On July 21st, we happened to be at a previously unnamed playground in Toronto’s Oriole Park community when we came across the ceremonial opening of this fantastic all-inclusive park, now named the Neshama Playground.
Since I love municipal politics, we joined the festivities.
We saw The Honourable David C. Onley, former City-TV broadcaster, current Lieutenant Governor of Ontario as well as Councillor Norm Kelly (Ward 40 Scarborough Agincourt), who is the Chair of the Parks and Environment Committee, and Councillor Josh Matlow (Ward 22 St. Paul’s). There were a ton of community members which told me this project had the full support of the community and it showed. I knew there were some delays in completing this project which I’m pretty sure began in 2010, but it was well worth the wait.
The Neshama Playground features a water play area, sensory musical features for kids with autism, Braille panels for the seeing impaired, an enclosed climbing merry-go-round and bounce pad, accessible swings and play structures, and colourful, cork / rubber springy surfacing to allow for wheelchairs. There was a great swing for children in wheelchairs which I had seen before and made me wonder at that time why our parks are not fully accessible to all children. Have we been living in caves?
On the placard it made reference to “A bunch of guys” as being key donors and I had to find out more. It turns out that this project was initially the brainchild of Thomas Caldwell from Caldwell Financial, and Toronto lawyer Steven Skurka. They went to the community and recruited Theo and Brendan Caldwell, friends and associates who became known as “A Bunch of Guys.” Collectively, they raised over $700,000.
Neshama Playground is the first of its kind in Toronto and is consistent with the City’s policy direction for universal accessibility. Whether physically challenged, mentally challenged or able-bodied, all children love to play. Now they can. Here.
I read that the idea for this playground was inspired by one just like it in Maryland. I also read that a group called “Friends of Jeff Healey”, – Healey a legendary Canadian musician who, when he was one-year-old, lost his sight due to retinoblastoma, a rare cancer of the eyes. He passed away in 2008 at the very young age of 41 due to cancer – are already raising funds to retrofit a west-end playground in the Humber Bay area, named in memory of the Canadian jazz and blues legend, to become more accessible.
Yet another innovative park, called Toronto’s Underpass Park, officially opened earlier this month. This park makes use of what was wasted public space and it provides a public space to all members of the community downtown.
If this is the start of a trend in Toronto, I hope that all community members will contribute their thoughts, suggestions, recommendations and money to help bring all Toronto parks up to grade in order to be accessible to all members in the community. congratulations to Thomas Caldwell and the Bunch of Guys for this project and hopefully in 5 years you will see the how you changed Toronto for good!
As for the ceremony itself, it was fantastic and if you can find video of the unveiling or of kids playing in the park, you are sure to find this Urban Daddy watching the ceremony, sneaking in on the official picture and pushing his daughter Berry on the swing for 25 minutes.