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CELOS Public Space Prize: Ladan Behbin and Blake Howard, Fresh Fields

Interviews with Ladan and with Blake, Fresh Fields, Sept.30, 2022

Ladan and Blake

This prize was in honour of the people who ran small local grocery stores in the Dufferin Grove neighbourhood. CELOS picked Fresh Fields as the poster child for these stores. During the lockdowns, these grocery stores were the main remaining neighbourhood public spaces.

Ladan: "I was born in Iran. We left there when I was eight, when the revolution started, and we moved to France. That was January 1979. My father has always been interested in politics, so he saw that there was danger brewing and we left. We left the same day the Shah did – it was the last flight out. So we lived in France for nine months, and then my dad went back to Iran to try and get our house sold and to sell all our stuff, because he started to feel like it wasn’t going to change, and we couldn’t go back. And because I’d gone to an English-speaking school in Iran, we went to London. We lived there for six years. When I turned sixteen, the British government said, you are now old enough to live here by yourself. So they didn’t renew my parents’ visa, they only renewed mine. They said, “she can live here and go to a boarding school but you guys have to leave.” We had three possible places to go – Canada was one." read more

Blake: "It's been seven years since we got the store – 2015, August 11, the fateful day. Ladan had worked at the Mercantile, originally on College Street, which she helped to open. I grew up on a farm from the time I was 5 until I moved out of the house at 19. It was a farm for horses and cows and chickens and ducks -- a hobby farm. My mom can’t live without that kind of stuff. She comes from a farm like that in England.
My parents were so opposite. My dad was in Aerospace, the science, whatever, and my mom was a Montessori school teacher. When she retired, that coincided with locking everybody down. She got very depressed, because she was used to all the energy of all those children and now all of a sudden she wasn’t even allowed to see her own grandchildren." read more


CELOS Public Space Prize: Skylar Hill-Jackson

Interview with Dufferin Grove Park community garden coordinator (and long-time friend of Dufferin Grove Park) Skylar Hill-Jackson, May 24, 2022:

"....In March 2020, Ford said, everything is shut down. I started writing letters, saying "growing food is essential -- open up the community gardens!"

"But then in April 2020, I just walked over to the park and started messing around in there. I already had a key to the garden shed from before. A bit later, Ford changed his mind and allowed community gardens to open, but we still didn't end up being allowed to plant until the end of May. One of the first volunteers to help was just sitting on one of those benches at the garden and when we said we need people to help garden during the pandemic she said yes. Then it grew by word of mouth, and as people were walking by and saw us......The first year is when we got the most people in the gardens. People were locked down, and they wanted to be out, and working in nature. That year people were the most desperate to get out. So the city needed somebody to be the coordinator, do the paperwork and tell everybody about the protocols. I said okay, but we'll call ourselves the garden cooperative. Everybody had to sign in (although city staff never looked at any of it afterwards)." read more


CELOS Public Space Prize: Laura Repo

at Hugh's Room, 2012
Interview with musician (and long-time friend of Dufferin Grove Park) Laura Repo, Nov.9, 2021:

an (edited) conversation about Laura's experience with public space and community

The music community
Music was a big thing in our family, and I think I always wanted to recreate that feeling of music and food and basically a party, my dad at the piano. We had a family songbook that we sang from whenever we got together.

When I was thirty I wasn’t playing music, singing or writing songs. But then I started by going to blues jams. At the time in Toronto there were all these places where you could go, open mikes. Blues jams are very accessible. You don’t have to have played with a band or even know anyone. You can get on stage and say “Blues in the key of C, 12 bar, shuffle” and they’d do it. And you get to sing a song with a band. I was so amazed by the access. My song-writing came out of that. Blues jams can feel like democratic organizations. I’ve done my share of very bad blues renditions, but I didn’t care — I was more interested in learning how to use a mike and be on stage. To sing a blues tune, I didn’t have to have any experience. I’d see the same people in other parts of town too. You can get a mishmash of talent at those jams, sometimes it’s rough. But there was always that anticipation – what’s going to happen tonight? That felt to me like – oh – this is a music community. This is how we get together. I grew my musical community from there and once I started writing songs it evolved into something else.

Read more


Dan DeMatteis

at the first City Hall street food fair, 2007

Excerpts about Dan from old park newsletters and posters

Newsletter August 2002

GOLD, the play….and their chef. Tuesday-Sunday: dinner from 6, music and sideshows 7.15-8, play at 8, ending by torch-light.

Every evening except Monday nights, our park’s resident puppetry theatre company, Clay and Paper Theatre sets up its giant puppet and its theatre props in various locations at the centre of the park. The play begins at the bake oven. This year for the first time, director David Anderson has hired a chef. His name is Dan DeMatteis, he comes to us from Montreal, and he’s been showing us how to cook delicious street food in the wood oven. From 6 o’clock every night, with a little help from park friends, he serves up a $5 meal of roasted or baked dishes straight out of the oven, with a salad often including ingredients from the park gardens. This is an affordable neighbourhood meal in the church supper tradition, right in our park.

Diners can watch the set-up for the play happening around them, and then shortly after seven the band strikes up near the oven. The side-shows start, asking the question – what is gold for us? What do we value?

The play itself begins by the hill just south of the oven, at 8 p.m.

