Teaching Young Canada to Play

More and more it is being recognized that the question of finding room for play is one of the most difficult problems confronting the modern city. In this article Miss Bell tells how the urban centres of Canada are solving the difficulty with the supervised playground.

DOROTHY G. BELL July 15 1926

Teaching Young Canada to Play

More and more it is being recognized that the question of finding room for play is one of the most difficult problems confronting the modern city. In this article Miss Bell tells how the urban centres of Canada are solving the difficulty with the supervised playground.

DOROTHY G. BELL July 15 1926

Teaching Young Canada to Play

More and more it is being recognized that the question of finding room for play is one of the most difficult problems confronting the modern city. In this article Miss Bell tells how the urban centres of Canada are solving the difficulty with the supervised playground.


ALL day the scorching sun had blazed mercilessly into the deep canyon of red brick tenement.

Though the heat waves still hung in the narrow gap and the little street was heavy with the smell of hot pavement, the sinking sun had brought relief, and the sultry air rang with the joyous laughter of children at play—enjoying their first respite from the fury of the July day.

A heavy grey roadster shot suddenly around the corner into the narrow street.

A shrill warning of the klaxon, a shriek of tightening brakes, a frightened scream, a flash of a child’s white face across the vision of the driver and the big car swerved, crashed into the curb, and piled up against the tenement wall. A heavy hush dropped over the street, reverberant a moment before with childish glee. The driver, his white face streaked with blood, crawled from the wreckage and ran back to the spot where a crowd, already gathered, made way for him. In its midst a wild-eyed woman knelt on the tarry pavement holding the crushed and broken body of a little boy, and calling piteously to her God to let him live.

“Don’t let him die! My boy! My baby! No, No! He is not dead!”

The driver of the car, a doctor on an emergency call, looked at the bruised and swollen face of the baby clutched so closely to his frantic mother. There was nothing he could do. The little life had gone out.

Another mother left to mourn, another citizen lost to Canada. And in every city in Canada hundreds of other and similar tragedies have happened— are happening.

No Monopoly of.Street Rights

WHO is to blame?

The motorist? Motorists must drive and they must drive on the streets—there is no other place.

The child? Children must play and they must play on the streets— there is no other place.

A Toronto citizen has said that parents should be made to answer for the death of little ones if the child meets death through being allowed to play in the street.

“Children should not be allowed to play on the streets without being watched,” he says.

But children must have air, even though it is the air of a grimy, sultry street; they must have exercise, though it is but hop-scotch on the squared pavement; they must have play, even though they run wild between the walls that contain a city thoroughfare. No mother can keep her children shut up in the house; no mother can keep her eyes on them when they are out.

No. It is not the motorist, the child, the parent who is to blame. They only suffer. It is lack of sufficient playgrounds—playgrounds equipped and supervised, where Canadian children may be safe and happy in well organized, healthy play.

What is Canada doing to supply the remedy that will save these little lives, spare these mothers’ heartbreaks, protect and develop our future citizens? Nothing.

What part are our provinces playing? None.

What steps are our cities taking to better this condition? Small ones—but they are in the right direction. It can be said for the cities that they, at least, realize the value of the playground and are helping to maintain those grounds which are already established.

“But why all this fuss about playgrounds?” asked the man of to-day, the child of yesterday. “I didn’t have to be given a place to play nor did I have to be taught to play.”

Some Reasons for the Fuss

PERHAPS the explanation becomes most simple in the words of Dr. J. P. Gadbois, of the Parks and Playgrounds Association of Montreal, who says:

“Through the years that Canada has been growing up, her children have been chased first from, the big, open fields to the little back yards. From the back yards they have been driven to the streets and now they are driven from the streets. But where will they go? There is not sufficient space in Canada set apart for them. And they are forgetting how to play.”

Life itself is based on fair play, the knowledge of how to win and how to lose. No nation can afford to allow its children to forget how to play. And on the playgrounds that Canada possesses to-day there occur many pathetic incidents that prove this point.

In one of the western cities the child of a LieutenantGovernor used to come down to a supervised playground every day. He watched the other children with envious eyes but did not join in with them. He had no idea about how to play any of the games or even how to tumble in with the rest and enjoy himself.

