Category Archives: Playgrounds Montréal

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.

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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?

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.

Postscript to The Science of Play in Today’s Parent

Today’s Parent, a Canadian magazine, ran a feature in their June issue on playground trends and designs – The Science of Play. Sarah Lazarovic’s article provides an excellent overview of some of the current thoughts and perspectives on the world of playgrounds. She draws on a number of knowledgeable people in Europe and North America to illustrate the story. As founder of the blog PlayGroundology, and a novitiate playgroundologist, I was very pleased to be asked to contribute a few comments.

When Sarah and I spoke, I prattled on and on and on. Her questions provided some airtime to share thoughts on a topic I’ve become passionate about. I now have a modest couple of years under my belt researching and conducting interviews that eventually wind up as posts in this blog. My kids and I have also racked up some practical experience putting close to 100 playgrounds in five provinces through their paces. Just today, my son Noah-David piped up to me en route to one of our current local favourites, “Papa, we’re playground explorers, aren’t we?” Our hometown adventures, captured since the summer of 2009 in Halifax Plays, are just about to get underway for this year.

Home on the Range – Halifax

The Science of Play hits all the high notes on its whirlwind tour. Sarah does a tremendous job of connecting the dots on a story where the subject matter defies stereotyping or pigeonholing. There is no one size fits all when it comes to public playspaces. Sarah’s interview for the Today’s Parent story was a chance to share some of the playground knowledge I’ve acquired in the recent past. More importantly, the story presents a significant opportunity to build on Canadian conversations about what goes on behind the scenes of playground planning and development – discussions around policy considerations, design and financing models for example.

It’s in that spirit that I offer this postscript to Sarah’s article in order to expand on a couple of the points and provide some context around one of my comments.

Comparatively speaking, from what I have seen in eastern Canada, there is a lack of creativity when it comes to playground design in this country. All we have to do is look overseas to Denmark, Germany, the UK, Sweden and Finland where design is flourishing. Their towns and cities have not been overtaken by the march of composite plastics and prefab metal posts and beams.

Although creative design is not a hallmark of the Canadian playground ethos, it is not totally absent from the landscape. There are bright spots well worth a look. Nestled on the Mountain in downtown Montreal is Salamander Playground – green grass, grand trees and a water orb. In the nation’s capital, Strathcona’s Folly is a time capsule playspace made from architectural bric à brac, a treasure of form and texture.

Water Orb – Montreal’s Salamander Playground. Click here for Original Designs slideshow.

The Magdalen Islands’ Boats are anchored safely ashore as they crash and crest through imaginary seas. And as home port to Canada’s East Coast Navy, maritime traditions run deep in Halifax and now kids can pretend they’re on a diving adventure à la Jules Verne on their own orange submarine. In Winnipeg, there’s Assiniboine Park Playground opened in the spring of 2011 that puts nature front and center. I’m hoping someday to get out to Richmond, B.C., just to test and tour that funked up Garden City Park Playground.

In Halifax, we are well served by the number of playgrounds – over 300 – and by high maintenance standards. But with the exception of our orange submarine, we’re kind of sparse on the discovering new design frontiers department. As parents, if we’re not satisfied with the current state of playground design then we have a responsibility to band together and engage our municipal governments and/or school boards to bring about change. This is not change just for the sake of it. It’s about creating enticing spaces with public funds that will help to break the pall of physical inactivity which is becoming endemic. It’s about valuing creativity in our children and local designers and fashioning space that calls out for imaginative play.

Canada could benefit from a voluntary sector organization that focuses exclusively on advocating for play on behalf of kids. These organizations exist in Europe and Australasia. I’m thinking here of Play England and its independent sister organizations such as Play Wales which hosted the 2011 International Play Association World Conference.

These groups conduct research, develop policy guidelines, compile and curate online resources, work with and challenge government, deliver programming and fulfill an important role in the public promotion of play. They are a non-commercial voice of sanity. In the US the social entrepreneur group KaBOOM! does similar work promoting play through Playful Cities USA in addition to spearheading playground builds with local communities.

On the question of costs, customized designs local or otherwise, can be more expensive but this is certainly not always the case. If there are no requests for alternative playground designs being made of a municipality then the path of least resistance is a trip to the numerous manufacturers who provide tried and true professional service that does not deviate from code and embodies more of the same old, same old. With price tags running anywhere from $100,000 to $500,000 they’re certainly not in the ‘cheap’ category. Playgrounds are big business.

Ontario’s public broadcaster TVO with Sinking Ship Productions has co-produced the first season of a show that’s all about do-it-yourself improvements and renos to local playgrounds by the kids who use them. Each project comes in at $10,000 cash with additional donations and volunteer labour. It’s an interesting model that might catch on. Read about it soon here in PlayGroundology.

Thanks to the editors at Today’s Parent for assigning this article. This is a conversation that should continue to grow. There is more to this universe of play and playgrounds than meets the eye. I don’t have any sophisticated media monitoring tools at my disposal but I sense there is an uptick in Canada’s mainstream media on coverage that focuses on play and playgrounds. I’ve seen stories on TVO, heard them on CBC Radio and read them in The Globe and Mail, The National Post, The Toronto Star, The Calgary Herald and The Vancouver Sun to name some that come immediately to mind.

Keep the play movin’.

