Category Archives: Montréal

Montreal Swings into Spring with Pastel Harmonies

In Montreal a playful art installation invites passersby to kick back and let their toes touch the sky. For the third consecutive year 21 balançoires is sending waves of lightness through the downtown core’s entertainment district momentarily whisking away the urban noise and bustle. Listen carefully and you will hear a rising, falling arc of sweet music as players sail through the air on their bottom-lit swings.
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PlayGroundology’s 2011 story on Montreal’s musical swings is one of the blog’s most visited posts. Hats off again to my Montreal buddy Moussa for giving me a shout about this wildly popular interactive art.

21 balançoires (3rd edition) – Promenade des Artistes, Montreal, Canada until June 2, 2013

This year 21 balançoires has caught the eye of France’s Biennale Internationale Design Sainte-Étienne (source – designboom) and Oprah who visited Montreal earlier this month.

When in motion, each swing in the series triggers different notes and, when used all together, the swings compose a musical piece in which certain melodies emerge only through cooperation. via Daily Tous les Jours

Creators Mouna Andraos and Melissa Mongiat have swing, swang, swung themselves into the hearts of Montrealers, the international design community and lovers of play everywhere.

The installation was awarded The Best in Show at February’s Interaction Awards in Toronto. Andraos and Mongiat have not been resting on their laurels though. After introducing the world to 21 balançoires, they created 21 obstacles. Most recently they’ve been awarded a commission for Montreal’s first permanent digital art installation at the city’s new planetarium.

This third edition of 21 balançoires features a photo contest so click off a few frames, you could be a winner.

I’m sure Andraos and Mongiat will be back with new crowd pleasers. I hope they will revisit the world of play with compelling, heart of the city projects that make the old young and the young younger still.

Playground Music – Groovin’ to the Beat

This summer Germany’s first musical playground opened in Brandis. This is where play grooves to its own beat. Here a group of kids is putting the equipment through its paces. Thanks to Roman Rackwitz for providing this behind the scenes footage.

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Erwin Stache is the conductor of this playground symphony, or at least the musical consultant. He’s interviewed in this report on the playground filed by Roman for Mediendienst Ost (German required – sorry no translation).

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I love to see this kind of experimentation with sound in a place of play where kids can let loose and make their own music. Stache is an innovator and experimentalist and as the video record attests, no stranger when it comes to working with young people.

Music and play are a dynamic duo, one that we should hear and see more frequently. Movement and sound can certainly help to brighten up our public spaces.

It makes me think of 21 balançoires – 21 swings which has briefly graced Montreal’s downtown as a temporary installation for the last two years.

Malmö, Sweden also has a well loved musical playground.

Technological sophistication can makes things fun as the kids in Brandis, Germany demonstrate but simplicity can work too.

Let’s hear it for music and play together. Do you know of any musical playgrounds, or playgrounds that have a funky musical component? Leave a comment, or drop us a line by email at playgroundology@gmail.com.

Global Village Playground at Expo 67

Forty-five years ago this playground made quite a splash at Expo 67, the 20th century’s most successful World Fair. For a few weeks during Canada’s 100th birthday festivities, Montreal’s Expo was the cultural crossroads of the world. In that global village mashup, that summer of celebration and exuberance, the Canadian pavilion put children front and centre.

From CCA’s Cornelia Hahn Oberlander Archive

The playground at the Canadian pavilion was a must stop for the 10 and under set. By North American standards it was cutting edge, ahead of its time, as can be seen in this short excerpt from a National Film Board of Canada documentary.

Landscape architect Cornelia Oberlander had a great stage to share her playground design ideas with an international audience and the 30,000 appreciative kids who played there over the course of the summer.

The playground especially designed for Expo ’67, in conjunction with the Children’s Creative Centre, should provide some new ideas for crowded urban communities. Everywhere in cities there are areas that could be made into “vest-pocket parks”, with mounds, ravines, treehouses, streams for wading, and places for building.

See Oberlander’s entire Space for Creative Play text and a letter to the editor of Maclean’s magazine about the playground here.

