A red and blue logo celebrating one hundred years of play The Playgrounds Program began in 1914, with the opening of five supervised playgrounds in Fort William. The creation of the playgrounds was part of a broader Playgrounds Movement across the continent. It was seen as important not just to "get kids off the streets" and into formal recreation, but also as a key component of child development: supporting not just physical fitness but mind and spirit as well. The program also responded to concerns that urban children seemed not to have the same opportunities for unstructured play as their rural counterparts, and might develop into weak or morally deficient adults without intervention.

That the Playgrounds were opened at the same time as the start of the First World War seems to have had significant effect on their role in the community. Children were given responsibility for governing the playgrounds, towards an end of developing leadership and patriotism among the young people growing up in a troubled world. Cultural programming recognized children of many national and ethnic origins while at the same encouraging assimilation to the mainstream English society.

A line of children walking through the woods holding handsThe program was offered at no cost to children of all classes, funded at a low cost-per-child. In its first year, over 1,500 children participated each day in organized sports and games, folk dance and music, and unstructured play.

Over the years, the program grew in size and scope, and it celebrates its centennial in 2014. Today, 16 supervised playground sites operate throughout the summer, with age-specific activities such as arts and crafts, sports and games, music and drama, and special events.

This exhibit celebrates the Supervised Playground Program that began in 1914, and shows how it developed through the years into the Playgrounds that are enjoyed by children today.

Navigate the exhibit through the links below, or by exploring the timeline:

The Board of Parks Management Minutes: The Fort William and Port Arthur Board of Parks Management Minutes capture the opening of the first supervised playgrounds

Two men stand beside a banner with a beaver on top, and the words Fort William underneath








Photographs of the early years of Playgrounds:
Photographs on Flickr

Severeal people play a game with raquets and a net in a playground








Newspaper Articles: from the first weeks and months of the Supervised Playgrounds Program.

A typed black and white newspaper clipping detailing games








Maps: that show planned and actual playground development and construction

Abstract drawings showing paths and shrubs








Manuals and Handbooks: explaining how to be a successful playground leader and suggesting activities

A woman and children above "Playground Patter" orange and yellow








Playgrounds Training Courses: from 1966 and 1967: material for developing skilled Playgrounds Leaders.

A purple paper with typed text








Annual Reports from 1967, 1974, and 1997: showing the how the planning and operation of playground sites has changed over the years.

A cut out section from the 1974 annual report








Pamphlets and Promotional Material: circulated to generate interest in the Playgrounds Program

A green pamhplet with a boy on a slide








Short History of the origin and development of the Playground Program: in the form of excerpts from documents prepared in 1981 and 1987

A black and white drawn photo of a house on the edge of the water








Other Documents: including conference notes, attendance summaries, leader training, and equipment lists

A cut out of a map showing recreation facilities in Thunder Bay








Your Stories of the Playgrounds Program: throughout the years, told by former participants and staff, and how to contribute your own recollections.

A blue and white Fort William Playground badge








 One Hundred Years of Play Timeline


1913 Fort William Board of Parks Management Minutes regarding a Playgrounds Commission

1913 Port Arthur Board of Parks Management Minutes regarding Playground Apparatus

1914 Newspaper Articles on the first year of Fort William Playgrounds

1914 Reports on the first year of Fort William Supervised Playgrounds

1914 Attendance Statistics for the first year of Fort William Supervised Playgrounds

1914 Photograph: Playgrounds Gathering at Central School

1914 Photograph: Playfest Parade

1914 Photograph: Ball Game at Collegiate Playground

1916 Photograph: Boys' Baseball City Champions at Central School

1916 Photograph: Franklin 'A' Team, Boys' Baseball and Dodgeball

1917 Newspaper Articles on first year of Port Arthur Supervised Playgrounds

1918 Newspaper Article regarding lack of a Playgrounds Programme in Port Arthur

1927 Photograph: Fort William Public Pool

1927 Map diagram of Victoria Park (estimated date)

1949 Letter regarding Playground Leaders' Course

1951 Notes on the Mid-Continent Regional Parks and Recreation Conference

1953 Playground Patter newsletters

1954 Photograph: Playground Leaders

1955 Fort William Playgrounds Special Events Manual

1962 Minnesota Park Development Plans

1964 Fort William promotional booklet

1964 Attendance Statistics for Fort William Supervised Playgrounds

1965 Fort William Playgrounds Equipment Lists

1966 Playground Leader's Course

1967 General Instructions to Playground Supervisors, Fort William

1967 Year-end report for the Fort William Playground Program

1967 Playground Leader's Course

1968 Port Arthur Playgrounds Variety Show Program

1969 Port Arthur Playgrounds Organization Manual

1969 Playground Equipment Diagrams

1972 Neighbourhood Playgrounds Manual, Thunder Bay Parks and Recreation Department

1973 Parks and Recreation Facilities Map and List

1974 Thunder Bay Playgrounds Brochure

1974 Year-end report for Thunder Bay Summer Playgrounds

1975 Reading List for 1975 Playgrounds

1981 History of Parks and Recreation

1987 Draft History of Parks and Recreation

1997 Thunder Bay Playgrounds Program Brochure

1997 Year-end report for the Thunder Bay Playgrounds Program

1997 Attendance Statistics for Thunder Bay Playgrounds Program

2013 Thunder Bay Playgrounds Program Brochure

About this exhibit:

This exhibit details the history of the Playgrounds Program in the City of Thunder Bay.

The exhibit was created using records available to the public from the City of Thunder Bay Archives, the Thunder Bay Public Library, and the Thunder Bay Historical Museum. Information and support have also been provided by the City of Thunder Bay's Playgrounds Program. The textual records seen in this exhibit cover the time period from 1905 to 2013, and the photographic images range from 1914 to 2013.

Archival series referred to in this exhibit include the following:

  • Fort William By-Laws (Series 3)
  • Fort William Board of Parks Management Minutes (Series 5)
  • Port Arthur By-Laws (Series 19)Port Arthur Parks and Recreation Files (Series 28)
  • Port Arthur Board of Parks Management Minutes (Series 44)
  • Thunder Bay City Clerk's Files (Series 117)
  • Fort William Parks & Recreation Files (Series 121)
  • Thunder Bay Central Files (Series 156)
  • Thunder Bay Community Recreation Manager's Files (Series 261)
  • Thunder Bay Parks Technicians' Files (Series 363) 
  • CS299, Program Planning & Administration Files 
  • CS552, Community Programs (Children & Youth) Program Supervisor Files

For more information on the Playgrounds Program, or any other subject of interest, please visit or contact the City of Thunder Bay Archives.

Some personal information has been removed to protect the privacy of individuals.

The funding for this exhibition was received, in part, from the Young Canada Works program administered through the Canadian Council of Archives. The financial assistance is appreciated.

Every precaution has been taken to ensure that copyright has been cleared for images used in this exhibit. If you have any concerns, please contact the City of Thunder Bay Archives.

Please note that the documents in the exhibition reflect the time period in which they were created. For the sake of authenticity, these images and textual documents have not been altered. The statements reflected in them are not necessarily the viewpoints held by the City today.


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