Updated: Aug 4, 2021
City summers can be unbearably hot.
Cottages are fine, but too far away (and expensive) for many of us. City pools are a good option, but they require much more direct supervision, and are often filled with suspicious warm spots. And sometimes the backyard sprinkler just doesn’t cut it.
This is where public playgrounds can save the summer.
When I was a kid, water at a playground meant the classic Toronto concrete cone; a brutalist’s idea of relaxation that was better suited to scraping knees than providing relief from the heat.
Many of these are still around. Some have been turned into labyrinths, to make them "fun" even when the lifeguards are off-duty and the pools are empty.
Others have been given plastic linings, which lowers the chance of skinning your knees, but raises the chance of slipping spectacularly, like a dog on a tile floor, and sustaining a lawsuit-ready concussion.
Thankfully, Toronto has a variety of other water options built in to its many playgrounds. Parks in the city are riddled with splash pads, wading pools, and sandboxes with cascading water features that will keep your kids happy all summer. There are many spots around the city that I’ve yet to visit, but here are my five current go-to playgrounds for water play:
Kidstown Water Park (L’Amoreaux Park)
A Scarborough gem that is overlooked by many downtowners. Kids Town is a city-run facility, and although the term “Water Park” might be stretching it a bit, it would be fair to call this a super-sized splash pad. With lots of picnic space nearby and a dry-land playground as well, this is a prime spot for a full summer’s day of fun. Full review here.
High Park North
Overshadowed by the Jamie Bell Adventure Playground at High Park’s southern end, the playground closer to Bloor Street is home to one of the best splash pads in the city. The dry playground adjacent to the splash pad is old and shabby (update: it's been rejuvenated, and it's spectacular), but there’s no better way to end a day of fun in High Park than by dousing your children in litre upon litre of municipal water. Full review here.
This one makes the cut not necessarily because of the wading pool with some splash pad elements, but because the playground surrounding the pool is truly excellent, with equipment for all ages. The gazebo is the perfect spot for a family picnic, where you can sit and contemplate the huge sports field that stretches out to the south, where the first Grey Cup game was played. Full review here.
Dufferin Grove Park
Yes there is a wading pool, but the big attraction here is the sand pit, which kids frequently sculpt into miniature river valleys. Many sandboxes have water features, but this one is a world unto itself. If your kids are the kind who could make sandcastles at the beach all day, they will love it here. Just be prepared to be scooping wet sand out of your child’s every crevice for a few days following your visit.
Amos Waites Park
As a Danforth-based family, we don’t often make our way to the city’s furthest western reaches, but Amos Waites Park is worth a GO Train ride. Beautifully situated on the shore of Humber Bay in Mimico, the splash pad and play structure are boat-themed, and the cool lake breeze can go a long way towards cooling the family off. And if your kids need a full soak, there’s a city pool in the park as well. Full review here.