Angry Robot

St Patrick's Square

Blogathon update: I don’t have much time today and I’m not feeling particularily content-generational so I went looking through my archive of draft posts and found this one from last summer about one of my favourite parks. I’ve added a little to it but it still doesn’t feel finished, but so be it.

The square is hidden, almost. It’s at the centre of a bustling downtown block, but it’s not visible from the street. You walk between two buildings, or down an alley, and there it is. It’s small, more a parkette than a park. But it is well-used by the groups that know about it: office smokers, the homeless, and birds. Occasionally a gaggle of newcomers will notice it from the market building that abuts its southern edge and abscond to the square to eat their lunch. I like to think they are bound to return.

The market building used to be an actual market which included a butcher that hung chicken corpses in the window. That space is now occupied by a bubble tea house and a bakery that sells cronuts. There are a couple other fast food-ish places – jerk chicken and somalian food – but much of the space is empty. It was much busier a decade ago, when Big Stan’s burger house and The Lunch Box lured in visitors, but the landlord raised the rent drastically and all of the tenants were forced to move. Apparently the landlord owns a club or two and is much more interested in those properties. He stores some surplus kitchen equipment in an unused portion of the market, which would be better used maybe on seating for the restaurants’ customers but oh well.

The jerk chicken restaurant occupies the space closest to the square and the smell of jerk dominates the air. It’s called The Jerk Joint and it is excellent. The chef gets in at 5:30 every morning and starts a laborious yet nose-pleasing series of smokings, rubs, and marinations. If you bring your jerk chicken to the square to eat you will surely be visited by wasps, and birds will gather about you eagerly. There are flocks of pigeons and sparrows in the rather ample canopy of the square – so much so that you should watch where you sit. A frosting of bird shit coats many of the benches and many parts of the concrete retaining wall that skirts the square.

There is a condo building on the western edge, next to the design store Umbra, and a strip of row houses to the east, which are largely split into rental apartments. In the north there is the butt end of a public pool building. Along the alleys that demarcate the edges of the park prowl infrequent service vans, cars pulling out of the condo parking, and the odd Mercedes belonging to a Queen Street restaurant owner.

Smokers descend from their creative-class office buildings and chat in groups, or pace while on the phone. If you’ve quit smoking but have temporarily relapsed, this is the place for you, away from the judgmental eyes of your co-workers. You can take a break and observe the migratory patterns of the birds or the homeless. The park tends to house only one or two homeless people at a time. There are more later in the day, but it usually sleeps only one or two. Last summer there was a masked transgendered homeless who slept in the middle of the open area of the park. She had a friend stay with her for a few days, and then he was gone, and then she was gone. This summer there is an old man on a bike, who sleeps on one of the benches in the shady area at the south end. He is very polite, and collects bottles from the condo recycling bins.

The park has a dense tangle of trees, landscaping, paths and benches in its south end. Its middle is largely open, a sun-trap mini-field that gets little play in the summer. The north end by the pool building has a ring of seating and if it has a primary use, it’s weed smoking. The concrete mini-wall along the edges of the park means that there’s almost always somewhere to sit.

If you’re ever around Queen and John and you need some refuge from tourists, shopping and nose rings, wander north-east a touch. This could be the place for you.