Thousands of Thunder Bay citizens have participated in the Playgrounds Program over the years. The stories presented on this page have been contributed by former participants, former leaders, and City staff.

To add your voice, send us an email at play@thunderbay.ca

You can also share your stories and photos using the tag #Playgrounds100 on Twitter, Flickr, and Instagram.

Dina Morrone, Playgrounds Participant:

To us it was known as the Oliver Road Rec. An outdoor playground in the summer months that was turned into a place for two outdoor skating rinks. One rink allowed hockey sticks and pucks and the other was for people who just wanted to enjoy skating. We would skate around and around and around for hours. It's hard to believe that the cold weather was never a factor. And yet I am sure it was well below freezing. We didn't care because we were on skates and having so much fun. We'd bundle up wearing hats, scarves, double socks and walk down the street from our home on Andrew St. with our skates in our hands, until we reached Oliver Road where we carefully crossed the busy street.

Inside the recreational centre is where we would put on our skates. They also had a vending machine where we would sometimes splurge and buy a hot chocolate. There were always so many kids skating around and having so much outdoor fun. It was a safe place to spend the day. My parents, being Italian immigrants, had never skated but they encouraged us to do so and were very happy to know we were having a good time getting fresh air. They never once came to the rink to watch us. They never walked down or drove over to the rink to pick us up. We did it all on our own. We didn't wear a watch, but it was like we had an inside clock, we just knew when it was time to leave and go home for supper.

Every time I visit Thunder Bay now and drive by the Oliver Road Recreational Centre, I vividly recall memories of the countless hours I spent on that outdoor rink. It's the place where I first put on a pair of skates and learned to skate and the place which gave me and many others like me a safe place to go and enjoy being a child. Thank you to all the people who over the years worked there and maintained the grounds and the rinks.

Kari, Playgrounds Participant 1980-1985:

I remember the days of summer long ago when I would wake up early on holidays so I could jump the fence in my backyard to get to the park before my favourite Playground Leaders arrived. I looked forward each summer to spending days at the park with all of the neighbourhood kids playing games, laughing, running, jumping, swinging and sliding. The Playground Leaders made the days so much fun and I loved every minute I got to spend hanging out at the park each summer.

Meghan, Playgrounds Staff 2013:

My favourite Playgrounds memory was this past summer at Vicker's. We were all playing on the playground when I noticed one of the girls looked upset. When I asked her what was up, she told me it was because she couldn't cross the stepping block structure, because she was afraid of heights. Knowing that with a little encouragement, she would be able to conquer her fear, I told her that if she wanted to try, I'd be there to make sure she didn't fall. She agreed, and started to climb. Around the middle, the highest part, she got very scared, but I encouraged her the whole way through, and she started to believe in herself, and was able to finish. When she got to the bottom, she was over the top excited that she had conquered her fear. It's amazing to see the trusting relationship and confidence that develops from something as simple as play!

Alex, Playgrounds Participant:

  • I like going to Vickers Park because of all the games and it feels so welcoming.

Nina Morash, Playgrounds Participant 1945-1947:

Nina Morash, (nee Zarowski), moved from Gore Street to Brock Street, kitty corner to Tarbutt Park, in 1945 when she was 12 years old. This was a gut-wrenching experience. She left behind all of her friends with whom she lost all contact, as her immigrant parents had neither a phone nor a car. Nina said, "It was like moving to another country." On top of this she was about to enter high school ahead of schedule having been skipped forward two full grades by her teachers at Crawford School. For Nina, her saving grace was the playground programme at Tarbutt Park.

Read the rest of Nina's story
 

Nina Morash, (nee Zarowski), moved from Gore Street to Brock Street, kitty corner to Tarbutt Park, in 1945 when she was 12 years old. This was a gut-wrenching experience. She left behind all of her friends with whom she lost all contact, as her immigrant parents had neither a phone nor a car. Nina said, "It was like moving to anouther country." On top of this she was about to enter high school ahead of schedule having been skipped forward two full grades by her teachers at Crawford School. For Nina, her saving grace was the playground programme at Tarbutt Park.

To this day she speaks with passion and joy about her experiences and what they meant to her. She remembers clearly that each morning she would leave her house, cross the street and with a group of kids wait with great anticipation for the "Supie" to arrive. Tension would mount as everyone waited for her to unlock the "Shack" and distribute the balls, bats and nets for the day. Equipment was sparse but well-used. Each day the kids played games for hours -- simple games like hide and seek which required no special equipment. When they weren't hitting a ball (or being hit by one in Dodge the Ball) they huddled around the one picnic table for crafts. Materials were simple -- egg cartons, old bottles, and tempera paint mixed in large jars and provided by the supervisor. The only other play equipment she can remember is a few swings made from ropes with wooden seats. The parks were open each weekday from morning until night.

