Ole Smiley – Any Vintage Playground Equipment Where You Live?

I’ve passed Ole Smiley for a few years trekking back and forth from Halifax to Kejimkujik National Park. His face is pocked with rust. The smile is rueful now, the paint weathered to a razor thin veneer. For decades his strong arms have been holding up the swings that rocked the Village of Harmony’s kids under sweltering suns and constellation splashed skies.

Winds gust through those tall, skinny legs unchecked, tangling the two bucket seats. No matter how shrill their whistling shrieks, they are unable to shift the stick man stance. Seemingly invincible, Ole Smiley’s enduring presence will end and kids today will be the poorer for it as diverse designs and equipment bite the dust.

I wonder if there will be feelings of nostalgia associated with commercial equipment installed within the last 5 to 20 years when it is 30, 40 years old. Will the newer equipment even be able to withstand decade upon decade of use?

Do you have any playground equipment, sculptures, paraphernalia dating back to the 1960s or earlier? Send photos and stories if you have them.

Halifax, Nova Scotia seems committed to a path of playground homogeneity. There are a few bright exceptions which present some hope that authorities are receptive to change. The old stock is pretty much gone with a straggler hanging on here and there like this marvelous monkey head slide-climber combo.

In an area the size of a postage stamp close to the downtown core, Montreal’s David Lefebvre Park is a treasure trove. No doubt there is somebody in the community to be congratulated for preserving a stallion, a gliding horse and a spider.



Closer to my Halifax home, in Windsor, Nova Scotia, I found the starship of my childhood angled for take-off. Back in the day when men first started orbiting the earth, a rocket like this one was our dream station imagining us Toronto kids into deep space adventures.

Brenda Biondo has been capturing vintage play equipment on film for years and has published a book of her photos. Flickr’s scottamus has compiled an impressive collection of old spring riders, swings, roundabouts and more from a variety of locations in Ohio. Then there are communities like San Gabriel, California who just go and rewrite the rule book on the way to preserving a playground as a cultural landscape.

Nostalgia is certainly part of the equation with some of this old equipment, memories of play that predate the constant stream of screen content. There’s more here though than tugs on the heart strings. There are aesthetics, cultural reference points, workmanship – a different ethos, horizon for play. It’s still around, a bit diluted. Remember what it was about the old equipment that you loved and check to see if the characteristics are present where your kids play today. If not, shouldn’t we be wondering why?

7 responses to “Ole Smiley – Any Vintage Playground Equipment Where You Live?

  1. Love these vintage playground photos. I am going to be relying on vintage simple playground pieces when providing playgrounds for nursery schools in UGanda.


  2. I have just recently purchased a playground horse and know nothing about it. Seems to be made of a hard thick plastic? It’s on a spring, however when the rider hops up and down this cause the legs to gallop. It’s the kind that you would burry the bottom part in the ground. Just trying to find an email address… or telephone number of anyone that could tell me more about it. Looks like an older piece. I have never seen one like it. Black and white and the saddle has some red coloring. I can email pics. Any help is greatly appreciated.

    My email is tiffanywillis2016@gmail.com


  3. Hi Brenda, this is James from SDMA. Just checking out your work while I wait for your call. The giant spider has me reeling with flashbacks from my youth. Haven’t seen one of those in decades! Thank you so much!


  4. Hi. I have an interest in vintage playground equipment, and have
    restored a few over the years. Is Old Smiley still standing?
    I’m hoping so.. Tim


    • Tim – sorry for the delay in replying. Old Smiley is still there. I check every time we go to Keji. I think he’s been spruced up a bit too though I haven’t had the time to pull over and give him the time he is due. Would love to hear more about your restoration work. Are you in Nova Scotia or Atlantic Canada? I’ll send you my email address and maybe we can exchange tales. Cheers, Alex


  5. Alex, I believe I email you through your above high lighted (in blue)
    email. I’m not the best with computer, so maybe I hadn’t done something
    right. This past Summer, I restored a “Pull-a-Way” Merry-go-Round made
    by Game Time I believe from the 40s. I have a few playground equipment
    pieces I’ve restored over the years. I’m not sure how to send pics on this
    site, but I’d be glad to send you some if you’d like to email me. I’m in
    the U.S. in New York State.. timnewarkny@gmail.com Tim


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