Updated: Mar 19, 2022
Public playgrounds are a great civic investment. For most kids, the playground is where they will first experience public space, and if a city wants its children to care about community and shared spaces, playgrounds and parks are a great way to do it.
Sounds nice, but unlike a lot of investments, playgrounds require maintenance. They get old and rusty. In a place like Toronto, where the climate provides just about every type of weather over the course of a year, a playground’s life expectancy probably tops out at 25-30 years, even with good maintenance.
It would be unfair of me to demand that City Hall get out there and fix everything immediately. Money is finite, and things like this take time. But, with all the revitalizations of parks across the city, it’s fair to say that if the money is there, we should make sure it goes to the playgrounds that need it most.
Point of clarification: this isn’t a list of the five worst playgrounds in Toronto, or the five most run-down. As we’ll see, one of the playgrounds on this list is younger than a kindergarten student. This list comprises playgrounds that could be awesome with a loving re-build. Their location or their character makes them gems-in-waiting, playgrounds that deserve to be more than they currently are.
With that, here are my five favourite Toronto playgrounds that could use an overhaul:
Erica Stark Parkette
In a touching example of a community coming together to honour one of its own, the Bain Avenue Parkette was renamed for Erica Stark in 2016. A tiny playground on a lot no larger than the houses on either side, it’s a great place to go when Withrow Park, a literal stone’s throw to the north, gets too busy. How great would it be if the city took the next step and levelled up the equipment here? They wouldn’t have to spend much for such a tiny spot, but it would add the character of this already adorable little playground. Full review here.
When I was a kid, Greenwood Park was a place to be avoided at night. And during the day. Recent improvements to the park – a new skating rink, an off-leash area, exercise equipment, a statue that makes me cry every time I see it – seem to indicate that the City is willing to put money into making this a true community hub. The playground is the last piece of the puzzle, and it needs work. The drainage is terrible, and puddles persist long for days after a significant rainfall. Even the sand level is too low: one slide has a drop-off of more than a foot, which can lead to an unpleasant surprise for any toddler hoping to keep their tailbone in place. A bit of love, and this would be one of the east-end's top spots. Full review here.
Joseph Burr Tyrell Park
UPDATE: This playground has been given an overhaul. So, you know, the system works. New review here.
Named after a geologist who discovered dinosaur bones in Alberta, which is fitting, since the equipment here must date from at least the Triassic period. Only half a block from Bloor Street in the heart of the Annex, this could be a nice little over-the-subway-line park, like Langford on the east side. To really honour its namesake, it would be extra awesome if the City shelled out for a little dinosaur-themed playground here. A playground company called Henderson makes something they call “Dinosaur Digs.” I can’t speak for all kids, but mine would go nuts for that. Full review here.
Riverdale Park East
Okay, this wouldn’t exactly be an overhaul; more of a mulligan. Riverdale Park finished a big rejuvenation in 2018, and because it’s around the corner from my house, I was pumped. Sadly, the finished product was a huge disappointment. Not awful, really, but a huge missed opportunity, seeing as how it’s in such a beautiful location on the edge of the valley. Riverdale is kind of a flagship east-side park – right on the edge of the Don Valley, that big physical and mental Toronto divide. There should be something here to rival High Park or Grange Park, but instead we were left with sparse, uninspired equipment that looks like it was pulled from a playground manufacturer’s bargain bin. Full review here.
The Toronto Islands are a treasure, and any park-going family in the city knows this. Yes, getting there can be difficult, and yes, the ferry docks at Queen’s Quay feel like Ellis Island but with more screaming children…but once you get there, it’s all worth it. The islands are, taken together, perhaps Toronto’s best all-around park, and they deserve a playground to reflect that. There are a couple of different play spots around the islands, and a very nice new splash pad in Centreville, but this ancient wooden one, with a splash pad of its own, is the best candidate for a landmark playground. Very close to existing washrooms, a children’s garden, and a beach, this is prime play real estate. Full review here.