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

ScreenShot Mondays – The Playground Rocking Horse Trust

A couple of Mondays per month, PlayGroundology screenshots a cyberspot that focuses on playgrounds, or play. I hope readers dive in and explore. Even if you’ve seen the selection before, take a moment and check to see what content has been added recently.

Think of this as a very slow stumble upon, an invitation to relish something new or to revisit an old friend. Some of the people and places may be household names in the world of play and playgrounds, others not so much. I hope all will pique your interest in what they have to offer and further your own possibilities for playfulness.

The Playground Rocking Horse Trust

I recently happenstanced across The Playground Rocking Horse Trust and was delighted to find this site that so lovingly documents a marvelous piece of playground equipment. Until a few months ago, I had only seen these equine multi-riders in photos from the UK. Imagine my delight when I randomly bumped into one in a postage stamp park in downtown Montreal.

Click through and treat yourself to an elegant and simple journey to the playground rocking horse’s digital stables. You won’t be disappointed as you explore the photos, video, links and commentary. John, the site’s creator had an opportunity to study children in playgrounds in the early 1970s. It seems to have had a very positive influence as he is documenting 40 years on.

Through John’s site, I came across British Pathé’s online newsreel collection. I quite easily found a real treasure trove of archival moving images. It was a magnificent find for this playground aficiando which I posted yesterday. Thanks again John.

Here is my contribution to the digital stable. If you allow I’ll even give this fine Montreal mare a name – Joual – The actual word joual is the representation of how the word “cheval” (Standard French: [ʃəval], horse) is pronounced by those who speak joual.

Take a canter, no a gallop over to The Playground Rocking Horse Trust.

Global Playground Bloggers Redux

As school gets out, summer really gets underway and we enjoy the big holiday weekends in Canada and the US, I thought it was time, once again, to pay tribute to playground bloggers. These are the people who photograph, map and write about playgrounds at the local level. Through their efforts – yes, let’s admit it’s a lot fun too – families have access to valuable information on playgrounds beyond their immediate neighbourhoods. Frequently, these blogs are the only source of comprehensive information on these community play resources in their respective jurisdictions.

Disclaimer – I am partial and sympathetic to the playground blogger cause. It’s how the playground world hooked me – details at the end of this post.

If you live in a community where there is a playground blogger on the loose doing their thing to share the wonderful world of play, take a moment to surf their site, to discover play venues in other parts of your city. Even better, engage your friendly playground blogger by contributing content, suggestions and story leads.

On the other hand, if there is no playground blog in your town or city, maybe it’s something you might want to consider taking on yourself or with a group of friends. The key commitment is time and perhaps some self guided learning on standard social media platforms. Browse through the blogs below for ideas and inspiration….

Playground Hunt

If you’re in the vicinity of Boston with kids, paying homage perhaps to the long Stanley Cup drought being broken, then you’ll want to go hunting with Angelika.

We’re a couple of parents hunting for playgrounds. We have two wonderful children, Alex and Jennifer, who like to get out and run around. We like to get out too, and going to playgrounds is an excellent way to burn off some of our children’s energy (so that they have nice long naps).
Cambridge Commons, Harvard. Photo Credit – Playground Hunt
We got bored with the couple of playgrounds we knew about and started looking for more. Then our friends started asking us about where they all were, and suddenly we were working on this website.

As is usually the case, children are the inspiration for parental playground blogging. Their playground joy is enough to get mama and papa exploring the city core and suburbs for playscapes that will add variety to what is available in the home neighbourhood. A blog’s digital word of mouth can have a broad reach. A blog is more sustainable though as photos, mapping and narrative are always available for consultation.

Swings and Roundabouts

On Canada’s BC coast, Eleanor has created a real delight for playground lovers in Victoria and Vancouver. I haven’t seen any post yet for 2011 but the work that Eleanor has put together is top notch like her brilliant masthead – all fun and colour.

Swings and Roundabouts was started in Spring 2009 by Eleanor and her 2.5 year old boy, let’s call him ‘A’ who went on a mission to find the best playgrounds around Victoria BC.
Parksville Playground, Victoria. Photo Credit – Swings and Roundabouts
Eleanor is a thirty-something originally from the UK and ‘A’ is a nearly-three, born and bred in Victoria. Together they race from playground to playground dragging baby ‘S’ along. Having just learned new clapping skills, ’S’ is only too happy to cheer them on.

All of the playgrounds in this collection have been lovingly documented. ‘A’ and ‘S’ undoubtedly had a good time on the circuit with Eleanor doing the research and testing needed to tell the playground stories. I hope they will all be back later this year with more playground tales from British Columbia.

parklover

On the UK side of the pond, Kath is running about England taking beautiful photos of parks and playgrounds.

I spend lots of time outdoors, either with my three year old daughter, or training for and competing in running races. I get bored easily and am always searching for new places to visit.
Stamford Park, Altrincham, England. Photo Credit – parklover
Parklover is all about sharing photos and descriptions of these places, so that other people can enjoy them as much as we do.

There is plenty of enjoyment to be had from Kath’s palette. The mixture of parks and playgrounds is so complementary. Many thanks for taking us through the England you know.

There will be more playground bloggers to come in the following month or two. My own entry – PlayGround Chronicles – will celebrate its second birthday later this week.

If you’re curious, the original Global Playground Bloggers post featuring play advocates from California and New Jersey can be read here.

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…