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Kempton Howard Park

Surfaces: sand, concrete.

Equipment by Bel-Air (defunct)

I should have visited this park earlier, but a silly childhood bias prevented me from doing so.

Despite having grown up barely a kilometre from Kempton Howard Park, the surrounding area – south of the Danforth and east of Pape – is a bit of a blank spot in my mental map. This is partly because the gravitational pulls of my childhood (school, friends, downtown) were to the west. But it’s also because the neighbourhood had a bit of a reputation as a place you didn’t go if you could avoid it.

Blake Street PS, just south of Kempton Howard Park.

Blake, which is the elementary school south of Kempton Howard Park, was “reportedly” a rough place.

I should mention, however, that the people doing the reporting on this were classmates of mine at Jackman PS who had been labelled as “gifted,” and as a reward for their gifts were loaded on to a bus once a week and taken to Blake for a day of secret gifted activities that were somehow impossible to deliver within Jackman’s walls.

So, without trying to sound cruel, a bus full of nervous nerds might not be the most reliable source for assessing the “roughness” of a school.

Meanwhile, the junior high school on the other side Kempton Howard Park was technically my local junior high, but my parents had serious misgivings about sending me and my brother there. We had heard stories about Earl Grey Senior Public School. Earl Grey was a place where kids got beaten up and their shoes stolen from them. That might not be true. Early Grey was a place where the student newspaper included a section that listed who had a crush on whom. That is definitely true.

Anyway, my parents eventually used the French immersion loophole to get me and my brother to a different junior high, a cleaner, more culturally homogenous place, where bullying was unrelenting and psychological rather than physical.

So while it’s impossible to know whether I would have been happier at Earl Grey, what’s certain is that the “do not enter” label placed upon this neighbourhood stayed in my mind long after I should have known better. Sure, it might be less shiny than neighbouring Riverdale, but if I limit my explorations of the city based on childhood hearsay, I’m denying myself a full view of that city.

Kempton Howard park is a slowly sloping green space with a playground at its northern end, and it’s a nice place to sit and watch your little one splash around in the wading pool. Large trees provide plenty of shade, and the big stone blocks built into the landscaping provide semi-comfortable seating.

The climbing equipment could use an upgrade, and the aforementioned shade doesn’t quite extend to the climber either, which is a bit of a shame.

With better options nearby (Withrow, Phin Avenue, Aldwych, Langford) it’s unlikely that many people other than locals will use this playground, which is kind of a shame, because there is potential here. If it wanted to honour the park's namesake (a beloved local youth worker tragically killed at just 24) it could put in some money and make it a playground to rival those listed above.

The park feels like it is big enough to accommodate a skate park, and perhaps some larger equipment; this might give local adolescents a more welcoming place to play, and something to do besides beat each other up for their shoes. If they ever did that to begin with.

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