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Dufferin Grove Conservancy

What's a conservancy?

In the case of Dufferin Grove Park, a conservancy is one way to bring local governance back to the park.

An invitation to a park walkabout

If local governance is going to make a comeback through a conservancy at Dufferin Grove Park, neighbours who want to be friends of the park will need to learn some more details about how the park works. CELOS is sponsoring a rink tour on Saturday Nov.17, 1 to 2 pm: how the rink works.

At the end of the tour there will be a chance to linger around the rink-side campfire, for those people who want to talk a bit more and have some hot chocolate.


Background: In 2011, Recreation management let it be known that the close working relationship between on-site program staff, park friends, and CELOS put the staff into a "conflict of interest" position that could get them fired.

In 2012, Recreation management instituted a more conventional central-control hierarchy for running the park programs. Some of the staff left, and for a time the hiring of replacements followed a strict protocol that changed the working culture of the park. Many new hires followed, but more recently the protocol has relaxed into sometimes last-minute hiring of staff friends or family members.

drop in food income means food is now subsidized

The cost of staffing park programs has doubled in the six years since then: from $291,000 in 2011 to $588,000 in 2017. During roughly the same time, the income from food programs dropped from over $220,000 (2010) to less than half $107,500 (2017). Worse, in the past two years, more money was spent just to buy supplies for the park staff to cook food than they made selling the food at the market and the park snack bars (staff cooking wages have to be covered entirely through taxes). The prosperous neighbors who come to eat at the park have their food subsidized through taxes. So something will have to change.

There's a change on the horizon from city hall already: the Northwest Corner Revitalization Project.

The proposal to move from the whole park being a "community centre without walls" to building a mini-community-centre has been a rumour since 2015. Studies were commissioned. Visiting capital projects staff were taken around by the supervisor. Then in November 2016, the announcement came: city staff had "identified an opportunity to improve the north-west corner of the park where the clubhouse, ice rink, Zamboni garage, community garden and bake oven are located.

local governance: can it come back?

What happened over the next two years is chronicled here. After a long pause, the design firm of DTAH was awarded a contract or $700,000 for "professional and technical design consulting services for a new community recreation clubhouse and park improvements at northwest corner of Dufferin Grove Park." Although the budget for this project was at first said to be very unclear, the 2018 Capital budget lists the cost as $3.140 million for the Dufferin Grove New Community Centre.

The project of rebuilding the rink clubhouse as a "new community centre" seems to have been helicoptered in from downtown -- no park users nor on-site park staff asked for it. And there's no name attached to the proposal either, no one who can be asked directly how this change to the park was decided.

It does bring into clear relief the usefulness of forming a park conservancy to bring the local neighbourhood back into the governance of our public space. It's certainly a long shot (everyone knows "you can't fight city hall"), but it might be pretty interesting to try.

We could start by convincing the city to change the scope of work to the whole park instead of doing fancy stuff only in one corner. The skills of the architecture firm DTAH, together with the $3 million budget, could put the whole park back into good repair. A list of what could be done is here.

To see how the story goes on, read more.

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