The supervisor noticed the youngster who stood bashfully aside while the other children played. She brought him into the games and taught him how to play. Once they learned, they got more enjoyment out of it, perhaps, than any of the other children. The whole outlook of these children, indeed their whole life, will be influenced and changed by that knowledge.

Rev. A. H. Sovereign, of Vancouver, who has done perhaps as much as anyone in Canada to advance the

theory of “good play, good citizens” says that a boy without a playground becomes a man without a job. And it has been said, too, that “a nation never rises above the level of its women.”

Canada does not want men without jobs and she wants the level of her women to be high.

It is for these reasons as well as for the joy and protection and benefit of our little ones that a great cry for more and better playgrounds has gone forth from those individuals and organizations which are working, separately and collectively, from coast to coast for a great ideal—enough equipped and supervised playgrounds for the accommodation of every child in our Dominion.

The First Playgrounds

THE idea of playgrounds for children originated in Boston, in 1895, when three sandpiles were provided by the civic authorities for the amusement of children. In 1903, eighteen cities in America had set aside playground areas, and in 1924 there were 6,601 playgrounds in 680 cities. In Canada progress has proportionally approximated the general advance. It was the eastern cities—perhaps because they were more cramped for space than those of the west—which first took up seriously the establishment of children’s playgrounds. The western cities, however, despite their wide streets, vacant lots and open spaces, have been quick to follow the lead, and some of the most up-to-date, thoroughly equipped and supervised playgrounds in Canada are now to be found west of the Rocky Mountains.

In Vancouver a few years ago there was n,ot one properly equipped playground in the city. To-day, under the supervision of S. A. Miller, there are 28 recreation areas and, thanks to the Gyro Club, six of the best equipped and supervised grounds in the Dominion.

Though perhaps not the first in Vancouver to realize the lack of playgrounds and what it meant to Vancouver children and Vancouver as a city, members of the Gyro Club were the first to take a definite step to remedy the evil. In 1922 they put on a vaudeville show which netted them $2,000. A little later they put on a five-day celebration at the entrance to Stanley Park, and raised $24,000 which they turned over to the Children’s Playground Committee. This gave them funds for four playgrounds. The city of Vancouver co-operated willingly with the Gyro Club, donated playground sites from many of their park board properties, took over the maintenance of all their playgrounds, and provided summer supervision at all of them.

Probably the most ideally situated playground in the whole of America is the Ceperly Playground at Second Beach, Vancouver. This was provided for in the will of Mrs. Ceperly and is located on the sandy lip of English Bay, with the great trees of Stanley Park around it and the open sea before it. The park board has closed the old motor road which ran across the front of this area and has built a new one behind it so that the kiddies may have a safe and easy access to the water from the grounds.

In 1914 William R. Reader, of Calgary, began an agitation for playgrounds in Calgary. In 1916 that city had twelve equipped playgrounds. To-day there are over thirty. They are in use, however, only during the summer holiday time. The work for that time is carried out very thoroughly and is divided into divisions—industrial work, games, swimming and athletic events.

Edmonton, though it is one of our most spacious western cities with the wide sweep of the prairie before it, is keen for the establishment of playgrounds but is not possessed of many yet. Here W. T. Tait, supervisor of the Gyro playground and a member of the Public School Board, made an interesting and successful experiment two years ago —that of supervision without equipment.

Edmonton is rich in parks and school grounds, but it has been difficult to raise the money to equip them. The bigger boys and girls used to flock to the equipped playground and monopolize the apparatus so that the smaller children had no opportunity to use it. Mr. Tait organized these boys and girls and took them to a playground where there was no equipment. 1 ere e organized the games and got the children intereste in them from the point of view of a love for play rather t an the joy of winning. He developed friendly competitions in boat building among the boys, and dolls’ dressmaking among the girls. The experiment was successful in every way.

In Winnipeg the first playground was established in 1908 as an experiment by a mothers’ club. It was such a success that the next year a playground commission was appointed by the city council. Seven grounds were built during that year, and the appropriation for the care of them was enlarged. In 1912, A. R. Morrison was appointed playground official and the grounds were left open all the year around—as skating rinks in the winter.

In Winnipeg, as well as other prairie cities where swimming is hard to get, the wading and swimming pools are the most popular feature in any of the playgrounds. And there are many of them.

