‘It’s magic:’ Children of all abilities given a place to play

Kids discover the accessible seesaw at Alfred's Playground for its unveiling on June 25, 2019. (Jayda Noyes/Daily Herald)

Canadian Tire Jumpstart Charities unveils accessible playground, one of only five in Canada thanks to philanthropist Malcolm Jenkins

Children flooded a new playground in Prince Albert on Tuesday morning with big smiles on their faces, some of them likely because they’ve never quite had the experience.

This is a 10,000 square foot accessible playground, specifically designed for people with physical and intellectual disabilities.

It’s part of Canadian Tire Jumpstart Charities’ five-year Play Finds a Way movement. Their goal is to build one of these playgrounds in every province and territory by the end of 2022.

With the help of local Canadian Tire Owner Malcolm Jenkins, Saskatchewan’s lucky recipient was Prince Albert.

Jumpstart Charities President Scott Fraser said there should never be any barriers to play.

“It’s a right. It’s really a right of a child and no kid should be denied access to play and sport,” he said. “Free play brings along so many benefits, right? It stimulates the brain, imagination, physical, cognitive and emotional strength: all great things we want to promote with our kids.”

Canadian Tire Jumpstart Charities President Scott Fraser speaks at the opening of Alfred’s Playground on June 25, 2019. (Jayda Noyes/Daily Herald)

The playground contains several elements everyone can use to have fun.

First, it has double-wide ramps so people with wheelchairs and walkers can freely move around.

It also has plenty of revamped traditional playground equipment.

The back of the swings are built higher than conventional ones for upper body support. The seesaw and merry-go-round are low to the ground so kids can be easily transferred from mobility devices. The slide is made up of rollers so there’s no static that interferes with hearing aids.

The playground also sits on a single base, allowing anyone with mobility issues to easily move around the park.

The roller slide at Alfred’s Playground is wide enough to fit two people and it ensures static won’t interfere with hearing devices. (Jayda Noyes/Daily Herald)

It brought back memories for Paralympic skier and Jumpstart Ambassador Brittany Hudak, who’s from Prince Albert and worked at Canadian Tire here.

“Like most athletes, my journey to the Paralympics began simply by just having access to play, whether it was outside playing with friends or trying a new activity in gym class,” she said. It built her confidence, resilience and led her to try skiing for the first time at 18 years old.

“No kid should miss out on the countless opportunities and life lessons fostered by sport and play because of accessibility barriers, which brings me to this playground. It does so much more than provide access for kids of all abilities. It creates an inclusive space where kids can grow and learn together through play. It allows the imagination of a kid to run wild and can even be the place where they discover something that they love.”

Hudak gifted a signed race bib from the 2018 PyeongChang Paralympic Games to Jenkins. He automatically slipped it on over his shirt, joking that they must be the same clothing size.

Paralympic bronze medalist Brittany Hudak, whose hometown is Prince Albert, speaks at the opening of Alfred’s Playground on June 25, 2019. (Jayda Noyes/Daily Herald)

Sitting on a bench in the back corner of the park was Marina Thorson.

Her three-year-old son attends Hope’s Home, a daycare for children with complex medical needs. She observed him playing.

“He can come and play with children with disability and it becomes more of a norm, not something that people think differently of. Everyone can play as an equal and it’s just, it’s powerful,” she said.

Several dignitaries spoke about the importance of the playground to the city. They included Fraser, Hudak, Jenkins, Jenkins’ granddaughter who runs their family foundation and Mayor Greg Dionne.

All referenced Jenkins’ contributions to recreation in Prince Albert. He also funded two new basketball courts and a skatepark that both opened recently.

Jenkins humbly replied, saying it’s all thanks to Canadian Tire customers. He said he simply recycles the money back into city assets like the playground.

“Seeing those kids get off that bus, I mean, seeing the space grow over the last year, right? I come by in the evening and see the rubber’s down, the rides are up, etc. But it’s always been naked, for lack of a better word, no kids, but you had it in your mind how it’s going to be,” he said. “There’s swarms of kids on every ride and none of them said ‘How do I work this?’ or ‘What is this?’ They just got right on to it. It’s magic.”

“One of these kids is going to be the Prime Minister of Canada in about 40 years, and I want them brought up right and I want them healthy.”

He added how he feels sports are being left out of the school curriculum: “In many cases it’s been removed for wanting more computer studies, etc. All valuable things, but you can’t take that away. That’s an essential part to me, an essential part of life.”

Alfred’s Playground is located next to the Alfred Jenkins Fieldhouse and is open 24/7.

Jenkins said he’s also spoken to people from nearby seniors homes about how they, too, can make use of the playground, even if they observe the children playing while sipping on coffee.

Jumpstart Charities is breaking ground on three more accessible playgrounds across Canada by the end of this year.