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Earl Bales Park

Bathurst Street, North York, Ontario


Bathurst Street, North York, Ontario


City of Toronto



Project Team

Al Underhill & Associates


Accessibility & Risk Assessment
Park & Recreation Design

As the result of a substantial private donation, in the fall of 2009 The MBTW Group was engaged by the City of Toronto to design, lead the public facilitation, prepare construction/working drawings and provide construction administration services for a sensory garden and water play area located within the larger Earl Bales Park. The intent for this “park within a park” was to design a unique space for children of all abilities.

The garden spaces were designed in collaboration with Visionscapes (landscape architects), and were seen as an opportunity for all children and in particular children with special needs to explore all 7 senses. Not only were the conventional 5 senses of sight, sound, smell, touch and taste explored but the park was intentionally designed to integrate elements for both vestibular and kinesthetic/propriosthetic stimulation.

The new sensory garden and water play were also designed to be entirely wheelchair accessible. Accessibility within the park was not seen as an afterthought or as an issue of accommodation but the specific details that make this park accessible to people of all abilities were integrated seamlessly within the design, so that they would be imperceptible to any visitor and as such, would not marginalize those with special needs. In addition, thought and care was also taken to incorporate elements geared to the needs and interests of children with autism.

Design elements and areas within the park not only include the Sensory Garden but also include areas of retreat such as "The Nest" and the "Aspen Grove", as well as open gathering areas such as the "Green". Active elements include the Water Play and Music Garden and Hand Pump and Water Trough. The backdrop of the water play area are a series of series of colourful tubes and water jet columns that were designed to look like colourful crayons linking the edge of the water play area. The water feature columns both spray jets and mist as well as play nature sounds when activated. These vertical water features, as well as floor jets, free standing water features and a frog that sprays water create an active water play with a variety of play experiences for children of varying abilities. In addition, specially designed and colourful stools, benches, seating platforms, shade umbrellas and a pedestrian bridge were integrated through the park.