Urban Play Space

There’s a place in the centre of Ottawa that just screams play to me. It’s like an invitation to make believe, to climb, jump, lounge and generally have fun.

It’s not designated as a play space but does that really matter? There is a truly inside out aesthetic going on here with what is in fact a public art installation. Let’s not forget that public art frequently doubles as venues for kids to have some fun – to whit hometown Halifax’s The Wave….

Here in Canada’s capital, in a downtown pedestrian courtyard The Living Room by UrbanKeios livens up the sight and the smile lines within a quadrant of government buildings.

Over the years, I’ve dropped by to revel in the lightness, the levity of the piece in these oh so official and serious environs. There are law courts and offices for the City of Ottawa, who commissioned the work, and less than ten minutes away on foot are Canada’s Parliament buildings.

Now I wouldn’t necessarily put this small green space surrounded by brick and mortar and located on top of an underground parking garage in the category of a destination play place. But it is a bit of an oasis, a space that is worth a pause on a walking route and a few moments for young ones to run around and amuse themselves within this incongruous setting. What great opportunities for boys and girls to play house in the great outdoors.

I still enjoy strolling over when I’m in Ottawa. Over the years, I’ve walked through the door, reclined in the chairs, looked out the window and tried in vain to tune in a channel on the industrial looking vintage TV. It’s like a theatre set and takes me back several decades to an Ionesco play I appeared in – Jacques ou La Soumission – L’avenir est dans les œufs. It’s just the kind of farfelu that I like.

In all my visits though, I have yet to see kids playing here. I know they must – our timing has just not coincided. Let’s hear it for public spaces that unintentionally lend themselves to play, a wonderful happenstance! If you have similar examples in your community, drop a line to PlayGroundology we’d love to hear from you…

Advertisements

High and Dry – No Anchor Required

A lazy wash of waves runs up and down the beach. Colliding rocks tumble from water’s push and pull, their rattling sound like a soft whisper. Sprays of seaweed are drying in the sun – white, brown and yellow. Other treasures are awaiting discovery – sand dollars with their elliptical etchings, whitewashed shells and driftwood sculpted by the sea.

We are alone on the shore walking unhurriedly with no real destination. A breeze from the Gulf of St. Lawrence whisks up sand flurries that dance briefly across the ground’s surface. The kids are in their element skirting the water, toes in, toes out, fingers, digging in packed sand, prying out shimmery rocks. A wooden, sea-cured pole measuring nearly eight feet in length catches their attention. It’s enlisted as an accessory that they drag behind them tracing a sinuous line recording their progress.

Up ahead along the curve of Shallow Bay in Newfoundland’s Gros Morne National Park, a form is taking shape. A tall pole stretches skyward with other bits of wood scattered about its base. One of our kids gives a whoop and runs over to explore. A few steps closer and we are able to make it out. There’s a skinny mast, a well angled bowsprit thrust outward to the sea, a deck and back aft an oversized rudder. It’s a minimalist driftwood sketch of a boat that some kind souls have created, a surprise installation beckoning to the kids to jump aboard.

They each have a go at navigating the bowsprit climbing, or shinnying up the incline.

The full body extension shinny gives them the appearance of living figureheads adorning the HMS Driftwood.

The smooth, uneven spars make balancing on the deck precarious. The crew moves gingerly as they try to find their sea legs.

Is it a sloop, a pirate ship, a catamaran, a yacht? The naming of it is not important. Each child imagines his or her own world. How long will this natural piece, so in tune with its surroundings, last? Wherever we live we can benefit from more of these simple, breathtaking wonders that engage, inspire and invoke play.

Are there temporary playscapes in public spaces within your community – what do they look like, how are they used?

CanadaPlays, eh?

Ed’s note: Looking forward to see what priroties evolve from the IPA triennial summit. It’s a great boost for play in Canada to have Calgary hosting the event. It will help sustain recent activities and advances that have some commenting that there is a renaissance of play underway in the country. From my vantage point out in Nova Scotia’s far east this seems to be wholly possible.

It’s been a great summer of play for our family with adventurous trips spanning six provinces,with plenty of camping interspersed and enjoyment of simple pleasures and slow time in our national parks.

