Category Archives: roundabout

St. James Park Where Kids Play with their Food

Our trek starts at the Corso Italiano on St. Clair West. By foot, streetcar and subway we hop, skip and jump cross-town to St. James Park. It’s downtown Toronto just a few blocks east of Yonge Street and a nudge north of St. Lawrence Market and the Gardiner Expressway’s endless dump of traffic into the city’s core.

It’s hot – the still, heavy air is withering but it doesn’t dampen our anticipation. Behind orange barricades, my daughter Nellie-Rose and I eyeball the new playscape still under construction.

Alex Waffle from Earthscape brings us in behind the fencing. After donning our hardhats, we waste no time. Nellie dives right into play-test mode.  I try and keep up with her while shooting a few frames. A massive, empty cake cone plonked on its side invites discovery. In front of it, melting mounds of oozing chocolate, pistachio and vanilla ice cream.

Nellie-Rose sproings from pistachio to chocolate at St. James Park, Toronto

All food related elements are mega-mega. Asparagus stalks like towering totems with tips that look ready to munch serve as supports for staggered balance beams on varying inclines. The scale of it all. How many adventurous sprites will try and shinny to the top?

Alex Waffle, landscape architect and our Most Valuable Tour Guide

Stretch carrots form a tip to tip ‘V’ hugging the ground ready to be scampered across, emphasizing that vitamin A’s veggie queen can help keep kids sharp and healthy in more ways than one.

Carrots, good for the eyes and for getting some great air

It’s produce from the tables of giants, the kind that Jack would bring back down from his Beanstalk adventures, or that Sophie’s Big Friendly Giant might add to a pot of stew.

Stacked crates with stenciled markings dwarf us of mere human size. The crates anchor a slide and a rope bridge. On this visit, prior to the public opening, access is blocked but there is the promise of fresh berries.

On this day, still a little prep work to do on the crates and slide

At the rope bridge’s other terminus is a shelter proclaiming ‘FISH’ sporting a double side-by-side slide. Fish are attached to the shelter’s vertical columns serving as decoration and a climbing aid. Beveled tails allow for little fingers to get in behind, grab on tight and pull up.

Bevel-tailed fish provide little hands a purchase to help them climb

Just beyond the fish monger, weathered pilings evoke the old piers and docklands where some of the St. Lawrence Market goods arrived by lake in earlier times. Ladies and gentlemen, another play zone where Nellie is only too happy to let loose.

Round and round….

Doffing her cool yet constraining construction helmet, Nellie limbers up with 360° rolls on the bar – round and round, over and under, one big shock of hair nearly sweeping the ground. I’m starting to get dizzy watching her. Her upper body strength and sense of balance developed at circus school give her confidence making it all look easy.

…almost touching ground

The bars and the ice cream bounce are at the top of Nellie’s list of highlights but we aren’t able to give everything a whirl as the playscape is not yet at 100% completion. There, in the near distance still not quite ready to zip is something we’d both like to put through its paces.

Spin, spin, spinny

The roundabout brings a smile. In our Nova Scotia home – and many other parts of North America – the once common roundabout , or merry-go-round – is on the endangered list. Most of them have been hauled out of their native playground habitat as a misguided safety measure. We’ll be back to ride this eight station g-force popper on a subsequent TO visit. I can almost feel the sweet dizziness of it now.

Hats off to the municipality for giving the green light to this virtuous circle of spin and to Earthscape for a deft design touch. Kids, hold on and get acquainted with the wheel of fun.

Heading to the main gate, we thank Alex Waffle for a great behind the scenes visit. Kids, when you want to play with your food, get your folks to bring you on down to St. James Park. We say goodbye to this foodalicious play spot knowing we’ll be back on our next visit with the grandkids in tow.

Thanks to Nellie-Rose my inveterate player-tester for all these years in playgrounds, campsites and backyards throughout eastern Canada. For our daredevil girl it’s a two thumbs up day even if the construction helmet sometimes seems to have a life of its own.

No kid size construction helmets…

Nellie and I both need to grab a bite. Alex’s last name inspires us as we search out a brunch spot. Le Petit Déjeuner on King St. East – a quarter million eggs since 2002 – calls out to us. Nellie goes for Belgian waffles with a  swirly tower pf whipped cream – mmmmmmm…. or as they say in Québec miam, miam.

