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Evergreen Brick Works – Toronto

Matt Bordush and I were asked to travel to Toronto to address a group of Early Childhood Educators (ECE’s) on the topic of Men in ECE. What a special day that was.  The next day we took advantage of some spare time and with all the boldness 2 prairie boys from Winnipeg could muster, we went underground to find the subway, so we could get ourselves out to the Evergreen Brick Works site.  It had been recommended to us and boy are we excited about what we saw.  First lets stop and give you all a beautiful view of the front yard of our hotel. It really is a beautiful city at night.

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And one view from the 42 floor of the hotel (our room), not so shabby as well.

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Well with out losing our way, and making a few friends on our journey, we arrived at this mothballed brick factory which has been repurposed by the Evergreen Foundation.IMG_1470

We were specifically looking for a wonderful outdoor play-space, much like our Adventure Playground, and with a bit of walking around we found it.  Go figure, it was a school in-service day so they were running an all day school program.  We ignored the “no public access sign” walked around the barrier and just wanted to take a look with our own eyes.  “Can I help you gentlemen” asked the rather large dude who had been tasked with keeping strangers away from the kids in this day camp program.  “Well we are from Winnipeg and just wanted to take a look and really we are not going to go and play with the kids or anything”.  “Well I’m very sorry but we can’t just have strangers walking around while all these children are in the area, you surely must understand”.  Well we did but, we had not braved the rat infested subway tunnels and come within inches of loosing our legs as the subway doors closed with barely any notice  to be left 30 feet away from seeking what we had come so far to see.  So we persisted and, well, the poor dude didn’t have a chance, so he went to get his supervisor, Andy, who most graciously let us in and actually gave us a private tour until the children left for a hike at which time we had the place to ourselves. So we wandered in and took these pictures to share with you.  See how excited we are!  This is Matt in the “Cob House”.  Obviously made by the staff and children but we are not sure out of what, could it be corn cobs and concrete?  Well it sure was a great play space for children.

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There were some interesting little spaces with stumps buried in the ground and lots of loose parts like rocks, branches,  and rope that had obviously been used for imaginative play by the children who had just left.  We noticed there was not grass around, just a layer of wood chips.  When we asked they said they had given up on the grass due to the water that is always available for play, the fact that kids can dig anywhere they want to, and that they have over 100 children in programs at this location every day of the week.  They have to upgrade the wood chips every couple of months and they do get really slippery when frozen during the winter, but aside from that, they seem to provide a mud free environment in an area that is fairly wet, and very well used.  Matt and I did some talking and thinking about that for ourselves.

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The area of this entire play space was about 1/2 what we at Discovery use for our adventure playground area and yet it seems to have so very many opportunities for dozens of children.

I noticed that they had a lot of plantings in containers and they say they are all planted by the children and watered by the children each and every time that it is required.  I thought that interesting as they have a different school group there each day and yet there are tasks required for the children to help maintain the area.

Here are some random plastic containers with plantings just skirting the edge of a play area with a Tee-Pee.  It helps define an area, helps grow plants and provide opportunities for students to be involved with planting and maintaining plant life.

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There were several areas with planting beds made of culvert type material.  Strong enough to handle the large amount of soil, with lots of depth for the plants who want to send roots down deep.  Seemed to me this would be a great place to play hide and seek and find a bit of shade and privacy as well.  I noticed they had actually grown willow trees in several of these garden beds and they had tied the branches together forming a living willow hut.  Seemed to work well as the hut had a bit more head room due to the raised planting beds, and the small shrubs and willow trees were protected from being trampled by all the little feet that frequent this area.

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There was also this wonderful deck that was still under construction.  I really admired the rope work and heavy lifting that must go into a construction project like this.  Obviously the children are involved in all of this building. Kind of reminds me of the importance of having children work alongside of their adult caregivers, and takiong ownership for their things.  I am so please when I notice staff like Al Buckley and others doing these kind of things with children at Discovery.

Half barrels with soil and rocks seem to form a sufficiently solid base for the poles, nice idea eh!

