Accessible playground reopens after expansion, making it the largest in Canada

Amber Newhouse pushes her daughter Danika on an accessible swing at the Alfred's Playground reopening on Aug. 31, 2020. (Jayda Taylor/Daily Herald)

Amber Newhouse’s 12-year-old daughter, Danika, loves to be pushed on the swing.

However, it can be difficult for Newhouse to find a playground that fits her needs. With little mobility, Danika requires a swing that she can be easily transferred into from her wheelchair, with a back and a strap to support her.

Alfred’s Playground in Prince Albert has that.

“She giggles the whole time. Actually, she gets mad when we do leave the park. This is her favourite place to be in the city,” said Newhouse.

Newhouse was one of several parents who braved the chilly weather on Monday for the official reopening of the playground, located at the Alfred Jenkins Fieldhouse.

The accessible playground was originally built last year. With a rubberized surface, wide paths and static-free slides, for example, it gives children of all abilities a place to play.

The City of Prince Albert, along with Malcolm Jenkins—who helped fund the expansion with the provincial government—received a positive response when it opened, so they decided to make it even bigger.

Canadian Tire owner and philanthropist Malcolm Jenkins makes a speech in front of the expansion to Alfred’s Playground on Aug. 31, 2020. (Jayda Taylor/Daily Herald)

Seven-thousand sq. ft. later, for a total of 17,000 sq. ft., it’s now the largest accessible playground in Canada.

There’s now six of them across the country, part of Canadian Tire Jumpstart Charities’ Play Finds A Way movement. The charity’s goal is to build one of these playground in every province and territory by the end of 2022.

“Your average kid can get out, go to a park, get out on his bike,” said Jenkins at the reopening.

“(Some) kids, they’re left behind, left aside. Maybe they’re autistic, maybe they’re blind, maybe they have various impediments to them enjoying a facility,” he explained, “When you think about it, that’s what percentage of the population that’s really being deprived of those things?”

Newhouse said Danika had a stroke in her womb when she was pregnant. This interfered with the development of the left frontal lobe in her brain. She also has cerebral palsy.

“She’s still little and cognitively, very little, so you kind of need something that’s adaptive to someone her size as well as how she thinks and how she functions,” said Newhouse.

“She’ll be a little kid for a long time, so to have a swing that can hold her capacity—she’s over 100 pounds—so that’s a huge thing. And she loves the swing, she’s always loved the swing, and when she outgrew it, there was really nothing we could do at the park.”

Newhouse also has a seven-year-old son and two teenage daughters. Alfred’s Playground allows all of them to play at once and in the same place.

The family lives in Christopher Lake, and will make the 30-minute trip into Prince Albert just to go the playground.

“I would say everybody would be appreciative of what (Jenkins has) done and that he even thought of kids who do have disabilities,” she said.

“We live at the lake and everybody wants to go to the beach, but Danika wants to go here.”

Jenkins provided $400,000 for the expansion. The remaining $325,000 came from the Government of Saskatchewan’s Municipal Economic Enhancement Project (MEEP).

(From left to right) Carlton MLA Joe Hargrave, Ward 5 Coun. Dennis Ogrodnick, Canadian Tire Owner Malcolm Jenkins, Ward 4 Coun. Don Cody, Mayor Greg Dionne and Ward 1 Coun. Charlene Miller take part in a ribbon cutting at the Alfred’s Playground reopening on Aug. 31, 2020. (Jayda Taylor/Daily Herald)

According to a May news release, the City of Prince Albert received $5,163,587 through MEEP for 2020. Carlton MLA Joe Hargrave said the playground was one shovel-ready project that received funding.

“It’s money that had to have a project, they just couldn’t put it in their account and save it,” said Hargrave.

Others that the city received funding for through the program include several paving projects, he said.

“This is one of the most worthwhile projects,” he emphasized.

“This helps all the kids that have sensory perception problems, it’s suitable to disabilities of any fashion. They can come here and they can play here and they can feel safe here.”

The expansion includes swings, a spinner, two crab trap apparatus for climbing, global motion, a Netplex structure and a we-go-round.

Jenkins said “the stars aligned” for the expansion, including that there was the perfect piece of land next to the original playground and the construction company was available. The COVID-19 pandemic also forced playgrounds to close anyways for a few months while they were working.

The expanded playground is one of three recreation projects that Jenkins has helped fund this year. A new spray park just opened last month in the west flat, and a retractable batting cage in the Fieldhouse is expected to be completed in about six weeks.

Children demonstrate a new slide to officially reopen the accessible playground at the Alfred Jenkins Fieldhouse after a 7,000 sq. ft. expansion on Aug. 31, 2020. (Jayda Taylor/Daily Herald)