Category Archives: Playgrounds Nova Scotia

Retro Play on the Farm

Dempsey Corner Orchard in Nova Scotia’s apple belt is a gem of a place. In the gentle rolling hills of the Annapolis Valley’s North Mountain an old playground standard and some do-it-yourself offerings take pride of place in the working farmyard.

Far from the unforgiving eyes of municipal insurers, from the exacting measurements and impact calculations of playground inspectors, this is a place where kids can still have some exhilarating, retro fun.


There’s some no holds barred spinning on one of the few remaining roundabouts in a radius of hundreds of miles. Once a playground stalwart, the roundabout is now a very rare sighting in our small corner of the world, definitely on the endangered list and not likely to be making a comeback.


It’s like a magnet for kids who are pulled to it immediately on arrival. Most of them would have never have experienced the delicious centrifugal force of a whirling roundabout. Apparently the sheep even like to get a spin in now and again too.

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I finally get up my courage and hop on board. Just a short ride brings back fine memories – happy, smiley faces all around.

Add a circle of tires sand pit and there’s no end to digging and jumping fun.


Sailing through the air with the greatest of ease.


And crossing chasms with bold steps.


Just as we are packing up, we discover some antique transportation à la Flintstones. There’s a snappy bespoke convertible…


…and a pick up ready to haul wood, apples, corn.


I’m interested in hearing from readers who know of simple yet magical, tucked away places like this that they’d like to share.

Do you remember when?

This was our second trip to Dempsey Corner Orchard. I wrote about the first trip in Harvest Playground three years ago. How quickly the kids are growing…

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’.

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…

Up Periscope

Canada’s Nova Scotia shipbuilders have been renowned for centuries for their fine quality vessels. The iconic Bluenose that sailed to victory so frequently in the annual International Fisherman’s Race was built in Lunenburg. But long before the Bluenose ever set sail, there was a strong tradition of building ships destined for work in the North Atlantic and oceans throughout the world.

This summer something new is taking shape on the province’s south shore. A small boatbuilder at Gold River in the Chester Basin is building a land-based submarine. Tern Boatworks will soon complete its first wood and fibreglass sub. The project has been commissioned as a playground for Halifax, Nova Scotia’s downtown waterfront.

Here’s what it looked like one recent afternoon when Bruce and Lucas took us on a tour of the site (click photos for larger image).

The christening date for the new sub, as yet unnamed, is set for sometime this August. We may try and take one more trip down to Tern Boatworks while the build is still underway.

Here is a rendition of the completed play structure by Laurie McGowan of McGowan Marine Design.

Spaceships of various sorts and boats of all kinds are relatively common fare in playgrounds. I’ve only come across one other submarine. This one is located at an abandoned playground at the North Shore Yacht Club, Salton Sea, California.

Photo credit – slworking2 – CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Please drop us a line if you’re aware of any other submarine playgrounds.