Jason Butorac and his wife Karen, who co-own a Canadian Tire in Yellowknife, first recognized the need for accessible spaces when they launched their Tuesday evening sensory-friendly shopping experiences in 2019.
"We shut the radios off, shut the music off and dim the lights so children or adults that have sensory issues can shop in a quiet environment," said Butorac.
That, he says, led inevitably to their next big idea.
"My wife is heavily, heavily involved in the charity work up in the North here and she just thought [an inclusive playground] was a no-brainer to do up here."
Not too long after, the Butoracs reached out to the Canadian Tire Jumpstart Charities and said they would like to build an inclusive playground for kids of all abilities in Yellowknife. They also promised to chip in $100,000 to get it started.
Canadian Tire Jumpstart Charities agreed, and committed to providing the remainder of the costs, at around $1.4 million.
The registered charity — dedicated to removing accessibility barriers for kids to participate in sport and play — has an Inclusive Play Project which aims to create large-scale inclusive playgrounds in all provinces and territories.
Now, two years later, the couple celebrated the construction of the Yellowknife Jumpstart Inclusive Playground with a groundbreaking ceremony at the playground's location in Somba K'e Park on Thursday afternoon.
First inclusive playground in the territory
This 11,000 square foot playground of the first of its kind in the Northwest Territories.
There are similar playgrounds in B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and P.E.I.
The Yellowknife Jumpstart Inclusive Playground is 11,000 square feet and includes a "We-Go-Round, double-wide ramps, bucket seat with harness swing, and a roller slide, creating opportunities for social, sensory, motor skills and cognitive development through casual play," according to a Canadian Tire statement.
Butorac adds that the playground has a soft, rubber mat to protect from injuries when kids are playing.
"There's even braille on the Jumpstart park for kids that have sight issues," he said. "[Inclusive playgrounds] are really needed everywhere."
Construction for the playground began last week. It is expected to be built and open to the public in September 2021.
Pandemic highlighted accessibility needs
Denise McKee, executive director of the NWT Disabilities Council, said in a statement that the development of this playground is "an important initial step toward making Yellowknife more accessible for families."
"Creating diverse spaces, which can be enjoyed by all members of the community, is critical in all stages of planning and development," she said.
According to the Canadian Tire Jumpstart Charities, the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the need for safe and accessible outdoor spaces for physically-distanced play.
Butorac says it's especially important for children with disabilities to be able to participate — something he didn't realize until sensory-friendly Tuesday evenings were launched at the store.
"It is a much bigger issue than we were aware of," he said.
Karen Butorac also says the disability community in Yellowknife has been working hard to create more equitable spaces.
"I feel like there is a lot of involvement already in the community, which is wonderful," she said.