‘We stopped going there way back’: Complaints raised about west Guelph park

Graffiti is scrawled across the seat of this piece of playground equipment at West End Community Centre. It’s just one of many surfaces at the playground that were defaced, some with racist and homophobic slurs, prompting one local resident to call the playground “disgusting” on social media in June 2022.

The city has no plans to replace a seemingly neglected playground in west Guelph that was recently the target of hateful graffiti, but it may decide to remove the play equipment entirely at a future date.

“The splash pad at West End Community Centre is due for replacement, and as part of that work, the city evaluated the site and identified sightline and access concerns,” city park and trail development manager Luke Jefferson said in an email response to a Mercury Tribune inquiry. “This play equipment remains operable, however it has the same site condition concerns as the splash pad.”

The small play area, which is visible from neither the recreation centre nor the road, was recently the subject of complaints voiced via social media.

In a video posted on Twitter, Brian Bailey called the playground “disgusting,” asking “you want kids to play here?” as he panned across the racist and homophobic slurs scrawled across the play equipment.

In response, others joined in to disparage the playground.

“We stopped going there long ago,” said one Twitter user. “Also super disappointed they got rid of the splash pad, such as it was. It feels like West End Guelph is a forgotten neighbourhood for service, but certainly not taxes.”

Another said she hadn’t been back since visiting three years ago and having to leave because of “garbage, broken equipment and general neglect.”

Jefferson said city playgrounds are inspected regularly by staff.

“Anything unsafe or inoperable is removed or repaired,” he said.

The West End playground sits along a paved section of trail beside storm ponds located in front of the rec centre on Imperial Road. Currently numerous thistles and other weeds dot the mulch that surrounds the play structures. A portion of one structure has been replaced with plywood.

The recent graffiti, which included swastikas and racial and homophobic slurs, was removed soon after it was reported via Twitter.

“There was additional graffiti removed about a month ago as well,” said Jefferson.

A spokesperson for the Guelph Police Service confirmed that police are investigating the recent vandalism.

“Clearly this language and symbols are deeply offensive to the community and we would like to identify who is responsible,” Guelph Police media relations officer Scott Tracey said in an email.

He asked that anyone with information related to the graffiti contact Guelph Police or Crime Stoppers.

Likewise, Jefferson encouraged anyone who uses the playground regularly to report graffiti or safety issues to the city via an online portal or by emailing [email protected].

“We will work to address them as quickly as possible,” he said.

There are several other playgrounds within walking distance of the West End Community Centre, including those at Deerpath Park and Stephanie Drive Park, southeast of Paisley Road, and playgrounds at Margaret Greene and Earl Brimblecombe parks, north of the train tracks.

The rec centre’s splash pad was the only splash pad west of the Hanlon Parkway.

City staff are currently investigating the possibility of relocating the splash pad to Margaret Greene Park, a site that has been deemed more appropriate due to its accessibility, sightlines, parking and proximity to residential neighbourhoods, said Jefferson.

“If this site is a viable option, we anticipate engaging the community and beginning design work in the near future,” he said.

When it comes to the playground, he said the site concerns associated with it may warrant a deeper look at whether it should remain where it is in the future.

“We will likely look at this in further detail as part of the splash pad work,” he said.

STORY BEHIND THE STORY: A Mercury Tribune reporter noticed the poor condition of the West End Community Centre’s playground during a visit to the site. At the same time, concerns about hateful graffiti were raised by residents on social media. The condition of the site prompted the Mercury Tribune to ask questions about its future.

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