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Best of Toronto

The Best Playgrounds in Toronto

Posted by Rick McGinnis / August 4, 2013

Toronto PlaygroundsThe best playgrounds in Toronto might, to the untrained eye, look just like the worst playgrounds in Toronto. Acreage might vary, but each one will likely feature the same tough, simple swing set and a well-worn but safety-tested jungle gym in differing configurations. Add a sandbox and perhaps a splash pad and you've got the basic model of almost any Toronto playground.

What makes a playground great are near-intangibles - a handful of mature trees for shade; a few decent benches in that shady spot; a sandbox full of new, clean sand. And of course - location, location, location.

The top two playgrounds on this list are no-brainers; they're big, beautifully-located, well-appointed and full of kids every day the sun is shining. Others may surprise - some are little gems hidden out of sight, or unique accidents of place and people coming together to give a playground life.

Here's the list of the best playgrounds in Toronto.

Jamie Bell Adventure Playground
Some human stain tried to burn this High Park institution down late one spring night last year, but a group of locals and parents joined up with Mr. Fix-It Mike Holmes to re-build, and it reopened four months later. You don't have to know this little story of tragedy and triumph to enjoy this bustling kidtropolis of a playground, but it helps, as does the ice cream truck that's parked a minute's walk away most days.

Kew Gardens
The Treehouse Towers in Kew Gardens are essentially Jamie Bell East - a deluxe complex of a play structure located in one of the most venerable parks in the city. Just a short walk from the eastern beach, under a canopy of mature trees, this might be the most inspiring playground in the city - at least for parents, who might be tempted to turn a half hour's worth of kiddie ya-ya blowout into a whole afternoon's wander.

Neshama Playground
Reopened last year, this Oriole Park playground is a prototype of sorts for the kind of accessible play structure that parents with disabled children would love to see down the end of their street. You can learn Braille or sign language off of the panels on the climbing gym or play with the music panel. With sand, dirt and wood chips replaced by all-weather rubber padding, you also won't have kids tracking a planter's worth of organic material back home every day.

Cherry Beach Sports Fields
It's out in the post-apocalyptic wasteland of the Port Lands, next to a vast plain of artificial turf, which gives the Cherry Beach fields playground - also known as the Pirate Ship - an atmosphere unmatched by any other playground. It usually hosts the younger siblings of kids playing out on the soccer fields, or teams of wired players burning of that little bit of extra steam climbing the hull of this landlocked ship while their parents gossip by the entrance to the parking lot.

David Crombie ParkDavid Crombie Park
The tiny, perfect mayor got a sprawling playground named after him, just off the Esplanade in the shadow of St. Lawrence Market. There's the standard jungle gym in primary colours on its pad of sand, a massive wood structure with two red slides, a truly epic wading pool/splash pad, a hockey/basketball court and a big asphalt plain painted with the sorts of games that I'd like to hope kids still instinctively know how to play.

Withrow Park
Withrow boasts one of the busiest dog parks in the city, but when you've graduated from fur babies to real ones, it has a playground as well, fenced in to keep the dogs and kids apart. There are bits of playground all over the park, but the real playground is on the north side, between the tennis courts and the baseball outfield where they hold the farmer's market. Withrow is the hub of Riverdale, which means the playground is very well used, but in for an overhaul beginning this fall.

Dufferin Grove PlaygroundDufferin Grove
This big, busy, happy hippie wonderland might be the most beloved park in the city. It's certainly a value added feature that real estate agents are happy to point out when showing houses nearby. Beyond the usual swings and slides, there's the groovy adobe house with its sinuous walls and the vast adventure playground with its ring of mildly anxious parents watching their kids dig canals and pour water down the channels in a frenzy of grubby inspiration.

Roundhouse Park
It might be hard to believe that people are raising families in the forest of condos sprouting along the old rail lands downtown, but they are, and this is one of the few places they can set them out for some sun and air. The standard climbing structure has been given a railway theme, which might also make it attractive for the trainspotting parents and grandparents towing their restless bloodline along with them when they visit the Roundhouse rail museum next door.

Ed McCleverty Park
This playground next to Ted Reeve Arena in the Upper Beaches was the city's first stab at an accessibility playground, opened in 1998 and outstripped in the meantime by Neshama Playground. There are a variety of unique play structures and a nearby shaded area for parents and nannies. If all else fails, escape the sun and catch whatever game is on inside the arena.