Before we head back uptown, we hit the market – literally a three minute walk away through the fragrant gardens in St James Park. Bounty, everywhere.

Fruit stalls St Lawrence Market

Outside the South Building, Nellie spies a stall with silver jewelry. Everything is made from recycled silver extracted from various sources. She chooses a a fine chain and a small medallion, a gift for maman. Thanks Mélanie – you made it possible for the two of us to adventure this day.

St. James Park Playscape – design and build by Earthscape with PMA Landscape Architects as project landscape architects.

Thanks Earthscape Alex what a great host and a huge shout out to the Earthscape family who know a thing or two about creating award-winning public play spaces for kids.

#playrocks  #playeveryday  #playmatters #playeverywhere

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.

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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.

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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.

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Sailing through the air with the greatest of ease.

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And crossing chasms with bold steps.

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

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

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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…

Twelve Days of Christmas Play

On the first day of Christmas
My true love gave to me
A tire swing in an oak tree

5344851996_2d6c899585_bPhoto credit – Derek Buff. License – CC BY-NC 2.0

On the second day of Christmas
My true love gave to me
Two spring riders
And a tire swing in an oak tree

On the third day of Christmas
My true love gave to me
Three monkey bars
Two spring riders
And a tire swing in an oak tree

On the fourth day of Christmas
My true love gave to me
Four splashing pads
Three monkey bars
Two spring riders
And a tire swing in an oak tree

On the fifth day of Christmas
My true love gave to me
Five hollow logs
Four splashing pads
Three monkey bars
Two spring riders
And a tire swing in an oak tree

Eden Log

On the sixth day of Christmas
My true love gave to me
Six slides a slipping
Five hollow logs
Four splashing pads
Three monkey bars
Two spring riders
And a tire swing in an oak tree

On the seventh day of Christmas
My true love gave to me
Seven roundabouts a rounding
Six slides a slipping
Five hollow logs
Four splashing pads
Three monkey bars
Two spring riders
And a tire swing in an oak tree

On the eighth day of Christmas
My true love gave to me
Eight trees for climbing
Seven roundabouts a rounding
Six slides a slipping
Five hollow logs
Four splashing pads
Three monkey bars
Two spring riders
And a tire swing in an oak tree

3742578481_edf317b0efPhoto credit – Oliver Hammond. License – CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

On the ninth day of Christmas
My true love gave to me
Nine fields for running
Eight trees for climbing
Seven roundabouts a rounding
Six slides a slipping
Five hollow logs
Four splashing pads
Three monkey bars
Two spring riders
And a tire swing in an oak tree

On the tenth day of Christmas
My true love gave to me
Ten rocks for scaling
Nine fields for running
Eight trees for climbing
Seven roundabouts a rounding
Six slides a slipping
Five hollow logs
Four splashing pads
Three monkey bars
Two spring riders
And a tire swing in an oak tree

On the eleventh day of Christmas
My true love gave to me
Eleven see-saws sawing
Ten rocks for scaling
Nine fields for running
Eight trees for climbing
Seven roundabouts a rounding
Six slides a slipping
Five hollow logs
Four splashing pads
Three monkey bars
Two spring riders
And a tire swing in an oak tree

2038760_32736d2ee8_oPhoto credit – Vaughn Hannon. License – CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

On the twelfth day of Christmas
My true love gave to me
Twelve messy mudholes
Eleven see-saws sawing
Ten rocks for scaling
Nine fields for running
Eight trees for climbing
Seven roundabouts a rounding
Six slides a slipping
Five hollow logs
Four splashing pads
Three monkey bars
Two spring riders
And a tire swing in an oak tree

Harvest Playground

Dempsey Corner Orchards is a special treat for kids particularly those whose daily comings and goings are in an urban setting. It’s a real hybrid experience. There is the wonder of animals – chasing chicks and hens, petting calves and watching the goats face off against each other. There are fruit laden orchards with succulent harvests of apples, pears and peaches. And in the farmyard and its environs a playscape, built to the scale of open skies and rolling hills, is a busy scene of bustling energy.

