Updated: May 14
Surfaces: grass, concrete, sand.
The famous Canadian author Robertson Davies once said that there are only two things worth doing in Toronto: visiting the ROM, and hearing the choir at the Church of St. Mary Magdalene in Little Italy.
This might sound like an admission of a very sad and limited social life, but you have to remember that this was 1940, before many of Toronto’s current attractions existed, and when the city itself was nothing close to the global metropolis it is today.
But more to the point, Davies made the comment to emphasize the incredible musical legacy being built at that church by Healey Willan.
Willan was an organist, composer, and choir director, and during his decades at the Church of St. Mary Magdalene, his choirs were by all accounts among the best in the country. His legacy was such that in 1989, twenty years after he died, the Queen Mother flew over to dedicate a plaque in his honour.
I’m not sure if the Queen Mum had a go on the playground in Healey Willan Park, just east of the church, but I’m going to go ahead and say that she did, because it was July at the time, and I like the image of her hitching up her Sunday best to cavort in the wading pool.
I like this playground, even if it’s a bit old and decrepit.
The wading pool is an old-fashioned concrete cone, with water cold enough to turn your toddler’s legs into the human equivalent of a Hypercolor t-shirt. The equipment isn’t on its last legs yet, but it’s getting there.
However, Healey Willan Park does have one ace up its sleeve: the sandbox.
I’m not much of a sandbox fan generally, because when I see my kids playing in one I can’t help but wonder how many raccoons have used it as a kitty litter. But the sandbox over at Healey Willan has an insane amount of shared toys, most of them construction vehicles, and a surprising amount of them fully functional. It made my son’s day that he had his own fully-stocked construction site to work with. Of course, the supply of shared toys at any playground can fluctuate, but on our visit, the sheer volume of Tonka inventory was bonkers.
Taken together with Margaret Fairley Park, just a bit to the east, this is a good spot to hit up on a summer’s day. And, sitting in the shadow of Healey Willan’s musical legacy, you can imagine the strains of a beautiful choir, which has the benefit of making your child appear more angelic, even if they’re playing in raccoon pee.