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posted May 3, 2003

May 2003, A quilt of nationalities

This morning the park was pretty wet from the all-night rain. There was some fog too. Various people were doing tai chi, off by themselves in different parts of the misty park, or sometimes in groups of two or three. On the basketball court an older Chinese man was teaching a young Chinese woman how to wield a sword as part of their tai chi (or whatever the exceedingly graceful movements were, that he was doing and she was imitating). Across from the park on Havelock Street one of the young university students who are back for the summer, Tom Mills, came out on his porch and began to play his trumpet. (He's studying music in Montreal.) The mist seemed to carry the notes all over the park...

I was there because I had to light a fire for the Portuguese church women who were planning to come later and cook their meat and vegetables for their church supper. They came in the afternoon, with the task of cooking food for eighty people. They like to use the ovens because that way they can cook those huge amounts all at once, instead of having to divvy up the food for everyone to cook in small amounts in their home ovens. Plus, they say, they're used to the taste of food cooked in a brick oven, from back home in the Azores, and it tastes better to them.

At the end of the afternoon these women came back to pick up the finished trays of beef and roast potatoes, with a young nephew to help carry. Then as I was leaving the park, three Sri Lankan men approached me and asked again if we could put in a cricket pitch. I've tried in the past to persuade those folks to set up a meeting with the councillor, to impress their desires on him. But meetings just don't seem to come together for them. However they were keen enough that they said they could get a big list of signatures. We'll see. The Jamaican guys from the basketball court said they'd be interested too, and the two groups tried to explain the spread of cricket to me: "wherever the British were, that's where we love cricket." There was a pride to it, a different way of talking about roots than going back to the pre-colonial period. But roots nevertheless. I hope we can get them what they want.


posted June 3, 2003

June 2003, Water in the park

On the first hot day this season, Sunday June 22, there was water all over the park - not a flood, but a stream of good uses of the water that comes to us from Lake Ontario. In the sandpit by the playground, the hose was connected to the tap we bought from Lee Valley Tools. All day, between 10 and 30 kids (and some of their parents) were making channels for a river system - with lots of bridges -that wound through the sandpit and out into further "rivers" leading south. A sprinkler was set up in the wading pool (which was not yet open), and kids were not only running through the sprinkler but also finding out all the ways in which a hose could be kinked to change the water flow and trick people. Up by the pizza oven there was another sprinkler. Kids ran through that one too, and so did the performers from Clay and Paper Theatre when they'd finished their parade through Councillor Silva's annual Summerfest flea market. To the north of the rink house, the Eagles soccer club was running a car wash. They sudsed tow trucks as well as the cars they flagged down at the Dufferin mall light, and at the end they also sudsed each other.

A hose led to the new cherry trees, which need a lot of water when they're just getting established, and another hose snaked in and out of Arie Kemp's poppy garden beside the hockey rink. Arie no longer looks after the park gardens but his legacy is evident all over - as the "seed man" he collected the most beautiful seeds he could find all over the city and sowed them in our park, and by now every crack in the concrete and every flowerbed has his flowers re-seeding themselves. Those flowers get thirsty, so we water them.

From 10 until 3, Councillor Silva and his assistants filled up their big coolers at the sink in our half-finished park kitchen and hauled them back to the Summerfest table for free drinks made with orange powder. Later, when it was time to wash the dishes from the pizza oven, the cooks sprayed one another with our new kitchen sprayer - it has very strong spray that is excellent for cleaning dishes and for park staff waterfights. The waterfight theme was repeated at most of the birthday parties and barbecues happening throughout the park. One of the parties was partly on stilts, because many of the guests - as well as the host - were stiltwalkers. They danced on stilts, leaned up against the high branches of trees, and the host had an orange and a green water pistol with which he was allowed to squirt anyone he chose, on stilts or on the ground.

At the end of the afternoon the kids at the playground disconnected the sprinkler from the hose and tried to use the hose to fill the pool. There was so much silt left over from the winter that the drains plugged and the pool really did begin to fill - with dark brown opaque mud-water. Kids splashed in this mukky soup and then used their plastic shovels to unplug the drains - with help from some grownups - so that there would be no standing water during the night.

Eventually, everyone went home. The marimba people packed up their wooden xylophones and the Hare Krishna people their drums and guitars, the basketball players and the soccer players stopped bouncing and kicking their balls around, and all that was left by way of sound late at night was the sprinkler, swishing water back and forth between the roses and the potato plants in the adjoining park flower and vegetable gardens. What a great thing, a city beside a huge lake full of water, on a hot day.


posted September 3, 2003

September 2003, September census

Sunday Sept.21; today was the day to do a fall census. We know that between 1500 and 2500 people use the park on an ordinary day in June, July, or August. Now the question was: how many people use the park on a Sunday in fall?