One of my unforgettable highlights is Pop-Up Adventure Play’s touchdown in Halifax for the kickoff of their national tour. It was wonderful to meet the play troubadours in person and get a chance to know them just a little. Halifax loved them as evidenced by the 200+ kids who came out for a loose parts pop-up on Halfax’s South Common – what a blast!!! It’s just so wonderful to see the looks on kids’s faces – animated, euphoric, full of zip and spot on in the moment. Thanks again to Suzanna, Morgan and Andy for sharing your expertise and enthusiasm with communites across the country.

I’m thinking ahead already to the next triennial gathering. I’ll be better prepared and make sure to get my application in before it sells out!

For those in Calgary – have a great conference…

Welcome to all International Play Association (IPA) delegates and participants kicking off the organization’s triennial conference in Calgary this week. It’s a brilliant idea to host the play world here in Canada during the country’s 150th anniversary. Kudos to all those who helped design an excellent program with outstanding speakers and presenters representing play traditions, practices and research from around the globe. In this post, CanadaPlays, with the help of sister blog PlayGroundology, is putting a little Canadiana in the window to help you get your bearings and have a playful time while here.

Original artwork by Kyle Jackson now hanging at Alderney Landing Library in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia

National Treasures

First up, let’s share a couple of national treasures with you. Cornelia Hahn Oberlander has had children at heart all her life. She first designed public housing playgrounds in the US in the 1950s with architects Louis Kahn and Oskar Stonorov. This was shortly after being amongst the first women to graduate from Harvard as a landscape architect and prior to moving to her adopted home, in British Columbia, Canada.

In 1967, as part of Canada’s centennial celebrations, Cornelia was invited to design the playground at the Children’s Creative Centre as part of the Canadian pavilion at Expo 67. Mr. PlayGroundology was 10 at the time but sadly our family never made the trip from Toronto to Montreal for the party of parties marking our 100th birthday though I remember a lot of fun from that summer nonetheless. By all accounts the kids who were able to give the Expo 67 playscape a whirl liked it a lot.

This clip is excerpted from the National Film Board of Canada documentary, The Canadian Pavilion, Expo 67. Following Expo, Cornelia participated in the creation of national playground guidelines and designed more than 70 across the country. A few years back, she was kind enough to speak with me on the phone thanks to an introduction from the folks at space2place.

Source: Expo 67 Ccreative Children’s Centre – Canadian Centre for Architecture

Aside from sharing a wonderful bibliography with me, I remember how she emphasized simplicity remarking, and I’m paraphrasing here, that to have fun all kids really need is sand, water and something to climb… Thank you Cornelia for all your contributions not only to play in Canada but to the greening of our urban landscapes.

☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆

Inside, Upside – Harmonic Motion, Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam installation at Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Roma, 2013. Credit – Roberto Boccaccino

From her home in Bridgetown, Nova Scotia on Canada’s east coast, Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam creates aerial textile play environments that are a riot of movement and pulsating colours. Prior to dedicating her artistic vision to designing an unparalleled play experience for kids, Toshiko exhibited her textile art at prominent galleries and museums in Japan, the US and Europe. At one point, she questioned whether there was more to life than prepping for shows and hosting vernissages. A few years ago, my then four-year-old daughter Nellie-Rose accompanied me on the first PlayGroundology road trip. We had lunch with Toshiko and her partner Charles in their home and learned how her wondrous woven webs of play are the creative fabric that warms her life.

Outside, Flipside – Harmonic Motion, Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam installation at Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Roma, 2013. Credit – Roberto Boccaccino

As Toshiko transitioned away from the art exhibition world, she spent weekends over the course of three years walking around neighbourhoods in her native Japan. This research and exploration of the where, what and how of kids’ play convinced her that there was an opportunity to introduce some new concepts rooted in textile sculpture. Toshiko’s play sculptures are found in prominent locations in Japan, including the Hakone Open-Air Museum, and a variety of Asian countries. The large scale sculptures have yet make any real headway in North America or Europe outside of exhibit spaces. Toshiko works with Norihide Imagawa, one of Japan’s foremost structural designers and engineers to ensure maximum integrity and safety of each of her play sculptures. Photos of her play sculptures have created a couple of online surges of interest in her work from the design, architecture and play communities. Let’s hope that kids in more communities around the world will have the opportunity to revel in unbridled play in one of Toshiko’s lovingly crafted creations…

☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆

Players

There are an increasing number of organizations across the country who contribute to promoting, programming and researching about play. In no particular order here is a partial list that provides a sampling of some of the activity underway in Canada: Le lion et la souris (Montréal, QC); Active Kids Club (Toronto, ON); Integrate Play Solutions (BC); outsideplay.ca (British Columbia); Active for Life (QC); Centre for Local Research into Public Space (CELOS) and Dufferin Grove Park (Toronto, ON); Calgary Playground Review (Calgary, AB); Manitoba Nature Summit (Winnipeg, MB); The Lawson Foundation (Toronto, ON); ParticipACTION (Toronto, ON); Playground Builders (Whistler, BC); CanadaPlays (Eastern Passage, NS) And let’s not forget a shout to all those whose work supports play in their roles with municipal, provincial and federal governments and service organizations.

