PROVIDENCE BAY—By the time the ribbon was cut, more than 200 different pairs of feet had trod over the soft sand of the Providence Bay beach and hundreds of eyes had soaked in the project online, courtesy of a live streaming Internet feed.
Work started on the beach earlier in the week, as volunteers from the community and local businesses pulled out the old equipment and smoothed the beach down. Cement foundations were sunk into the ground and welding work was completed, all before build day, some of it in the pouring rain.
On build day, Saturday, April 28, volunteers began to arrive at the beach, some even before the organizers from the town and the Providence Bay/Spring Bay Lions Club.
“We had people here at 7:30 am, and we were still setting up,” Amanda Gunner, economic development officer with the Municipality of Central Manitoulin, said with a laugh. Ms. Gunner manned the registration tent, where volunteers turned in their waivers for coloured bracelets.
It didn’t take long for the main structures to go up and by noon, when the roughly 200 people broke for lunch, all that had yet to be done was minor structural work, the installation of small parts and the installation of slides.
While the volunteers mowed down on the free lunch of sausages, hotdogs, and a variety of salads and desserts, heavy equipment moved sand around, bringing it within reach of volunteers for shovelling and raking.
Construction of the new playground, named in honour of the late Annie McNichol, resumed in the afternoon. Ms. McNichol, a life-long resident of the area, was born in 1887 and became known for her superb memory and hot cup of tea. It is due to her memory that much of the Bay’s local history is remembered, and she wrote for the Manitoulin Recorder for nearly 25 years.
There was a lot of sand to shovel, as the cement footings required at least a foot of sand between it and the surface. One volunteer, Mona Lewis, didn’t let the chilly wind stop her from helping out. The 80-plus-year-old area resident out-shovelled the men and women around her, quickly diminishing the pile of dirt she was working on.
“This is amazing,” Ms. Lewis told The Expositor. “Anything to help the kids.”
While there was some grousing from the older residents of the area about the changes coming to Manitoulin Island, there were no dissenting voices about the new playground.
“This is the sort of change we like to see,” declared one resident.
Kate Krupp, a Providence Bay resident who uses the Internet to teach at the University of British Columbia, relocated her family to the area roughly one year ago.
“It was this kind of thing that brought us here,” Ms. Krupp said. “The summer programs and the beach are amazing. And we’d heard rumours about this (the beach playground project).”
Eight-year-old Shannon Nadorozny and her dad, Dean, came to Providence Bay from Newmarket.
“We have property here,” Mr. Nadorozny said. “It’s great—it’s an amazing setup and a beautiful day. My wife was always concerned about the safety of the old equipment.”
He said the family made the eight-hour trip north, stopping in Sudbury to pick up family members who also have property in Providence Bay, to pitch in. His wife helped tend the daycare inside and painted many of the children’s faces.
On the boardwalk, well away from most of the build, Patrick Kiley had set up equipment to broadcast the day live online.
“We ran 400 feet of ethernet from the Interpretive Centre to here,” he explained, pointing out the cables. “We have a hub set up here with Wi-Fi so we can take our camera around the beach and stream it live.”
Mr. Kiley showed off the screen, where viewers could leave comments.
“We’ve got people commenting here from all over the Island, from Sudbury and Sault Ste. Marie, southern Ontario and the United States,” he said. “We even had someone comment from Athens, Greece.”
He said a good portion of the people leaving comments were people who vacation in Providence Bay or have special ties to the people helping.
“We’ve had a lot of people leaving a comment saying ‘say hi to so-and-so’ as they see their friends and family on camera,” Mr. Kiley explained.
The playground equipment, supplied by Paris Equipment Manufacturing Ltd., was created in bright colours of red, tan, green and blue.
Algoma-Manitoulin MPP Michael Mantha stopped in to commend the volunteers.
“This is great,” he said, watching the volunteers and kids digging into the mounds of dirt. “I’m not unused to hard work—I worked in a lumber mill. Give me a shovel.”
After helping volunteers shovel for a while, Mr. Mantha stepped back and gathered people together so he could present a plaque to the community, along with Michael Erskine, the representative from the Trillium Foundation, one of the financial sponsors of the build.
“I am so fortunate to do this,” Mr. Erskine said later, after the playground was complete. “Looking at it on paper, you don’t have a real sense of what it will be. It doesn’t even touch it. The people are amazing.”
Throughout the day, children as young as two-years-old were seen running about, trying to help the adults build their new playground.
“I built some of the swings and I raked the dirt,” said 12-year-old Brynn Kiley. She had come with her father, Patrick, and had been there since 8:30 am.
Providence Bay/Spring Bay Lions Club president Brian Mitchell said he was very proud of the community who had raised up the new playground.
“These things are normally designed by adults for kids,” he told the assembled crowd of adults and youth. “These units were all chosen by kids for kids, through a dotmocracy exercise at Central Manitoulin Public School. Everything here is what the kids wanted.”
The playground was fully assembled ahead of schedule.
Children lined up behind a ribbon, created from construction paper cutouts of their hands and after a countdown from 10, they were off, racing to try out the new playground.
The Lions Club raised a total of $113,000 for the project and also secured a Helping Hands award from the Let Them Be Kids not-for-profit organization. The award gives the community a dollar for every 50 cents the community raises for the cost of equipment.
There are minor projects that need to be completed, such as the installation of the mobi mat and ramp so the play equipment will be wheelchair accessible, as well as the installation of benches and a sign with the name of the various sponsors who helped make the playground come to be.
Seven-year-old Liam Bridgeman summed up every child’s feelings fairly well, stating, “This is awesome!”