Read more

Yo Utano

For three years, while studying at York University, Yo was one of the park cooks and bakers. Then she returned to Japan. From Yo's essay:

Food pleases us, torments us, and keeps us together. In this multi-dimensionality, I see many problems and solutions, pains and hopes, all at the same time. Coming from the countryside in Japan to Toronto where I once found was a very depressing place, I have sought a hope through my encounter with a park and the community surrounds it.

A significant portion of my thoughts over food originates from the way I grew up. By the time they were in my age, my parents had fostered a certain degree of anti-establishment spirit through the student movement in the 70s, and by the time I was born they had a clearer vision of the lifestyle that would lead to what a just society should be. After taking several steps of preparation, they settled in a small island located in the west end of Japan with their three children, where they started living as self-sufficiently as they could. That was when I was seven years old.

read more



Lillian Michiko Blakey

Once Upon a Time, Dufferin Rink, 1960
By Lillian Michiko Blakey

From Lillian Michiko Blakey, who sent some stories after she read Catherine Porter's November 21 Star article about Dufferin Rink:

My mom and dad came to Toronto with my sister and myself in 1952, when they were finally allowed to travel after the war. We lived behind a dry-cleaning store at Bloor and Dufferin for seven years, where Mom worked for $32 a week. Dad also worked for the cleaners on commission. When the buildings were expropriated to build the subway, my parents bought a corner variety store at Gladstone and Dundas, where they remained for 20 years. After university, I moved to Willowdale. Since then, I have lived in Richmond Hill, Aurora, Innisfil and Sunderland. We are now back in Aurora.

When we were around nine or ten, all the kids in the neighbourhood went to the little wading pool in Dufferin Park on hot summer days. We ran in and out screaming because the water which bubbled from the fountain in the middle was icy cold fresh water. No-one worried about catching diseases or drowning. We just loved going there with the neghbourhood dogs in tow. We were like the little rascals in the movies, but not quite as naughty. We were outside all day, coming and going as we pleased, and our parents never worried. We were always back for supper.

Dave Hains (City of Toronto Recreation Supervisor)

On Friday February 19, 2010, Dave Hains was transferred to Ward 18, from Ward 27. Dave was the recreation supervisor in charge of the John Innes Community Recreation Centre (near Moss Park) and the St.Lawrence Community Recreation Centre (near the Crombie apartments), as well as the recreation programming on Toronto Island and the citywide "Adapted and Integrated" program for people with special needs.

Dave was also involved with a program called Play It Fair. From the city's website:

The Play It Fair! toolkit was originally developed by Equitas as part of the project “Preventing Racism and Discrimination: Preparing Canadian Children to Engage in a Multicultural Society” undertaken with municipal agencies and community organizations involved in non-formal education programs for children and youth.

In Toronto, David Hains, supervisor of community recreation with the City’s Parks, Forestry and Recreation division, is also convinced of the program’s merits. As a result, he’s pleased to see it break ground in Toronto where it has already reached 5,000 children. Last year, the program was implemented at 30 summer camps in Toronto; projections for 2009 are set for 100. And that’s not all….

“By the summer of 2010, we’re hoping to have the program running in all of Toronto’s approximately 130 summer camps in addition to some after-school programs,” Hains explains. “It’s been a great way to teach important life lessons to children and the biggest draw is that it’s done through a variety of fun games, which the children love.”''

Dave leaves all this work behind.

Kona Run Dig Me
Beach 2005

Bev Coburn

I’ve lived in this neighbourhood since 1998 - a studio-loft on Lansdowne, a house on St.Claren’s and, at the Chelsea Lofts since 2006.

My background is in FITNESS and HISTORY – I used to work in the archives of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario,

I’m now working in the health and wellness industry. I am a certified Personal Trainer, a certified Older Adult Specialist as well as CPR certified. My business name is ACTIVE AGE FITNESS. I offer personal training services to meet my clients individual GOALS of HEALTH, FITNESS or PERFORMANCE.

What is a good GOAL? A good GOAL is one that you are 85% sure you can accomplish. Personally, I love a GOOD, LOFTY GOAL!

As I said, one of my passions is running. In 2001, I managed to achieve a Canadian Record in the 10,000m outdoor track. It was a hot, hot day in July and the 10,000m is the most grueling of all track events,

Current Run/Walk


Erella Ganon

Erella is the moderator of the dufferingrovefriends neighbourhood list, and she's involved in many other neighbourhood issues as well.


Herschel Stroyman

Herschel Stroyman at the Farmers' market. Photo by Laura Berman

Herschel lives over on Rusholme Road. He knows people all over the city, and all over the neighbourhood too. He's an art therapist and a photographer, and he has a web site showing some if his art and photographs.

Beyond that, Herschel can often be seen at Friday Night Supper, always ready for a conversation. He is generous in sharing his stories from the hinge times of both Toronto and New York City -- eyewitness accounts of small and large events.


Rohan Walters

Rohan Walters

This remarkable local architect, friend of the park, and wintertime skater has given enthusiastic, helpful guidance in the park cob building advice over the years. He's well known in many parts of the City, and here are some news articles about his work:

The Star: No room for 'granny flats', July 14, 2008

Alison Hall did the math. It would cost about $150,000 to make her house on Delaware Ave. "barrier free" for her mother, Mary Hall, 77, who has rheumatoid arthritis and finds stairs difficult. To move her mom into a nursing home would cost between $40,000 and $90,000 a year. Not that that's an option right now.


Here is a blog Rohan posted for Black History Month:


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