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04 Dec, Sunday
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Montreal Families

Website features more than 1,000 playground reviews

I haven’t always had the affinity for parks that I do now. I mean, I liked playgrounds and green spaces, but I didn’t always appreciate them.

Basically, parks were a place to hang out and pass some time. I played at them as a free-wheeling kid of the 80s, may have drunk a warm beer or two in them as a teen, and years later sat in the sand with my firstborn while he mixed potions and built teetering castles.

It wasn’t until after the birth of my second, and during his first few years of life that I truly began to value parks and playgrounds, and their impact on people’s wellbeing.

Rocky beginnings and small steps

My youngest son’s start in life wasn’t the easiest. Born extremely premature, his subsequent six-month hospital stay in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit of the Montreal Children’s Hospital was the hardest experience I’ve ever endured. It was a happy day in early May 2013 when he finally saw the sky for the first time and we brought him home to our house in the suburbs. Though strong enough to leave the hospital’s protective walls and round-the-clock care, his still fragile health required us to isolate for his first couple of years.

I was so happy he was home. But, was also overwhelmed, and my body and mind were very, very tired.

So, we ended up walking. A lot. Being outside, surrounded by birds and trees and in fresh air was soothing for both of us. Armed with a good pair of shoes, a water bottle, and a diaper bag, we travelled from park to park near our house.

Our stroller travels through our city’s streets brought us to familiar and new-to-us public parks, and though our visits weren’t particularly exciting — we went when the parks were empty and would relax in the grass away from others — it was heavenly not being surrounded by walls. Eventually, when he was older and healthy enough to play, we ventured further afield.

But it wasn’t always easy to find new spaces. City website info was scarce, and descriptions of amenities almost impossible to find. I used Google Maps to look for green spaces, and sometimes just drove around aimlessly until we’d find a place with swings. It was fun, but also frustrating. So, I decided to document our park finds in case it might help other parents and kids. Our park explorations near and far culminated in the creation of a website: strollerparking.ca

Website features playground reviews

Windsor Park in Dorval

Since its start in 2015, the website has grown to include posts for over 1000 parks and playgrounds as well as splash pads, outdoor experiences, nature parks, and the occasional weird vacation spot — mostly in and around Montreal and all personally visited by our family.

Park descriptions and more

Each post on the Stroller Parking website includes a description of the playground, a full-size photo gallery, info about bathrooms and parking, and an interactive map that can be used for driving directions. Posts about splash pads will also usually include a video so that parents can get a better idea of if it’s a place their kids (and themselves) might enjoy. In the website menu parks are separated by city, or viewers can also search using a map feature to zoom in on a specific area, or search for keywords such as “fully fenced”, or “adaptive swing”.

Though my opinion of each place is of course subjective, I try to write from a parent’s point of view and describe whether it’s a park that has good products for toddlers, if tweens can find something challenging to occupy them, or if we just didn’t find it all that fun. I’ve certainly become more opinionated along the way (for better or worse!), but most readers of the website appreciate that I’m candid and because it’s just me, I’m not biased or influenced by anyone else.

Website features playground reviews

Beach of the Regional Park of the Saint-Timothée Islands in Valleyfield

Advocating for more accessible equipment

From the beginning of our park touring, one of the problems that we encountered in almost every single park and playground that we visited was the lack of accessibility and inclusive play products. Most parks were on sand — which severely limited their access to anyone using a wheelchair, walker, or even some strollers — and the one or two parks that were “wheelchair accessible” were tediously boring. I thought of my young son, whose premature birth and health issues could have resulted in him using a wheelchair, and realized that with Montreal parks as they were, he would have had nowhere to play. And that obviously meant that there were kids, parents, and caregivers who were currently excluded from the majority of public play areas.

That realization (and yes it was a wake-up slap in the face) prompted me to use the Stroller Parking website and Facebook page to raise awareness and advocate for change. I ordered catalogues from playground manufacturers and read up on the various inclusive products on the market, spoke to parents of children with disabilities, and completed the Accessibility Course from the Canadian Playground Safety Institute.

I’ve been privileged to be able to give some input on a few playground builds happening around the island, and it has been rewarding seeing more and more municipal playgrounds being built with accessibility and inclusion in the design’s forefront.

Tony Proudfoot Park in Pointe-Claire

Multiple benefits

Stroller Parking and my desire to visit so many nearby playgrounds and unique outdoor spaces has also spurred us to visit parts of Montreal and its surroundings I’d never seen, despite having lived in the area my whole life. We’ve played at the “treehouse park” in Cote St. Luc, gone canoeing in Laval, and climbed to the top of a windmill in Notre-Dame-de-l’Île-Perrot. We’ve ziplined in Valleyfield, run along the beach in Oka, and sprayed each other in Villeray–Saint-Michel–Parc-Extension. Our time together has created great memories with my “park tester” boys and resulted in tens of thousands of pictures of them growing over the years.

Saint-Damase Park in Villeray–Saint-Michel–Parc-Extension

The early days of our park visits helped heal my body and mind, and day by day encouraged my littlest to develop his movement skills and strength. It’s also brought about new interests. We’ve taken up bird-watching and have spotted owls in the city’s nature parks — a highlight of this pandemic year.  And it’s not just our family who has benefited from the city’s outdoor spaces. The past year has shown the importance that parks and our public spaces play in everyone’s mental and physical health, and highlighted the need to create play areas for all ages — teens, adults, and seniors included.

Will our time with Stroller Parking continue indefinitely? I’m not sure. My kids are now 8 and 13 and feeling like their playground time is coming to a close. But who knows, maybe I’ll continue the adventure and keep documenting on my own…

See you at the top of the slide!

Related reading:

12 great parks for kids with special needs
10 great Montreal-area parks to visit with kids

All photos by Christine Latreille

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