Dogs, People, and Trees: Community Connection at Toronto’s Berczy Park

“The canopies started kissing each other in a very short period of time. It’s really like a high vault of green overhead.”

-Marc Halle, Co-President at Claude Cormier Landscape Architects (CCxA)


To serve the needs of an evolving generation of Downtown Toronto residents, Berczy Park — a triangular public space in the shadow of the historic Gooderham Building — underwent a modernizing transformation in 2015. The city wanted a “postcard destination” that simultaneously satisfied the desires of the diversifying urban populace (and their pets!). Who better to tackle this challenging task than the late Claude Cormier and his talented team of landscape architects? Reopening in 2017, the new Berczy Park is the pride of the neighborhood: a multi-use space anchored by the now-famous tiered dog fountain, a centerpiece art installation that connects visitors with its playfulness. Underneath the park hardscapes are more than 1,300 Silva Cells providing a huge, continuous bank of uncompacted soil for the newly planted double alley of trees along Front Street — an already-thriving urban forest corridor in the heart of the city.

Installation Summary

Number of Silva Cells: 1,370 (2x)

Amount of Soil Volume Per Tree: 1,050 ft3 (30 m3 )

Number of Trees: 22

Type of Project: Streetscape, Plaza

Project Designer: Claude Cormier

Project Contractor: Somerville Construction

Installation Date of Silva Cells: Summer 2016

The New Berczy Park

Originally opened in 1980, Berczy Park — a small triangular space between Toronto’s Old Town and Financial Districts — saw its downtown neighborhood evolve from a commercial-focused office area to a rejuvenated mixed-use urban community with a growing residential populace. As noted by Landezine International Landscape Awards’ overview of the project, “With 400 children and over 1,500 daily dog visits now within a two-block radius alone, this little park had to rise up to the demands of its new contextual complexity, generating animated debate amongst stakeholders about who and what the new park should be for.”

In 2012, the Berczy Park revitalization project was initiated with the goal of creating a multi-use space that served as both a “postcard” destination and as a functional park for residents and their pets. Claude Cormier and his award-winning team of landscape architects was tasked with delivering on this complex objective. Taking inspiration from the pink umbrellas at Sugar Beach, also a Claude Cormier project in Toronto, the team envisioned another conversation-starting creative centerpiece — in this case, the now-famous dog fountain.

Interestingly enough, despite the success of Sugar Beach, the fountain idea did not immediately gain traction with city officials. As Marc Halle, now co-president at Claude Cormier (CCxA), recalls: “The city’s initial reaction was not too warm to the [dog fountain] idea. It was the community who really stood up and said, no, this is what we want. They were the strongest champions.” This community engagement proved the deciding factor — and the dog fountain was given the green light.

A total of 27 dog statues of all breeds are perched around and within the three-tier fountain, spouting water in all directions. A solitary, bemused cat also completes the playful ambiance, staring stealthily at two perched birds on the other end of the plaza. The fountain truly serves as a community focal point, bringing people together for a shared smile with the lighthearted design of the park — which, as intended, is serving the needs of the city, its commercial demographic, downtown residents, and Torontonian dogs (who love to interact with their statuesque counterparts).

Green space was an equally integral component of the new Berczy Park, including a newly planted double row of trees — 22 in total — along Front Street. As Claude Cormier himself put it, “Each new tree has 30 cubic metres of soil, allowing them to grow much larger than the park’s previous foliage. [There’s] an extensive system under the paving. But the tree’s going to be happy and they’re going to mature as never before.”

That “extensive system” is the Silva Cell.

Growing Big Trees and Creating Successful Public Space

“We used Silva Cells at Sugar Beach, and that was our epiphany. That was the first major Silva Cells project in Toronto — now it’s become the city standard. And it’s our go-to.” -Marc Halle

Creating a welcoming public space is often a precarious balancing act between competing priorities and the limited space in which to fulfill their needs. Few would argue that shady green space isn’t an important component in this equation — but ensuring the success of city trees can be a challenge, particularly when hardscape walkways prevent access to an open soil environment. The Silva Cells solve this dilemma by supporting hardscapes above while simultaneously providing uncompacted soil for healthy tree root expansion below. This was critical at Berczy Park where, as Marc Halle recognized in the previous iteration of the park, “there were too many trees and not enough soil. And they were planted too close together — so they didn’t age very well.”

Indeed, most of the old trees had to be removed during renovation. One of the trees deemed healthy enough to remain, however, had its root structure left undisturbed with the Silva Cell system abutting it and creating a “break-out zone,” giving the tree access to additional lightly compacted soil for continued health and vitality. So far, the tree is holding up great.

The primary objective of the Silva Cell system, however, was to create a robust bank of soil volume for the new double alley of trees (in addition to the new trees along Scott Street), 22 American Elms in total, each one accessing over 1,000 cubic feet of soil volume thanks to 1,370 (2x) cells. And the trees are flourishing. “The canopies started kissing each other in a very short period of time. It’s really like a high vault of green overhead. People talk about how they take the long way home to walk under this alley,” notes Marc Halle. In addition to the large volume of soil, the trees are well-irrigated: they are receiving runoff from the sidewalks, captured by trench drains behind the curb that distribute the water in perforated pipes under the Silva Cell decks.

The Silva Cells’ flexibility was also an important feature, given the underground obstacles. Halle said that “One of the challenges [is that this is] an old neighborhood with lots of old utilities. It was like spaghetti. We had to straddle a lot of utilities. But the Silva Cells allowed us to have the flexibility, which I don’t think some of your competitors have, because [your system] is an independent, freestanding unit.”

Ultimately, the trees and the dog fountain are combining to create one of the most-visited parks in Toronto. As Landezine puts it, “The new park has brought people out of themselves to engage with their surroundings and each other in unexpected ways, as manifested through laughter and smiles, spontaneous outburst of conversation between strangers (can you spot what that cat is looking at?!), and comfortably relaxed attitudes that encourage people to give in and just let themselves feel good.” To quote Marc Halle, “You don’t often see strangers smiling to each other or talking to each other in public — but they do at Berczy Park.”

Project Awards

-2020 National Urban Design Award: Civic Design Category Certificate of Merit

-2019 City of Toronto: Large Space and Neighborhood Designs Urban Design Award

-2019 Designlines Magazine Designer of the Year Award: Best Public Space

-2018 CSLA National Award

Additional Resources

For other projects in the Greater Toronto Area, check out these case studies:

Six Points Etobicoke

Morningside Avenue

Toronto Waterfront


Have a product question or want to talk about a specific project?
Use the form to get in touch.

Contact Us Form

Interested in a DeepRoot product? Get a quote today.

Request a Quote [email protected]

Tel: 415 781 9700
Toll Free: 800 458 7668
Toll Free: 800 277 7668
Fax: 415 781 0191

Sign up to our newsletter to stay up-to-date on news, updates, and product information.