From CCA’s Cornelia Hahn Oberlander Archive

Cornelia Oberlander is now a doyenne of the landscape architect circle. I have seen her referred to as the Queen of Green. The ideas she put in play at Expo 67 are increasingly in vogue. A case in point is the burgeoning interest in natural playscapes.

From CCA’s Cornelia Hahn Oberlander Archive

Cornelia, thanks for the Expo 67 gift that keeps on giving. It’s as relevant and exciting today as it was forty-five years ago.

More on Expo 67 here and here.

More on Cornelia Oberlander in future PlayGroundology posts.

The Unbearable Lightness of Swinging

There’s something cosmic about swinging, a certain je ne sais quoi. When I saw Teena Marie Fancey’s Baby Boy at The Craig Gallery on Dartmouth, Nova Scotia’s waterfront a couple of years ago, I knew I had found a great opening image for a paean to swings. Thanks Teena.

Swings are all grace and simplicity as they trace their airy arcs. In downward sweeps there is the tickling acceleration of free fall. Then as the pendulum tracks the outer bounds of its trajectory, the weighty hand of gravity pulls down.

The rise and fall, earth to sky movement is one of the first experiences that parents and children share together at the playground. It’s the bond of the baby swings – push, push away and then fall back into papa or mama’s loving embrace.

There are milestones – graduating from baby to big kids swing, getting on unassisted, giving another child a push, pumping and propelling through the air unaided, standing up swinging, twosome riding one person standing and one sitting, helicoptering and flying off the seat into a heart stopping jump.

And what a variety of swings, of choices – rope, lawn, glider, tire swings and the truly inventive ones like this got you over a barrel model from India.

via flickr by Eileen Delhi. Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Years ago when my art college daughter was just a tyke and I was finding my way as a single dad, we were regulars at a playground not far from our home. We created our own fun activities and for the longest time one of our favourites was the elliptical whirl of the tire swing.

For Alexa the velocity and tilt were exhilarating. For me, the rhythmic repetition of the pushing was a soothing release at the end of the day. We both remember the little ditty we sang together as she whizzed through air…

round and round and round
she goes
where she stops
nobody knows

round and round
on the tire swing
high in the sky
like a bird on a wing

People do love their tire swings and can get downright sentimental about them. Just check this Flickr group dedicated to one of the earlier recycling ideas for an industrial product.

Swings have also become part of the public art vernacular in some cityscapes. For two consecutive summers, Montrealers have been able to create their own downtown symphony of swings with the temporary 21 Balançoires installation. This is one of the more popular PlayGroundology posts.

And who knew that one day this elemental piece of equipment would inspire its own movement? The Red Swing Project installs swings anonymously in unlikely venues. This international band of merrymakers has hung swings in the USA, India, Thailand, Brasil, Taiwan, South Korea, France, Spain, Portugal, Haiti and Poland.

In their timelessness, swings are chic, à la mode.
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I found this lovely necklace by Calourette on a SwissMiss blog post. If you’re not familiar with Tina Roth Eisenberg aka SwissMiss don’t miss her site on all things design which was recently featured on Say:100

And wait, just before we go, did I hear tattoo? Fellow Canadian Marc Johns has created this wonderful line drawing – Playground – that is also available as a tattly. The line drawing looks like this.

Find a few moments this weekend to swing through the summer sky, let your toes touch the stars. We’re never too old for that climb and drop sensation.

Keep on swingin’.

Popular PlayGroundology Posts Year 2

Four posts from PlayGroundology’s second year that were popular with readers. Check them out if you didn’t see them first time around.