Last year the women’s associations of Victoria, B.C., told the school commissioners that the prosperity of private schools in that city was based on their attitude toward play and games. It is rather astonishing to note then that in a city of sport lovers there is net as yet cne single equipped and supervised playground for children outside of these private schools. The civic authorities, however, have had the situation brought home to them somewhat forcibly. A child playing in the streets not long ago fell, and broke an arm with the consequence that the city paid heavy damages.

Since then they have been generous in their playground grants and an up-to-date playground is now being erected as a memorial to the Rev.

William Stevenson.

Montreal, too, suffers from lack of playgrounds. With one of the largest populations in the Dominion, it possesses only ten playgrounds.

Lord Byng was struck by this lack of play accommodation some time ago and spoke of it in a recent address to a Montreal gathering.

“You have a glorious playground for the children up the hill,” he said, “but you don’t take them, there till they are dead. Then you take them up to the most lovely cemetery I have ever seen. All that ground—that lovely playground— is a cemetery. I am not quite certain that some of these children of the murky atmosphere between St. Catherine Street and the river don’t sometimes look up from that murky atmosphere at rather a happy Utopia and they know they won’t go there till they are dead.”

In 1906 Montreal citizens organized a playground commission and by 1913 they had established seven playgrounds. Since then the growth has been very slow. But there is one advantage—they are open 12 hours a day and 365 days in the year. Montreal, too, makes up for the lack of playgrounds a little by its large number of swimming pools, yet Dr. Gadbois, Playground Supervisor, declares that this is not enough. “In every quarter of a mile there should be a playground of at least half an acre with trees, swings and amusements. In every half mile there should be a much larger playground with plenty of space, suitable apparatus and play leaders,” he says.

Benefits to be Gained

If Canada gets sufficient playgrounds for her children what is the promise in return?

Two things—-good health and sound mentality. Canada is not an outstandingly healthy nation at present. That is not a pleasant situation to face, but it has been proven a fact, nevertheless. It was one of the dark spots uncovered for us by the war. During that time of stress more Canadians died of the “white plague,” it is said, than there were men killed in battle. There is nothing any better for this ill than outdoor air and exercise. Had this been possible for these victims when they were children, they would, in all probability, have avoided the dread disease.

In the close, heavy atmosphere of a downtown street in Montreal a lad, not too well nourished, gathered a germ stirred up in the dust by the incessant stream of traffic in the street where he lived and played. It fell when conditions were ripe for its germination; it flourished like p bad weed; it took hold of the little life, weakened it, and finally it choked it out altogether. During the years that this little fellow should have had light, air and healthy exercise to fight the tuberculosis that had him in its grip, he was living in cramped quarters and spending his time playing about the street, hot and murky in the summer, and cold and bleak in the winter, breathing bad air and getting no exercise.

In Vancouver, another lad began life in the same way, but the rector of an Anglican church discovered him one evening with his white face pressed against the window of the church gymnasium watching with envious eyes the other lads at play there. The rector brought him in, and noted his condition. After that the boy came regularly to the “gym” and to the church playground where he got fresh air and exercise in good measure. To-day that boy is a man, well and strong— one of the most successful business men in Vancouver.

In Edmonton it is said that, since playgrounds have been installed, there is but one case of curvature of the spine where there were ten before. Play is the Creator’s natural method of developing boys and girls into healthy men and women. When properly guided it makes better men and women of them, because it develops them physically, and when they are well physically their outlook on life in general wifi be a cleaner, better, broader one.

It takes play to bring the child into the open air, put the fundamental muscles in action and cause a complete mental renewal because the movements are unconscious, spontaneous and happy.

While organized play and supervised playgrounds can do all this for the physical development of the nation, perhaps its most valuable benefits are mental. Nothing in the world will develop a better, more noble character than sport—clean, well directed sport. Most of the wars, revolutions, wickedness and unpleasantness in the world have been occasioned by the lack of the sporting spirit, and the easiest, most natural way to instill it into the mind of the nation is through sport itself.

Undoubtedly Britain owes much of her supremacy, her high standing among the nations, to the training of her men on the cricket and rugby fields, for Britishers have always been sport lovers. If our boys and girls can be taught the right spirit, the right attitude in their childhood, they will grow up with it and their actions as citizens will be influenced by it.

