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News 2002

posted April 15, 2002

Sand play in history

Our Sandpit

The Big Back Yard

The first Metro Parks Commissioner, after World War Two, was Tommy Thompson, much beloved for his love of parks and his good sense. (He put up signs in the parks: please walk on the grass.) We're doing some research at the Toronto Archives for this year's annual report, and we came across a speech he gave at a Parks Conference, in which he told his colleagues: "I passed a playground the other day in which I saw a sandbox that I suspect was twelve feet square. To me, this is an insult to the sand area concept. The time has come when we've got to get bigger in our thinking and realize that, when a group of kids want to carry out something that stimulates their imagination - and this is one of the things we should be responsible for promoting - we should be putting in a sand area half as big as this auditorium. We should be putting in the kind of sand that kids can use to build, and we should not only keep it clean every day, but make sure that it's moist enough to do something with."

Sounds good to us, Tommy Thompson. (You were a smart man.) As soon as the weather gets warm, we'll sweep the sand pit daily and keep it moist, so the kids can build. We'll try to get new tipi poles from Forestry, and we'll use the money left from the winter snack bar to buy new shovels. Any donations very welcome: tipi poles, short shovels, metal pots and pans. Leave them by the rink house door or call the park clubhouse at 416/391-0913 for pick-up.

We've got a head start this spring on play-pot donations: Ann Bjorseth picked up two big stacks of excellent pots at the end of a garage sale, for very little money, and gave them to the park. We hope other people will imitate Ann, because pots are a lot of fun in the sand "kitchen."

The "Big Backyard" -- how Dufferin Grove's sandpit developed: Read more >>

posted August 15, 2002

Wading Pool strike politics

The city shut down all wading pools as soon as CUPE Local 416 went on strike, even though the wading pool workers were not yet on strike (different union Local). This city lock-out was a big issue for us since there was a bad heat wave already and many families in this neighbourhood do not have air conditioning and live in small quarters. On June 28, a small deputation from the neighbourhood scheduled a "play date" with their children - in Mayor Lastman's office. This confrontation included Sat Khalsa and his two sons, Marie Foley and her two daughters, Emily Visser and Bernard King and their two daughters, Andrew Munger and his daughter, and Kathleen Foley and her two daughters. But attempts to interest the media in the "play date" and the city's lock-out of wading pool staff were unsuccessful, and the mayor was not there. However one of the mayor's assistants gave all the kids commemorative coins with a picture of the mayor on them..

Then on Canada Day, July 1, Jutta Mason held a safety-training day for all the wading pool staff (whose CUPE union Local 79 was still not on strike). Many people from the neighbourhood came to participate with their children on that extremely hot day, in order to give the wading pool staff real-situation training (rather than just in a meeting-room). While the children were cooling off in the training pool, a petition, with many names on it, was circulated, asking Claire Tucker-Reid, General Manager of Parks and Recreation, to re-open all city wading pools while the staff were not on strike.

The petition arrived at City Hall a few hours after Commissioner Joe Halstead had announced the re-opening of some wading pools on July 2 (because of wide-spread criticism of the city's lock-out). But then at noon on July 3, Local 79 went out on strike and all the pools were shut again. The heat persisted, and discussions between the city and the union faltered and broke down.

At Trinity-Bellwoods Park some parents got hold of the wading pool key and began filling the pool themselves, but Park management staff caught them, drained the pool and padlocked it.

Revolt: On July 8, with no progress in negotiations, all seven of our park summer staff petitioned their employer to let them opt out of the strike and re-open the wading pool. Although many city summer staff are not union members (casual staff must work a total of 1000 hours to be included in the union), many of our summer staff are from pro-union backgrounds. They made their opting-out decision with difficulty. But they agreed with many people in the neighbourhood that the children were being held to ransom in a very dysfunctional conflict.

After days of uncertainty, on July 11 Park Director Don Boyle made the decision to approve the opting-out application. In a pre-dawn, five-a.m. phone conversation after Don had been working all night at the city management command headquarters, he told Jutta Mason about his concerns. There was a good chance that a picket line would be set up around the wading pool by both CUPE Local 79 and CUPE Local 416 workers (who are not otherwise involved in the running of wading pools). Don said there had been some strong-arm shoving by Steelworkers Union members when they joined the CUPE picket line at Metro Hall the day before. Tempers were getting hot. But despite worries about such a confrontation, Don said that he had decided to back up the neighbourhood in support of the summer staff petition.

After our May and June community meetings, he said, he had concluded that relations between his department and this neighbourhood were different now. So if we were willing to support a possibly difficult confrontation, he would support us.

The summer staff had one final serious meeting about their plans to re-open the wading pool - factoring in how they would behave if faced with a picket line - at five p.m. on July 11. Summer staff Luke Cayley came in later, with some important information: Premier Ernie Eves had successfully negotiated a back-to-work order. There would be no confrontation, no national TV news footage of angry parents and crying children blocked from splashing in the wading pool. Thank goodness!

posted October 15, 2002

How the summer went at the park:

This was one of the hottest, driest summers Toronto has had in a very long time. The sunny spots in the park were empty until the evening, but the shady spots were often packed. The wading pool and the playground got heavy use. On many evenings (whenever the temperature was over 30 celsius) the wading pool had extended hours until 8 p.m.. So many parents and caregivers told us that the shady, breezy wading pool area rescued them this summer. Good! That's what parks are for!

The sandpit was the most popular spot for the kids older than toddlers. This year tipi building gave way to river construction. Our Lee Valley Company movable faucet was a waterfall, a fountain, a river source, a lake spring. And we noticed that the turf battles that used to happen when tipis were built in the sand pit ("you can't come in here, this is MY tipi!") gave way to much more cooperative play. Children who didn't know each other before collaborated on creating miniature water landscapes that extended far beyond the sand pit, throughout the whole Big Back Yard play area.

Our oven builder, Nigel Dean, kindly brought an old styrofoam "Sunfish" boat down from Muskoka, in his truck. Some of the time the boat was in the wading pool, full of children. The rest of the time it was in the sand pit, where the children would often dig a little lake, to float the boat. By the end of the summer the boat finally broke, but it had a good run.

The park has become ever more of a picnic / birthday party/ prenatal-class-reunion/ etc. spot. Some weekends this past summer, the Indonesian hibachi smells mingled with the Sudanese braziers, and with the park pizza oven and the KFC bags at the basketball court, in such a way that the park smelled like a street market. Other times it seemed like every third tree held a birthday pinata. All this sociability was made easier by the plentiful picnic tables we got this year from the Parks Department, so that no one had trouble finding a place to sit. Thank you to park supervisor Mike Hindle and his maintenance crew.


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