“Lobster,” cries out Noah enthusiastically.
“I’ve got another one,” Nellie shouts into a gust of wind.
They are a crew of two, 50 metres from the shoreline, scrabbling across the grass and scooping up lobsters in their tiny hands. Dressed for the occasion, they are well bundled in rain slicks to protect them from buffeting northwesters.
Noah and Nellie continue with their imaginary harvest as a cloud of screeling gulls hovers over L’étoile du nord chugging through the passage in the breakwater. We watch the crew bring in a catch of fresh lobster after hauling traps for most of the morning from the cold waters of the gulf. Just behind us is a fish factory. We are in the thick of it.
Play imitating life.
We are in a playground adjacent to the fishing harbour of L’Étang-du-nord in Les Îles de la Madeleine – Magdalen Islands – a small archipelago of dunes, dips and hills in the Gulf of St. Lawrence on Canada’s east coast. Not everyone here is a fisherman but with $50 million (Cdn.) in annual revenues, it’s the most important sector of the local economy.
During our short stay, we come across two lovingly crafted fishing boat playspaces. One trumpets the bright colours of Acadie – blue, red and yellow. She’s built to scale and could hold plenty of stacked traps on her aft deck.
The kids run stem to stern. It’s a perpetual movement show with dollops of laughter and snatches of conversation sailing on the wind. Stomping through the wheelhouse and leaning over the bow they look out on their ocean of pretend.
This is a popular spot with the two newest crew members of the Étang-du-nord fishing fleet and we return for a second visit of imaginative play. The chilly weather is not a deterrent. The life size prop for make believe is a powerful magnet.
It’s much the same excitement at another boat 15 kms. to the south in Havre-Aubert. This is a fishing vessel too situated at the end of the historic La Grave stretch, a short swath of street modestly festooned with eateries, purveyors of art and a variety of artisanal fare. The boat borders a boardwalk on the protected harbour side. Across the road behind the storefronts we hear roiling high tide breakers hitting a ribbon of beach.
This vessel has more accessories – two slides, a tire swing and an orange buoy suspended from a rope that can be a bouncy ride, or an over-sized tether ball. The kids are in fine fettle – climbing, swinging, slip, sliding away. They flow between the three levels of play each taking turns as captain in the wheelhouse.
Up on the lookout level, I overhear talk of pirates and a whispered shiver me timbers. The mateys are a popular play theme since the recent purchase of a second hand toy pirate ship. Fortunately there’s no re-enactment of walking the plank. Below decks we find shelter for baby Lila from the rushing wind. She sits quietly, oblivious to the hurly burly circling around her.
Both communities have chosen playgrounds that are reflections of themselves. The real world ‘equipment’ leaves full rein for the imagination. The boats are a wonderful gift for us come-from-awayers as they help us connect with the place and learn through play.
They are not of the mass production mould. Their look and character are intrinsically their own. The world of play would be a much better place with more of these vernacular playgrounds that celebrate local culture and history. PlayGroundology is on the lookout for these kind of playspaces to share with readers. Drop us a line if you know of a place that fits the bill.
We have to leave the wind and waves behind and take the five hour ferry crossing back to Prince Edward Island. We didn’t come to les Îles for the playgrounds and it’s not these two wonderful boat spaces that will pull us back. When we do return though, we know there will be two playspaces inviting the kids to come sail away on blustery day, high sea adventures.