Winnipeg, home that I love, has an amazing new place to play. In the heart of Assiniboine Park, there is a new place designed with kids in mind, a nature playground. My son calls it "The Beach Park" because of its huge sand and water feature. But it's official name is, "The Children's Garden".
Already, just with hearing the name, I fell in love. The Children's Garden. It sounds like somewhere fairies would hide. But when I arrived at the entrance for the first time, and saw the hand-painted sign on the enormous door... Well, I fell a little more.
Through the gate, you see a long path paved with bricks. Planters filled with flowers can be found on either side, and trees tower just behind them. Even though the garden is large and crowded, the entry is spacious and quiet. You know you are walking into someplace special.
The planters give way to sculptures. On the right, there is a sea serpent, fashioned out of twisted branches, resembling driftwood. To your left, you can spot a birds nest, made of logs, with child-size eggs for your little birdies to pretend to pop out of. As you continue forward, you walk between two rows of a merry band of frogs, ingeniously designed to grow along with the rest of the garden.
This is a place charming, and full of whimsy, but it is also most definitely a place to play. The first structure you come on is this one, full of climbing ropes.
It attracts the older kids, who see the web of ropes as a challenge, and race each other to the crow's nest of their conquered pirate ship.
The older kids also love to pile onto to these oversized swings, which can hold as many as five riders or more, depending on how cozy those riders are all prepared to get.
Just beyond that, you feel like you have stepped into the land of the Teletubbies, as impossibly perfect, little rolling hills rise up to meet your feet, with a few coloured spheres thrown in, just for fun.
Adjacent to those are a few more slides. There is a low one, perfect for the youngest riders to explore, and two long winding ones built right into the hillsides. These hills are actually made from crushed and coloured recycled rubber, which makes them non-slip and fun to scramble up, but also a little hot in the sun. No bare feet here!
But none of those are my son's favourite part. He calls this place, "The Beach Park," after all. And this is why.
Starting at this fountain, a trickle of water begins.
It winds around, and weaves back and forth in a concrete trench, all through this beautiful 'sand box' until it disappears under a little bridge at the far side.
All along the sides, kids dig and play, trying to build dams out of sand and round heavy rocks. They can stop the water with a series of rubber locks, or pump it up to pour down a built in water wheel. They can climb in, and splash and stomp, and generally do everything every kid WANTS to do with a public fountain, but isn't allowed. In the children's garden it is not just allowed; it is encouraged.
Parents and grandparents sit along the side of the park in the grass and on lovely wooden benches, enjoying the shade of the trees. And we do what visitors always do in a garden. We gaze upon the beauty of growing things.
Even if they do move a little faster here.