leash free in the gta

Happy Summer Solstice!

On this day of maximum sunlight, I'm thinking about how much I'm enjoying my new suburban lifestyle. I know it's not that new anymore - August 30 will be four years - but I still appreciate it every day.

I will always love cities, and a part of me will always miss urban life. But after living a very urban lifestyle from the time I started university in 1978 until moving to Canada in 2005, I am so enjoying the difference.

Living in a house, and having a backyard: those were the two main reasons we chose to live in Mississauga. For the rent we could afford, we could find a nice apartment in Toronto, but we really wanted a whole house. And the backyard. The backyard! We adore it. In the warm months, weather permitting, we eat dinner outside every night, and I work outside on the patio as often as possible. On beautiful spring days, I like to email friends who are stuck in offices: "I'm sitting on the patio with an iced coffee...". Ha!

But we don't only enjoy outdoor space sequestered in our own backyard. I've blogged about this before, but it bears repeating: the parks in Toronto and Mississauga - especially the dog parks - are amazing.

Mississauga itself is full of lovely public parks, and a handful of them have leash-free areas. We live very near Garnetwood Park, which has a big, fenced-in enclosure that's leash-free. It's just a big dog run within a larger (and beautiful) park, as you'll find in Toronto, New York and many other cities, but larger. It's great for us because it's so nearby - not walking distance, but a 10-minute drive. The proximity helped us socialize Tala more easily.

When we lived in Port Credit, we drove a bit further down the lake to Jack Darling Park, the jewel in Mississauga's leash-free crown, and as good a dog park as you'll find anywhere. There's a huge open meadow for romping, and a trail through a wooded area, all of it completely fenced. At an average walking pace, a loop through the park takes about 40 minutes - great for people, and a great way to get a dog accustomed to hiking and walking on a trail.

Jack Darling is a longer drive now, but we would still go down there once in a while, because the dogs (and I) love it. Unfortunately there's some construction going on there now. There's an alternate fenced-in area, which is huge, but without the trail, there's not much incentive to drive all the way there.

At about the same time the construction started at Jack Darling, I thought Tala might be ready for High Park. Our friends James and Lori, of Miniature Australian Shepherd fame, had mentioned it several times when all of our dogs were playing together in the backyard. We were waiting until Tala seemed ready for a dog park that's not completely fenced in, but uses the natural boundaries of where people stand and where dogs generally run.

But after trying it once (see here), a new tradition - or at least a habit - was born. Now, on any available holiday, the eight of us meet at a dog park: James, Lori, Allan, Laura, Cobalt, Denim, Cody and Tala.

The dogs go absolutely wild for this. They always love going to the park, of course, but meeting at these special parks is joy of another magnitude. The last time we met at Toronto's High Park, we arrived first, and Cody planted herself at the entrance, craning her neck, scanning the path from the parking lot - very obviously waiting for her friends to appear. When they did, she started leaping about, overjoyed.

To our surprise, High Park is much closer than we expected, and quickly supplanted Jack Darling as our favourite dog destination. (I knew where it was, of course; we pass it all the time. But I hadn't realized that the drive time - local roads to Jack Darling versus the highway on a holiday - would make a park in Toronto more convenient than one in Mississauga.)

High Park is Toronto's largest park. It's huge and very multi-faceted, and the leash-free area is amazing. It's a similar idea to Jack Darling - an open play area where the dogs run around, then a combination of paths and trails, where people and dogs can do an leash-free loop.

It's hillier than Jack Darling, and there's a creek. The only downside, for us, is that there are also bikes on the path, and sometimes a park bus (one of those fake trollies) - and we can't trust Tala not to chase. We stay alert and keep her leash at the ready, but there are also enough distractions that sometimes she doesn't care.

Our most recent doggie meet-up was at Cherry Beach, our first time there. (James and Lori go there very frequently.) Allan and I loved this one. The park itself is hidden away; you could drive past the turnoff every day and never know it's there. But over a series of little bridges, past a few marinas and some industrial buildings, you find a stand of tall trees abutting a sandy shoreline. And imagine, a leash-free stretch of lakefront! From May to September, the leash free hours are restricted, but it still seems so great to me.

Another one we want to try is Etobicoke Valley Park, which we hear contains a nice stretch of Etobicoke Creek where dogs can splash in the summer.

It probably seems a little odd to write about these parks and not post pictures. But I never feel like taking the camera when we go - and if I did, I'd only have dog photos anyway, nothing that would show you the park itself. I promise more dog pics some time this summer. Possibly involving a hose.

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