Click through on photo or here

☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆

Playmakers – Designers and Builders

This a small selection of Canadian companies creating custom playscapes.

Earthscape

Carcross Commons – Tagish First Nation, Carcross, Yukon

Earthscape has developed a substantial catalogue of custom design and build playscapes that have been installed throughout the country. Each Earthscape project is unique. I’m thrilled that Halifax gave an Earthscape project the green light in 2016. The company is now exporting and has installed a super slide on New York City’s Governors Island.

Mouna Andraos and Melissa Mongiat – Daily tous les jours

A sensation in Montreal since the original 21 balançoires were introduced in the Quartier des spectacles in 2011. Every day each swing swung an average of 8,500 times. An adaptation of the original installation has been touring North American cities. A musical swings impact study is available here.

space2place

Completed in 2008, space2place’s Garden City Play Environment in Richmond, British Columbia was ahead of the curve in the context of Canadian fixed structure playgrounds. There is a great write up of this space published in The Vancouver Sun shortly after its opening.

Bienenstock

McCleary Playground downtown Toronto – 2008

Adam Bienenstock was at the front end of the natural playground surge and continues to bring his personal brand and vision to schools, communities and settings in the natural environment in Canada and beyond.

☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆

Children’s Rights

In Montreal’s Salamander Playground atop Mount Royal Park, Québecois artist Gérard Dansereau has created a series of original tiles embedded throughout the play area to commemorate and draw attention to the Conventions on the Rights of the Child as elaborated and promoted by UNICEF. I have added the English to my favourite tile from the series below. Other tiles available to view here.

☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆

The Poutine of Play

Poutine has gone from a well-loved, known locally only Québec delicacy to an international phenomenon. Could it be that ballon-poire will travel a similar trajectory exporting a culturally branded Québecois game around the globe? I’ve seen the game played just once and even though I have no understanding of the rules, it attracted me immediately. It is easy to see that eye – hand coordination is certainly de rigueur. The girls in the clip below are spelling out a word but I didn’t stay long enough to capture it all. There are a number of variations to the game accompanied to different call and answers as the players whump the punch bag back and forth as quickly as they can. I’m looking forward to gaining a better understanding of how the game is played some day and hopefully giving it a whirl myself.

☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆

Cultural Institutions

Hockey

It wouldn’t be Canada without the country’s never-ending love affair with hockey. Enjoy this animated short, The Sweater, by Roch Carrier my former boss at the Canada Council for the Arts. It’s a heart warming story that revolves around one of the sport’s great rivalries between les Canadiens and the Leafs.

The National Film Board of Canada (NFB)

If you have any down time during the conference, the NFB is a great online viewing theatre with hundreds of free titles to choose from including this surprising short!

If you have any down time during the conference, the NFB is a great online viewing theatre with hundreds of free titles to choose from including this surprising short!

 

Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC)

For news and current affairs tune into our public broadcaster CBC. There is a great vareity of programming including a short series broadcast earlier this summer, The lost art of play.

☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆

Best Signage Ever About Risk and Play is in Calgary!

This photo was sent to me by my cousin, an avid cyclist from the Toronto area, just over a year ago. I mistakenly thought that it was snapped on one of his rides out in the countryside but I was quickly advised of my error by readers. This sign, the most popular post on PlayGroundology Facebook with nearly 5K shares and a 645K reach, is located at Calgary’s TELUS Spark Brainasium.

☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆

Beware the Risk of Acronyms

Many Canadians can be forgiven if they develop a sudden thirst on seeing the organization’s acronym IPA because what may be foremost in their minds is quaffing a cold one and enjoying a beloved India Pale Ale. Treat yourself to a viewing of I Am Canadian, a very popular rant/ad from 2000 starring Jeff Douglas now the co-host of one of CBC Radio’s flagship programs, As It Happens.

☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆

The Sounds of Joy

A group of school children enjoy one of Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam’s installations in Japan. The excitement and joy are contagious. You may have to reset your quality to 480p when you play this clip on YouTube.

☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆

Best Wishes for a Great Conference

Nature Rocks

We are in a land of wild and rugged splendour. Over millions of years, earth, sea, wind and ice have sculpted the coastlines of Western Newfoundland. In Gros Morne National Park, cliffs with layered columns of shale and granite overlook tidal pools peppered with huge boulders. Further north, shallow sweeps of sandy beach skirt grassy shores. Throughout our stay, we embrace this interstitial zone between dancing seas and mountains’ cloudy crowns.

Sheaves Cove, Port au Port Peninsula, Newfoundland and Labrador

In August’s warm shine there is much to explore. The kids are as wowed as we are. It seems that every new turn unveils another breathtaking vista. Play comes alive in this place beyond any urban dreaming of it. Each striking landscape becomes an invitation to adventure. There is a palpable attraction for the kids to incorporate the natural world surrounding them as the central element in their activities.

On the Port au Port Peninsula to the south, a rockbed stream rushes over a precipice and into Sheaves Cove below. It is one of two ‘hidden’ waterfalls whose whereabouts are made known to drivers on The French Ancestors’ Route 460 by handmade, roadside signs. Sometimes it’s like this – as easy as one, two, three – climb, jump, and hop.

i

There is a whisper of danger as they jump down onto the rock slabs that are nearly level with the stream’s last few metres. A stumbled, false landing could propel them right into the water. From the looks on their faces and the excited conversations, it’s clear that the kids are experiencing an adrenalin jolt each time they leap off the edge.

I find myself cautioning our youngest and directing her to not jump off one of the higher rocks. Looks like killjoy papa is not practising what he preaches. Lila though is not one to give up easily. She chips away with repeated requests and finally I relent. Turns out she is more than capable and in this instance has no difficulty keeping pace with her older siblings. Discovery and fun are the touchstones here as our trio stretches their abilities and their repertoires.

Back within the boundaries of Gros Morne, experimentation and pushing limits continues in a rush of low tide, sea spray parkour. Below Lobster Cove Head Lighthouse, the terrain is uneven with moist sand, pooling water and assorted natural debris underfoot. No one run follows the same route as its predecessor and the kids wind up each burst across the rocks with a ta-daa like flourish.

Low tide parkour games at Lobster Cove Head in Gros Morne Natinal Park

Spatial orientation, rapid risk assessment and sure-footedness are all being called on as the kids pick their way through the randomly strewn boulders. They test their abilities by navigating different paths through the maze and pursuing new personal best times. Fortunately, papa can rely on his precision, built in steamboat counter to clock each run.

i

Conditions here are perfect – a light, salt breeze, the rhythmic roll of sputtering waves and some time to leisurely while away in simple pursuits. Our spontaneous, unplanned rock hopping adventure is the highlight of the day.

Further up the coast in Green Point, the cliff face reveals a geological storybook. This rock of the ages plays an important role in our understanding of how the earth developed way, way back in the day (apologies for the technical language here). For the kids though, the primary attractions are the climbing challenge and the tactile sensations of the tidal pools.

Green Point, Gros Morne National Park where the rock of ages collide

The kids are all about getting to the top. Each of them proceeds at their own pace meandering up the natural steps and stairs, pausing along the way to examine interesting outcrops. The relatively gentle slope and the unfamiliar rock formations present just the right amount of challenge. The ascent is invigorating and builds confidence in judgment and physical abilities.

i

What goes up must come down and the skills developed on the upward journey are in even greater demand on the descent. The kids gingerly pick their way over the rock testing for stability. As they hit the flats, the pace and hazards change. The rocks around the tidal pools are wet and slippery and require a cautious approach. It’s worth the slow going to see and touch crabs, sea urchins and other creatures. From land to sea and back again our contented crew chalks up another playful outing.

Kids adapt to this place easily embracing the awesomeness of the natural world’s unmitigated wonder. Intuitively they understand the value of safeguarding this beauty, this diversity. The large expanses largely unfettered by human development emphasize that nature does indeed rock and provides unlimited potential for outdoors play, adventure and discovery.

