friends of dufferin grove park
January 2004 Newsletter

In this issue:

A visit from the inspectors:

About an hour before the Christmas farmers' market was to begin on the last market day before Christmas, two gentlemen in identical dark blue windbreakers came to the rink house. They looked pretty serious. It turned out they were Jim Mackay and Danny Neill, both Occupational Health and Safety inspectors who work for the city's Corporate Services. They told us that they had just come from shutting down two rinks in the west end, because of employee-health-and-safety violations, and that they were very unimpressed by what they saw at our rink. As we walked from the main part of the club house to the room at the south where the farmers' market was just setting up, they glanced at the lively shinny hockey game on the rink and said that since none of the players were wearing helmets, the rink should be shut down.

This was a difficult beginning, and it got worse from there. When they saw David Anderson's giant puppets suspended by their ropes and pulleys, high up in the rafters of the south room, they were appalled. Next came the city's large gas space heater, also suspended from the two-story-high ceiling, which they said should never have been allowed. Then the stainless steel deck oven against one wall, where Larry Lewis bakes his cinnamon buns, which could set the room on fire. When the inspectors found that the oven was electric and not gas-powered, that seemed to reassure them a little (no dangerous pilot light to cause a spark, they said). But then when they saw our new community kitchen through the glass sliding doors, in the "L" alcove of the south room, they said that this was the worst rink they had seen in the city, and that they might have to shut us down immediately.

One of the inspectors brought out his digital camera and began to walk all around taking pictures and shaking his head. Meantime we realized that the zamboni had not been moved out yet that day to make room for the farmers' market, and we called the city rinks supervisor to send someone to drive it out to the basketball court. The driver arrived a few minutes later, but when he came toward the zamboni, the inspectors stopped him and asked to see his propane license. We have a zamboni powered by propane, and the drivers get special training to run it. The driver took out his wallet and unfolded his propane registration paper and the inspector studied it with a frown. Something was evidently not quite right on the piece of paper. The inspector and the driver knew each other, since both had been working for the city for many years. In fact, the driver reminded the inspector that he had recently taken a training course from him. But still the inspector held on to the piece of paper, until we asked in frustration whether we should call the rink supervisor again and ask him to send a different driver. People were arriving for the market and the farmers were late setting out their produce.

The inspector said he would permit the driver to re-park the zamboni outside, this time, but that he must immediately remedy the problem with his documentation. The zamboni got moved out, the farmers began to set up, and then the walk-about resumed. The head-shaking resumed also. When we said, "tell us what we can do to fix what bothers you," they said: we don't even want to talk to you. So we called James Dann, the park manager for our part of the city, and he said he was coming over immediately.

For an hour longer the inspectors walked around with James, who wrote down everything they told him. After they left, he said he had three pages of employee-health-and-safety infractions, some so urgent they must be taken care of by the next day (Friday) to prevent the rink from being shut down. That period of grace was then extended until Monday at the latest.

So as the Christmas market got underway at Dufferin Rink on Thursday Dec.18, and the shinny games continued on the rink, we were faced with a brand new idea: that our rink was not after all one of the winter treasures of our neighborhood. It was, instead, a mass of employee safety violations, and we suddenly had a rink crisis. The Grinch's Christmas.

Rink crisis: the sequel.

Over the four days after Dec.18, staff and neighborhood people worked to move stored items and clear out the south room. The exodus of the giant puppets was very sad, and left the south room looking barren and small. But it was do-able. Other things were not.

The inspectors said that our three fridges (where snack bar juices and other supplies are stored), the freezer, the washing machine (for kitchen towels and aprons), and the deck oven that are in the south room must be removed, and the new community kitchen must be destroyed. Their reasoning was that the south room, having been built originally as a zamboni room, must revert to having that as its sole function. No one without a zamboni license could be allowed to set foot in the room where the zamboni is parked, ever. That meant, no winter farmers' market, no cookies in the rink, no park bread, no rinkhouse suppers - just a plain rink like the others in the city.

Of course, our clubhouse long ago stopped being only a rink house. For eight years, it has been the main staging area and nerve centre for the many other things that happen in the park. A rink change house has been converted to a small community centre, at very little cost. This was done by using every bit of the building in as many ways as could be done, as ingeniously as possible. By now, the park is as full of activity as some of the city's busiest, million-dollar-budget community centres. But for the inspectors, our rink house is first and foremost a workplace for city staff. When we said to them: but surely this place belongs to the citizens? - they said: wrong. It belongs to the Corporation of the City of Toronto. So we don't even want to talk to you.

Joe Adelaars, our web master, looked up the Occupational Health and Safety Act. The regulations aren't on the web, but the general approach of the Act seems to bear out the inspectors' vision. Not only at construction sites, mines, and logging operations, but in all workplaces, there are only two parties which have standing: the workers (represented by the Act), and the employers. Seen through this lens, the third element that's always present in public space - the citizens - are invisible.

