Top News

Kentville park to combat ‘nature deficit disorder’

Alexia McLaughlin, above, her husband Garnet and their staff at Cobequid Consulting build natural parks and creative structures around Atlantic Canada from their backyard in Economy, Colchester County. AARON BESWICK • THE CHRONICLE HERALD
Alexia McLaughlin, above, her husband Garnet and their staff at Cobequid Consulting build natural parks and creative structures around Atlantic Canada from their backyard in Economy, Colchester County. AARON BESWICK • THE CHRONICLE HERALD - The Chronicle Herald

The real test of the new playground will be on Saturday in Kentville, where children are invited to come play at the grand opening of Oakdene Park.

There’s a serpent’s cave built into a hill with slides running down the side and a double bay zipline held aloft by giant, red cedar logs. There are swings and a big spider net.

And . . . there’s a mud kitchen.

“Some people forget what it was like when they were kids. . . . I’m one of those who didn’t,” said Garnet McLaughlin.

It helps that he and his wife Alexia have three children of their own to field test the concepts of Cobequid Consulting.

That is to say — play on them.

The couple are the force behind a new kind of park.

“You hear people talk about ‘nature deficit disorder’ amongst children,” said Alexia.

“We’re about working with the landscape. Not everything children play on has to be built out of plastic and metal.”

In the yard behind their house in Central Economy, Colchester County, is where they build and play with big hemlock and red

cedar logs, with big rocks and stumps.

It’s a land of imagination — of wacky houses and bears carved with chainsaws.

Garnet, Alexia and their eight employees are working with community groups and municipalities around Atlantic Canada to build play spaces primarily out of natural materials and designed to harness the imagination of the young minds that use them.

It was an unexpected but natural progression for the couple, who moved back to Upper Economy from Ontario two decades ago to build trails in this province’s new wilderness areas.

They started with hand tools and wheelbarrows, clearing trails.

Then someone would want a timber-framed sign for the entrance.

Then someone would want a bench that fit the landscape.

They evolved from swinging axes and shovels by adding planning and design to make the most of a community’s resources and the place in which they want to build.

“What you also found was that many of these communities don’t know the resources they already have,” said Garnet.

“You’ll find out that someone with a construction company lives there and has children that would use the park and no one thought to ask them for help.”

Planning involves talking to the community about who will use the space — how many and the ages of the children.

For some communities in rural Nova Scotia, that can be a hard conversation.

“When we get contacted by a community group, some of our first questions are about capacity,” said Garnet.

“Because it might be just one person who feels strongly. We go and meet with the community leaders, invite their municipal representative and talk about the demographics.”

Cobequid often helps groups find and apply for grants, and identify businesses and volunteers in the community that can lessen the cost or donate resources.

“People are used to looking at a catalogue and picking an outcome,” said Garnet.

“That’s not what we do. You’ll never find one of our parks that looks remotely close to anywhere else.”

So while there’s a serpent’s cave in Kentville, the McLaughlins are planning a pirate ship for Saint John with climbing nets up to the crow’s nest and blackboards in the forecastle.

Recent Stories