Vermont Square Playground
This Seaton Village park features a playground recently renovated with a nautical theme, next to a splash pad in a park full of mature shade trees. There are separate areas for toddlers and bigger kids, and a tap by the sand box, which you can either use to fill your water bottle or set up a mud pie factory.

Jean Sibelius Square
This century-old Annex park didn't begin its life named after a Finnish composer, and it was only recently renovated to meet the rather exacting needs of the new locals raising their families nearby. The natural ice rink was maintained, but the wow new feature is the new climbing structure in the playground - an impressive and imposing cat's cradle/spider's web that might give nervous nannies pause while calling to any child to get their limbs tangled in its strands.

Hideaway Park TorontoHideaway Park
Well-named, you have to know this Leslieville park is there if you want to try and find it, tucked into the alleys behind the backyards near Pape and Dundas East. They've managed to tuck a lot into this dogleg of a space, including an off-leash area, a splash pad and a decent-sized play structure shaded by the houses and old trees that surround it. Not to be overlooked are the wide assortment of used (and sometimes broken) toys left here by neighbourhood residents as well as the annual Easter egg hunt.

Pricefield Park
This Rosedale playground feels suitably exclusive, at the end of a discreet path just off Scrivener Square, a short walk from the high-priced grocers known informally as The Thieves. The Pricefield Playground feels new and well-kept, if a bit lonely, though its proximity to the showpiece LCBO in the old Summerhill train station means that, on one rainy morning last week, there were empty cans of Laker piled up under the jungle gym.

Little Norway Park
Just over the fence from the city-side ferry terminal to the Island Airport, the playground at Little Norway Park catches the lake breezes in sight of the growing condo forest, but it also showcases the finest piece of playground sculpture in the city. A huge reclining lion gazes sleepily over a massive paw draped over a play tunnel, it looks like the sand sculpture to end all sand sculptures, rendered in soft-hued concrete. I'm not sure what would draw you down here if you didn't live nearby, but if your Porter flight is ever cancelled, you might want to check it out.

Charles G. Williams Playground
Space is tight and the sloping ground next to the play area has been scoured free of grass by the surplus ride-on toys that families abandon in this playground between Parkdale and Roncesvalles Village. The equipment is well used, the sandbox always spilling over into the rest of the park, but it's a busy place where a place to sit often comes at a premium - the model of a playground that works not because it offers anything special, but because it's where every family goes.

Corktown Common PlaygroundCorktown Common Playground
The city's newest and greatest playground is a masterpiece of materials, design and location, perched on top of the flood barrier holding the Don back from the new Canary District, and featuring an adventure playground, a storey-high slide, a sheltered pavilion for adults to rest and the nicest water park ever, full of timed and triggered jets and fountains built on plush rubbery ground cover, with a commanding view of the downtown beyond.

David Crombie Park photo by Jason Cook in the blogTO Flickr pool.

Discussion

33 Comments

Carol / August 4, 2013 at 07:16 am
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You missed the lovely playground recently completed at Marie Curtis park. Just in the border of Toronto and Mississauga so a bit further out but the city did a great job with colourful umbrellas and muskoka chairs, a great splash pad, and awesome playground equipment. Check it out. Situated within steps of the lake and other great features of the park.
M / August 4, 2013 at 09:15 am
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Believe me when i say that i don't want to come off as complainer but anyone who thinks Vermont square and Sibelius are great parks for kids if one is only considering their aesthetics. While both gorgeous and new, Sibelius and Vermont square are adequate at best, and two totally impractical parks. First off they are sand-only, Sibelius separates the older kids from the younger with a fence so I can't keep an eye on both kids at the se time, both are full of blind spits and also at Sibelius there is a useless water feature that turns sand into mud (no problem with mud per se, but it's useless and gross and not even kids want to play with it); kids climbing up the wall to get to the toboggan area can simply run down the other side and end up in the street. Many many blind spots in this park. Vermont square is also sand-only and boring for my kids (6 and 2) which is why both my girls prefer the rackety old playground at Christie Pits.

My 2 cents, maybe some will be satisfied, but after travelling with kids and visiting playgrounds in different countries, I am underwhelmed by these two in particular.


The Neshama playground at Oriole is superb and the best example of a park I have seen in the city. We often make a trek there even though we live walking distance from both Sibelius and Vermont Square.
Clearly / August 4, 2013 at 09:37 am
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A non parent wrote this article, my kids would be bored at half you listed. And majority of the kids in the city live outside the core, and there is plenty of great parks outside the core.
W. K. Lis / August 4, 2013 at 09:48 am
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As a kid, I liked the two playgrounds on Sunnyside Beach.

