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Turning Dufferin Grove Park's single-use change room into a many-uses clubhouse

posted March 24, 2014

We've just posted a little illustrated history of the Dufferin Rink Clubhouse. That building was designed for a single purpose – skating – and even that function was given its narrowest possible range. Skaters were meant to come into the building and change from shoes to skates, then go outside and skate, under the on-and-off supervision of rink guards, then come back inside and change back into shoes and leave.

a snack break in the clubhouse

This single-use rink house acquired new possibilities when changes were made, first by the early friends of the park, and later with much help from park staff. A few walls were taken out and four eye-level windows were put in, a "zamboni café" was added, and a woodstove, and some garage-sale tables and chairs. People came into the rink house and sat down in the big room with their friends, talking and drinking hot chocolate and slowly getting their skates on. Out on the ice, they played shinny hockey for hours. When they got hungry, they could go back inside and eat mini-pizzas or soup, and drink coffee. Parents sat in front of the woodstove with their children, reading them storybooks. The old men played card games for hours, and got their coffee for free, “since we worked so hard for this country.” Sometimes musicians brought their instruments, using the echo-y concrete blocks to good effect. There was enough room to fit in a farmers’ market eventually, when it was too cold to have it outside along the path. On those days, the zamboni parked out on the basketball court, to make room for more farmers in the garage. In spring, summer, and fall, the clubhouse became a staging area for dance festivals, outdoor theatre, and cultural events. Park staff and volunteers used the kitchens to turn out snack bar food and Friday Night Supper meals and café snacks and miles of park cookies (if they were laid end to end). All this food became the heart of an ever-expanding number of social encounters, spreading throughout the park. Once in a while, there was even a beer permit and the zamboni café had kegs on the counter.

chess and a park cookie

A choir rehearsed in the main room most Sunday evenings, cheering up the dishwasher crews, and giving free park concerts in return for the practice space. Dozens of community groups used the clubhouse for meetings – giving their opinions about installing speed humps in the neighbourhood, about the forced amalgamation of the “megacity,” about bike lanes, about endangered bees. There was room to do a neighbourhood “clothing swap” once a year, and to set up a “tasting fair” with farmers’ market food cooked by local chefs. A few times staff made up a bench-bed for a homeless park visitor. Children painted pictures in the clubhouse on rainy days. Youth came to borrow basketballs or build skateboard ramps. These youth, and younger kids too, knew that they could come into the clubhouse to seek the staff’s protection, if there were bullies or fights.

One way that all this liveliness would have been stopped before it could get started is if the City had charged a permit fee for people to use the building, or for programs offered there. But the rink house was an orphan at the start. Nobody (including our little group of park friends and the early park staff) thought that the free availability of the space would layer so many activities and encounters on top of each other. It happened because we had more or less unencumbered use of public space: essential for that sociability and new friendships to begin.


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