Category Archives: Magdalen Islands

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

Going, Going, Gone

I first came across Storehouse a couple of years ago and immediately fell in love with the platform’s luscious visual storytelling. The iOS app is easy to use and makes possible the creation of rich visual narratives using photo, video and text elements. Sadly Storehouse is closing down. Before it shutters for good on July 15, I invite readers to scroll through four PlayGroundology Storehouse stories that the app really helped whizz bang. Click through on images below to take you to the Storehouse stories…

Loose Parts Unplug and Play

My first Storehouse sortie captures the story of the first public play event I helped organize.

Unplug and PlayClick through to Storehouse story.

Skimming across the hay – no last straws here. In a flash the kids run over to explore. They are curious about the space, wondering…

Untitled 3Click through to Storehouse story.

Vernacular Play – Magdalen Islands

In Canada’s Gulf of St. Lawerence, a maritme play aesthetic.

Up, up and away  Click through to Storehouse story.

No text this time, the photos and video stand on their own. More though about Magdalen Island play experiences here

Steady as she goes  Click through to Storehouse story.

96 degrees in the shade – Székely

This one is subtitled ‘Playgroundin’ in tropical Paris’ and tells the story of the search for a 1950s Székely designed playground in a Paris suburb.

Székely I Click through to Storehouse story.

These are the pataugeoires – shallow, kiddy pools. One is deeper than the other and both are exquisitely detailed with carreaux cassés – broken tile mosaics now virtually a lost art. Our new playground pal Yves created carreaux cassés like this when he was a younger man.

Székely - Paddle pool detail  Click through to Storehouse story.

Quebec City’s Big Chill

There’s no place to celebrate winter fun like Quebec City’s Carnaval. Look for the cameo appearance by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau…

Carnaval IClick through to Storehouse story.

It’s no time to be still when a breath of wind drops the mercury to -39 C at Quebec City’s annual Carnaval…..

Thrills, spills – snowy saucers on sliding hills.

Sliding Click through to Storehouse story.

I’m going to miss Storehouse. I had so many more stories left to share. Thanks to the Storehouse crew for making a fun place to play….

Setting Sail for Play

Life of Pi - The PrequelShip’s Company from the Adventure Playground series. Photo credit – John Drysdale, circa 1960s. Source – Victoria and Albert Museum

Boats exude an elemental mystery. Fresh water, or briny sea they hold the promise of adventure and discovery. Whether in wavy tossed expanse or landlocked far from shore they are dream makers for voyagers young and old.

19579885394_0570494a89_k(1)Merseyside’s Black Pearl (story here), New Brighton, UK. Photo credit – Pete Birkinshaw, (CC BY 2.0)

Although I have no empirical evidence, I will hazard a guess and suggest that boats are among the top three transportation modes represented in play spaces around the world. The two others include the space class – rockets, shuttles, etc. and cars.

DSC09555Jubilee Park, Bridgetown, Nova Scotia.

Playground boats range in size from the small dory that graces the banner of the PlayGroundology FB page to the larger than life Amager Ark which is part of the Himmelhøj play artscape on Amager Island in Copenhagen

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAmager Ark – Himmelhøj, Copenhagen. Photo credit – by the artist Alfio Bonanno.

In Canada’s Magdalen Islands in the Gulf of St. Lawrence there is a recurring boat motif in playscapes throughout the archipelago. They are favourites with our kids whenever we visit and have a deep rooted connection to the people and the place.

DSC07548L’Étang du Nord, Cap-aux-Meules, Magdalen Islands.

Running across decks, scrambling up ropes, hiding in holds are activities for young sailors, captains, deckhands, swabs, pirates, fishermen, explorers, or warriors as they set off on an adventurous round of play.

In Halifax, PlayGroundology’s home port, we have a number of boat play spaces and even a submarine. Our iconic boat, a trawler by the name of Halcyon, was retired a few years back after more than 25 years of service in the name of fun. The video below is a short tribute to busy play days on the boat with our daughter Nellie-Rose, in her younger years, leading the charge.

Boats for Play I and Boats for Play II are flickr galleries with photos of boat playgrounds around the world. Does your community have any boat playscapes? If so, post some photos on PlayGroundology FB.

