If you have kids, you can count on them having a few obsessions during their first five years. It could be dinosaurs. It could be princesses. It could be animals.
For my kids (and let’s face it, for me too) it’s trains.
My kids’ train obsession has waxed and waned, but it’s always been there. Our classic wooden train tracks are probably the most-used toys in our collection, and the value for money has been unreal. They’re kind of the perfect toy: durable, cheap (on the used market), and offer virtually limitless configurations.
But the train obsession doesn’t end in the playroom. Some days my kids will ask if we can bike to a nearby level crossing to wait for, and eventually wave frantically at, passing freight or passenger trains. I’m so used to pointing out trains while driving that I’ll sometimes do it even if the kids aren’t in the car.
If your kids are as train-mad as mine, Toronto has several playgrounds you might want to check out. Some offer train-themed play equipment, others are good places for spotting real trains, and some are both.
Here are, in no particular order, Danforth Dad’s five favourite playgrounds for kids who love trains.
Sergeant Ryan Russell Parkette
This tiny but nice playground sits directly in the shadow of the CP railway tracks, and offers probably the closest view of freight trains that you can get without actually sitting on the tracks. Play there for a while and your kids might get to watch a big long freight train rumble across the bridge that spans Avenue Road just north of Dupont. Freight trains aren’t as regular as passenger trains, but when they roll past, they’re pretty impressive. Full review here.
Probably the best pure playground of these five, Rosedale Park is one of our go-to locations. There are not actual tracks nearby, but one of the play structures is a cute little train that’s especially fun for little ones. (Image: daleisphere.com)
A bizarre quirk: the train says “N. Rosedale Rail” on its side, and yet an accompanying plaque says that the equipment was funded by the “South Rosedale Residents Association.” Not sure what the story is there, but I like to imagine that it was a gesture of good faith, ending a generations-long feud of West Side Story-like proportions. Full review here.
Neshama playground (Oriole Park)
If your child’s specific train obsession is subways, Neshama is the place for you.
Aside from being perhaps one of the top-20 playgrounds in the city, with accessible equipment for all ages and abilities, Neshama is right next to the TTC’s Davisville yard. The pedestrian bridge that is part of the Belt Line Trail makes for awesome views of subways as they rush into and out of the tunnel just to the south. Wave vigorously enough and a driver might even toot the horn at you.
Nesbitt’s train-shaped climber (on the right in the photo) is bigger than Rosedale’s, and with the freight tracks within eyesight just to the north, you might get a two-for one here. And as a bonus, walk south a bit and you might find the abandoned tracks that used to service the Brick Works, now a popular local running/walking trail. Full review here.
As fun as the above parks might be, Roundhouse Park is the ultimate Toronto spot for train-obsessed kids, and it’s not even close. The small but decent playground features a steam-engine climber with a functioning train whistle; the Railway Museum operates out of the Roundhouse across the way, and several actual trains are on display in front of the roundhouse. If you’re extra lucky you might even see them moving the engines around on the turntable. There’s also the mini train that does a tour of the park, and it’s all in the shadow of the CN Tower. Head over to the Skywalk and your kids can gaze down at the GO, Via, and UP Express trains as the come and go from Union Station. It’s a train-lover’s paradise. Full review here.
BONUS: Ourland Park
I’m including this one not because of the quality of the playground (I haven’t actually been) but because of what’s close by: the stretch of Islington that crosses above the GO and Via train yards, which is one of the best spots in the city for train-spotting. I took my kids there and they went bananas. We would have stayed longer if it weren’t so cold.