THUNDER BAY – On May 8th, an excavator started tearing down the neighbourhood playground near Redwood Ave and Chapples Park where my kids play. It was a large playground, as big as the one near Boulevard Lake or Vickers Park, and it’s the only playground around; kids from all over Northwood came here to play. It was constantly busy. There was no notice of the demolition. This means other parents and I had no chance to prepare our kids to come home and see their park turned into a pile of dirt.
Parents talk, and I can tell you there were a lot of sad kids that night and in the days after. Parks are special places for kids. I guess that is why I am so upset and hurt. When we moved back to this neighbourhood and this city last year, the big park down the street from us was my daughter’s total joy. She would jump at the door and tell me “hurry mom, there are kids at the park!”. She met one of her best friends at the park, her dad would text my husband when they left their house and I would basically have to hold my daughter down to get her shoes on. Once we had the park in sight, she would leave me and run full tilt until they were hugging each other and laughing. The last time they did that was the last day the park still stood.
I called our City Councillor, Shelby Ch’ng, and she had no idea the park was being torn down. It hadn’t gone to Council, and no one was aware. She said she would start calling right away to figure out what was going on. Shelby has since been a great help.
I walked into Redwood Park Church, they own the land, and talked with Mark Davenport, a Pastor there. He was sympathetic and said they had received notice from the City about a month ago. He said the CIty had asked the Church to donate the playground land to the City. The Church didn’t want to give the land up, so they asked if the City would buy it. The City declined and Mark got a notice right before the demolition.
I also talked with the City. They said that after the equipment had been deemed ‘unsafe’, the Church had been given four options, including the option for the City to buy or lease the land and repair the park, but that the Board of the Church had chosen the demolition.
All of these contradicting positions are public, posted on Facebook by Shelby (she posted communications from the City) and Mark. What hasn’t been shared yet is that both the City and the Church told me they want to see the playground rebuilt.
As all this drama slowly came out, in a panic, I started a Facebook group and made some posters, wrote up a petition. That’s what you do as you listen to the excavator grinding away solid wood posts and pulling apart the sturdy swing bridge the baby walked on for the first time last month. But it’s not just about my family, a lot of kids don’t have a park anymore because of this mess, and I think that is just wrong for kids not to have a place to play.
My daughter asks me where we will go, and the answer is we will drive to her Nonni’s house, near Humber Park. She and her sister will spend more time in our backyard. But what about the kids from the apartment buildings, where there are fewer cars parked outside than there are apartments, and there is no ‘backyard’? What about the big family down the street who now have to pack four kids in a car to go to a park? Where will they meet new friends and play IN our neighbourhood? We would never know these neighbours and their kids if it wasn’t for the playground.
Neighbourhood parks are where friendships are made and those friendships prevent the social problems we see in our city. But more than that, a good playground just plain tells all kids they matter. Right now the City needs to step up, show these kids they do matter, and build a new playground within walking distance for little feet.
The petition to re-build a park is now available on the Facebook Group, Redwood Park Torn Down. We are waiting to hear if there can be an electronic petition, and we’re looking for local businesses willing to put out a petition so people can walk in and sign.
Sarah Lewis is a Northwood resident and mother of two girls, five years and (almost) one year old. She is currently on parental leave from a contract position with the Northern Ontario School of Medicine in Thunder Bay.