There is a series of linear parks that run east of Yonge Street in North York that comprise Willowdale Park North and Willowdale Park South. Starting in 2014, part of Willowale Park North was expanded by demolishing three developer owned residences and the newly created park was named Lee Lifeson Art Park. Construction of the park took place in 2016 with the grand opening being held on September 17, 2016. It was held in the rain with Mayor John Tory giving Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson (as well as Neil Peart who wasn’t present) the keys to the city in front of a few hundred Rush fans.
The one remaining house on the property was purchased by the city in 2015 for just over $2,058,000 with the intention of demolishing it and adding the property to the park. The current tenant was given a four year lease with three options to renew for a five year period each. Therefore, it could be 2034 before this becomes part of the park. The city has acquired several other properties with the intention of expanding Willowdale Linear Park. The December 2015 Google Earth capture below shows the three yet to be demolished houses circled in green while the one remaining home has the park name written over the roof.
Geddy Lee (Gary Lee Weinrib) was born on July 29, 1953 in Willowdale and went to Fisherville Public School with Alex Lifeson (Aleksandar Zivojinovic) who was born on August 27, 1953. In September 1968 they joined forces in the band that would go on to become Rush.
There is a permanent three part art installation in the park called 120 Mirrors which is inspired by the gramophone. The Horn of Reflection was created as a space for someone to sit inside and enjoy the soundscape as it is captured and amplified by the shape. However, you can’t get into the cone anymore because the end has been closed off.
The Hornucopia can be used to amplify sound within the park and by rotating it you can pick up distant bird songs.
Speak and Listen is the installation that has been overtaken by this garden in the picture below. Sound can be transmitted between the two points in much the same way that cup on the wall or a pair of cans on a string can.
Looking from the south east end of the park you can see the band shell and the three level amphitheater west of it.
The bandshell in Lee Lifeson Art Park is fittingly named Limelight after one of the songs on Rush’s 1981 album Moving Pictures. It was their most successful record, having sold over 5 million copies. Limelight was designed on a computer to amplify and direct sound with the best acoustics possible. It is based on a parabolic reflector and is covered with thousands of black glass mosaic tiles. It allows formal and informal presentations to be heard throughout the park. Limelight was created by Paul Raff Studios who also did the mosaic mural of Lee and Lifeson that can be seen in the cover photo and also later in the article.
The park is cut throughout by winding paths that lead among the plantings and art exhibits. Performances in the park were scheduled on a regular basis before being temporarily stopped by COVID restrictions. There’s plenty of space for people to sit on the grass and enjoy a show when the amphitheater is full.
Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and their partner in rhyme, Neil Peart, created a legacy of music that will be enjoyed for years to come. Sadly, Neil Peart passed away on January 7, 2020 but not before amassing 14 Platinum records and 24 Gold ones with sales of over 40 million albums. Together they toured the world multiple times and performed for this writer on 12 occasions beginning in 1982. Lee and Lifeson have been featured in a mosaic mural on the west end of the amphitheater where the washrooms and support buildings are located.
Lee Lifeson Art Park is only about 7,000 square meters, for now, but is an interesting little enclave among the high rises of North York. And, it’s a fitting tribute to two of the neighbourhood’s most nationally and internationally recognized men.
Google Maps Link: Lee Lifeson Art Park
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