Nina recalls that the supervisors were vivacious young women, happy to be with the children, to listen to their woes and to encourage them in their achievements. She says that these supervisors were very important in her life during these years of transition -- real role models. She remembers the "Supies" wearing a red uniform of sorts and having a whistle on a lanyard around their necks.

She remembers that one of the best things the supervisors did was organize tournaments. Nina loved and excelled at Volleyball and everyone would vie for a much sought after position on the playground team. Parks would compete one against the other in zones where they were within walking distance from one another. Nina kept three crests from 1945, 1946, 1947 which she is donating to the City in this commemoration year. She won all the crests for playing volleyball.

Nina "lived at Tarbutt Park." It was teeming with kids and here she met and made friends with other children, some of whom she has kept for life. Nina says the two most important activities in all her childhood were going to Tarbutt Park Playground and the Mary J. L. Black Library. They were the foundations of her future life.

Recorded by Donna Gilhooly for Nina Morash, February 22, 2014.

 

Three buttons coloured blue and white are affixed to a blue background

 

City Councillor Iain Angus:

  • As a child growing up at Chippewa Park, I ended up being the "practice kid" for all of the playground leaders from Northwestern Ontario who came to stay at Chippewa each June as part of the annual leaders' training camp. I later married one of those leaders.

Samuel, Playgrounds Participant:

I like to skate and play hockey at the rink. I got my first goal there by being a good skater.

Laura Daniele, Playgrounds Participant 1974-1975 and PRO Kids Coordinator provided the following photographs:

A group of men and women stand together and pose for a photogrpah

August 1972, with probably the award for Senior Boys Baseball. From left to right: Sam Veltri, Mark Simic, Jari Virta, Joe Fabiano, Bob Veltri, Bruno Valente, Joe Smanka, Joe Nigro, Frank Scorcello. Kneeling: Unknown, Madeline St. Marie.

A group of people sit on the steps infront of a building

At the back of Queen Elizabeth School, circa 1974 or 1975.
From left to right: Laura Tesolin (Daniele) Claudio Coppola, Enrico Coppola, Joe Nigro, Aldo Ruberto, Unknown.
(Accession 2014-12 #1)

Josh, Playgrounds Participant:

  • At Volunteer Pool I played soccer with a bunch of other kids and it was FUN!

Anonymous playgrounds participant:

  • I remember when I used to go ice skating at the East End Park (not Charry Park yet) and music was played over a loudspeaker in the evening. The shack was heated with a wood stove and couples skated together. I still remember "Sail Along Silvery Moon."

Donna, Playgrounds Participant:

  • I remember swimming lessons at Widnall Pool ... Summer couldn't come soon enough.

Stacey, Parent of Playgrounds Participants:

  • I loved when my son went to playgrounds. We were at Vickers Park and they had made a homemade water slide. My kids didn't want to leave and they asked to go back every day.

City Councillor Larry Hebert:

I have many happy memories of the Parks system in Fort William for a number of reasons. First was the parks softball league we had. Every park had a team and a coach. Our coach at Vickers Park was Gary Polonsky and he was great with us kids. Our Supervisor was Sharon Gartrell (Dorota). We played in the west or south league against Tarbutt, Heath, and Wayland Park...

Read the rest of Councillor Hebert's story
 

I have many happy memories of the Parks system in Fort William for a number of reasons. First was the parks softball league we had. Every park had a team and a coach. Our coach at Vickers Park was Gary Polonsky and he was great with us kids. Our Supervisor was Sharon Gartrell (Dorota).

We played in the west or south league against Tarbutt, Heath, and Wayland Park. Heath Park had Sylvia Kayser (DePiero) as a Supervisor and the first year I played, Donna Gilhooly was a supervisor at Tarbutt and after that was the Head supervisor of all supervisors. Of course she went on to a long and distinguished career in the Parks and Recreation area holding several different management positions. The teams in the east or north league consisted of Minnesota, Dease and Pacific (now Charry Park). One year we had an all-star game, south against north, at Chapples fastball park. My brother and I both got to play from Vickers and I remember Ralph Stewart on our team, and Sargon Kubyar was the star of the north team.

Later I got a job in our centennial year working at Chippewa, and that was the year that because of Canada’s birthday we put a number of rides up that were bought from a park in Winnipeg. Gene Britton and Frank Banning were my supervisors and his sons Keith, also a student, and Steve, a full time worker, were there also.

We needed to get the rides ready for July 1 because that is where the Canada Day celebrations took place for Fort William. I was assigned to the Tilt-a-Whirl and on Canada Day worked from 8am to 12 midnight (great cheque for a student that week) as we had tremendous crowds. The roller coaster was still being tested in the morning as the public did not come out until noon. That night we had a rain storm for about half an hour and we could not get the brakes to work on the slippery track so we had to throw dirt on the roller coaster tracks near where it loads and unloads passengers to stop it.

