I have such fond childhood memories of time spent with family and friends at Wilket Creek Park and Serena Gundy Park, not to mention Sunnybrook Park and Ernest Thompson Seton Park. All four parks linked in our own Leaside backyard. How lucky we were, and still are, to have them. Our family was a heavy user of the parks, particularly Wilket Creek. During the summer, even on a weeknight, my mom and dad would pack our cooler, a bag of charcoal, ball gloves and balls, and a frisbee into the back of our old Ford Country Squire station wagon. It was a very short trip across Eglinton to Leslie and then into Wilket Creek Park, with the old Inn on the Park looming above us.
It was a blessing that the park was so close. We four kids could usually endure the under 10-minute drive without the tenuous rapport among us breaking down into in-car internecine anarchy. We’d park and carry our provisions, which at first glance rivaled those of Shackleton’s Antarctic expeditions, to the nearest open barbecue and picnic table. Dad would fire up the charcoal with a few squirts of lighter fluid – and no, he never let us handle the pyrotechnics – before the hot dogs would be laid on the grill. Actually, I missed a step there. The hot dogs would initially roll off the grill into the dirt below before being rinsed off with lemonade and then reoriented longitudinally on the barbecue, so they wouldn’t escape again. That was a lesson we relearned several times over the years.
Mom would sit contentedly at the picnic table, delighted to have Dad handling the cooking for a change. We kids would tear around exploring and keeping our eyes peeled for wildlife, of which there was plenty. A groundhog was likely the most exotic creature we’d see in the park, but there were also plenty of raccoons, muskrats, chipmunks, mice, and the occasional garter snake. My twin brother Tim and I would commentate these animal encounters as if guest starring on Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. “Tim’s heading down to the waterhole to commune with the muskrats while I stay here by the chopper,” etc., etc. Yes, before we knew about David Attenborough, there was Wild Kingdom’s Marlin Perkins.
When we got bored of the search for animal life, we’d throw the frisbee until an errant hurl would send it into the river. We always played close enough to the water to ensure this eventuality. As the frisbee, in its Paddle to the Sea moment, floated gently down the stream, we’d switch to throwing the baseball around instead. What I remember most was that no dinner ever tasted better than from the rusted grills of a Wilket Creek barbecue.
A few years later, my mother actually took riding lessons up at Sunnybrook Park, just next door to Wilket Creek. This resulted in an annual outing to fill up the back of her Volkswagen station wagon with enough horse manure from the stables that the car sat dangerously low on its axles for the drive home. Apparently, she’d heard on CBC radio that horse manure was great for the garden. I must say the flowers were much healthier and blossomed into a riot of colours. However, the stench kept you at quite a distance so the full flowery impact was lost. Still later, when I was at university and had inherited my Mom’s VW, whenever I had passengers with me, they would inevitably ask, “What’s that smell?” I, of course, had long since stopped even noticing the “scent of Sunnybrook.”
Another generation of our family is now enjoying Leaside’s wonderful parks. Our two sons spend a lot of time playing disc golf at Ernest Thompson Seton Park, so the tradition lives on. Now is the perfect time of year to reintroduce yourself to these green gems in our own backyard. And if you find a frisbee floating in the stream, I may know whom it belongs to.
A two-time winner of the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour, Terry Fallis grew up in Leaside and is the award-winning writer of eight national bestsellers, all published by McClelland & Stewart. His most recent, Operation Angus, is now in bookstores.