Surface: Wood chips
If you don’t know who Jeff Healey is, you’re either shockingly young to be reading this, or you didn’t grow up in Toronto.
Jeff Healey’s story is both feel-good and heartbreaking. Adopted by a firefighter as an infant, Healey lost his vision to a rare form of ocular cancer before reaching his first birthday. His eyes were surgically removed, replaced by prostheses. By age three, he’d picked up a guitar and learned to play it by touch, with the guitar lying across his lap, as he was still too small to hold it properly.
He stuck with the across-the-lap technique (it became an advantage, allowing him to use all five fingers more than other guitarists) and became one of the finest jazz/blues guitarists in Canadian history. By 1989 he was starring opposite Patrick Swayze in “Road House.” I haven’t seen the film, but as far as I can tell, it’s basically “Dirty Dancing” if you replaced all the dancing with bar fights.
Anyway: Jeff Healey enjoyed a solid career until 2008, when cancer – the same disease that had taken his sight forty years prior – returned to his lungs and claimed him.
The park that bears his name is in the neighbourhood where he grew up, and it’s the kind of place I can easily imagine myself visiting every weekend if it weren’t so far from my home turf.
The playground, while not stunning, is different from most others, and its orange colouring certainly catches your eye as you make your way down the gentle slope into the park from the entrance off Burma Drive. The company, KSL, doesn’t have much equipment in Toronto and I kind of wish they did. This one combines the classic “plastic castle” look of the stereotypical play structure with the rope climbers that companies like Landscape Structures do so well. There are climbing grips everywhere, and a nice triple slide that made for some good races between me and my two kidlets.
Other equipment includes a few swings, a ride-on ladybug and a do-nothing caterpillar, and a few musical instruments by Freenotes; the same company responsible for the instruments at another Toronto playground named in honour of local musicians. Sadly, several of the mallets on these were missing, and we had to hunt for nearby sticks instead.
It’s unfortunate that there’s no splash pad or sandbox or accessible play (I’ve seen several playgrounds that have panels teaching sign language or braille…you’d think that would be a no-brainer here) but the park makes up for it with its peaceful natural setting.
The playground is halfway down a hill that leads from the tennis courts at the top to Mimico Creek down below. There’s a nice view of the surprisingly vertical skyline of Mimico, and a lovely bridge perfect for duck-spotting. The creek is one of the few small Toronto creeks that hasn’t been hidden underground, and if the weather had been a bit warmer my kids would have been wading in. There are houses across the creek whose backyards end at 10-foot retaining walls; I imagine there aren’t too many people in Toronto whose backyards are a literal stone’s throw from a river. It was almost enough to make me want to move to Etobicoke.
Good equipment, a river, free parking…this little park has everything you need for a fun afternoon with little ones.