New, renewed playgrounds and open spaces add colour, community to life in Edmonton

Playgrounds and open spaces have all kinds of experts who can explain exactly how and why the facilities work. On the top of that experts list: moms.

“We’ve honestly lived at the playground through COVID,” said Sandi Schaefer of the new playground in Laurier/Buena Vista Park that’s a big hit for sons Lewis, 7, and Elliot, 3.

“The boys are busy and have a ton of energy, and with no school in the spring, no daycare and most of our go-to places closed, playgrounds became the only destination,” she said. “Seeing my boys having a good time and using their imaginations is always special.”

No kidding.

The playground, officially named Sir Wilfrid Laurier, is a naturalized playground. It features ropes, boulders, logs, natural timber swings, a two-level tower with slide and a coyote play feature. You heard the last part right.


Adventures await in the trees at Sir Wilfrid Laurier naturalized playground.

The playground design was inspired by the flora and fauna of Edmonton’s river valley.

Natural playgrounds are customized play spaces that combine natural materials with more structured play elements. They allow for a more unstructured type of play, offering children another option for sensory, social, creative and intellectual stimulation.

Schaefer has seen the theory in action.

“It just felt different,” she said, “like it was carved out of nature.”

Schaefer, who works as a nurse practitioner at a central Edmonton clinic, said her boys react differently to the playground.

“They usually want me to watch them or play with them but at this park they were playing together and by themselves, going on adventures through the trees,” she said.

Diverse and creative

Sandi Schaefer’s review is music to the ears of the people at the City of Edmonton who think about and design and build open spaces, green spaces and playgrounds.

“It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach,” said Nicole Wolfe, Director, Building Great Neighbourhoods and Open Space Infrastructure Delivery, “We are building well designed and innovative open spaces that are as diverse and creative as the populations they serve.”

The City of Edmonton recognizes that parks and green spaces are safe spaces for Edmontonians to gather, play and maintain social connections with friends, families and communities. Those spaces became even more vital when the pandemic descended and forced everyone to find new ways to escape from homes and apartments and get sunshine, fresh air— and room to enjoy them.

During the 2020 construction season, City crews built new spaces and gave new life to existing areas to keep them valuable and fun.

Double slides and climbing nets are just a few of the activities at Jumpstart Inclusive Playground.

Jumpstart Inclusive Playground

Traditional playgrounds don’t work for all children.

At the new Jumpstart Inclusive Playground, the only obstacle will be having as much fun as possible.

Located in Clareview District Park, and opening October 16, 2020, the playground accommodates physical, cognitive and sensory disabilities in a space where all children can play side-by-side.

“Jumpstart playgrounds create an inclusive space where all kids have an equal opportunity to benefit from access to free play,” said Scott Fraser, President, Canadian Tire Jumpstart Charities. “Thank you to both the City and our local Canadian Tire Dealers for their generous support in helping to bring this playground to life for Edmonton and the surrounding community.”

 Hello down there! An aerial view of Jumpstart Inclusive Playground.

The innovative, 1,500-square-metre playground (the largest of its kind in Edmonton) features double-wide ramps, a roller slide, bucket seat swings with harnesses and a fully poured-in-place rubber safety surface. A quiet zone lets children regroup without having to leave.

The inclusive playground aligns with the City’s Live Active Strategy. The playground is a partnership between the City of Edmonton and Canadian Tire Jumpstart Charities. The playground structure was gifted from Jumpstart and the Edmonton Canadian Tire Dealers to the City, as part of the Charity’s Inclusive Playground Project, which aims to create large-scale, inclusive playgrounds in every province and territory in Canada.

City workers build pathways and connections at Butler Memorial Park, August 14, 2020.

Butler Memorial Park

In addition to building new parks, the City is also working to renew and improve existing park spaces. This spring and summer one of the more significant open space renewal projects was Butler Memorial Park at Stony Plain Road and 157 Street.

The park is central, in both location and spirit, to the Jasper Place community.

Going in are new light posts, walkways, benches, landscaping and a natural play area. A new plaza with a stage is an infrastructural nudge toward the park becoming an arts and culture hub for the community.

Todd Janes paints a picture of the new Butler Memorial Park.

“The renovated Butler Memorial Park will be a true gift to the citizens of West Edmonton and certainly to those of Jasper Place,” said Janes, Executive Director of the Stony Plain Road and Area Business Improvement Area.

“It’s a place that is being reclaimed and re-imagined as a site for everyone,” he said. “A place where many can actively and safely use as their community backyard, their non-existent balcony to read, visit with friends, watch their children play and activate much needed urban park space with contemporary public art. It’s like the spirits of our ancestors are watching with care and love as we find new peacefulness within a busy urban corridor.”

Butler Memorial Park renewal work from the ground up, August 14, 2020.

Richard Butler’s family agrees.

“It is a lasting legacy to our father, who contributed so much to his community, and our family is pleased and grateful that so many years later this reimagined and renewed green space will once again be a place for people to gather and enjoy,” said the Butler family in a statement.

Richard D. Butler was an engaged Edmontonian, volunteering for organizations including the Lions Club, the Chamber of Commerce and the Jasper Place Taxpayers’ Association. He served as Deputy Fire Chief with the volunteer fire brigade. He was killed in the line of duty in 1958.

New and improved Butler Memorial Park taking shape in Edmonton’s west end.

Butler Memorial Park was initiated by the citizens of the Town of Jasper Place, and was dedicated on September 7, 1963.

The new and improved space will be enjoyed year round as a welcoming, colorful and inviting space for visitors to connect with friends and family.

Butler Memorial Park will reopen in early November and a community celebration is planned for spring 2021.

Lewis and Elliot Schaefer make their way up the two-level tower slide.

Safe escape

Whether Edmontonians use parks to catalyze, memorialize, de-obstacalize or socialize, they are using space to make good use of time.

Or, as Sandi Schaefer put it as she watched her sons inch up a log, or, who knows, a drawbridge into a castle, at Sir Wilfred Laurier: “I am happy we have a place where we can all safely escape for a moment or two.”

Editor’s Note: the pic at the top of the post shows a climbing feature at Sir Wilfrid Laurier Natural Playground. Visit these new and renewed spaces to find your story: Butler Memorial Park, Sir Wilfrid Laurier Natural Playground  and Jumpstart Inclusive Playground.