This is the crux of the problem. The inspectors' visit has brought the problem into clear relief, but it's always been in the background anyway. The tricky question our neighborhood park poses — what is our rightful power as citizens in shaping the use of our public space? — is the one that must be addressed.

In the meantime, we're still waiting to see the inspectors' written report of the various employee safety infractions at our rink. The outcry that followed that first alarming day was expressed in a large number of e-mails (many interesting, thoughtful e-mails, some of which are rink house bulletin board. Read some of them on the Rink crisis letters page and follow more of this story on the Hot Topics page). Both the park management and our councillor (and even the mayor) have assured us that solutions will be found.

So far the solutions are being sought in meeting rooms at city hall. A new report from the inspectors is not available to us. The friends of the park are not at the discussion table, and neither are the actual park workers - many of them at least somewhat friendly to our aims - on whose behalf the safety claims are being made. While the city hall folks are pondering what to do, without us, the rink staff and the friends of the park are carrying on with the delicate business of making the rink work - and for now it's still working.

The silver lining:

Because of this latest fracas, several friends of the park who are lawyers have become very interested in legislation affecting public space. They've resolved to track down all relevant legislation and look at it under the lens of neighbourhood life. In the next month, they will activate our park's research arm — CELOS ("CEntre for LOcal research into public Space") — and start their work. Their research will be useful for civic-minded citizens everywhere, who want their city government to be able to do its job (and also, to be held responsible for doing the job well).

Dufferin Grove Park Outdoor Artificial Ice Rink

Hockey noise: Since the rink season lasts only three months, we try to let people use the rink at every possible moment. That means we keep the hockey rink open 14 hours a day, and we never lock the pleasure-skating side. The lights go off after 11 p.m. but some folks even play hockey in the half-dark afterwards, using their shoes to mark the goal. But late-night hockey makes a hardship for the people living nearby: the sound of the puck keeps people awake when they want to sleep. So, if you play hockey late at night, shhhh! Don't hit the puck against the boards and don't shout to your friends. There was a very unhappy anonymous phone call on the park voice mail a few days after Christmas, suggesting that the caller intended to start a neighbourhood petition to stop late-night skating. Oh dear! Please, late-night skaters, remind each other to be quiet. And please, neighbours who suffer from the noise — leave your name and phone number at the park so we can get details from you, and go after the noisy folks and tell them to put a sock in it.

The park phone number is 416 392-0913.

Hours of Operation:

Rink clubhouse: open Monday to Saturday: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. , Sundays: 10 a.m. to 8.30 p.m.

Shinny hockey: same hours as the rink clubhouse except Sundays. There is a (strictly enforced) age schedule. If you ever see the wrong age group on the shinny ice, do us a favour and notify the rink staff right away.

Pleasure-skating: always freely available. The gate never closes except during bad weather. After 9 p.m., skating is unsupervised. Then it's like skating on a pond: shinny hockey and pleasure-skating are sometimes happening at the same time and people use the rink on their own responsibility. The large rink lights turn off after 11 p.m., and illumination is only from the small building lights and whatever moonlight/ snow-light happens to be there.

Parking: the best place to park is east of the rink on Dufferin Park Avenue (at the north boundary of the park). You have to walk west a short distance along the pedestrian walkway at the north side of the rink. Or you can park at the Dufferin Mall across the street.

Rink shinny hockey schedule:

Click here for the shinny schedule, bearing in mind the three age groups:

Level 1 (12 and under and parent or caregiver, or novice adult)
Level 2 (about 13 to 17, medium pace)
Level 3 (usually 18 and over, fast-paced)

There are also three weekly (booked by the week only) shinny hockey permit times:
Tuesdays: 9p.m. - 11p.m.
Fridays: 9p.m. - 11p.m.
Saturdays: 9p.m. - 11p.m.

For adults the permits cost $53.50. For children and youth, there is no charge. To book a permit, call the rink at 416/392-0913 and leave a message.

In the event of snow, if rink users help staff in clearing the ice, the rink opens faster. We have lots of shovels, or bring yours from home.

RINK PHONE NUMBER: 416 392-0913


Rinkhouse suppers: Starting again on Jan.9, there's Friday night supper, Saturday night supper, (both 8p.m.) and Sunday lunch (12.30p.m. to 5p.m.). There's a $5 main plate, plus a vegan soup, a salad, and a dessert. No need to make a reservation, but you can give us a warning if you're coming with a big group of friends. There will be tables set up, but only around the edge of the change room, to leave more space for the skaters.

