Let's Find Out

Kathryn Gwun-Yeen 君妍 Lennon asks: what is the best playground in Edmonton? We crawl and swing through the past and present of playgrounds in our city to help her and her toddler on their quest.

Kathryn and her family find themselves easily visiting 4 playgrounds in a weekend lately, and she estimates she visited around 30 different playgrounds last summer. So she’s been curious about finding the best one in town. She’s been thinking about how much shade and gathering space that playgrounds have, how close they are to other amenities, and how much her kid Yassin can challenge himself on equipment designed for a variety of ages.

First, we spoke to Vancouver Island University professor Laura Suski, who’s been exploring the possibilities and limits of seeing playgrounds as heritage spaces. She’s been exploring questions like whether it’s more important to protect specific equipment or a space itself. Playgrounds, she points out, are one of the only public spaces where children are universally accepted as belonging in North America.

Next, we met up with local playground afficionado Jill Footz, who runs the Edmonton Playgrounds website and social media accounts with her kids. During the pandemic, she started cataloguing their experiences, and they’ve now written about 380 playgrounds in and around the city. Jill told us about modern efforts to make playgrounds more accessible to all kids, from rethinking surfaces to building low-sensory spaces. We met at the Inglewood Rocketship Park (which she has reviewed, of course).

Jill highlighted the Clareview Inclusive Playground and Borden Park. Listeners chimed in to recommend spots like Meadowlark Park and Gold Bar Playground, and we talked about Chris’ mom’s work on the committee rebuilding the Westbrook Elementary School’s playground.

Finally, we met Sierra Club Edmonton & Area Wild Child Project Coordinator Paulina Retamales. Her master’s research at the University of Alberta looked at the history of the Gyro Club playgrounds in Edmonton between 1922 and 1950. Some of Edmonton’s very first playgrounds were built by this club, including Tipton Park and Kitchener Park. She told us about the very structured activities and informal river valley play opportunities kids had there, the men who supervised play at the parks, and the parades. Tipton Park still has information panels about its origins as a Gyro Club playground.

We had a lot of kids to help us playtest Dermott District Park.

This episode is brought to you in part by the Edmonton Community Foundation. Every year, Edmonton Community Foundation produces a report called Vital Signs to measure how the community is doing, in partnership with Edmonton Social Planning Council. This year’s report focuses on food security, how it’s changed over the last 10 years, and where we are today. You can see the latest report at ecfoundation.org/initiatives/vital-signs.

What is Let's Find Out?

We take questions from curious Edmontonians about local history. Then we find out the answers together.