Oriole Park (Neshama Playground)
Equipment by Kompan, Little Tikes, Dynamo.
Surfaces: rubber, concrete.
I hesitated to classify this one as a “hidden gem” because it’s not, as playgrounds go, a big secret. It tends to get a mention on most lists of the best playgrounds in Toronto, and it got a bit of press when it opened a decade ago as one of the city’s first attempts to make play more inclusive and accessible.
But even if it’s not a secret, its setting really makes it feel hidden.
The setting is one of the nicest of any playground in Toronto: despite being a three-minute walk from Yonge Street in the heart of the city, it’s tucked in behind the houses on Chaplin Crescent to the north, bordered by the Belt Line trail to the south, and blanketed by the cover of countless huge old trees. The canopy of trees is so dense that you can barely spot the playground in satellite photos.
Neshama’s equipment is certainly varied, but none of it is particularly outstanding. There’s a toddler climber by Kompan, whose climbers I’ve never loved (those sectional slides have bumps that just seem unnecessary) and a larger climber by Little Tikes that’s kind of run-of-the-mill. There are several swing sets, but they’re placed a bit randomly throughout the park, as if someone made a mistake in the planning. To add to the randomness, there’s a single musical element – large tubular bells with mallets – tucked way off at the park’s east end. The equipment as a whole just lacks cohesiveness.
But hey, no kid cares about cohesion, right?
What they will like is the splash pad: small but fun, with a built-in water table, spitting frogs, and a surprisingly powerful fountain that scared the bejeepers out of several kids during our visit. The water from the splash pad drains by way of a 20-metre river, which is pretty and very engaging for little ones.
There is also a wading pool, but it was dry when we went, which seemed strange at the height of summer.
The park is nicely equipped with washrooms, picnic tables, public tennis courts, and a baseball diamond. And if you’ve got a train-crazed child, the Davisville TTC Subway yard is nearby, easily viewed from the Belt Line’s pedestrian bridge as it crosses Yonge Street…my kids spent a solid half-hour waving at trains on our visit, trying (and often succeeding) in getting drivers to toot their horns while waving so hard their hands nearly came off.
Slightly better equipment would push Neshama across the 90% line for me, but the setting is so lovely that it doesn’t really matter. Most kids (especially little ones and subway enthusiasts) will love it here.