I didn’t get there until nine o’clock, when the tai chi people had already left. It was a sunny day, but cool (13 C), and the park was almost empty when I cycled around the first time. There were only a few dog walkers, on the soccer field. A guy was playing a xylophone up the hill from the marsh fountain. In front of the rink house the homeless man from Hong Kong was sleeping sitting up on a bench. Although he spent all last winter sitting in front of the rink house, we didn’t see him in July and August. Now that he’s back he looks so skinny and pale. He still won’t talk to anyone nor accept any help. People have sort of given up trying.

At the south end of the park there was not a soul in the playground. But three photographers were busy snapping pictures of a wedding party of eight - the groom’s side I guess, since there was no sign of a bride. Census: 24.

By ten o’clock two people were getting a roller-blade lesson on the hockey rink; other dog walkers had arrived and an older woman in a sweatsuit was lying on a picnic table with her eyes closed. People were walking across the park to the mall. One park staff person was just lighting the pizza oven, and the other one was hanging the kitchen laundry on a clothesline at the rink fence. The playground was still empty. All there was to look at was a whole lot of litter, almost everywhere. Census: 16.

At eleven, two birthday parties had set up, one near the oven and the other by the soccer field (they had brought soccer goals with balloons tied to them, and there were 13 little boys running around in soccer uniforms). The playground now had 47 kids in it. Some people were hanging a banner on the tree nursery fence: "Baby and Me Fitness." They were putting tablecloths on picnic tables and they said they were setting up for a postnatal class reunion. And at the north end of the park four kids in wheelchairs were being pushed along the path by their attendants. Six dog walkers were standing in a circle on the soccer field, talking, while their dogs raced around them and tussled with each other. Census: 104.

At noon, another, larger birthday party had set up near the playground, and there were 26 kids building a bridge in the sand pit, trying to make it strong without the help of the shovels (they’ve been put away for the season). The playground had 37 kids in it including the four in wheelchairs, but their attendants had taken one boy out and were helping him climb the stairs up the climber to the slide. The boy was pretty big and it took three attendants to move his legs and his torso, arms flailing, up the stairs. He was smiling and shouting and the attendants were smiling too. Up by the oven, some people from a food co-op had set up a table for a group baking day. The Sunday meditation group was spreading out their blankets in the centre of the park. In the fire circle, a group called "The Rhubarb Collective" (by their banner) was laying a fire in preparation for a fall solstice gathering. Eighteen little boys in hockey shirts ran past them in a long line, headed for the hockey rink. Census: 162.

By one o-clock there were many more people in the park, just sitting at picnic tables or wandering around, or lying on blankets sunbathing. The playground was down to 30 kids. There were six people (and a dog) playing frisbee in the soccer field. Eight food co-op people were smearing dough with cinnamon paste by the oven. Twenty-two parents were singing "the wheels on the bus" for their babies at the postnatal reunion.

A loud bang from Dufferin Street had a dozen people running over to see a car with one front wheel smashed in at a light standard where the park borders the road - an unhappy driver was standing beside it, saying he had swerved to avoid a car coming out of the mall parking lot. (It had driven off.) Census: 237.

By two o’clock the meditators were 34 people with an accordion and two guitars, lustily singing "hare krishna." The food co-op people were handing out pamphlets and hot cinnamon rolls and there was a cluster of kids nearby having their faces painted. The birthday party at the pizza oven had been replaced by public pizza day, and there was a short line-up of adults and kids waiting to get their pizzas into the oven. Three young people were playing basketball on the court and a volleyball game had started at the south volleyball net. The postnatal reunion was just packing up their tablecloths and their banner, and on the east side of the field house, Clay and Paper performers has started working with papier mache on a huge conical mask for this years Night of Dread parade. The playground had 34 kids and adults in it, and the three birthday parties were still going. In front of the rink house a card game had started, five older Portuguese men with one more watching. Census: 207.

