Updated: May 14, 2021
Equipment by Landscape Structures.
Toronto’s best playground north of the 401 is also Toronto’s best accessible playground, with something for just about every age, stage, and ability. Throw in the various other attractions to be found in Earl Bales park, and you’ve got an almost-perfect play spot.
A product of Canadian Tire’s Jumpstart Charities project (written about earlier this year by fellow playground writer Chris Latreille) this playground drew gasps from our kids before we even parked the car. And as the kids ran off and disappeared into the equipment, I stood there trying to figure out the best spot to take a panoramic photo, which was basically impossible; there is just so much stuff that no single vantage point can capture it all.
The centrepiece is a huge climbing structure featuring wide, wheelchair-friendly ramps, branching off in all directions to various slides, monkey bars, and interactive elements that could keep a kid busy all morning. Surrounding this monster is all manner of other equipment: swings, a Sway Fun glider, a cozy dome, percussive musical instruments, and much much more.
Slightly off to the side is a small splash pad, and beside that a concrete water element that appears to flow out into a little stream that goes beneath a toddler-sized pedestrian bridge. It was too early in the season for water elements to be functional when we went, but I’m curious to come back in the summer and take a look.
If all that weren’t enough, there are two other pre-existing playgrounds close by; a decent one by Game Time just a stone’s throw from the Jumpstart Playground, and an old wooden one hidden behind the Community Centre. These could come in handy if the playground gets too crowded, which I imagine it does; we were there at 9am on a rainy day when the temperature was below 10 degrees, and still we were sharing the space with several other families.
When the playground got a bit too busy for our COVID-conscious selves, we explored the east side of the park, which led to a snack on the stage of the Barry Zuckerman amphitheatre, and eventually a walk up the ski hill, from the top of which we enjoyed the view of the North York skyline. It made for a pretty awesome day.
With all this going for it, why is this playground “only” number 4 on our rankings? Well, no playground is perfect, and this one does have its shortcomings. With no trees surrounding it, shade for parents is virtually zero. The absence of a sandbox seems a bit odd, given the plethora of other equipment on display.
Also – and I’m fully aware I’m being picky here – I don’t find it to be a particularly cozy place. Some of Toronto’s other top-tier playgrounds, like the ones in High Park or Ramsden or June Rowlands, are appealing in the way they’re laid out, or the way they interact with the landscape. Walk up to High Park’s castle and you feel like you’re entering an enchanted glade out of a children’s book. Walk up to Earl Bales’ Jumpstart Playground and you feel like you’re walking into a showroom for playground equipment. As if the people who planned it looked at a catalogue and said, "yeah, just buy it all and put it in there."
So it’s not perfect. But it’s impressive, it’s forward-thinking, and for downtown-types who don’t like venturing into the suburbs, it’s even worth crossing the 401 for.