Front and centre as you walk into the farmyard there’s an old fashioned spinning, spinning roundabout with kids hanging on as best they can. You know the kind, you remember them from your childhood but they’re very difficult to find in most public playgrounds today.

On this one the pink paint is smoothed off in the central area by so many little feet, knees and behinds clamping down and rubbing across the surface as they struggle to hold their position against the pull of centrifugal force.

The octagon platform draws kids like a magnet. It’s never idle during our visit. A well worn dirt track circles the equipment showing that kids love to get into this groove. There are those who want to be spun and spinners eager to oblige giving their all with mighty pushes before they pull themselves aboard the whirling platter. The smaller kids have to be reminded not to let go. Because of their virtual disappearance from public playgrounds, playing on a roundabout/merry-go-round is a first time experience for many of the kids who visit.

For a gentler spin cycle, there is the teepee pole tire swing. It is a beauty to behold – a massive, deep treaded, sky blue tractor tire suspended on heavy duty black cord. It can comfortably sit six young ones with ample rope for everyone to hang on. At the base the distance between each of the three supporting poles is about 10 feet. The teepee tip where the cord is secured is about twelve feet off the ground. It makes for a great arcing gigglefest ride to recurring choruses of, ‘more, more, higher, higher’.

Around the corner from the main house is an open air sound garden. It’s adjacent to a path that leads up to the orchards and planting grounds. This is the home amphitheatre for the Demspsey Corners Cacaphony Orchestra. An array of blackened and stainless steel kitchen and farm implements suspended from three strands of chicken wire fencing are the instruments of clatter bangdom. They are poised for smashing, tingling, kabooming, howitzing – making noise, music, percussive masterpieces.


Climbing the path up the gentle hills of the North Mountain it’s play in a natural environment. I think my ears begin to stop that ringing feeling as we approach the orchards. Adventurous 5 and unders try their luck at stepping stone balance while crossing a small brook. It’s not a totally successful expedition as everyone has dry feet on the other side. There is corn and apples aplenty to pick, patches of colourful gourds in surprising and unpredictable shapes to walk through. It’s an opportunity to gather fresh produce at the source, a glorious paradise for city folk.

We’re here on Open Farm Day, a relatively new development in Atlantic Canada. The purpose is to get people visiting farms and raising awareness about local agriculture. It’s catching on in Ontario and Manitoba too as well as Maine, pockets of New York state and the UK. Check with your local agricultural, or farmers’ organization to see if there is something similar close to you. I can’t guarantee a rockin’ playground like Dempsey Corners Farm but there’s sure to be fun for everyone, some good food and a chance for city dwellers to see how it’s done down on the farm.

After loading up with apples and getting a few ears of corn for maman, it’s time to start thinking about home. Back in the farmyard, the roundabout is a must before we head to the car to buckle up as is a bit of digging and scuffing around at Firestonehenge. This 20 foot diameter sandpit with plenty of digging machines, shovels, rakes, pails and sundry other earthy toys is a great build and get dirty spot. We don’t get to the rollie pollie hay pile but we’ll look for that on our next visit.

For a couple of hours on a weekend morning under September’s pastel wash sun all is idyll and we adults are momentary heroes. It looks so easy as we walk around and play with the kids. It’s long hours though and hard work to keep an operation like this one going.

During my high school days I worked briefly on a 6,000 acre wheat farm in Saskatchewan. Big Bill Labuik was a fine host and tireless worker. He had us out in the fields from dawn till dusk. Turned out we weren’t farming stock and Bill had to let us go after mangling a rod weeder and inadvertently popping wheelies with the tractor. I left there with a deep respect for farm families and the work they do for all of us supermarket types.

Dempsey Corner Farm is open to the public June through October as are many working farms. Check your local agritourism listings to see what is available close to you. Support family farms, local produce and reconnecting with our food.

Take a peek and see what farmers from these areas offer: Quebec Agritourism; California Agritourism; Colorado Agritourism; Tennessee Agritourism; Australia Agritourism.

Many thanks to the friends who invited us on this expedition. Don’t forget in North America it will soon be time to head for the pumpkin patch.

All materials, unless otherwise attributed or credited, copyright ⓒ 2010 Alex Smith.

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