Tablelands, Gros Morne National Park

Gros Morne has become one of our new favourite places to get away and we hope to return every couple of years. It’s not always easy to find the time or the resources to visit places like these. Look for what’s available closer to home and take advantage of green, natural spaces. Your kids will thank you for it and if you’re urban dwellers like us, you might just enjoy getting out of the city…

Earlier this year a new resource supported by the Lawson Foundation, OutsidePlay.ca, was developed for parents and caregivers to help them “manage their fears and develop a plan for change so their children can have more opportunities for risky play”. If you’re wondering about risk and play, this is a good source of information and a great place to start.

May the play be with you…..

Pop-Up Play Photo Splash – An Even Dozen

In late July, the Pop-Up Adventure Play crew kicked off their cross-Canada tour in Halifax hosted by CanadaPlays and PlayGroundology. It was a blast – three events in two days culminating in a pop-up play extravaganza on the Halifax South Common. We estimate that more than 200 kids showed up over the course of the 2.5 hour event.

This post is less words, more pics. So here’s the even dozen generously shot by my photographer daughter Alexa. You can check her on instagram here at seriouslyalexa. She has been tagged by enRoute magazine as one of the top 10 Instagrammers in Canada to keep your eye on. Thanks Alexa!

Houston, this is Halifax – we’re ready for blast off

 

Halifax’s Hyde Park Corner – free speech, free play…

 

DIY spool ‘n beam teeter-totter

 

Up

 

and over…

 

We’ll go this way and that way

 

Flintstones on Safari

 

Hold on a sec lads, let’s consult the plans

 

Looking good – finishing touches

 

Knight in Shining Armour

 

Playing outside of the box

 

A fine afternoon that brought out the child in all of us…

 

Thanks again Alexa and a shout out to Robert Smith Sr. for hanging out for the day and giving us a big hand with the clean-up. He started his play days in earnest back in the 1930s. Along with our mom Helen, he gave his two boys free rein to explore, discover and experience risk…

A huge nod, let’s put their names up on a neon marquee, to Suzanna, Morgan and Andy the international troubadors from Pop-Up Adventure Play who helped to bring us all together.

Finally thanks to all those who made the public talk at Halifax Central Library, the workshop at The Pavilion and the Halifax South Common pop-up possible. It takes a village…

​Boxes – MEC, Canadian Tire (Dartmouth Crossing and Cole Harbour), Leon’s, Giant Bicycle and Sportchek

Bric à brac – OC Automotive, Kent Building Supplies, Halifax Plays and Bike Again – what a great bunch of volunters there – if you like biking, check out their Facebook page

Family bloggers and purveyors of fun – urbanparent.ca, itsy bitsy haligonians and Family Fun Halifax and assemblage who have helped spread the word.

Global Halifax and the Community Herald who did stories and all the other media outlets who have given us a hand by printing or broadcasting public service announcements about the events.

Thanks also to the team of volunteers who worked on this event – Bridget, Caileigh, Maura, Niki, Shitangshu, Tanya.

I have to thank my wife and kids too for putting up with my early mornings and late nights over a couple of months. They have been very kind.

Last, but by no means least, thanks to the Province of Nova Scotia’s Department of Communities, Culture and Heritage who have provided financial assistance to help defray costs, as well as equipment and networking to spread news about the events. Halifax Recreation has been invaluable in providing advice, donating some space and encouraging volunteers. Halifax Public Libraries has given us this space for today’s public talk in Paul O’Regan Hall and promoted the event. Enterprise Rent-A-Car has provided a cargo van at no cost so our loose parts schlepping could proceed with greater dispatch.

Thank you also to all the kids who came and played, smiled, laughed, jumped, ran. On that day with all of you, the Halifax South Common was the most marvelous place to be in the entire world  ….

 

A Canvas for Play

The northern and eastern boundaries of Toronto’s Grange Park tuck up close to two venerable institutions, the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) and the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD). Over the years, the park has been featured on many a canvas and in innumerable sketches and watercolours.

Group of Seven artist Arthur Lismer conducting a children’s outdoor sketching class in Grange Park in 1934. © 2014 Art Gallery of Ontario

Canadian Group of Seven member Arthur Lismer led art classes for kids in this green space not far from the city centre. Today, kids are reclaiming the park with the opening of  a new Earthscape and PFS Studio design and build playscape.