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I noticed these interesting things at the bottom of every tree in the play area that was not planted in a raised bed.  I didn’t have a chance to inquire as to their function but was speculating that this might help prevent children from climbing these small trees, help protect the soil around the tree from getting trampled and thus suffocating the tree, or they might have been just a way to decorate and celebrate the life of a tree.  What do you think?  I’m Interested in your comments.  Kind of looks like a large nest.

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Here is a really cool looking water barrel. It is filled every day and the children have a nice tap at the bottom to use.

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This wooden stand seemed to have not other purpose but to provide a base for some really interesting rope, branch, fabric creations that obviously were tapping into the creative side of children’s play experiences.  I absolutely loved it.

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An island of planting.  What is your reaction?

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Water, water everywhere.  This great invention gives children a chance to explore some of the mechanical ways of moving liquids against the pull of gravity.  I’ve taken a video which does a lot better job of showing how wonderful this works.  Really cool.  I’ve got to have one of these!

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Not a great view but if you use your imagination you can see the main water tank/tower that supplies most of the water for the playground.  There are water lines/pipes that run from this tank under ground and supply about 4 or five water stations that are sprinkled throughout the play area.  Water, water everywhere.  No wonder they gave up on the grass, but how cool.

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A great supply of stainless steel (2 ply – to prevent the outside from getting to hot) were evidence of a great way to cut back on paper cups and still encourage drinking at snack times etc.

 

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These areas were meant as storage areas for all the loose parts which are to be cleaned up every day.  They tend to be used as great forts and the basic structural supports for den building.  Why not?

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Matt really liked some of the tables that were around which seemed to have entirely play and/or work purposes and were not there for eating at all.  This one seemed to have a sand/water/hollowed out half log kind of purpose, at least that what it was when Matt was playing.

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A view of a gathering area which is tiered in nature with a fire pit at the front.  Very nicely done.

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A small shed to house a pumping station of some type.  I really liked the idea of building it with a sod roof.  I think children need to see all of the possibilities that exist for a greener planet.

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Not far away was a repair shop for bicycles. Up on the roof the bike repair guys got a bit creative and put together a wonderful display of wheels which looked so beautiful again the blue sky.

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IMG_1558OK, I know this is a was to long of a post, but I really wanted to get some of these pictures and thoughts out to you my friends, before the memories got to foggy and the time slipped away once again.  OK, 5 hours at an airport had something to do with it as well. 🙂

 

 

 

Comments(7)

  1. Reply
    David Senft says:

    Sounds like you guys had a blast and what a great article. Love all the pictures too.

    • Reply
      Ron Blatz says:

      Hey: Thanks for the comments. It is appreciated.

  2. Reply
    Kim Crockett says:

    What a wonderful opportunity to see such a cool play space. You just raised the bar!
    Very inspiring for the adventure playground!

  3. Reply
    Dona Freeman says:

    Great photos. Some ideas to think about what we could do here at Discovery. Interesting that there is no grass. The area did look a bit archaic, I wonder what the neighbors think. We have not been out to the Adventure Playground area for more than a week because we are afraid to “ruin the grass”. Perhaps wood chips would make the area more accessible in Winnipeg’s weather 4 seasons a year; we would loose some of the “neatness” though??? I liked the water play ideas, as well as the “work tables”. Do you think that the “deck area” (under the blue roof) could be used for some kind of large construction projects?

    • Reply
      Ron Blatz says:

      Matt and I would like to meet with the Adventure Playground Committee at least (if not the whole staff) and have a conversation with them about what we saw.

  4. Reply
    Jennifer (Makenna's mom) says:

    What wonderful ideas you have up here! A lot of these would work at Discovery. I especially like the play tables and the culvert project and the rain barrel for drinking, but they are all great and so sustainable. Nice to see what other centres have!

  5. Reply
    Erin says:

    Congratulations on the trip to Toronto. You two are a special part of the team at Discovery and am I am sure the ECEs in Toronto benefited greatly from your visit.

    So glad you had time to explore and were persistent with the security guard. Looks like an amazing play space nurturing curiosity and creativity. Inspiring. Thanks for sharing.

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