Toronto needs cricket pitches, basketball courts, as demographics change and ice rinks go cold


The biggest city in a country crazy for hockey doesn’t need more indoor ice rinks; it needs more cricket pitches, basketball courts and skate parks, thanks to changing demographics.

A $2.2-billion master facilities plan for Toronto reveals proposals for 30 new outdoor basketball courts over the next 20 years, 45 new soccer fields and 18 new indoor pools, most of them within community centres, and just one more indoor ice rink, which will be built into the new Don Mills Civitan Arena.

Up to three existing arenas could be converted to other uses, such as indoor sports complexes or skate parks. Five new artificial outdoor rinks may be required around the city, because they offer affordable and unstructured opportunities for outdoor skating for everyone, according to the report.

“We haven’t seen a huge increase in demand for hockey,” said Janie Romoff, general manager of Parks, Forestry and Recreation for the City of Toronto.

In fact, according to data in the master plan, only eight per cent of Canadian children and youth play hockey, less than half the percentage that played 20 years ago.

“Soccer continues to be a huge growth sport. Cricket is a big need coming through loud and clear,” said Romoff.

The decisions on what to put where are part of the first master plan for recreational facilities in Toronto’s history, and were made after consulting demographics, talking to members of sports clubs and communities, Indigenous and cultural organizations, and by engaging professional parks-and-recreation master-planning consultants who have done similar work across the country.

The new facilities will be needed as Toronto’s population is forecast to grow from 2.9 million to 3.4 million by 2041, and as more people in communities of new immigrants wish to play the sports they are familiar with.

“Toronto is changing in all kinds of ways. A lot of the cultural and diversity demographics of the city are changing. We need to be as responsive as we can to all the communities,” said Romoff.

While demand for bocce courts and lawn bowling greens is down, and no new curling facilities are planned, demand for soccer pitches has gone through the roof.

“We need more, and we need better quality,” said Tim Ferris, general manager with the Toronto Recreational Sports League and Average Joe Sports Club.

“We’re often making use of fields that are not of as great a quality as we would like.”

Soccer has become a go-to sport, says Ferris, and competition for fields can be stiff.

“There’s a lot of groups that are looking, both in terms of kids and adults,” said Ferris.

Demand for sports and recreation services has also surged in recent years, partly, Romoff believes, due to the success of new community centres such as the Regent Park pool and community centre. The participation of more girls and women in sport is also helping drive demand.

Jeremy Alleyne, club manager of Etobicoke Basketball, a league that has teams for both kids and adults, said more courts will hopefully mean more kids playing outside.

“And that just leads to more of a social environment. They’re not on their cellphones. They’re not playing Fortnite. They’re staying out of trouble,” he said.

Calling it “a craze,” Alleyne said there’s been a huge bump in interest since the Raptors’ championship win last summer. His league plays at school facilities. But with 400 kids on the wait list for a recent program, he would love to expand to outdoor city courts.

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It would also help more girls and women get involved in the sport, added Alleyne, and this is something that’s close to his heart as he is a women’s’ basketball coach at Humber College.

The plan also calls for five more cricket pitches and upgrading roughly three by 2038.

Andrew Boda, 30, who’s played at pitches across the city, says that’s not enough.

“It’s not going to work,” he said. “There needs to be an overhaul.”

Boda has been playing the game for most of his life, and continued when he came to Canada from India as a teenager.

“It’s not only a passion; it’s in your blood,” he said.

He thinks Toronto is far behind GTA municipalities such as Brampton and Mississauga when it comes to cricket.

One of the problems is that Toronto has limited green space.

“We don’t have much more land,” said Romoff. “The trick is figuring out where the most demand is. For example, a cricket field takes out two soccer fields. It’s balancing all those needs, which we try very hard to do.”

To make it work, the plan calls for facilities to serve multiple purposes: soccer fields that can also be used for lacrosse and rugby. The plan calls for three more sports bubbles so different sports teams can play throughout the winter.

The plan recommends developing 28 community recreation centres — 17 of them new, many with indoor pools, and replacing or revitalizing 11 existing facilities. It recommends they include at least one gymnasium, wherever possible. It identified a need for four more skate parks in the city.

The Parks and Recreation Facilities Master Plan 2019-2038 was adopted by city council in Nov. 2017 and the implementation strategy is to be considered by executive committee on Oct. 23 and by city council on Oct. 29.

Francine Kopun

Francine Kopun is a Toronto-based reporter covering city hall and municipal politics. Follow her on Twitter: @KopunF
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