An Incipient “Red” is Reformed

DERHAPS as fine an illustration of this point as possible is the case of a Vancouver newsboy. He came to the playground bragging about how few papers he sold on his corner. “I don’t care if I don’t sell any,” he said. “I ain’t gonna work. There’s lotsa people what got more money ’n me who’ll just hafta support me that’s all.”

That boy’s attitude was Red—very Red; he lived in a Bolshevist community; his parents were Bolshevists. He was a clever boy and had he been allowed to cherish these views he would have developed into a menace to the safety of the nation. His hand was against everybody; he imagined consequently that everybody’s hand was against him. He was perfectly capable of playing a lone hand and a wicked one. After four months of playground training, co-operation with the other boys and team-work for the glory of the playground and the district, that boy’s character began to mould itself differently.

When the playground closed for the winter he went to the supervisor. He had no show ol gratitude for what had been done for him—he did not know anything had been done, but he said, “I’m gonna quit sellin’ papers. I’m gonna git a job in a office or somethin’.” He did. To-day he is a good citizen in a good job. Children are often misunderstood and because of the misjudgment of their friends, develop a morose, hard streak in them that often leads to trouble, not only in their own lives, but in the lives of others. Here, too, the playground plays its part.

In V innipeg a little Russian lad of some ten years of age had always refused to take part in any of the street games of his friends. As a result he went by the name of “Sissy.” He was reserved and shy and would sit by himself for hours, but down in the depths of his own little soul he craved the companionship of the other boys. He grew thin and pale and miserable. He seldom laughed. His father cursed him as a “spineless piece”; his mother could not be bothered with “a boy who should have been a girl,” his brothers and sisters chided and teased him. His one consolation was a cracked violin. One day he went to the playgrounds. The supervisor then, Mrs. Arthur Hodgson, noticed him sitting by himself in a corner. She enticed him into the games and extracted a promise from him to come back next day. He got into the games, he became popular with the other boys and girls and he played the games well. It wras not until the end of the first season that he confessed to the supervisor the reason that he had never played with other boys before.

“It was the noise—the terrible noise they made when they played on the street,” he said. “It drove me crazy. Here they are not noisy.” The child, who later developed into a clever musician, had such a sensitive ear and such a timid nature that the discordant shriekings of the youngsters at play made his very soul screw up in horror. Had it not been for the playground and the understanding of the supervisor, the lad would probably have gone through life being misunderstood and misjudged. He would probably have developed into a melancholy, morose man who could find no joy in life. As it is, his talent has been discovered and is being developed.

There are many cases where boys and girls are afraid to play. Their natural timidness and shyness holds them back. These kiddies need play more than any other, yet they will never get it unless they are guided and helped by an older person whose business it is to see that children play, and play correctly. Mr. Tait of the Edmonton School Board tells of his own experience as a boy.

"I have always loved games, but until I was old enough to join the ‘Y’ I could never be persuaded to take part in them. I used to dance with eagerness around the other boys as they played, but I always misconstrued their abruptness and roughness and thought that they wanted to keep me out.”

Perhaps it was this early characteristic of Mr. Tait’s that led him into playground work and it was undoubtedly that complete understanding of such a nature that enabled him to bring other children out of their timidness.

One little boy in Edmonton was particularly timid and afraid. Anyone could take anything away from him and he made no protest. Mr. Tait had been impressing upon the children of the playground the necessity of law and order. One of the laws was that no sand or dirt should be thrown. The timid little boy came up boldly to Mr. Tait shortly after his talk to them. “Dat guy over dere trew sand,” he asserted.

“He did?” questioned Mr. Tait. “And what did you do about it?”

“I bloodied his nose,” exclaimed the six-year-old valiantly.

In a coast city a little colored boy was miserable because his playmates would not include him in their games. He was generous, unselfish and kind and the supervisor saw that if the other children would associate with him he would become an influence for good among them. The children loved their supervisor and thought anything she did w'as right, and when they saw her playing with the colored lad they followed suit and to-day he is one of the most popular youths on the ground.

It is impossible to estimate the value of supervised playgrounds for Canada or any other country.

There has never been anything in the lives of Canadian boys and girls that has brought so much joy.