So you can skip the after-work cooking on Friday, or alternatively, the Saturday-after-household-chores cooking, and meet your friends at the rink. Some nights we'll have a campfire outside too - and if you want one, we'll be glad to help you start it.

Hockey tourists:

Just after Christmas a big group of hockey players and their families showed up at the rink: seven families, mothers, fathers, and kids (26 people in all) from Sheffield, England. This was their second winter-time visit to Canada, looking for snow and good ice. They didn't find any snow, but they found us, and here's how: on Boxing Day some of them they were standing in an endless line-up at Wal-mart across the street, waiting to pay. Because people in the lineup had plenty of time to talk, somebody told them about our rink.

So they all came over and checked us out, and then they played at our rink many times in the five days that followed. They told us that Sheffield is the fourth biggest city in England, with over a million people, but that they don't have any rinks like ours. David Garrity and his wife Michelle said that if such a rink were to be built in their city, it would be vandalized immediately: the nets would be stolen, the fences slashed, the windows broken. They have to rent indoor ice time back home, and it costs a lot. They said they couldn't believe their good fortune in stumbling across our free rink, and to show their appreciation they gave us some quality kids' hockey gear for our loan box, when they left.

The pleasure these folks took in playing hockey (and having many cups of tea in the rink house) was lovely to see. But we hope they're wrong about vandals. Maybe if they made a rink in Sheffield that was well looked after with lots of free hours and skate loans (and cookies and tea), they'd find out, as we have, that vandalism can almost disappear.

Gifts to the park:

Firewood: an unknown park friend gave us a whole tree, cut up, for the indoor wood stove. And the Wood Studio continue to supply us with plenty of nice dry kindling.

Outdoor art: It turns out that the little Christmas tree carved at the top of the tall dead tree near the toboggan slide was made by a Willard Tree Service worker, not by the Parks Forestry crew as we had thought.

Rice Crispy Squares: these have been in almost limitless supply at the rink house, donated by the tireless Judy Simutis. For Christmas she made them in red and green - yum.

A donation out of the blue: A park friend who lives in Calgary, but whose family lives here and uses the park a lot, unexpectedly sent us a cheque for $10,000. A thank you card with hundreds of signatures is on its way to her. What a gift! All the more heartening as it arrived at the same time as our latest park crisis.

The homeless man from Hong Kong:

A few newsletters ago we had news of the homeless man in the park who was in danger of starving. (He would never accept anything from us, not food, not blankets, not shelter in the rink house.) Local doctor Alan Abelsohn had helped us get a "Form One" for him, allowing the police to take him to a hospital for help. At that time the hospital decided not to admit him, but found a relative to take him home instead. A few weeks later, just before Christmas, the man was back on his park bench in the bitter cold, wearing slippers on his feet. It took three days, with the help of our friend the homeless worker, Moira Hynes, to persuade him to go back to the relative. But when he got home in the cab Moira got for him, his feet were black from frostbite. The relative took him to the hospital, and a double amputation was considered. But then, a wonderful thing - his feet regained their circulation. And another wonderful thing: he was finally admitted to the psych ward of the hospital, having given them concrete proof of his need for help.

Farmers' Market:

The organic market runs throughout the winter, every Thursday from 3.30 to 7. There's meat, baking, honey, prepared foods, and storage vegetables, as well as all kinds of fresh organic vegetables and fruits imported from warmer climates. (Only our regular farmers are allowed to sell this produce at our market, and only during the time when they can't grow those things themselves). First Thursday of the month is also craft market day. For information, call the park at 416 392-0913. If you want to be on the weekly "market news" e-mail list, send your e-mail address to and you'll be put on.

Late-breaking rink leak:

Our rink has a leak in the cooling pipes, somewhere under the pleasure-skating ice. The first signs of trouble showed up soon after the rink opened, in early December. The mechanics couldn't find the exact location, and they tried all sorts of ways to plug the leak indirectly. But it seems to be getting worse. On January 3, with 12 degrees Celsius, the rink still had ice but it was struggling. CIMCO, the refrigeration company that also set up the ice rink for the Heritage Classic outdoor hockey game in Edmonton, sent a mechanic to help. He and Dave Dermott, the head mechanic for Parks and Recreation, struggled to remove corroded bolts on the compressor equipment (the saline that flows through the pipes is hard on metal) and replace a filter. So we'll see if that helps. If the mechanics can't fix the problem, our rink will have to turn into a natural ice rink - an interesting experience in a Toronto winter.

Winter campfires:

The friends of the park have a year-round fire permit. So if you want to make a party with your friends, in the campfire location beside the rink or the other location near the toboggan slide, call the park and we'll set you up. You bring wood or use ours and replace it afterwards; we have a fire stand and a pot and oven mitts and pails of water. It costs $10.