Manitoba

Accessible park in Brandon gives all kids a chance to play

The new Louise-Laurence Accessible Playground and Park in Brandon, Man., has been designed to ensure it's fully accessible and wheelchair friendly.

Having place where kids with disabilities can be 'just like all the other kids' is 'huge': Mayor Rick Chrest

Children play on a swing set at a playground
Children play at the new Louise-Laurence Accessible Playground and Park on Saturday, when the park had its official opening. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

Children of all abilities now have a place where they can play together and feel included, with the official opening of a new park in Brandon. 

The Kiwanis Club of Brandon's new Louise-Laurence Accessible Playground and Park, in the southwestern Manitoba city's east end, has been designed to ensure it is fully accessible and wheelchair friendly.

The newly refurbished green space, which had its official opening on Saturday, has been transformed with modern play sets. It's also culturally inclusive, with a monument dedicated to the seven sacred teachings of First Nations culture.

The new space is useful, practical and accessible for any child, said Kiwanis member Frank Thomas, chair of the committee charged with building the park.

"We've tried to make sure that there's something for everybody, and … by the extent of the people that have shown up to use it, I think it's worked out," Thomas said.

A man wearing a black shirt stands in front of a playground.
Kiwanis Club of Brandon member Frank Thomas chaired the committee charged with building the park. 'It is quite fulfilling [and] rewarding to see the kids here, making use of it, enjoying it,' he said on Saturday. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

A highlight of the newly refurbished space is a merry-go-round that is wheelchair-accessible, Thomas said.

Initial planning for the redevelopment started about two years ago, as a collaboration between the City of Brandon and the Kiwanis Club. The total cost, including in-kind and labour donations, was about $600,000.

The Kiwanis Club consulted with a nearby school on what to include, said Thomas, and one of the key ideas from that feedback was the inclusion of a small area with rocks to play on.

This idea expanded to include seven rocks that tie into a plaque detailing the seven sacred teachings shared in First Nations cultures.

These touches are part of ensuring the park feels inclusive and accessible to everyone, Thomas said.

Seeing the park filled with children playing was a reminder of the importance of ensuring all youth feel included in the community and have the opportunity to play, he said.

"It is quite fulfilling [and] rewarding to see the kids here, making use of it, enjoying it," Thomas said. "When you see them, they're smiling, laughing, having fun."

Brandon Mayor Rick Chrest grew up in the city's east end and has followed the project since its beginning.

He hopes the new playground inspires a sense of learning, play and adventure in those who visit.

Incorporating the seven sacred teachings was also an important element to ensure inclusivity, Chrest said, and it shows the thoughtfulness and deliberation that went into the park.

"It's really a sense of community spirit. And I do believe we have a very inclusive community," he said.

"People are very thoughtful about that now .... about ensuring that level of inclusivity, whether it be cultural, whether it be of accessibility, and it just warms my heart to see that happening."

Chrest's son Dylan, 24, was born with cerebral palsy and has used a wheelchair all his life. When their three children were young, Chrest and his wife would search for parks and playgrounds where they could all play.

"It was not always easy. So we fully understand," Chrest said, adding the Kiwanis Club consulted with his wife on how to make the playground as accessible as possible.

Looking at the playground, Chrest said, he can see the impact it will have on local families' lives.

"I could just tell you from experience that is huge from a parent standpoint and from a child's standpoint, to be able to really engage and be just like all the other kids," Chrest said.

"I think it's just inspiring to our whole community to see this come together."

Jaycee Small's daughters Surie, 9, and Briar, 7, made the first donation to the park after raising funds through a lemonade stand.

A family of five stands in front of a colourful play ground.
From left to right: Briar, Surie, Nate, Joel and Jaycee Small at the park. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

They started lemonade stands as fundraisers for different charities five years ago, Small said, and donated $100 to the accessible park last year.

Surie said they wanted to support the new space because parks make people happy.

"We love that it is good for everybody, all ages and all accessibility," Small said. "We have little friends that it wasn't accessible for, so the smaller parts of the of the park is nice for younger kids."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Chelsea Kemp

Brandon Reporter

Chelsea Kemp is a multimedia journalist with CBC Manitoba. She is based in CBC's bureau in Brandon, covering stories focused on rural Manitoba. Share your story ideas, tips and feedback with chelsea.kemp@cbc.ca.

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