Seesaws, slides, and swingsets: Playgrounds in Lindsay

Just in Time local history series

By Ian McKechnie

Lindsay playground supervisor Jane Robinson oversees a group of children on the monkey bars in the late 1960s. Courtesy Alan Capon Fonds, Kawartha Lakes Museum & Archives.

When Jeff Sinclair was a lad, he and his friends routinely made their way over to the Canadian National Railway’s marshalling yards on Victoria Avenue for an afternoon of adventure. The yards were fairly quiet by that time of day, and the risk of being shooed away was comparatively low. “We played in the boxcars and we played in the coal sheds,” he tells me. “It was our playground.”

It was the mid-1960s, and it was not uncommon for kids like Sinclair to be left to their own devices when looking for places to play during the warmer months. Others climbed trees or played in the streets. To say that these activities were dangerous would be an understatement.

While dedicated playgrounds – complete with seesaws, slides, and swingsets – did exist in Lindsay during this time, they were few and far between. Indeed, as late as 1983, only nine out of the town’s 25 parks sported playground equipment.

Despite their then-limited presence in Lindsay, playgrounds were hardly a new concept. They traced their origins to 19th century Germany and England; our country’s first playground designed especially for children appeared in St. John, New Brunswick, in 1906.

A “playground movement” soon emerged, led by social reformers who believed in providing children with safe spaces in which they could romp and run to their heart’s content. An editorial published in the Peterborough Examiner in the spring of 1912 didn’t mince words in calling for playgrounds. “To amuse adults we have theatres, amusement parks, athletic grounds and public halls of pretentious character; but nothing is done systematically to provide amusement places for the children,” it stated.

Five years later, the Rev. Dr. John Walker MacMillan suggested that well-used playgrounds were necessary tools in developing a child’s social consciousness. “In the playground, which is a real place of education and often as important as the classroom, larger numbers (of children) bring very distinct advantages,” he wrote in the Oct. 19, 1917 edition of the Lindsay Daily Post. For MacMillan, who had served as the Presbyterian minister in Lindsay from 1895 through 1903, playgrounds prepared a child “for life in the nation, church, and (a) calling he may eventually become a part of.”

One of Lindsay’s very first purpose-built playgrounds appeared a little over 95 years ago. It was located at McDonnell Park and was developed by a committee consisting of Royal Canadian Legion personnel. “Swingers and other playground equipment will be installed for the use of the children, especially for children from the East Ward,” noted the Post in its reportage of May 16, 1928.

The McDonnell Park playground opened on Victoria Day of 1928 amid great fanfare. Soon after the ribbon was cut by Mrs. R.M. Beal, children rushed into the space and delighted themselves in trying out all the new equipment. “For the rest of the day the swings and the slides were not idle for a moment until the lights were turned out at 9:30 p.m.,” wrote an enthusiastic Post correspondent. “A swing and climbing rope is (sic) provided for adults; in fact several real live daddies stole rides on the kiddie’s slide, not being able to resist the temptation to feel young again.” (So popular was the 16-foot slide installed in this playground that the Legion eventually added a 24-foot slide to complement it.)

Although it was met with rave reviews in the local press, which predicted that it “would be more and more used as time goes on,” the McDonnell Park playground would eventually disappear from the landscape as other playgrounds were developed elsewhere in town.

Around 1961, the Lindsay Lions Club donated playground equipment for use in Maryknoll Park; by the mid-to-late 1970s, playgrounds were being built in Kinsmen Park, Northlin Park, and Wilfred Hogan Park. Many of these parks featured items procured from Paris Playground Equipment Ltd., of Paris, Ontario. Anyone who grew up in town from the 1970s through the first decade of the 2000s will no doubt remember the cute orange horses mounted on springs, the unbelievably high metal slides, the steel climbing structures designed to resemble rocket ships, the “teeter-whirls,” and the “round-a-bouts” (both of which could give one motion sickness) – all embossed with the Paris marker.

The creative play unit at Springdale Gardens under construction in 1988. Courtesy Kawartha Lakes Public Library.

Other playgrounds were equipped with enormous “creative play units” featuring slides, steel sliding poles, and multiple platforms. One such unit was installed in the east ward’s Kinsmen Park in 1978, and among the kids who enjoyed it was the Advocate’s own Roderick Benns. “Since I lived just around the corner on Bertie Street, I was there a lot,” he remembers. “I recall the hot metal straight slide with its unceremonious landing, and how much everyone loved a tire swing that was installed on a wooden playground structure of thick beams.”

So popular were local playgrounds that the town’s department of recreation even instituted a weekly playground program at select parks throughout the summer months. Under the watchful eye of uniformed playground supervisors, children aged five through 14 enjoyed a full slate of activities, games, penny carnivals, and picnics from the 1950s through the 1980s.

Playgrounds and their (sometimes literally) dizzying array of equipment have been keeping kids safely occupied and entertained in Lindsay and area for almost a century.

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