The one just east of the pool, had the dinosaurs that all the kids climbed on. Too bad most of them "died" out.

The other, near the foot of Windermere Avenue, had a great manual powered merry-go-round. Too bad the worrywarts put an end to that. Also gone was the tall corkscrew slide.
parks & rec / August 4, 2013 at 09:53 am
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We live around the corner from Neshama park and while I admit it's a great new concept in park building, it has a few flaws. The one major flaw being that there is no specific dog park or off leash area in the park so on a busy day, there are dogs running all over the playground. As a parent of a kid who's had a scary run-in with dogs, it can affect our time there. Also, having used the park for the last two years on a regular basis, there are definite design flaws in the layout of the park... Swings 10 feet from the splash pad lead to MANY near misses among a few other things.

Don't get me wrong though, we appreciate the park for what it is and look forward to checking out other parks on this list.
rick mcginnis replying to a comment from Clearly / August 4, 2013 at 10:31 am
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Clearly - I have kids, we have been to many of these playgrounds, and I wrote the article accordingly.
NC replying to a comment from Clearly / August 4, 2013 at 11:12 am
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My kid **loves** the east side parks on this list. I grew up near High Park myself, but haven't yet checked out the rebuild ... it has now moved itself way up the list of things to do.

Also, if I may, I would add the toronto zoo splash padaplooza. It's not free, but it's crazy fun when you catch it at the right time.
Samantha @ 10000 Squats / August 4, 2013 at 01:43 pm
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Going to check out corktown common on Monday! Looks like a beautiful park, can't wait to see it.
You got replying to a comment from Clearly / August 4, 2013 at 02:01 pm
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served.
BM / August 4, 2013 at 02:28 pm
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Great article. I don't have kids but will be forwarding to my sister. I was at Corktown Common this morning with my dog. Truly a beautiful park for adults, kids and dogs. :-)
Shopgirl1 / August 4, 2013 at 02:43 pm
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Thanks for a great article on a mystery subject. I have done many a google search and have not come across a better article that gives my family some new places to visit. As for the complainers, please stay at home and we'll enjoy the parks.
local replying to a comment from Shopgirl1 / August 5, 2013 at 10:21 am
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Agree.
Jipsi / August 5, 2013 at 05:08 pm
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Father of two here. We've been to several of these parks and for the most part I agree with your assessment Rick, although I will argue with you till the bitter end re Roundhouse Park. That place is a shit hole of epic proportions. Dogs constantly running in there compliments of the douche bag hipsters permeating the neighbourhood as of late. Also, the smokers who seem to think its ok to sit in a playground and light up, cigarettes/pot whatever it takes special kind of idiot to do that around small children. I'm far from a prude but seriously, don't fucking smoke around my kids. And last but not least, the morons who seem to think its cool going to Steamwhistle to pick up a six/12 pack and sit in the playground and drink, seriously...wtf is up with that? I could care less if you drink and smoke, just don't do it in a playground filled children. Also thanks for not including Trinity Bellwoods in this list, that place is tired filled and with angry parents who are forever spiteful for paying too much money at the height of the market for their crappy semi's in a shitty school district.

PS: Sherwood Park is great for the kids and dogs, nature trails which are off leash as well and tons of shade for the splash pad and playground.
opensource1111 / August 6, 2013 at 11:11 am
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Great list. I'm a parent, and I love discovering new parks for the kids. There are a surprising number of small parks hidden away in placed you would not expect - e.g. Mt Royal Parkette.

I hear you, Jipsi. I've seen parents smoking in the park while watching their kids. I've spoken to one father, who was surprised it was a problem as parents smoke in front of kids in his culture all the time.

