The long-awaited grand re-opening of Morgan Park and Pool celebrated both new amenities and the area's vibrant history.
A large crowd gathered Aug. 27, with many in attendance having played vital roles in bringing the park's refurbishment to fruition.
Ward 4 Councillor Karen Rea, who emceed the event, was acknowledged for her dedication and support of the project since taking office in 2014.
The revamp evolved over several years; then COVID-19 delayed the re-opening, which was supposed to happen in the spring of 2021.
Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti commented that the project took longer than was hoped, but "that is democracy, that is the opportunity to listen to different groups, get that input and try to meet all of the needs within our community."
He spoke about the personal significance of the park since he rode to the park as a child to use the pool and said that revamping the facilities ensures that opportunity remains for all ages "to come and enjoy this wonderful facility and to be a kid.
"Sometimes in today's society, I think that we forget that it's important just to be a kid."
He added the even greater value of having a facility that allows everyone in the community to learn essential lifesaving swimming skills.
Scarpitti also acknowledged Susan Lennox, from Lennox Architects Limited, for designing the new and much-improved pool building and Robert Wood, general superintendent of Van Horne Construction Ltd., for the construction work.
As if the planning details, design, and construction aren't crucial project components, the Markham Lions Club, Markham Village Conservancy, and Markham Group of Artists added elements of spirit and community to the project, making it extra special.
The Lions Club was responsible for bringing the outdoor pool to Morgan Park in 1957. The Lion's Friendship Arch at the west side of the pool is a testament to the organization's role.
Through fundraising efforts, the group donated $15,000 to construct a splash pad beside the pool that displays the Lions Club logo at its centre.
"Today not only represents a celebration of the opening of the pool but also a celebration for us as Lions, celebrating 75 years of service in the Markham community," said Carolyn Stephenson, 1st vice district governor for the Markham Lions Club.
Stephenson spoke about the reward of hearing children play at the splash pad and in the pool, "especially knowing that we, as Lions, have been there all through the way, working with the city on the revitalization of Morgan Park Pool. It is exciting, not just because of the financial contribution, but as Lions, we're meeting the needs of the community. This is critical for us because service is what we're all about."
Diane Moore, president of the Markham Village Conservancy, spoke about the organization's involvement in the project.
The organization supports Markham Village's heritage district, one of the largest in Canada. The group started in 1996 with the historical refurbishment of the Markham Village Train Station. After its completion about ten years ago, a conservancy member suggested the refurbishment of Morgan Park as a new project.
After a bit of a slow start, the project gained momentum with Councillor Karen Rea when she took office.
Moore spoke of the park's history, once having had an expansive rose garden and bandshell. In 1923, the Markham Horticultural Society was granted use of the north half-hectare of Morgan Park as a Rose Demonstration Plot by the Dominion Horticultural Council.
By 1924, the Markham Rose Test Plot was home to more than 1,000 of the “newest, rarest, and best varieties of roses” and drew visitors from near and far.
There was no question that the beloved and "iconic" pool would stay, but the group discussed the possibility of bringing back the rose garden and bandshell.
However, the results of a community survey favoured the ball diamond over the rose garden and bandshell, so the project continued per the community's wishes.
The conservancy wanted to pay tribute to the garden with a memorial of what once existed on the pool site. With Andrew Fuyarchuk taking the lead on the memorial project, they eventually connected with the Markham Group of Artists (MGA), who they commissioned to create a mosaic that now hangs in the foyer of the pool building entitled Coming Up Roses.
Moore credited Linda Ruscio McIntosh and MGA for collaborating with the Markham Village Conservancy "on this impressive addition to the heritage treasure that is Markham Village and Morgan Park."
Updates to the park include a bigger, brighter, and fully accessible pool building with 25 change stalls, 42 lockers, and improved washroom facilities, including some close to the splash pad area for younger children. A higher fence around the pool and a drop-off area by the entrance doors enhance the facility's safety.
The playground was rebuilt, and the ball diamond had an overhaul, with new fencing, bleachers, and energy-efficient lighting.
Rea quipped that a bandshell is still needed but in a different location. Perhaps that will be next to take shape in the village.
Jennifer McLaughlin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Markham Review