Published on November 14, 2023
Markets, ice rinks and other public places connect us to community, provide recreational opportunities and spark joy.
Great places connect us to what matters most — each other, our communities, nature and our planet. And, even in the winter, Canada has some incredible places.
From public markets to plazas to parks, our country’s very best places are designed to thrive year-round.
“It is particularly important to visit public spaces in the wintertime with the shorter days and a decrease in sunlight that can lead to increased anxiety and depression,” says Joyce Chau, Evergreen Program Director. “The best way to combat the winter blues is to keep active and to get outside.”
The winter months are also an excuse to unleash your inner child, Chau adds, pointing to activities like tobogganing, ice skating and even building snow forts.
“These activities are joyful. You’re not out there thinking how this is improving your physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. You’re just having fun and focused on where the next snowball will come from.”
So where are you planning to have fun and connect with friends and family this winter? Here are our favourite public spaces to explore when the temperatures drop.
Community gardens are about much more than soil and seeds.
In the winter, these places provide a meeting ground for those seeking a connection with nature in any season. When the snow covers the perennials, community gardens offer a different but equally inviting atmosphere where visitors can enjoy evergreen trees, walking trails or the occasional winter birds seeking shelter. Many public gardens also feature indoor greenhouses that remain open year-round, making them perfect for winter visits.
We love: University of Guelph Arboretum, Guelph
The Arboretum encompasses 400 acres adjacent to the University of Guelph campus and features plant collections, gardens, walking trails, natural woodlands, wetlands and meadows. Free and open year-round from dawn to dusk, the Arboretum is the perfect spot for a group or self-guided tour.
If a cozy winter walk isn’t quite your speed, maybe you’d prefer hurdling down a hill on an inner tube or toboggan? Sledding in public spaces brings joy to both the young and the young at heart and is a pastime best shared with friends and family.
Just be mindful that not all hills are safe for tobogganing. Some cities or municipalities have specific bylaws or regulations, so check your local rules before you put your snow pants on.
We love: Parc du Mont-Royal, Montreal
Montreal’s best-known park is one of the only parks in the city that offers tubes for rent throughout the winter. Check the website or the Friends of Mont Royal (Les Amis de la Montagne) Facebook page for announcements on when the tubing season opens.
Gathering around a crackling fire creates a sense of community that few other activities can match.
The warmth of the fire creates a welcoming environment, bringing friends, families and even strangers together to huddle close and share stories and laughter. It’s a simple yet powerful way to build connections and enjoy the winter season.
We love: Bowness Park, Calgary
One of Calgary’s most popular places, the park doesn’t slow down in the fall. In addition to the fire pits and BBQ stands that are available to book all winter, visitors can enjoy free skating on the lagoon, Crokicurl (the large-scale version of Crokinole), ice hockey rinks, cross-country curling even “ice bikes.”
With open areas and pedestrian-friendly layouts, city squares are among the most inviting public places during the winter, ideal for outdoor activities like ice skating, festive markets and other events.
However, these plazas aren’t solely event spaces. They provide casual meeting spots where friends can gather, relax and soak in the atmosphere. You’ll typically find benches, cozy corners or even heated areas.
We love: Sir Winston Churchill Square, Edmonton
A family-friendly and lively urban plaza in the heart of Edmonton’s downtown, Sir Winston Churchill Square hosts a variety of festivals, events and activities year-round. Lace up your skates at City Hall’s bustling ice rink or warm up at the fire pits.
It’s not bathing suit weather, but that doesn’t mean a beach day is out of the question.
As long as you’re dressed appropriately, there’s no bravery necessary to spend time near the shore all year-round. In the winter, Canada’s waterfronts and beaches transform into serene escapes, providing a place for a peaceful walk, brisk jog or meeting place with friends. Without the summer crowds, beaches and urban waterfronts can be a wonderful refuge.
We love: Point Pleasant Park, Halifax
Located in the south end of the Halifax peninsula, this historic 75-hectare wooded area is a great spot for running, biking or just sitting on a bench in front of the ocean. Point Pleasant Park is also a great spot to bring your dog.
If the scenes of a freshly blanketed snowscape aren’t moving enough for you, winter is a great time to explore public art in your community. These installations, standing out against the winter landscape, infuse the season with extra creativity and vibrancy. Ranging from sculptures to light installations, they offer a unique reason to get outside in subzero temperatures.
We love: The Bentway, Toronto
In addition to being an incredible public space located beneath an expressway in downtown Toronto, the Bentway hosts art exhibitions, community events and winter ice skating. Check their website to learn more about art installations happening this winter.
How many public spaces offer quick access to hot chocolate as soon as you get the chills?
During a season that can feel isolating for many, public markets thrive as bustling hubs of community connection. Sometimes called the ‘heartbeat of our cities,’ markets offer a diverse array of goods, from fresh produce to handmade crafts, and become a meeting place where locals gather.
We love: ByWard Market, Ottawa
A huge, buzzing hub of outdoor farmers market stalls, specialty food shops, colourful street art and hip stores with locally made crafts and clothes. In the winter, the action moves mostly indoors, and visitors flock to the market’s many restaurants and vendors.
Looking for a place with fire pits, free public skating, walking trails, gardens and more? Evergreen Brick Works has it all. In the winter, Evergreen’s Saturday Farmers Market and Ontario Artisan Market and Ontario Vintage Market becomes a meeting place for people from across the city — and beyond.