corso italia mom / August 6, 2013 at 02:15 pm
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Are you seriously complaining about Neshama park? Are you so privileged that you can't see what you have in comparison with others? I was at Neshama Park last week, trekking from my Corso Italia neighbourhood. Where you have a showering dragonfly sculpture and cast bronze spouting frogs, we have a 60s era cement wading pool; where you have several deluxe play structures, two trampoline swings and set of chimes, we have an 80s era deteriorating and burned-in-places plastic/metal play structure; where you have top-of-the-line bathroom facilities, we have a 1920s bathroom with no door, no soap dispensers and frequently have a drunk man sleeping in the women's bathroom. Get over yourself.
rick mcginnis replying to a comment from corso italia mom / August 6, 2013 at 02:21 pm
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Corso Italia mom - you'll notice that the Piccinnini playground isn't on the list. (BTW - it's also my local playground.)
corso italia mom replying to a comment from rick mcginnis / August 6, 2013 at 02:30 pm
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I'm not surprised, Rick! The state of our playground would make a great article about the disparity of resources in Toronto Parks. If you're interested, I've been working to make our park better. Drop me a line as I'd love to discuss the challenges.
RayRay / August 6, 2013 at 03:38 pm
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Great photographs.
Ada / August 8, 2013 at 02:09 pm
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Would someone please tell me where the first photo taken? the one with a ship like structure...
thx
Sarabeth replying to a comment from Ada / August 9, 2013 at 11:03 am
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Hi Ada,

The first photo is from Vermont Square, second not sure, third Dufferin Grove.
m / August 13, 2013 at 01:07 pm
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First photo is not Vermont Square guys, is it the rebuilt high park playground?
local replying to a comment from corso italia mom / September 3, 2013 at 09:57 pm
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Not sure if Rick can arrange this without us having to post our emails in the comments section (no thanks), but I'd like to get involved as well. However I should say I took my son to the playground yesterday and was pleasantly surprised to see the sandbox rebuilt, plus a couple of "new" (i.e. used and re-purposed) play structures installed. Are you behind this?
corso italia mom replying to a comment from local / September 6, 2013 at 11:35 am
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hey local,
yep, we're (Friends of Earlscourt Park) behind most of the recent park improvements. and, we'd love your help! contact us at: friendsofearlscourtpark@gmail.com, find us on Facebook or check out our blog: http://friendsofearlscourtpark.blogspot.com.
NDC / September 6, 2013 at 12:01 pm
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This is a great tool we use to find and comment on Parks in Toronto. A great mobile tool for any parent
www.parksandplay.com
Clarity / September 18, 2013 at 10:52 am
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How disappointing to see sand at Corktown Common. I was hoping to take my 9 year old who is wheelchair bound but the sand will make it inaccessible for him, unfortunately. Now I have to find child care for him so I can take my daughter without him being sad that he can't play to. I love Neshama! One of the few parks where both kids can play. I was hoping for something in our neighbourhood that was also accessible. Oh well.
bills8091 / September 27, 2013 at 08:08 pm
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I really like the top one. I would love to find some swing sets in Michigan with that same wooden, ship feel to it. I think the kids would love that.
Woodbridge Florist / December 13, 2013 at 10:14 am
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nice place. i like kids play grounds. specialy thanks photographer & park commity.
Mark / January 5, 2014 at 10:58 pm
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I was wondering if there were any Natural Playgrounds of note in Toronto. I recently found a website that featured a private school in Toronto that looked remarkable but don't know of anything similar that is open to the public.
Natural Playgounds
Mark / January 5, 2014 at 11:00 pm
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Sorry, I forgot the reference to the Natural Playground website I mentioned -
http://www.earthartist.com/natural_playgrounds/
washing machine repairs toronto / March 8, 2014 at 06:01 pm
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There's definately a lot to find out about this
issue. I love all of the points you've made.
Holly replying to a comment from M / April 24, 2014 at 01:50 pm
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I remembered your comment from a while ago and finally visited Jean Sibelius today. You are SO right. The playground is style over substance and the stairs to the toddler slide are uneven, jagged slabs of rock without a handrail. I don't think you could get that approved for adults, so why is it okay for little people learning to walk?? The toddler area is mostly a giant expanse of sand with one baby swing and one older kid swing. One of each when swings are incredibly popular?!

I also just wanted to recommend Kew Gardens as it is the opposite of Jean Sibelius. It is super-fun and creative, but also removes unnecessary dangers. It strikes the perfect balance and my son adores it.
Suzan / July 20, 2014 at 08:01 pm
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Looking for a playground near St. Clair and Christie...where I can take my 96 year old mother and 5 and 3 year old grandchildren...please help!
Aubrey replying to a comment from Suzan / July 21, 2014 at 10:00 am
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Hi Suzan, go down Wychwood (a block east of Christie) 1 block to Wychwood Barns. It's also accessible from Christie but the playground is on Wychwood.

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