The last time I was in Toronto, I had a chance to get a tour and poke around as the space was nearing completion. I was intrigued to see the treatment as the visual arts run in my family. Let’s cut to the quick, they took a huge leap over me but one of my older daughters was recognized by enRoute magazine as one of the top ten instagrammers to watch in the country. If you’re curious about her photos, check out seriouslyalexa. My younger kids are prolific artists in their own right. The wall surfaces of my home and work offices are festooned with their creations. Their collected oeuvres are a constant bright spot in my days.

At the south entrance to the playscape, the journey begins with two platforms approximately 8 to 10 feet above ground level supported by stylized blue, green and yellow conté sticks. The larger platform is nestled up against a mature maple and represents an artist’s palette. The day of my visit, the wooden planks are carpeted in green, awash in two winged helicopters.

Grange Park – south entrance

The platforms can be accessed by a wide stairway, a vertical, beam-me-up tunnel that provides entry through the floor and via a broad hanging rope ladder. Undoubtedly, there will be those who choose to run up the slides (most of us have done this, right?) or try to monkey up the conté sticks…

It’s the wobbly practice-your-balance nylon braid tunnel connecting the two platforms that is sure to get a lot of traffic. The intimation of adventurous derrin-do suspended above the ground will be an irresistible attraction pulling kids to scamper up and down the gentle incline.

The wobble-bobble conté bridge (not the technical name!)

I couldn’t leave before trying it myself. I wobbled, bobbled and painlessly hobbled my way across thinking of the squeals of delight that will erupt from my three youngest and my TO grandkids when they get a chance to give it a test drive.

Adjacent to the slide tower is a huge, climb-inside-me tube with oozing bouncy blue paint pooling under the nozzle and streaming to the conté tower. There’s a slide here for the small kids who will get a kick out of entering the tube, swooping down to the ground below and then wanting to try it again and again and again.

Paint tube slide, climber and ‘hide’ from the parents cubby

On the north side of the playscape is the the most challenging design and engineering element of the project – a series of connected dodecahdrons. Sitting there they look deceivingly simple but these shapes designed to simulate crushed paper models common to art classes were not a walk in the park to build.

Dodecahdron chain with paint can in background

Now that they have come off the CAD/CAM drawing board and into real life, they offer more cubbies for climbing, hiding, balancing and sliding as well as interesting shapes, sight lines and angles.

The final piece in this artistic tour de force is the lowly paint can, a vessel of colour just waiting to be applied, or spilled as the case may be. And hasn’t this crafty, painty spillage happened at all of our kitchen tables? It’s part and parcel of the creative process. If you can’t get messy, where’s the fun?

Paint can clean up (tools no longer in situ)

With Grange Park, Earthscape continues to display their rich palette. They demonstrate their ability to build high quality, custom designed, adventurous play installations with a significant quotient of natural materials. Is there anything this firm can’t build? The City of Toronto, the Art Gallery of Ontario and the W. Garfield Weston Foundation are sure to be happy with the finished product as are the kids…

As the kids wrap up their play at Grange Park they may not be thinking of their next masterpiece but clearly they will have exercised body and mind in the art of play.

Here’s an early rendition of the playscape. There have been some modifications and adjustments since this animation was produced. See if you can find them if you have a chance to visit.

Ed’s note – In late May I had the pleasure of getting a tour of the nearly finished playscape in Toronto’s Grange Park. Earthscape Senior Landscape Architect and Project Manger, Dennis Taves, took me around the site which was still getting a number of touch ups from a friendly work crew. We grabbed a quick bite to eat underneath the ‘palette’ during a cloudburst. Shout out to my son-in-law James who had packed me some delicious buns with coldcuts and cheese from the family’s Tre Mari Bakery on St. Clair West. They were supposed to be for my trek from Toronto to Ottawa but Dennis and I got through half of them. You develop a healthy appetite touring and talking about play…. Thanks Dennis for your time.

Canada, PlayNation eh? – Playable Spaces

With so much land mass and great outdoors destinations from coast to coast to coast, Canada is a play par excellence kinda place. What other G-7 country has a province that’s branded for play? Exhibit A – look no further than Nova Scotia, marketed for nearly 100 years as Canada’s Ocean Playground.

This Canada Day post kicks off a series that will run throughout July. Posts will present snapshots of various aspects of play in a country where 16% of the population, some 5.8 million people, are 14 and under. First on deck is Playable Spaces. Subsequent posts will look at Designers and Builders, Researchers, Back in the Day and The Brits Are Coming.

