This is the park that inspired me to talk with my own city about playground accessibility and inclusiveness, that got me speaking on the radio about Montreal’s lack of accessible playgrounds, and that has hopefully spurred others to think about their own cities and the need for playgrounds for ALL kids.
I missed the grand opening of this park last month, but on our way back home from Ottawa recently, we detoured north and stopped in the town of L’Orignal. I’ve been following the park’s progress for the past year or so, went to one of the fundraisers, and have watched this video over and over.
And it was simply amazing to see it in person.
Through grants, fundraisers, donations, and with a huge community involvement, the Chenier family have built a park that will be a lasting tribute in memory of their son Sacha, who passed away on June 9th, 2014, at the age of eleven. Sacha had severe physical limitations that made it impossible to play at traditional playgrounds. Or to even get into the playgrounds. After he passed away the Chenier family set out to build “a playground where no child has to sit on the sidelines and feel left out.”
Sacha’s Park is the epitome of inclusive play. The products, flooring and design ensure that all children – those with and without disabilities – can play with all of the equipment. There are no stairs to climb, or wheelchair ramps to nowhere. Rather, there are creative and original products that literally let kids rock and roll!
The Landscape Structures products include the rollerslide, which is static-free and thus safe for kids with cochlear implants; there’s the Sway Fun® Glider that can hold wheelchairs and which rocks from side to side.
Kids can cross the bright and super bouncy rubber base (made with recycled tires!) and have some quiet time under the adorable Cozy Dome®, or spin in one of the saddle seats. The elevated sand/water table and sensory play centre will engage their senses, and there are also two sand shovels, including one that can be used seated or standing.
My kids were enamoured with the Freenotes Harmony Park musical instruments, and actually, so was I! I wasn’t expecting such relaxing tones and spent some time trying out the four different instruments. My favourite: The Pagoda Bells. Ding!
I loved the interpretation panels where kids can learn sign language or braille, turn the clock hands, or point to the different illustrations. And unlike at some parks we’ve visited, these panels aren’t installed six feet in the air on the side of a play structure where no one can reach them!
Beside the traditional baby and adult swing is an adaptive bucket seat swing with a very special superhero logo (I ♥ this), a saucer swing, and one of our favourite products: The Expression parent-child swing. In our video we snuck in a little mom-toddler smooch.
Though they played with everything, both my boys kept returning to the roller slide. Up the (lighted) path, down the slide, play with the rollers, back up the path…and down again. They liked the sound, the feel, and the novelty of it. After having visited more than 500 parks, we’ve only seen one other roller slide (in Picton.)
We played, we snacked, we used the (wheelchair accessible) porta-potty. And now, thinking back, I realized that we (kids and myself and my husband) played with every single item in the playground. Nothing was passed by, or deemed too baby-ish/too old, or not interesting. Now that’s a sign of a good playground!
Side note: Accessible playgrounds are important to me, and something I feel strongly about because our littlest – who you see running around in the video – was born extremely premature and was critically ill for the first six months of his life, which he spent in the NICU of the Montreal Children’s Hospital. He was at risk for a multitude of complications, including cerebral palsy which probably would have affected his ability to play at “traditional” parks.
We originally started visiting parks so that he could practice his occupational therapy exercises, gain strength and balance. As we’ve seen more and more parks, I’ve become increasingly frustrated at the utter lack of accessible playgrounds available, or at those that say they ARE accessible, there just isn’t anything for kids with limitations to actually play with.
We can look at a park like Sacha’s Park and see that it IS possible to build a playground for ALL children.