Boats are in my blood. My father and grandfather both worked in the shipyards on the River Clyde in Scotland. My grandfather was an avid model yachtsman and as I write this I look up at one of the trophies he was awarded – The Port Glasgow Model Yacht Club’s Tosh Memorial Shield which his boat the Fairy won in 1952.

As a young adult in the 1970s I had the opportunity to work on board two Canadian Coast Guard ships, an icebreaker in the Arctic and a buoy boat around Nova Scotia’s shores – quite an adventure for a lad of 16. All that to say that I do love a boat playground. You can pipe me on board anytime…

Ship to Shore on Canada’s Magdalen Islands

Years ago I was one of about 15 people in communities across Nova Scotia documenting the province’s built heritage. We took photos, did title deed searches and wrote up architectural descriptions for all buildings erected before 1914 in our respective towns. This was the first time I heard the word ‘vernacular’ associated with something other than language.

DSC07545Acadian colours fishing boat – L’Étang-du-Nord

Vernacular architecture is based on local needs, uses local materials and reflects local realities. It is of the place. Vernacular was on the tip of my tongue when the kids and I first went to the playgrounds in the Magdalen Islands (Les Iles de la Madeleine) in Canada’s Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Our first trip we discovered a couple of these gems – the antithesis to off the shelf play solutions. In subsequent trips we found more. Invariably the construction material is wood and not surprisingly on Les Iles, boats are the dominant theme. These are the playgrounds we fell in love with, the ones we rush to each time we visit. I hope you’ll enjoy our photos from the beaches, schools and fishing ports of the Magdalen Islands in this Storehouse collection

DSC01627Plage de la Grande Échouerie – Click through on pic for Storehouse photo collection.

We had an old boat, The Halcyon, on the Halifax waterfront for close on 20 years before it had to be removed. It was in the same league as these Magdalen Island playgrounds – sturdy, simple, well built and packed with adventure for kids.

DSC08352The Halcyon, Halifax waterfront, circa 2010

I’m interested in hearing more about vernacular playgrounds. Give me a shout or send me some photos if there’s one in your neighbourhood.

Life’s A Beach And Then You Play

Beaches are fine places no matter the time of year. How can they not be? It’s here that sea, sky and sand meet in their sweeping elemental dance. Water breathes in a cresting cadence with gusting grains of small sailing through the air. And the sand, it is so impressionable casting traces of those who pass. Listen, is there a sweeter sound than surf? Whether it pounds a tidal beat or whispers langourously it’s a calming peaceful swell.

Boogie boarding, wave jumping, sandcastling and of course swimming make the beach a much anticipated outing for kids. Adding in a playground to the locale just ups the ante and offers another venue for adventure.

Plage de la Grande Échouerie, Grosse Île, Magdalen Islands, Canada

Living in Nova Scotia, we’re partial to beach magic but have yet to come across a seashore playground here. We did have a wonderful time recently after our running of the waves at the Magdalen Islands’ small Plage de la Grande Échouerie playground. Noah had visited earlier with his grandparents and told me that we had to go so I could show it in PlayGroundology.

Plage de la Grande Échouerie, Grosse Île, Magdalen Islands, Canada

Well it turns out that there are fine beach playgrounds all over the world as flickr photographers have so lovingly documented – Life’s a Beach and then You Play flickr gallery.

Newport Beach by richmanwisco. Creative Commons

If you happen to find yourself cruising down the California coastline, here’s a useful directory I stumbled across that provides a list of beaches with playground equipment.

Happy playing, happy beaching.

This post is in memory of Bob Hoegg, a dear friend who passed away earlier this week. Thanks Bob for the time we got to spend together. You showed me a lot about joy, hope and love. We’re all thinking of you.

Cheap Thrills – Playgrounding on Vacation

Has there been ample traipsing around museums, trudging through shopping centres, interminable amusement park screeling and screeching, enough blue-lipped, sand-encrusted, beachy shivering for your young ones this vacation?

Aground – La Grave, Magdalen Islands, Canada

For the seven or eight and under crowd, maybe it’s time for a playground holiday visit. They’re fun fueled, inexpensive, physically active outings. Often there’s unfamiliar equipment for the kids to scramble about on, something they’ve never seen before. And what better place to meet local kids for fleeting friendships.