“It ’ud be jes’ perfect if they’d have eats,” suggested a little girl to the supervisor in Calgary.

In Toronto, though that city boasts something like 168 playgrounds, children are out themselves with petitions canvassing their neighborhood for more.

Supervised playgrounds have proved a God-send to mothers—especially mothers who have a living to earn, for they can send their kiddies there in the morning and know that they are safe and happy until they return for them at night. In Vancouver the playgrounds are the gathering places for young and old.

To one playground there, overlooking the blue waters of English Bay and facing the snow-capped peaks of the Cascades, there came for many years three whitehaired, old veterans crippled with rheumatism stiffened with age, each bearing the scars of many campaigns. With the experience of life all behind them they met there ’midst the joy and the noise of youth with all its experience before it, to discuss world problems, to decide weighty matters of state. One was a Scotchman, one an Irishman, the third an Englishman.

Unlike the younger habitants of the playground, they had their serious moments. The Englishman and the Irishman never failed to begin the day with a heated bout about home rule. On one particular afternoon it began like this: The Irishman, first to arrive, was sitting on the bench alone. The Englishman was next to appear. He came up unseen by his companion who was gazing through the purple haze of the mountains across the bay—right throi*gh the haze, perhaps, thought the Englishman, to his own native Irish heath; for in the old eyes was a certain mistiness.

“Not good for one of his years to ruminate over days gone by,” thought the old man, and clapping him on the back he said right out of a blue sky:

“I was just thinking, brother, as I walked along that Ireland has no earthly right to home rule.” The dreaminess fled from the faded Irish eyes. They flashed a warning signal and the battle was on.

A few moments later Mrs. Hodgson, at that time the superintendent of Vancouver’s playgrounds, came up with the Scotchman hobbling at her side. “Excuse me, gentlemen,” she said, “but your companion here has petitioned me to allow you two to splash about with the other children in the pool. He says while it may be bad for your rheumatism it is the only way to cool this heated discussion.”

Playgrounds and facilities for a good time will help kiddies grow up with the spirit that makes for success in the world. Statistics have proved this. When they have to play around the streets they begin bad habits early and these habits, unchecked, lead them on to lives of crime.

Verdict is Unanimous

A JUDGE of the Juvenile Court says that after a playground was established in the district his cases of thievery, burglary and other misdemeanors became reduced in one year from a hundred to three cases.

William H. Stanke, of Philadelphia, has declared that he is convinced that the lack of playgrounds and opportunities for healthful recreation leads boys and girls into temptation and is the real foundation for their delinquency:

“These delinquent children coming to the bar of court are often more sinned against than sinning. Stunted bodies often result in undeveloped minds and the latter in warped morals. Every child playing upon a sand heap in the street, wading in a flooded gutter, trespassing upon a building in the course of construction, sliding and skating upon the sidewalks, using the roadways as a bah-park is a living cry for the public playground.” “I can do more for the manhood of Canada with a pair of boxing gloves than can be done for them through the Sunday Schools,” says E. B. Archibald, of the Toronto Board of Education. “Boys are kept quiet and well-behaved in a Sunday school because of a certain reverence they have been taught at home; in school they behave themselves because of a very great respect for a certain strap that reposes in the teacher’s desk drawer. But once out of those schools on the corner lot, in the street all restraint is gone and the boy shows himself as he is, as he will develop, as a future Canadian citizen. If he is selfish, he will develop into a bully, and develop the ‘gang spirit’; if he is wild, he will stray away from home and get into bad company. There is no check on him. He does not know that he is doing wrong, his parents and his teachers do not know. He is merely developing the bad in himself while the good is left undeveloped.

“If on the other hand after school a boy goes to a properly supervised playground he will get all the sports in which he delights, and when he shows a tendency to hog the ball, to bully a smaller boy or to put the gang spirit ahead of that of co-operation he can be corrected. Consequently his character will be developed in the right way.”

Supervised playgrounds—summing up generally what they will do for Canada in the words of Rev. A. H. Sovereign— will decrease juvenile delinquency and crime; build up health and physique; provide wholesome recreation; break down race prejudice; assimilate the foreigner; develop a community spirit and teach citizenship, Canadianism and good sportsmanship by playing the game.