Playable Spaces

On the eve of modern Canada’s 150th birthday bash, here are a few play spaces that possess a certain je ne sais quoi, a distinctiveness that raises them above the crowd. This is a small representative list by no means exhaustive.

Some other fine playground folk – the Playground Writers of Canada – have compiled a collection of 150 playgrounds across the country. If you haven’t seen it yet, you can find it here.

Nova Scotia

Nature Play Space – Middle Musquoidoboit

As PlayGroundology is headquartered in Nova Scotia we’ll start by dropping in on the communities of Middle Musquoidoboit and Meteghan.

This clip of mud kitchen madness captures opening day at the Nature Play Space in the summer of 2016. This space was created by staff from the Natural Resources Education Centre which is part of the Province of Nova Scotia’s Department of Natural Resources. Two members of the Centre’s team were introduced to natural playgrounds at a conference and were inspired to create something similar. Kids and educators now have access to an innovative resource that’s full of fun.

The mud kitchen was an unanticipated feature until women in the local community gathered up all the pots, pans, sinks and other implements and whisked them secretly into the play area prior to the grand opening. On that day there were a lot of kids who had no difficulty discovering their inner muddiness. A local contractor, Garnet McLaughlin of Cobequid Consulting, donated significant time that was instrumental to making the project a reality. More on the Middle Musquoidoboit Nature Play Space including photos here.

Family Fun Zone – Meteghan

On Nova Scotia’s French Shore, three hours and change away from the natural playground, is an enchanted play zone, a repurposed old school building and its grounds. This one of kind play space features locally designed and crafted equipment. I’m sure it’s the only play space in Canada, if not the world, where a kid can be part of a landscape that pits a spring loaded rocking horse in a race against a hand built wooden locomotive.

Family Fun Park – Meteghan, Nova Scotia

I spoke with two women the day I visited who were there with their toddlers. They regularly drove nearly 50 kilometres from Yarmouth because they enjoyed the space so much. There are funkly slides, zip lines, windmills, trains, buoy laden monkey bars, suspended fishing nets for scrabbling and climbing and a few traditional set playground pieces like swings. Local dentist Harold Boudreau rallied the community to repurpose the space ensuring that it continues to serve children. More Family Fun Park photos here.

Québec

The Boat, L’Étang-du-Nord, Magdalen Islands

Out in the Gulf of St. Lawrence on a windswept archipelago of sand dunes and bonhomie are a series of wonderful playspaces fashioned hy hand by community members. They are of the place – play imitating life. My favourite, and one I return to with the kids each time we visit les Iles de la Madeleine, is a beached fishing boat emblazoned in Acadian colours.

L’Étang-du-Nord – Iles de la Madeleine

This is a great canvas for a living story. The kids run stem to stern. It’s a perpetual movement show with dollops of laughter and snatches of conversation sailing on the wind. Stomping through the wheelhouse and leaning over the bow they look out on their ocean of pretend. For me, I think of this boat as the archetype of iconic vernacular, a space that bursts with here and now and honours the daily rhythms of life. More on les îles… and a few photos too.

Salamander Playground, Mont Royal, Montréal

In a green oasis on Montreal’s mountain, Salamander Playground welcomes kids from across the city. There is a path here with embedded tiled art work by Gérard Dansereau that speaks to the rights of the child. The equipment is of a decidedly distinctive European design.

In addition to high performance equipment and a design that mimics the natural flow of vertical and horizontal axes, Salamander Playground features another distinguishing element. Embedded in the pathways and benches throughout the playground are images and excerpts of text created by artist Gérard Dansereau that tell the story of the Conventions on the Rights of the Child as elaborated and promoted by UNICEF. Salamander Playground photos…

Ontario

Strathcona’s Folly, Strathcona Park, Ottawa

Strathcona’s Folly is tucked away in a park in Ottawa’s Sandy Hill neighbourhood overlooking the meandering Rideau River. It is a distinctive playscape, as unusual as it is unorthodox. Only two elements are of the standard playground ilk. A bronze dipped body of a springrider rooster perches atop a column where only the most adventurous would attempt to saddle up. At ground level sand fills the space. These grains of time are constantly rearranged by wind, little hands and feet, permeating everything, drifting into the cracks, crannies and crevices.

