The long-awaited Queenston Commons playground, or at least this stage of it, has been completed, and is now officially open for residents of all ages to enjoy.
It looks unlike any other playground in town, but that was the point of the natural design — residents who were involved in the establishment of a park on Town-owned property said they wanted something soft, aesthetic and made from natural materials — not metal swings and plastic slides.
“It’s taken a few years,” said Lord Mayor Betty Disero as she cut the ceremonial ribbon, thanking residents for their participation in the process, their determination and tenacity, “and for not compromising at all to get the park they wanted for this very special community.”
Mark Salisbury of Earthartist Natural Playscapes attended the opening celebration, and explained the concept behind the design. It incorporates what he described as a castle. Residents quickly corrected him, saying out of respect for Queenston’s history, they are calling it a fort — which is constructed of Queenston Quarry limestone, with the help of Willowbank Estate school of restoration arts students, to further reflect the unique village. The subtext of the fort, Salisbury said, is its likeness to colonial or pre-colonial architecture.
The spiral path leading up a slight incline to the fort, and a structure made of wooden climbing poles, were designed to draw on the imagination of children, he said — not telling them what to do but allowing their creativity to determine what they want to do.
When he designs a playground, he said, “I always think I know exactly what kids will do with it, and then I’m always surprised.”
Kids can use the structures with their activities limited only by their imagination, and will be challenged to push themselves according to their ability, said Salisbury.
It’s when kids get bored with playground equipment that they find ways to play outside the limits of safety and get hurt, he added, suggesting kids will not become bored with the Queenston play area.
The playground is also aesthetically pleasing, said Salisbury, and the benches offer a good resting spot for residents to enjoy the peaceful commons.
Parks and recreation manager Kevin Turcotte said the Town is “really happy” with the park and how it came about, with input from residents.
“It’s our first dip into a natural playground. I’m excited to see how well
It won’t likely be the last of its kind to be built in Niagara-on-the-Lake, he said. There were two residents’ groups formed to ensure the park was completed — Ron Fritz led a committee charged with working with Town staff and council members to make sure a portion of greenspace was preserved in the village. The Town had purchased the former Laura Secord School from the school board, sold the school to Willowbank Estate to be used as a second campus for the school of restoration arts, and kept the remaining parcel to be zoned for residential development. Fritz and members of the Queenston Residents Association were determined a portion of the property would be retained for a park.
“It was discouraging initially,” he said. “The time line for the park development was far in the future. There were major budgeting issues. One of the difficulties the Town faced was that parks are generally funded by developers. We don’t have much development going on in Queenston.”
A previous council under former Lord Mayor Dave Eke developed a time line, Fritz said, and the current council “picked up the ball and gave a directive to staff to expedite the process. If that hadn’t happened we could have waited a lot longer.”
And they could have ended up with something very different, he added. “We never expected something this beautiful.”
Once council agreed to move forward with a park, another committee was formed, led by resident Adrian Schoot Uiterkamp, to work on a design that would suit the historic village. Slides and swings are good in some parks, he said, but the village had no interest in a typical playground with plastic climbing equipment — from the beginning, residents wanted something more natural.
“I love the design. I’m very happy to have been involved in the project.”
He said there is still the possibility of a “berm slide” being constructed for the park.
The slide would be sunk into a small hill near the school, and would fit right in with the other structures, he said. He would also like to see a pavilion with benches and climbing plants for shade, and thinks a presentation could be made to council this fall for the project to be included in next year’s budget.
He said while some people question how many kids will use the park, ”we still have young families moving in, and there could be more. It’s also a good place for grandparents to bring their grandkids when they come to visit. It really is fantastic for the village.”