12 great parks for kids with special needs

Montreal park expert Christine Latreille outlines her choices for the best inclusive parks around the city

12 great parks for kids with special needs

Montreal has some great parks but until recently, there was a noticeable absence of playgrounds that cater to kids with special needs. Thankfully, inclusive playground design and products have improved in the past couple of years, and the number of parks geared to kids with special needs is growing every season.

In the past year, three inclusive playgrounds have opened on the West Island, and similar projects are currently underway in Ahuntsic and Rivière des Prairies.

The playgrounds listed below go beyond minimum accessibility, offering much more than just an adaptive swing in (inaccessible) sand, or a ramp to nowhere.

Besides having mobility-friendly surfacing, they encourage social inclusion, enable cognitive and physical development in a stimulating environment, and best of all, they’re fun.

If you want your local park to be more inclusive, get in contact with your borough/town mayor or city councillor and advocate for change. Being able to play in parks should be the right of every child and it creates a better quality of life for children and their families.

Lac-à-la-Loutre Park (8  de Courcelle Ave., Sud-Ouest)

This park (pictured above) was overhauled recently and the transformation is fantastic. My family visited the just-reopened park in mid-August and my two boys loved it. The surfacing is ideal for those who use mobility aids. Ground-level spinners provide vestibular input (movement and balance critical for brain development). A roller table gives sensory stimulation and helps improve upper body strength, and saucer swings are placed side-by-side for easy chit chats with a friend. The toddler section is gated, but the rest of the park has openings to the street.

Wilson Park (Brown St., Verdun)

There’s a whole lot to explore at this lovely Verdun park. A large play structure is partially wheelchair-accessible (there are stairs to the tall slide), and there is a ton of space to move about. There are sensory panels to touch and explore, a paved bike/trike/wheelchair trail, a raised sand table with fossils, an accessible sand shovel, all sorts of swings, and a splash pad that’s right beside all the action. Whew!

Confederation Park (6265 Biermans Ave., N.D.G.)

If you’re looking for unique play equipment, check out this park in N.D.G. There are stations with sensory panels, a cool cube climber, a cozy cocoon for quiet time, a state-of-the-art seesaw with supportive seats (no cracked chins here), a roller table, two accessible sand shovels, a saucer swing, a neat wavy balance beam with handrails and more. The only thing missing is a gate.

de la Fontaine Park (570 place de la Fontaine, Nun’s Island)

While it’s not the biggest space, you’ll find an adaptive swing and a tandem swing, a whole section for pretend and sensory play, and a small play structure with wide stairs and railings; all on a colourful carpeted surface. There’s even a wheelchair-accessible porta-potty nearby and another playground with cable climbers.

Heights Park (Corner Park Rd. and Evergreen Dr., Beaconsfield)

One of the West Island’s first inclusive playgrounds, Heights Park is shiny-new and a load of fun for kids of all ages and abilities. The inclusive spinner has room for caregivers and is located right beside a tandem swing with an adaptive seat. There are drums to thump, a wheelchair-accessible toddler play structure with play panels, an in-ground trampoline, a roller-table, and a huge raised sand table. Plus, it’s all in a lovely forested area with nearby woods to explore.

Henri-Valade Park (Corner of St. Joseph Blvd. E. and Place Henri-Valade, Rosemont – La Petite-Patrie)

If you need a fully fenced and gated playground, this new one in Rosemont is very secure. The artificial turf surface is also easy to maneuver a wheelchair on and fun to walk or crawl on too. Both wood play structures are easy to access with wide stairs and handrails. You can also choose from baby or adult swings, two tandem swings, and a cozy saucer swing that lets users explore their body movements and get proprioceptive feedback (physical interactions with our environments that allow people to build a sense of where their body begins and end in space).

Ferland Park (6020 Lavoisier Blvd., St. Leonard)

This award-winning playground opened in 2014 and includes a fully-fenced and gated play area that was specially designed for children with ASD and/or cognitive/motor challenges. This was one of the first inclusive playgrounds in Montreal, and its products are designed to aid in children’s cognitive and gross motor development. Bonus: the nearby splash pad has an area with accessible activity panels and you can also borrow a water-adapted wheelchair.

Parc Meades (16950 Hymus Blvd., Kirkland)

New in 2019, this park has some super neat features, including the raised sand table, outdoor musical instruments, and a merry-go-round that’s flush with the ground. Kids will also enjoy the wheelchair-accessible play structure and rocking boat, the small trampoline, and the refreshing splash pad in the summer.

du Suroît Park (Corner de l’Île Blvd., and du Suroît St., Pincourt)

I drove by this park seven times while it was under construction, because I was that eager. The kids and I raced there once it was open and they had a blast playing on the sensory climber (a ramp with items to touch and turn), stopping at the Braille panel, spinning in the harnessed seat, and zipping down the slides. There are also accessible picnic tables and an adaptive swing. Note that this is the only playground on this list that has wood chips around the play structures (making it difficult for those in wheelchairs), but there are access points around the borders as well as a ramp for the main structure.

Tony-Proudfoot Park (Corner des Frênes and Gendron Aves., Pointe-Claire)

Did I do a little happy dance when we first saw this brand-new park? Yes I did! It’s bright and colourful, and has a great toddler section for the littlest ones. The large wheelchair-accessible play structure has sensory panels galore, there is a roller slide for those with cochlear implants, a friendship tandem swing, rest areas, and a shaded spot with accessible picnic tables. Make sure to go around a few times as there are things to touch, turn, and bang on all over.

Francis-Xavier-Fontaine Park (Centrale St., and Marie-Victorin Blvd., Ste. Catherine)

What a beautiful park, named in tribute to an amazing child who saved his friend from drowning, but lost his own life.

This is one of our favourite parks that we visited last year and has tons of play options for kids of all ages and abilities. There’s a large play structure with ramp access and an attached rocking boat that can hold a wheelchair and many friends. The super cool trampolines are also wheelchair accessible, and there are spots to balance on, spin in, and wheel/walk/crawl up. The whole park stimulates the senses, and aids in cognitive and physical development while also being wickedly fun. The only downside is there is no fencing.

Bourbonnière Park (2800 Cazeneuve St., St. Laurent)

This park isn’t completely inclusive — as some parts are on sand — but I wanted to include it as there’s a great merry-go-round in which kids can sit or lie down, a roller table, and the cool “friendship” swing that lets kids swing and talk while facing each other.