Updated: Jul 13, 2019
Surfaces: sand, wood chips, memories.
I’m not usually the type to sit on my porch in a rocking chair complaining that everything about the world was better in my day, but I have to insist that the Jackman School playground was better in my day.
I was a student there from the mid 80s through the early 90s, and my memories of the place are pretty fuzzy. In fact, they boil down to four things, really:
a librarian who hated children
a gym teacher whose favourite expression was “GOOD GRAVY!”
the times when the janitors would go up onto the roof to retrieve tennis balls people had thrown up there, creating a virtual kid riot down below as we tore each other limb from limb in the hope of scoring a free ball
The new version isn’t terrible, but it’s so sad by comparison that I’m not even going to talk about it. Instead, I’m going to describe the old one as I remember it.
It was built within two concrete hills, which were horseshoe-shaped, and which faced each other at their open ends. These hills were connected by two bridges, one that was narrow and straight, and one that was kind of like a suspension bridge, only the primary building material was tires.
The south end of the playground had two main elements: a big pyramid, again made of tires (rules about the disposal of hazardous materials were more lax back then), and a wooden climbing structure that looked like it had been thrown together randomly; almost like a pile of tangled straws. The north end was the main attraction: the climber. Entered via a drawbridge from the northern concrete horseshoe hill, or from a ladder down below, it had four levels, and for a kid, it felt like a skyscraper. Okay, maybe it only had three levels, I don’t really remember, but it might as well have been fifty.
To get down from the climber you had several options: a) the ladder, but this was generally up-only, b) the pole, accessible from two levels, so you had to check to make sure you weren’t going to collide with anyone, c) the curly slide, which passed closely enough to the lower levels that you could stand by the slide on level two, reach out and slap people as they went down, d) the enclosed orange slide, which was suicidally fast until your exposed skin touched it, at which point you came to a squeaky, painful stop, or d) you could jump, which would either get you massive amounts of respect, or a free afternoon off from school due to the ensuing hospital trip.
The whole playground was flanked on one side by a kind of a fence, made up of wooden poles of varying heights. A fun game was to see how fast you could run along the top of this fence before slipping and cracking your shins. It was amazing.
I understand why they got rid of it. It was probably 30 years old by the time my friends and I were playing on it, and there was clearly little-to-no thought given to safety. And don’t misunderstand me: safety and fun are not mutually exclusive, as plenty of Toronto playgrounds prove. It’s just a shame that the replacement for one of the formative spots of my childhood is so mediocre.
Actually, there is one remnant of my childhood left there: in the junior playground by the Kindergarten classrooms, two wooden playhouses still sit. They must be as old as the school itself, but I shed a little nostalgic tear every time I walk by.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a rocking chair to sit and reminisce in. Get off my lawn.