Met many people out there I still see today. Iain Angus, of course, whose mom ran the tourist trailer park out there, his brother, the Phillips boys, Bert Storm who was a full time employee. Later in my life I met Frank Banning’s daughter Gloria as she married my wife’s cousin Don.

I was transferred into the shop on Arthur and Selkirk midway thru July, as most of the work was done at Chippewa. There Yuke Tatebe and Rollie Perrier were my supervisors. I met Joe Rollason as he was the head of the Conservatory and of course always got to see Rob McCormick who was the overall manager. Frank Banning would occasionally come into town as well.

I was put on the grass cutting crew that went around to various parks and sure got to know the City. After a time the full time employee at Vickers left and I was sent over there for the rest of the summer to cut the grass and maintain the park. Got to know a lot of great kids there who I still see today along with many of the Supervisors. My job included checking the park flower bed lights at night a few times a week so my girlfriend (now wife) and I would drive around the park while going somewhere on a date and check the lights. She never fails to remind me of that. I also had to go grease the Fountain at Paterson Park on Sunday morning as well as clean paper and stuff out of the water. Again, a nice bonus for a student. I also got to go back to Chippewa on Sundays and run the tilt-a-whirl as the park stayed open into September then and the rides being new were pretty popular.

My funniest story from then was I was cutting the grass one day when a gentleman from Brunswick Avenue just to the west of Vickers Park came to see me. He was Art Widnall, one of the architects of the great parks and recreation system in Fort William, and he asked me if I would be a pall bearer at his brother’s funeral the next day. I said I did not know him but I would ask my supervisor. He said do not worry I have already talked to everyone I had to and you will get the afternoon off with pay. He said he liked my work ethic, and sure enough within half an hour Yuke came by and told me to take tomorrow afternoon off with pay. It had been arranged. His brother was not well known and had very few friends so I did what I was asked. It was a nice service, and Art thanked me profusely for my help. I said no problem. My friends really gave me the gears as they said are you running a rent-a-pallbearer service.

Still enjoy seeing some of the neighbours from Vickers Park such as Mrs. Kane who is likely in her 90s now and Dr. McKee and his kids. I also see Mrs Kane’s family that are in town. Her son Andrew, who was only 5 back then, would come to the Park every day and tell me what Mr. Dress Up did that morning.

What great memories and friendships from my parks experiences. I had Vickers as my summer job until I left in early August for a full time job and to get married.

Valerie, Playgrounds Participant:

  • I enjoy being around kids my age. So many things to do at Chippewa Day Camp. It was the funnest thing I did last summer!

Bailey Giroux, Playgrounds Leader:

I was 16 when I was first hired by the City of Thunder Bay as a Play leader. My first day on the job I felt like any other kid would: nervous, anxious and excited. I came home from my first day on the site exhausted, covered in face paint and glue and beyond thrilled at the prospect of doing it all over again the next day. Four years and three summers later, I can't imagine myself spending those summers doing anything else.

Read the rest of Bailey's story
 

I was 16 when I was first hired by the City of Thunder Bay as a Play leader. My first day on the job I felt like any other kid would: nervous, anxious and excited. I came home from my first day on the site exhausted, covered in face paint and glue and beyond thrilled at the prospect of doing it all over again the next day. Four years and three summers later, I can't imagine myself spending those summers doing anything else.

Every year I hear a lot of people my age complaining about working their boring run of the mill summer jobs, and I have to tell myself not to brag about the 30 little friends I get to spend time with every day. In reality though, I guess my job isn't so different from theirs. While they wear high heels to the office I sport running shoes in the sand box. My hard hat is a baseball cap, and my first aid fanny pack is my trusted toolbox. Just like them I have paper work I need to fill out, like planning when to play dodge ball and coordinating obstacle courses, or writing out instructions to the daily craft.

There are definitely perks unique to the job, though. I have a drawer full of portraits hand made by some very talented young artists, and my pony bead covered wrists are never bare. I never leave work without a high five or a hug and grass stained knees are a sign of a job well done. Finally, my personal favourite is the celebrity status that comes with the title of Play leader. Whether it's the movie theatre, the waterfront, McDonalds or the CLE, you are guaranteed to hear at least one fan calling your name.  

When I was a child, summer was always the best time of the year. Now that I'm older, I still feel that way. I am proud to work for a city that provides children and families with the ability to enjoy the summer in a safe, healthy and friendly environment. My job can be exhausting and sometimes physically demanding (hey, being "it" is tough) but it is always rewarding.

 

Anonymous Parent:

  • I sent my 3 children to the playground activities. They had fun. A great service for kids. A good chance to meet other children.

Anonymous Participant:

  • In the cooking summer camps from playgrounds, the thing I liked most from the camps was that we got to take home whatever we made and we shared it with our family.

Megan, Playgrounds Participant:

  • When I went to Chippewa Day Camp it was so much fun. I would love to do it again this summer!

Contact Us