Rebuilding the Jamie Bell Adventure Playground
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Rebuilding the Jamie Bell Adventure Playground

With a dash of television magic, the High Park playground that was burned down in March will be rebuilt in July by Mike Holmes (and the community).

Ward 13 Councillor Sarah Doucette, landscape architect Janet Rosenberg, and Mike Holmes. Photo by Miroslav Glavic.

“Think of me as the new Jamie Bell,” might not have been the most tasteful thing for celebrity contractor Mike Holmes to say to a room full of the late Bell’s friends, family, and neighbours, but surely Holmes meant well. Standing in the auditorium in Humberside Collegiate Institute on Thursday night in his spotless overalls, he laid out the plan for him and his “guys”—and his new Holmes Makes it Right TV show—to rebuild the Jamie Bell Adventure Playground in partnership with the City of Toronto and Janet Rosenberg and Associates landscape architects. Though light on a few details, like whether the updated playground will include a climbing wall, or if wood chips or rubber are best for the ground-cover, the plan’s finish-date is clear: July 7.

Local councillor Sarah Doucette (Ward 13, Parkdale-High Park) told the crowd of about 60 adults, 10 kids, and eight TV production crew guys (who were filming the event for the TV show) that the groundbreaking ceremony for the park will be today, Friday, at 1 p.m.

The July 7 deadline will be the official “community build day” when local residents can add finishing touches to the playground, after Holmes and his crew have done the heavy lifting.

Though Doucette confirmed that wood will be the primary building material, Rosenberg said that the actual design of the new structure will be “a surprise,” but it will be “based on input from the community.” To facilitate input from the community, tables were set up at the front of the auditorium for families and children to draw design ideas. Doucette added that any other ideas or drawings can be sent to her office email, and told us after the meeting that given the tight deadline, any ideas should be sent in “as quickly as possible.”

Police investigate at Jamie Bell Playground in High Park, which was set ablaze in mid-March. (Christopher Drost/Torontoist)

A previous offer to rebuild the playground in time for summer, extended by a group including Landscape Ontario and Natural Playgrounds, was turned down by the City, citing the need for community consultations and special planning considerations in light of the playground’s location in an environmentally sensitive ravine. But Doucette stressed that she and Rob Richardson, the acting manager of partnership development in the City’s parks department, who was in attendance at the meeting, have been doing lots of work behind the scenes in the meantime. There are also some important differences between the two plans, she explained later by phone: the earlier one wasn’t focused on rebuilding the castle, which she identified as a key priority, and involved design ideas that weren’t feasible in a graded ravine. Utility line information for the area was still being nailed down, and the whole thing would have been too rushed. “We just needed that little bit more time,” Doucette said.

She also told us that Richardson spoke with Landscape Ontario this week; their offer to help stands, and once the summer season is over they will be looking at making some contributions to the playground as well.

In addition to Holmes’ in-kind donation of the labour, a previously announced corporate donation of $50,000 from Canadian Tire is still coming through (along with an additional $10,000 that was fundraised at two individual store locations); TD Bank Group has made a $10,000 donation via the Bloor and Runnymede branch; and Toronto Parks and Trees has received over $16,000 in donations for the project. Doucette also announced that any donations made to Toronto Parks and Trees from May 17 to June 30 will be matched dollar for dollar by the Sprott Foundation, up to a total of $30,000.

As for how the partnership between Holmes and the City came to be, Doucette told us Holmes’ people contacted her office, but also that “we had to do a video to let [HGTV] and Mike know what we were all about. So we sold ourselves. And obviously we did a good job.”