Red and Yellow – Fatima, Magdalen Islands, Canada

This August we’ve had a week in the islands, The Magdalen Islands in Canada’s Gulf of the St. Lawrence. We’ve hit a few playgrounds between beach and backyard games. The kids want a return engagement with every one of them. Here’s a quick slide show of les terrains de jeux des Iles.

Morning Skies – L’Étang du nord, Magdalen Islands, Canada

Tips for holiday playground hunting:

– check the local town or city’s website, if you’re lucky playgrounds will be listed. One of the best I’ve come across is New York City;

– check the local school board for a listing of schools. Inquire to determine if school playgrounds are accessible after hours and during summer holidays. Unfortunately that’s not the case in all jurisdictions;

– check the KaBOOM! Playspace Finder, great for US and parts of Canada;

– if you’re very lucky there will be a local playground blogger where you’re going. Here’s a little shameless promotion of my Halifax, Nova Scotia – PlayGround Chronicles. Other playground bloggers are noted in the left hand column;

– ask, or do the wander walkabout.

Country hills – Ile d’Entrée, Magdalen Islands, Canada

Happy vacation…

The Young Kids and the Sea

“Lobster,” cries out Noah enthusiastically.

“I’ve got another one,” Nellie shouts into a gust of wind.

They are a crew of two, 50 metres from the shoreline, scrabbling across the grass and scooping up lobsters in their tiny hands. Dressed for the occasion, they are well bundled in rain slicks to protect them from buffeting northwesters.

Noah and Nellie continue with their imaginary harvest as a cloud of screeling gulls hovers over L’étoile du nord chugging through the passage in the breakwater. We watch the crew bring in a catch of fresh lobster after hauling traps for most of the morning from the cold waters of the gulf. Just behind us is a fish factory. We are in the thick of it.

Play imitating life.

We are in a playground adjacent to the fishing harbour of L’Étang-du-nord in Les Îles de la Madeleine – Magdalen Islands – a small archipelago of dunes, dips and hills in the Gulf of St. Lawrence on Canada’s east coast. Not everyone here is a fisherman but with $50 million (Cdn.) in annual revenues, it’s the most important sector of the local economy.

During our short stay, we come across two lovingly crafted fishing boat playspaces. One trumpets the bright colours of Acadie – blue, red and yellow. She’s built to scale and could hold plenty of stacked traps on her aft deck.

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.

This is a popular spot with the two newest crew members of the Étang-du-nord fishing fleet and we return for a second visit of imaginative play. The chilly weather is not a deterrent. The life size prop for make believe is a powerful magnet.

It’s much the same excitement at another boat 15 kms. to the south in Havre-Aubert. This is a fishing vessel too situated at the end of the historic La Grave stretch, a short swath of street modestly festooned with eateries, purveyors of art and a variety of artisanal fare. The boat borders a boardwalk on the protected harbour side. Across the road behind the storefronts we hear roiling high tide breakers hitting a ribbon of beach.

This vessel has more accessories – two slides, a tire swing and an orange buoy suspended from a rope that can be a bouncy ride, or an over-sized tether ball. The kids are in fine fettle – climbing, swinging, slip, sliding away. They flow between the three levels of play each taking turns as captain in the wheelhouse.

Up on the lookout level, I overhear talk of pirates and a whispered shiver me timbers. The mateys are a popular play theme since the recent purchase of a second hand toy pirate ship. Fortunately there’s no re-enactment of walking the plank. Below decks we find shelter for baby Lila from the rushing wind. She sits quietly, oblivious to the hurly burly circling around her.

Both communities have chosen playgrounds that are reflections of themselves. The real world ‘equipment’ leaves full rein for the imagination. The boats are a wonderful gift for us come-from-awayers as they help us connect with the place and learn through play.

They are not of the mass production mould. Their look and character are intrinsically their own. The world of play would be a much better place with more of these vernacular playgrounds that celebrate local culture and history. PlayGroundology is on the lookout for these kind of playspaces to share with readers. Drop us a line if you know of a place that fits the bill.

We have to leave the wind and waves behind and take the five hour ferry crossing back to Prince Edward Island. We didn’t come to les Îles for the playgrounds and it’s not these two wonderful boat spaces that will pull us back. When we do return though, we know there will be two playspaces inviting the kids to come sail away on blustery day, high sea adventures.

License – (CC BY-NC-SA)