Lights, Camera, Action

Actually this post is about school, recess and playgrounds. These three words should be as intrinsically linked in the popular consciousness as the trio in the title. There’s just as much drama and adventure on most recess playgrounds as there is on a movie shoot. Recess action for the most part is unrehearsed and the cast are all naturals – it’s an organic kind of thing. Thanks to @kindlinglily for sending this story across the pond.More…

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Eden’s Fallen Log

Over a period of ten years, the Eden Project in Cornwall, England has transformed a disused clay mine into a lush and fertile oasis. Environmental, educational and cultural discoveries are the heartbeat of this wonderland. More…

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Himmelhøj – Sky High – Copenhagen, Denmark

Since he was a young boy growing up in his adopted Australia, Alfio Bonanno knew he wanted to be an artist. At the age of 14, with the full support of his Italian family, he embarked on his apprenticeship in art. From the outset, he was drawn to the materials and the look of the natural world. He’s been on a global walkabout ever since. More…

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In Montreal The Swings Are Alive With The Sound of Music

These are sweetnote dreamswings an innovation in play and sound. The 21 swings installation is located in Montreal’s Quartier des spectacles on the Promenade des Artistes. This is part of the city’s celebrated arts district where the Jazz Festival and Just for Laughs strut their stuff. Now strangers can make music together by leaning back and kicking for the sky. More…

Rights of the Child Marks 20 Years in UK

This December 16th marks 20 years since the UK ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. In recognition of this anniversary, PlayGroundology wants to share with its readers in the UK and elsewhere an inspirational project from Montreal’s Salamander playground.

Salamander Playground in Mount Royal Park is the first public space in the world where images and text have been used side by side to tell the story of children’s rights. The images by artist Gérard Dansereau temper the seriousness of the message with a breath of lightness, splashes of colour and an invitation to play. Montréal now joins Massongex, Switzerland and Luxembourg as cities with Rights of the Child commemorative paths.

To Be Different – Tile Series by G. Dansereau – Montreal, Canada

To Be Different (text) – Tile Series by G. Dansereau – Montreal, Canada

Article 2 (Non-discrimination): The Convention applies to all children, whatever their race, religion or abilities; whatever they think or say, whatever type of family they come from. It doesn’t matter where children live, what language they speak, what their parents do, whether they are boys or girls, what their culture is, whether they have a disability or whether they are rich or poor. No child should be treated unfairly on any basis.

To Be Protected – Tile Series by G. Dansereau – Montreal, Canada

To Be Protected (text) – Tile Series by G. Dansereau – Montreal, Canada

Article 19 (Protection from all forms of violence): Children have the right to be protected from being hurt and mistreated, physically or mentally. Governments should ensure that children are properly cared for and protect them from violence, abuse and neglect by their parents, or anyone else who looks after them. In terms of discipline, the Convention does not specify what forms of punishment parents should use. However any form of discipline involving violence is unacceptable. There are ways to discipline children that are effective in helping children learn about family and social expectations for their behaviour – ones that are non-violent, are appropriate to the child’s level of development and take the best interests of the child into consideration. In most countries, laws already define what sorts of punishments are considered excessive or abusive. It is up to each government to review these laws in light of the Convention.

To Play – Tile Series by G. Dansereau – Montreal, Canada

To Play (text) – Tile Series by G. Dansereau – Montreal, Canada

Article 31 (Leisure, play and culture): Children have the right to relax and play, and to join in a wide range of cultural, artistic and other recreational activities.

To express oneself – Tile Series by G. Dansereau – Montreal, Canada

Survival and development – Tile Series by G. Dansereau – Montreal, Canada

Article 6 (Survival and development): Children have the right to live. Governments should ensure that children survive and develop healthily.

The tile series tells the story of children’s rights in a visual language that is accessible to younger kids. And then of course there is Salamander Playground itself. If you’re in Montreal, it’s well worth a visit.

5 Cool Ones

Cool is in the eye of the beholder – no common currency, no standard to overlay. Since PlayGroundology’s beginnings in January 2010, I’ve come across a number of what I consider ‘cool’ playgrounds. My kids have seen photos of all of these places and without exception it’s the same question that leaps from their lips – can we go there? And that in a nutshell, as my Mom would say, is one of my primary litmus tests for cool.

So, here is PlayGroundology’s inaugural installment of 5 Cool Ones. They appear in no particular order. The beauty is that there are hundreds more out there waiting to be discovered. That is my dream job – exploring the playgrounds of the world with my family while meeting the kids who play there, the parents who take them and the people who design them. If you ever see this opportunity posted anywhere, please give me a call.

