Category Archives: Montréal

Embracing Adventure in 1970s Pointe-St-Charles, Montréal

Take one part ideals, two parts architecture students then mix with a government program for youth employment and some underutilized land in a quartier populaire and what do you get? Well, almost smack in the middle of Montréal’s international limelight decade – bookmarked by Expo 67 and the 76 Olympics – you get an adventure playground and community gardens…

Witch's Hat - MontrealGargantuan Witches Hat, Pointe-St-Charles, Montréal

In the summer of 1972, Opportunities for Youth, a Canadian federal government program, enabled 18 young people to work on two playgrounds. Located on vacant lots in Pointe-St-Charles, these play spaces were inspired by Europe’s adventure playgrounds. There had never been anything quite like them in Montréal before or since. The projects were under the overall direction of McGill University School of Architecture students, Pieter Sijpkes and Joe Carter who encouraged counsellors to take their cues from the kids.

“It’s important to keep in mind that a clean playground with brightly coloured equipment does not necessarily make for a stimulating environment for kids.”

This is a partial list of what the neighbourhood kids got up to that summer taken from the project report – Opportunities for Youth – Perspective Jeunesse: Adventure Playgrounds – Green Thumbs, Sore Thumbs (a good read with plenty of images).

What they did for the summer

These activities fall squarely within the adventure playground canon and photos in the report (some reproduced here) show kids building, creating, experimenting – having the time of their lives.

CastleBuilding the castle

Sijpkes and Carter started from scratch with derelict, vacant lots and sourced a lot of their raw, play material from Montréal companies in the form of donations. They were aware that the European adeventure playgrounds owed much of their success to the presence of capable playworkers – plug here for Penny Wilson and the Alliance for Childhood’s Playwork Primer

JumbleIt’s all a jumble

“We discovered that kids love to build but that they love to to tear things apart just as much.”

DumpPlay zone

“We quickly came to the conclusion that this type of playground and a junk yard looked dangerously alike.”

The playgrounds were not runaway best sellers right out of the gate. Prior to and during the project itself, there was limited opportunity to engage with community parents and elders. For the first month, kids were not beating a path to either one of the playgrounds. Parties became the saving grace. They got the the kids flockin’ and the spaces rockin’.

PartySpaghetti Party Poster

“A playground of this kind only becomes an attractive place to go to when there is continuous activity – fires burning, water splashing, the sound of hammering, seeing colour, movement, people, friends.”

Forty years later, there are no adventure playgrounds in Canada to my knowledge. Readers please correct me if I’m wrong. In the UK, Germany, Scandinavia and Australia, they continue to be important kid spaces – fun fueled community assets – though some are facing funding squeezes from local authorities.

In the US, a few adventure playgrounds, such as the one located in Berkeley, California, are still in operation. Currently, there is a resurgence of interest in adventure playgrounds in the US related partially to discussions around risk and play. This interest has been reflected in the media through articles like Hanna Rosin’s The Overprotected Kid in The Atlantic and Erin Davis’ new documentary film, The Land that explores play, risk and hazard at an adventure playground in Plas Madoc, Wales.


Isn’t it time that our children had this much fun, learned self-reliance, experienced risk and embraced lasting friendships based on the adventure of play? Are there any adventurous neighbourhoods, or communities in Canada stepping up and embracing the adventure? I would love to hear news of any adventure playground type activity already underway, being developed, or contemplated.

PulleyHome-made zip line

Many thanks to Pieter Sijpkes who got back in touch with me when I contacted him after reading a story in the Montreal Gazette that referenced his 1972, Pointe-St-Charles Summer of Play. Sijpkes and Carter’s willingness to try something new sure helped make a lot of kids happy.

Happy FacesSmiling faces

Here is part of what Pieter Sijpkes wrote to me in his reply.

I’m glad you stumbled on the little piece about the playgrounds we did in the early seventies. It seems society is moving in peristaltic movements .. about 30 or 40 years apart… your blog is what we had in mind in 1972… but the digital world was not born yet…

Across the decades, at interweb velocity perhaps this Pointe-St-Charles story will help to inspire new adventure playground stirrings in Canada.

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.


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.


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).


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

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.

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…


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…


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…


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.