Niagara Falls has a bit of a playground problem. Most small neighbourhood playgrounds are identitcally built, down to the same manufacturer. The same little slide area, the same weird monster ad to download some app, the same wide flat grass surrounding with few trees or foliage. Just a wide swath of lawn with a quickly assembled play equipment in the midde. But a few are different. Some are built into interesting landscapes; some have pools; some are actually designed with unique themes that aren’t “generic playground style”. With two kids under three, we’ve been to a fair number of these parks, and are happy to report on the best.
MacBain Community Centre
It’s an unfair fight and MacBain wins every time. Maybe the biggest playground in Niagara Falls, attached to the MacBain Community Centre, opened in 2005, isn’t exactly nearby a lot of homes; you have to drive there from pretty much anywhere. But with more housing developments springing up in the south end of Niagara Falls, MacBain’s about to get a lot busier. This jungle-themed experience has two large areas—a smaller one for toddlers (with springy bugs and multiple slides) and a larger one with multiple gear walls, rock climbing, dynamic slides and a long ramp to build excitement on the way up. The adjacent pavilion is always busy with picnicking families and yoga groups, and offers welcome shelter on sweltering summer days. The playground rooftops and trees also help provide shade, while the nearby splash pad runs nonstop in the summer. Add an ample number of swings and you’ve got easily the most expansive playground in Niagara Falls.
Here’s an unusual one. Built off of Haulage Road, one of the best hidden-gem trails in the city, Solar Park enjoys a few perks that few other playgrounds have. First and foremost: a merry-go-round. Honestly, there are very few of these in Niagara Falls. (This may in fact be the only one; I haven’t found any others.) Second: old trees. The playground is sandwiched between a sparse forest, a cluster of trees separating the park from the road, and Haulage, the 1.5-km multi-use trail that forces extra cardio on the kids who want to visit. There are two distinct, well-sized playgrounds for different age groups; plenty of swings, including an accessible one; many picnic tables; and a solid rock wall for climbing. Add rooftops on the playgrounds and the aforementioned trees and you’ve got a well-shaded, well-rounded playground that never gets too busy.
Firemen’s Park is the largest parkland in the city, 135 acres of hilly landscape, old trees and winding pedestrian paths. A disc golf course runs on the north end by a fishing pond, and a forested path crosses the full width—it’s actually part of the famed provincial Bruce Trail. Farther south, an off-leash dog park abuts the thing we’re actually here to talk about: the playground. Since the park is run by the Stamford Center Volunteer Firemen’s Association (hence the name), the playground is aptly firefighting-themed, with fire engine spring riders and poles to slide down. The bright primary-coloured aesthetic is also a nice reprieve from the same-old, same-old playscapes in the rest of the city. Because the wide swath of land is also regularly home to festivals and gatherings, including tree-planting and concerts, there’s a good chance every local will visit at some point in their lives—and a good thing, too, since there’s so much worth experiencing beyond the playground itself.
F.H. Leslie Park
The old playground at this downtown park was in rough condition, splattered with graffiti and marred by crumbling stairs. Then the main slide straight up broke—someone, presumably some teenager, smashed it into sharp plastic pieces—so they tore the whole thing down and built a brand new one. While it’s not the most inspired design, the playground architects had a small space to work in, so I don’t fault them too much. There’s a rope web and funky Connect 4 game that make it a little distinct. But the real wins at F.H. Leslie come elsewhere in this space: a lengthy row of swings above a sand pit, a hill steep and tall enough for winter sledding, a splash pad with dumping buckets and water cannons, and, of course, a community swimming pool. Like most of the parks on this list, F.H. Leslie thrives due to its interesting geography, including a row of tall pine trees, small hills and valleys, and a wide-open sunny field for running around. Most visitors, however, hang out in the shade, at the top of the slope or at one of the picnic tables, all of which combine to make this park feel cozy and welcoming.