Salamander Playground – Montreal, Canada

Salamander Playground, Aerial View – Montreal, Canada.
Photo Credit – Marc Cramer

The design, equipment and feel here are reminiscent of some playgrounds in western Europe – flickr slideshow. That’s fitting as Montreal is a bustling cosmopolitan city that evokes the old country. There is lots of climbing, spinning, swinging and getting wet. All of this and more in the beautiful setting of Mount Royal Park close to the heart of Montreal’s urban core. More about Salamander Playground here

Miners’ Playground – Chuquicamata, Chile

Chuquicamata Playground, Chile
Photo Credit – Carlos Borlone Leuquén aka Mi otra carne in flickrville

Otherworldly with a touch of the surreal describes some unique play structures that sit quietly in Chuquicamata, a former mining town in northern Chile. Located in the Atacama desert, the most arid on the planet, Chuqui is encircled by foothills of slag and tailings from nearly 100 years of mineral exploitation.

Chuquicamata Playground flickr gallery here.

Himmelhøj – Copenhagen, Denmark

Amager Ark, Copenhagen, Denmark
Photo Credit – Alfio Bonanno

In Copenhagen, tucked away on Amager Island’s southwestern reaches, is a landlocked boat. It seems to have materialized from some distant time and place. The Amager Ark is one component of Bonanno’s Himmelhøj (Sky High), a four piece installation commissioned by the Danish Ministry of the Environment.

Himmelhøj photosets here and here.

Playground – New York City, USA

Playground – Tom Otterness
Photo credit – Marilyn K. Yee, The New York Times

Playground, a Tom Otterness sculpture cum anthropomorphic architecture, cum dreamy play area is a reclining behemoth. The gentle giant is a whirl of fun and fancy, an open invitation for children to play and for adults to rekindle a spark of childlike wonderment. The New York City iteration of the limited edition series is nestled between One River Place and Silver Towers on West 42nd St. between 11th and 12th Avenues, not too far from the Hudson River in Manhattan. Read more here on this one of a kind New York City play sculpture.

Eden Project – Cornwall, England

Oaken Log – Touch Wood Enterprises
Photo courtesy Touchwood Enterprises

Over a period of ten years, the Eden Project in Cornwall, England has transformed a disused clay mine into a lush and fertile oasis. Environmental, educational and cultural discoveries are the heartbeat of this wonderland.

The Eden Project also has a massive section of oak trunk that serves as a rustic play station. The trunk comes from an oak that fell naturally and was then hollowed and sandblasted by Touch Wood Enterprises Ltd.

Eden Log photoset here

Keep in mind that the sample size for these cool playgrounds is very small. There are so many great designers and interesting playscapes out there. If you know a cool playground you’d like to share, send a photo(s) of it, its name and location to playgroundolgy@gmail.com for a future post.

Sand Wasps close down playgrounds in Montreal and Gatineau, Quebec

An infestation of sand wasps is responsible for closing close to 100 playgrounds in Gatineau and the Montreal area. CTV News story here

In Montreal The Swings Are Alive With The Sound Of Music

These are sweetnote dreamswings an innovation in play and sound. The 21 swings installation is located in Montreal’s Quartier des spectacles on the Promenade des Artistes. This is part of the city’s celebrated arts district where the Jazz Festival and Just for Laughs strut their stuff. Now strangers can make music together by leaning back and kicking for the sky.


Cooperation, the unbearable lightness of swinging and musical permutations scoring new compositions – it just doesn’t get any better. Artist-Designers Mouna Andraos and Melissa Mongiat who created the installation with Luc-Alain Girardeau, professor of animal behaviour at the Université de Québec à Montréal (UQAM), are interviewed here.

Photo credit – Quartier des spectacles on flickr

I’m sure this trio’s work has inspired many a passerby since the exhibition opened toward the end of April. I’m kicking myself as we just missed it on our recent Montreal visit. Mark you calendars – the tuneful swinging comes to a standstill on May 23 at 11:00 p.m. – just under two weeks remaining at the time of writing. Take a moment and go swinging under the sun, the stars, the moon.

Beautiful concept. I hope 21 Balançoires will reappear from time to time to inject playfulness in the heart of the city. Thanks to my longtime friend Moussa for passing this on.