Strathcona’s Folly – Sandy Hill, Ottawa

This sculptural playscape, commissioned by the City of Ottawa, by artist Stephen Brathwaite was designed as playable art by Canadian artist Stephen Brathwaite. His idea idea was to make a piece that would appear to be the ruins of a neighbourhood home. The artist was inspired by his own memories of childhood play with his brother. They loved putting together structures with their Canadian Logs building set, laying out roads in the sandbox and cruising their Dinky toys around the towns and landscapes they created. More on Strathcona’s Folly

Dufferin Grove Park, Toronto

If a kid could design a place to play it might very well look like the ginormous sandpit in Toronto’s Dufferin Grove Park. It’s big enough for mom or dad to mount an expedition when junior gets lost, well not quite that big. On hot summer days, under the shade of the maple canopy, the sand is comfortably cool between the toes.

Dufferin Grove Park sandpit – Toronto, Ontario

There are dumptrucks, planks of scrap wood for making shelters, full size garden shovels and the plastic beach variety, pails and sieves and a tap for running water. Yes running water to the absolute delight of all the kids – a chance to get dirty and wet, double bonus. Oh and did I mention, this is one of my granddaughter’s fav spots to visit and play. She’s not alone. This is a destination play space for Toronto parents in the know! I’m looking forward to next month when Mr. PlayGroundology, aka grampa, and granddaughter will be able to get messy together… More here on Dufferin Grove Park including photos.

I’ve not yet had a chance to visit the last three playscapes noted below.  Each one captured my imagination from the moment I first saw photos online. These are places I hope to visit and play in with my kids.

manitoba

Assiniboine Park Natural Playground, Winnipeg

This is Canada’s only play space, as far as I can determine, that has giant balls, nicknamed skittles by park staff, scattered about the grounds. That’s right they weigh about 150 pounds each and replicate the bright colours of the sugary, chewy candy. A couple of years ago, three of the skittles went missing but were returned following a public appeal.

The video gives a partial tour of some of the play space’s features including the skittles, water play, a crow’s nest slide and climber and all abilities swings. If you like South African music, you’ll enjoy the soundtrack.

Margaret Redmond, president  and CEO of the Assiniboine Park Conservancy had this to say in a media interview about the play space just in advance of the park’s opening in 2011.

“I can try to tell you how special a place the Nature Playground is but you’ll never believe it until you see it. This is a playground unlike any other in all of Canada and we are so thrilled to hand it over to the children and families who can now make it their own. It’s just a really magical space that lets them [children] make up how they play in it. You will see no play structures like you see in school grounds and community centres.” (Source: CBC News Manitoba)

Assiniboine Park Nature Playground photos via Playworks.

British Columbia

Garden City Playspace, Richmond

space2place‘s Garden City Play Environment “is located in Richmond British Columbia. This video captures some of the play experiences at the park’s opening day. The park was designed to have a more integrated play experience across the park and the different site features. This short feature attempts to capture a few of the “stories” in the park that day.”

Nearly 10 years ago, Garden City was a beacon blazing a different trail from the off-the-shelf playground solutions commonly adopted by local governments. As reported in this Vancouver Sun article, the waterway charted new territory for play in public spaces in Canada.

“In what’s believed to be the first park of its kind in North America, it brings to the surface an underground storm water system, and then spirals the water through unusual channels and man-made structures – including a manoueverable sluice, hand pump and water wheel – all of which encourage what Cutler calls child driven ‘interventions”.

More here on Garden City Play Environment and a shout out to space2place’s Jeff Cutler for putting me in touch, a few years back, with Cornelia Oberlander, Canada’s doyenne of  landscape architecture and a pioneer in playground design dating back to the 1950s.

Yukon

Carcross Commons, Carcross, Yukon

This is a recent design and build by earthscape, the country’s most exciting and prolific playscape crew. The Carcross Commons play area is set in a stunning landscape about one hour south of Whitehorse.

Carcross Commons, Carcross, Yukon

This project was a collaborative engagement bringing “together the vision of the Tagish First Nation community, the vast histories of the land, and research on children’s play experiences. Inspiration for the playground was drawn from local history, major landmarks and First Nations creation stories.”

Oh and did I mention that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge dropped in for a visit last September? More from earthscape here on the Carcross story including photos.

Shout outs to the earthscape team who always make time for PlayGroundology‘s inquiries and consistently demonstrate a real interest in encouraging a variety of voices reporting on play.

Next up in the PlayNation series – Designers and Builders.

Original artwork by Kyle Jackson on display at Alderney Gate Public Library, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia