Surfaces: Sand, concrete
Equipment by Bel-Air (defunct)
Toronto has an incredible number of summer day camps, and on the day my daughter and I visited Orchard Park in the east end, it felt like they had all decided to spend the day there as well.
We had a peaceful fifteen minutes at first. The playground was empty, the splash pad was dry, and everywhere was eerily quiet. Even Dundas Street East, which border’s the park’s northern side, appeared deserted.
And then they came.
We heard them before we saw them: a high-frequency cacophony that sounded like 70% singing and 30% crying. The noise seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere at once.
Soon enough, on the horizon, there was a solemn line of three-foot-tall silhouettes, each with one hand outstretched to hold the infamous daycare holding rope. Every so often, a small figure would let the rope go, and for a moment drift from the line in a unique combination of freedom and terror, like an astronaut who’d come loose during a space walk.
The stray child would soon be reunited with the rope by a blue-shirted counsellor, a kid of probably university age who walked alongside the procession with the slow, resigned pace of a husband following his wife around a mall. These poor counsellors; I was one of them once, and I remember how the days crawled by, how at any given point one kid was always crying, how difficult it is to get through a hangover when surrounded by 4-year-olds.
Having finally made their way across Orchard Park’s significant green space, the inmates were told to sit while the counsellors went over the rules. At last, they were set free, bounding towards the playground in their ludicrously oversized blue t-shirts with the daycare’s name and phone number printed on the back, in the same way you might put your information on your luggage lest it get lost in travel.
Alarmed by the sudden influx of kids, my daughter (not quite two at the time) grabbed my leg, looked out at the wild masses of kids twice her age, and said, with quiet reverence: “So many friends…”
I can understand why day camps like Orchard Park. It’s pretty, with lots of mature trees at the southern side, the playground is partially fenced, and the splash pad is always a favourite. The sandbox was stocked with construction vehicles, and the equipment, while old, was big enough to be interesting.
When we needed a break from the day camp kids, we took advantage of the “mini library” at the playground’s entrance – one of those take-one-leave-one community book boxes – which had a surprising amount of kids books available. A nice touch, and appreciated when we wanted a moment to ourselves.
It’s not the best playground in the area, but it’s got enough going for it to be worth visiting. Just keep your ears open for approaching day camps.