Limelight for Rush: Toronto rockers get a park named in their honour

Lee Lifeson Art Park will take its name from Rush founders Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson, who grew up in the Willowdale area

By Todd Coyne, Toronto Star, August 2, 2014

It may not be very rock-and-roll to get a park named in your band's honour, but musical icons Rush have always defied the genre.

"I know my mom is very happy!" frontman Geddy Lee told the Star.

Lee and co-founder Alex Lifeson, both 60, are about to put their names on a city park in the Toronto neighbourhood where the two met as pimply-faced progressive-rock prodigies.

A lot has changed in Willowdale since singer-bassist Lee and guitarist Lifeson lived in the North York neighbourhood that partially inspired the band's 1982 anti-suburbia anthem "Subdivisions."

Now, 32 years later, the city has obviously forgiven the slight.

On July 17 the Toronto parks committee formally recommended that a piece of Willowdale Park be renamed "Lee Lifeson Art Park," in honour of the "Fly By Night" Rock and Roll Hall of Famers.

The plan is to extend Willowdale Park - already as meandering as many of the band's most cherished tunes - by knocking down some city - and developer-owned homes and converting the lots to greenspace.

"We met with the park architects and were really impressed with the thought and plans they have for it," Lee said.

Early designs for the area include art installations, a collaborative performance space and even a small bandshell for "acoustic concerts," according to Willowdale Councillor , who first hatched the tribute plan two years ago.

"I was standing around one night with a fellow music lover trying to think of somebody who had grown up in Willowdale who was a famous artist or musician," Filion said. "We both came up with the name Geddy Lee almost simultaneously."

The councillor contacted Lee with the idea, and he immediately got on board - albeit with one condition.

"He said he was interested and honoured, but also suggested it be named after Alex Lifeson, too," Filion said.

According to rock lore, Lee and Lifeson met as students at the nearby Fisherville Junior High School, where they first forged the musical bond that would eventually blossom into one of rock's most prolific power trios.

"It is where I met my best friend and bandmate," Lee said. "We were humbly honoured by the suggestion to name the park after us."

Discussion among Rush fans online has been overwhelmingly supportive of the idea ever since the park plan was put forth weeks ago. But one lingering question invariably remains: Why isn't it being called Rush Park?

The perceived snub of drummer Neil Peart is not intentional, the band's publicist explained. It's just that he didn't grow up in Willowdale. (Your move, St. Catharines.)

Despite the huge response from the band's fans the world over, the reaction from prospective park users has been at best a symbolic tribute to the power of threes.

That's how many residents the city heard from after posting a notice last month alerting residents to the proposal: three.

Of those respondents, two liked the idea of "Lee Lifeson Art Park," and one "was not familiar with the musicians and suggested another name," according to the July 17 staff report.

But before Rush fans can flock to the park to tap out tunes in the band's infamously incongruous time signatures, there's still one more hurdle the proposal must clear.

The North York community council will have final say on the plan at its Aug. 12 meeting. Filion, one of 11 members on neighbourhood council, expects the motion to get "The Pass" without fail.

"I expect it will be unanimous," Filion said. "I can't imagine why not."

If passed, work on the art-themed park will begin early next year, with an official unveiling set for fall 2015 or spring 2016.

"On tour and during our travels," Lee said, "we get to visit and enjoy so many parks around the world and really appreciate having that communal green space that is so important to a vibrant city.