Originally published in the Prince Albert Daily Herald on August 3, 2017
When I was a young girl, my mother Mary Perkins was always signing me up for things – piano lessons, the Prince Albert Lion’s Band, the list goes on. Without a doubt, the best thing she ever signed me up for was the recreation leadership course, offered by the Prince Albert Parks and Recreation Department during the Easter break of 1970. This four-day course was a prerequisite for anyone wishing to apply for employment as a supervisor with the city’s summer playground program.
On March 19, 1970, I was awarded a leadership certificate by the City of Prince Albert and, at the age of 15, got my first real job – thanks Mom! That summer, armed with the knowledge I gained during the course – leadership skills, first aid, recreation program planning, and general supervision – I worked with a wonderful team of fellow supervisors to deliver what was one of the best playground programs anywhere.
History of a great system
Prince Albert’s playground development began in the 1930s, with the City’s first paddling pool opening at City Centre in July 1938. By the summer of 1948 there were six playgrounds in operation: West End, Bryant Park (now Kinsmen Park), East End, City Centre, West Hill, and North P.A. (either Nordale or Hazeldell). Total attendance in 1948 was 20,575, with the majority (7,370) at City Centre.
By 1968, three more playgrounds had been added to the system, at East Central on Sixth Avenue East, in the north end, and in the city’s newest subdivision, Crescent Heights. Service clubs played a significant role in supporting the development of Prince Albert’s nine playgrounds. The Kiwanis Club, for example, provided at least three paddling pools and numerous pieces of playground equipment for the children of the city over the years.
On July 2, 1968, the Prince Albert Daily Herald congratulated the City’s recreation department for offering the best playground program in the province, and perhaps, in western Canada. “If keeping children busy was the only prerequisite to eliminating juvenile delinquency, Prince Albert would have been free of this social malady years ago,” the editorial stated. “One obvious advantage that will be gained by a child who participates in the playground activities is the opportunity to learn to work and get along with others. In these days of racial difference, tension and violence, this lesson ranks, perhaps, above all others.”
When I was hired as a supervisor in 1970, the City’s playground program was well-established. The previous summer, the city’s children made a whopping 81,387 visits to the nine playgrounds. Weekly attendance averaged between 5,000 and 6,000. The playgrounds opened in early July and ran until the end of August, operating from 10:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. with closures over lunch and dinner. Each playground had two supervisors, one full-time (Monday to Friday) and one part-time (weekends). We wore uniforms – white terrycloth tank tops and red shorts—with name tags and lanyards for keys and whistles.
Each of the seven weeks had a city-wide theme. For example, “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” week featured sports-related crafts and games and culminated in a sports day held at Bryant (Kinsmen) Park, with each playground entering teams.
I was the part-time supervisor at the East Central playground during my first summer. The following summer, I was the full-time supervisor at East End playground. In 1972, I served as the full-time supervisor on the Craft Caravan, a wagon that travelled from one playground to another every week to teach puppetry and arts and crafts.
During my three summers with playgrounds, I formed life-long friendships with fellow supervisors. I discovered that I could handle emergencies on my own – like removing shards of broken glass from small feet. I got a great tan. Most importantly, I learned leadership skills that have served me well throughout my life.
Still going strong
Today, Prince Albert’s playground program is going strong. Curtis Olsen, the City’s Recreation Coordinator, told me that 24 employees – 20 of whom are supervisors – serve an annual attendance of about 14,000 on ten playgrounds over seven program-themed weeks. In 2011, the City began converting most of the paddling pools into spray parks for safety reasons. Three paddling pools remain – at Crescent Heights, Hazeldell, and Kinsmen Park. An exciting addition to the program is Kidzfest, an annual children’s festival in Kinsmen Park organized by the playground supervisors.
A personal story…
In the 1990s, I was doing research in the Saskatchewan Archives in Saskatoon. A man with a familiar face sat at the next table. We started talking, trying to figure out how we knew each other. We were both delighted when we realized we had first met at East End playground – twenty-five years earlier. His name is Robert Doucette. I remember Robert as a bright, mischievous, charming kid of 10 or 11 years old who attended the playground I supervised in the summer of 1971. He had been one of the reliable older kids that I enlisted to help lead different activities. Robert went on to become a true leader – President of the Metis Nation of Saskatchewan from 2007 to 2016.
Thanks to the Bill Smiley Archives for its assistance in the preparation of this article.