You know spring has officially arrived when the cherry blossom madness hits. While Japan is the most popular place for this activity, Toronto has its own share of cherry trees to admire. This year, I made it my mission to find cherry blossoms in Toronto. I must say that I’ve never actually partook in the “let’s go see the cherry blossoms” ritual. It was never something that I felt I had to do. After all, what is so special about them? I had to find out.
The art of cherry blossomsHanami is the Japanese custom of admiring the changing beauty of nature. It is most often referred to observing the blooming cherry blossoms aka the “sakura.” The tradition goes back for centuries, proving that beauty of nature has captivated people for a very long time. I have not been to Japan, but it seems to be a very popular custom, taken very seriously. Sakura hanami, the ritual of admiring the blooming trees, has become a popular event outside of Japan. Each spring, depending on the temperature, thousands flock to parks, temples and places where the trees are found, to adore their beauty. The abundance of the small, light petals creates a fragrant cloud above those admiring them. When they flakes fall, you feel like you are in a snow globe.
Where to find cherry blossoms in TorontoBesides Japan, Washington D.C. is a major attraction when it comes to watching cherry blossoms. However, there are many other places around the world where you can enjoy them, including Toronto. Yes, you hear that right. While Toronto doesn’t seem to appear on any lists about best places for sakura hamami, it is in fact a great spot for that. How did cherry trees get here? From Japan, of course. Back in 1959, the Japanese ambassador to Canada, Toru-Hagiwara, presented 2,000 sakura trees to the city. It was a gift recognizing the support of Japanese refugees after World War II. Similarly, about 500 trees were gifted to the city of Vancouver in the 1930s, honouring Japanese Canadians that served in the First World War. In a spirit of friendship between Toronto and Japan, additional sakura trees were planted throughout the city over the years. The project, aptly named the Sakura Project, was the effort of the Consulate General of Japan and the city of Toronto.
High ParkThe original trees from 1959 were planted in High Park, around the Grenadier Pond. Today, the mature trees rise way above the crowds, creating a canopy of pretty flowers over the path. This is the most popular destination for sakura hanami in the city. It even has a special website where you can get bloom updates. If you are a hard-core cherry blossom enthusiast, High Park is the place for you. If you can deal with the masses of tourists and locals alike, bonus points for you. I decided to visit on a Monday, cutting is close to the end of the blooming season. Still, the crowds were still here, but so were the blooms! As this is the most popular spot to see cherry blossoms in Toronto, signage and directions are in abundance, making it easy to find.
Trinity Bellwoods ParkTrinity Bellwoods is a smaller park and the trees here are younger – read this as smaller – than those in High Park. Depending on your viewing preference, this can be a good thing as it puts you closer to the blooms. However, smaller trees have less blooms and are likely to lose them faster. The blooms were not as good here, although I got here probably a bit too late in the season. Many of the flowers were already gone, but there were still plenty to admire. While not as popular as High Park, this is probably the second more visited place to see cherry blossoms in Toronto.
University of Toronto (UofT)You can find cherry blossoms across all three of UofT’s campuses. I decided to check out the Robarts Library on the downtown (St. George) campus. I recal the blooming pink trees from my university days. I think I was more concerned with passing my exams than I was about admiring the cherry blossoms in those days. While the cherry trees here are very obvious when in bloom, most people tend to flock to High Park to see them. As part of the university campus, I think they create a more striking canvas against the buildings and the streets. By the time I got here, the blossoms were all gone. This means that not all spots in the city are going to bloom at the same time. Keep that in mind when planning your trip.
Centre IslandIf you’re looking for even more places to find cherry blossoms in Toronto, you’re in luck. Just as pretty and not overrun with crowds are the 30 sakura trees on Toronto’s island. Best part about this spot is that you can make a day of it and get great views of the city skyline. Ferries run fairy often between the island and you can combine cherry blossom watching with other activities there. Centre Island is a beautiful place for relaxing, grabbing a bite and getting way from the crowds.
Other blossoms to rave aboutWhile cherry blossoms are quite spectacular to see, I think there are plenty of other blooms that are just as good if not better. Spring in the city brings out flowers on shrubs and trees at almost every corner. Blooms of white, pink, purple and every shade in between dot the streets, parks and backyards. Maybe that is why I never yearned to go to the park to see cherry blossoms – there are blossoms everywhere!
CrabappleI think this is the bloom that I am the most familiar with. The deep pink of the petals is unmistakable. Honestly, I prefer it to the white cherry blossoms. The petals are in denser clusters which creates more texture and the colour is so pretty.
LilacsLilacs are probably my absolute favourite. While different from cherry and crabapple blossoms, they are spectacular and they smell so good. Naturally, I prefer the dark purples, but I also like the whites and pinks.
Bringing it togetherFinding cherry blossoms in Toronto was fun. I actually felt like a tourist, which was great. While the blossoms were beautiful, I was more amazed at how many different types of people were there to see them. Young and old. Couple, families and friends. Everyone posing and trying to get a good angle. There was even one woman doing some fancy yoga poses in front of a camera. I mean, why just stand there when you can twist into a pretzel? Going to see cherry blossoms is a great activity that can be done with friends and/or family. It doesn’t cost anything (at least here in Toronto) and makes for something different to do. I’m not sure that this is an activity I would do every year, especially with the amount of people there, it’s definitely something worth doing at least once. Do you have cherry blossoms or other blooming trees where you live? Are you a sakura hanami enthusiast? Let me know.