playground meets the more formal memorial, consisting of benches, an arbor, and patterned concrete. A wrought-iron fence to protect children from the roadway, solar-powered park lighting, and a sidewalk to connect the park to the residential neighbourhood to the south, are forthcoming.

The park was an empty, treeless green space owned by the City of Toronto. After the explosion, there were thoughts for erecting some sort of memorial, and a public park, a lasting benefit to the immediate neighbourhood, is an ideal answer. Most of the funding for the new park’s features came from the community, the Professional Fire Fighters’ Association, and other local businesses and unions, including the neighbouring Bombardier plant and its CAW local.

Councillor Augimeri speaking at the park dedication
Councillor Augimeri speaking at the park dedication, behind are officials from Toronto Fire Service and brother Jim Leek.

The contributions from the community were recognized at a formal dedication ceremony which featured the Toronto Fire Honour Guard and remarks by Councillor Maria Augimeri, (who, with her staff, pushed hard for this project as with other worthy community projects) Fire Chief William Stewart, Deputy Mayor Joe Pantalone, and Bob Leek’s brother, Jim. Saini’s family were also in attendance.

Dedication etched in concrete

It is pleasing to see new thoughtful public spaces being built in the suburbs, like Robert Leek Park and the nearby MOTH Gardens/Downsview Memorial Parkette at Keele and Wilson (see Spacing Fall 2007). While most of the attention is devoted to worthy downtown and waterfront projects such as Sugar Beach and Sherbourne Common, there are some great new little gems in the suburbs.

Crowd at park dedication
Just some of the crowd who attended the park dedication; most were residents of the community.

Meanwhile, the neighbourhood is still rebuilding. New houses that replaced homes damaged by the explosion are finally nearing completion, as are renovations to existing homes. Many are right across the street from the Sunrise Propane site on Murray Road, which remains fenced off and  in a state of limbo. The community is healing (and the park dedication was part of that), but there may not be complete closure until the site is cleaned up and replaced with a more beneficial use.
Houses under construction or renovation

The former location of the Sunrise Propane facility
The former location of the Sunrise Propane facility



  1. Thank you for writing about this. I always like when Spacing cares about public space in less central areas of the city.

    I’m guessing it’s probably because of the financial contribution from the Professional Fire Fighters’ Association, but do you know why the park is named after and mainly honours the firefighter and not equally the Sunrise employee?

  2. Jenelle,

    The Bob Leek died while in service to the city. There are very few public service careers that demand you put life-and-limb on the line. But Firefighters are one of them. They go in while everyone else is coming out, etc.

    I think it’s important to honour that particular nature of sacrifice; it’s very different than normal death.