Montreal Gazette reporter, Jeff Heinrich wrote a good review that includes a nicely shot video – check the bottom lit swing seats.

Credits for 21 Balançoires here.

Follow the conversation on Twitter at #21B.

Montreal Playground Sightings

In addition to friends, fine international cuisine, Québecois films and the Bibliothèque Nationale, I got to squeeze in a few playgrounds on our recent Montréal mini get away from it all trip. One afternoon my playground widow humoured me and tested out some equipment as we happenstanced across playspaces walking from Atwater Market in the west end to the central shopping strip on rue Ste. Catherine.

Parc Vinet, Rue Vinet and Avenue Lionel Groulx, Montréal
This spinning top needed a little grease. Even with a good running adult push, it spun for only 10 seconds with playground widow Mélanie aboard. I’ve never seen a spinny carousel like it. In my experience, this kind of equipment is in a hallowed class all its own, pretty much on the endangered list. Here, it is the pièce de résistance, the shining star in this playground’s constellation.

Each time I come across equipment that is new to me, it’s like receiving a present. I admire its design, its look and feel and I try to imagine its inherent fun quotient. I frequently wish I could uproot it and take it to a playground near home. The photos above and those that follow show equipment that are in that ‘new to me’ category.

Parc David Lefebvre, Rue Vinet and Rue Quesnel, Montreal
Though its small in size, Parc David Lefebvre is big on the horse aesthetic. The six seater from the red and gold star stable has seen better days. The glide mechanism on the old mare is still working well though. With running boards and hand grips she could probably groan along with 20 or so kids hanging off her. I’ve seen a similar horse in photos taken in England but this is the first chance for me to get up close and personal.

The blue broncing buck is another find with two hooves cutting the air. Climbing on its back, young ones can imagine a cattle drive, a rodeo, a cowboy. This is the wild west with a stallion that won’t be tamed.

Parc Lafontaine, Rue Rachel and Avenue Calixa-Lavallée, Montreal
A ship has run aground at the Parc Lafontaine playground. After monkeying up the rigging, there’s ample opportunity to look out over the shallows strewn with boulders to try and find a way clear to resuming the journey along the Seaway. The black and red stylized vessel is in a class of its own. Resting on a bed of wood chips, it’s permanently anchored in this jewel of a park on the estern borders of Montréal’s Plateau district.

Parc Jarry, Boulevard St. Laurent and Rue Faillon, Montreal
Parc Jarry was the starter home for the Montreal Expos, Canada’s first professional baseball team. Today, the park hosts an international tennis venue, a skate park and a playground that serves both the toddler set and pre-teens.

For the older kids who feel they haven’t got quite enough sleep there is the hammock which I’m told can flip right over though I didn’t witness this. For those with a little more spunk, there are the four parallel triangles to scale and boogie down. Not surprisingly perhaps, the more extreme, nearly vertical slope was the most popular for sliding during our visit. These pieces of equipment are surely familiar to some of you but they were first time attractions for me.

Finding playgrounds in Montreal on this trip was a little hit and miss. The weather didn’t cooperate so there were no screams and laughter from kids having fun to zero in on. Montreal, like many other cities, has not compiled any kind of online directory of playgrounds for use by residents and/or visitors. It means pleasant surprises when fortunate enough to come across treasures but disappointments too.

If you’re traveling to Montreal with kids, make sure to visit Salamander Playground in the Mount Royal Park. It’s a must.
Salamander Playground, Mount Royal Park, Montreal

For the Côte-des-Neiges and the Notre-Dame-des-Grâces area, there is an online resource that lists playgrounds in parks. There is a similar online resource for Villeray, Saint-Michel and Parc-Extension.

More thought should be given to making information on these community resources readily available. What can you do? Contact your municipal government’s parks and rec people to see if they have any plans to post playground information online. Check to see if there are bloggers in your community who are documenting playgrounds – more on this in a subsequent post.

In the meantime, happy playgrounding. We’re pretty sure that springtime is going to arrive in the not too distant future on Canada’s east coast. We will get sunshine, it will get warm…