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McCleary Playground

Updated: Jul 13, 2019

Equipment by Bienenstock.

Surfaces: grass, sand, wood chips.

When a railway line cuts diagonally across a city whose streets are laid out in a grid, you end up with a slew of triangular, tricky to use bits of land adjacent to the train tracks. Their odd shapes, their proximity to noisy train traffic, and their often-small footprints make them undesirable for most purposes.

Thankfully for those of us with kids (especially for those of us with kids who have a thing for trains) many pieces of land like this in Toronto have been made into parks and playgrounds. McCleary is a particularly small one, and because it’s overshadowed by the larger triangle of Jimmie Simpson Park just across the street, some locals may not even know it’s there.

Or perhaps they know it’s there, and just don’t use it much.

McCleary was designed by Bienenstock Natural Playgrounds, a company who likes putting huge natural elements (tree trunks, boulders, etc) in the spaces they design. Their website really enjoys the word “transformative,” and they’ve done work for a lot of upscale clients, including several private schools. While I respect their drive to be different, I find their results to be mixed. Their playground at William Burgess Public School is a good one. The McCleary Playground is not so good.

The monoliths of McCleary Park: cool, yes. But fun? (image:

It looks pretty cool: a giant, three-pronged tree trunk stands upside down on its three thick legs…huge boulders with ropes attached sit like runaway elements from Stonehenge.

But from a practical standpoint, it’s hard to know how kids are supposed to play with these things. They can’t really be climbed, except maybe by able-bodied adults. And the giant chairs cut out of tree stumps, while neat, are slightly less exciting for most kids than, say, swings. My son enjoyed this playground just fine, but the fun didn't last too long, as the stock of shared toys was middling, and there was only one element that was a recognizable play structure- the slide at the south end of the park.

For me, a company like Earthscape does a better job at making natural-looking playspaces, as they are also highly functional from a play point of view. But hey, it takes all kids of playgrounds to make a city. Maybe your kid will love this stuff. If they don’t, head across the street to Jimmie Simpson for a more traditional setting.

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