By three o’clock the card game’s audience had increased to nine old men. The playground was full (kids hanging upside down on the monkey bars - "look at me" - all the playground benches full of parents, talking, talking) and the meditation group had swollen to 41. A few young women were dancing to the hare krishna chants, in the centre of the group. The "rhubarb collective" seemed to be having some kind of workshops around two picnic tables, and in the soccer area twenty-four men with team shirts on were playing soccer. A large picnic had set up close to Havelock Street, with 22 adults and children, two gas barbecues, and a big Portuguese flag draped around a tree. Many of the picnickers seemed to be in intense conversation. The fall sunshine was very warm by then and most of the park’s benches had people sitting on them. On the east side of the field house, the papier mache mask had got two new (young) helpers who were ripping up pieces of paper and wetting them in a big tub of white goo. On the west side, near the giant checkerboard, the park’s basketball youth had arrived and set themselves up on a storage box and a picnic table pushed close to it. The group included one baby and two pit bulls. Census: 204.

By four p.m. the birthday parties had ended and the meditators were packing up their instruments. The youth on the west side of the field house were still talking and only two people were playing basketball. Two of the old men in the card game were shouting at each other and waving their arms around, and most of their audience had left. The playground was even fuller than before, but now there were more Chinese and East Indian families from the high rises. There were seventeen kids playing with pots and pans in the sand pit. The giant picnic with the Portuguese flag was sending out long plumes of barbecue smoke, and some of the kids from that group were playing soccer nearby. Census: 231.

By five p.m. the Rhubarb Collective had added a dozen or more older women in long, colourful skirts and blouses. The group was holding hands around a campfire in the fire circle, saying something about the equinox. The playground had forty-nine people in it, and there were two groups of dog walkers on opposite sides of the park, their dogs running around freely and barking. Many, but not all, of the benches still had people sitting on them. People were walking across the park carrying shopping bags from the mall. The park staff were putting away the pizza tables and taking the kitchen towels, now dry, off the clothesline. Census: 146.

By six p.m. the sun was getting low. Five Sri Lankan men were just setting up their volleyball net near the oven, and a fast game of basketball had developed on the basketball court. The Rhubarb Collective people were doing some kind of ceremony around a tree. The youth beside the field house had been joined by more, with two more pit bulls. Three of the four dogs were puppies and all were on leashes, but their owners held them close and they were making ugly snarling sounds at each other. Other people crossing the park were making a detour away from the group. When I asked the dog owners to stop letting the dogs growl like that, most of them left for home. Census: 116.

By seven o’clock the sun was sinking near the horizon. The old men had gone home. The big picnic was over, with a small group still left, talking intensely. Two women in Muslim head scarves were picnicking on KFC near the basketball court. There was a very lively full-court basketball game on the court, and the volleyball players beside them were cheering each other across their net. The Rhubarb collective were sitting at their fire, laughing about the hare krishna chanting, which they said was left over from the sixties. They said one of the hare krishna people had told them that their pagan equinox ceremony was not real spirituality. The playground still had 20 people in it, squeezing the last moments of play out of the day. A few people were gathering seeds from the flowers near the oven, and the food co-op people were rolling up their banner and washing out their pans in the rink house kitchen. A new group of youth had begun to collect at the picnic tables near the oven. And on a park bench a little distance away, two people were kissing, slowly. Census: 93.

And then I didn’t go back any more.

If you add up all those numbers, you count some people twice, or even three times. On the other hand, with an hourly census you miss lots of people who pass through or just spend a half hour in between, alone or with a friend or maybe with their dog. And because I was tired I didn’t return to count the night life, nor did I count the old people who only come early in the morning. So doing a straight addition of the hourly numbers may not be far off: On a sunny fall day in September, about 1540 people spent some time at Dufferin Grove Park.

The upkeep for a park like this, where there can be games, trees and flowers, food, conversation, romance, under an open sky, with no walls to stop us seeing each other’s enjoyments - costs about $250,000 a year in maintenance and program staff. Put the activities inside the many cinder-block rooms of one of our city recreation centre buildings, and the cost increases. Four blocks to the north, the yearly cost of operating the Wallace-Emerson Community Recreation Centre is $840,000. Up the hill ten minutes further (by bike), the Giovanni Caboto Community Recreation Centre costs $1,087,000 to run for a year. Ten minutes south in the other direction, the Mary McCormick Community Recreation Centre costs $618,000 a year to operate. Ten minutes further south from there, the Masaryk-Cowan Community Recreation Centre costs $601,000 a year. Five minutes east of our park, the Bob Abate Community Recreation Centre costs $502,000. Ten minutes south from there, the Trinity-Bellwoods Community Recreation Centre costs $728,000 a year.

And it may be that the number of people enjoying life inside any one of those centres on that same fall day in September, and on many other days, is less than the number in the park.


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