friends of dufferin grove park
August 2005 Newsletter
posted August 11, 2005

Vol. 6, Nr. 8

annual double issue
park politics

In this issue:



Newsletter prepared by:
Jutta Mason

Jane LowBeer

Technical support:
John Culbert

Henrik Bechmann,
Joe Adelaars

Park phone:
416 392-0913

street address:
875 Dufferin Street


Park photographer: Wallie Seto

Quality Control Printing at Bloor and St. George

Volume 6 Number 8, August 2005



The cob courtyard by the wading pool is growing spectacularly. They say that every cloud has a silver lining and that seems to be borne out at the park, with the cob building project.

Late last summer, Toronto Public Health inspectors told us to get proper sinks for food preparation installed by the wading pool for this summer or stop having snacks at the playground food cart. Park friend  Georgie Donais said – “if we have to have sinks, we can back them with a community-built cob courtyard and make something beautiful.”  With the help of a $2500 grant from the Toronto Parks and Trees Foundation, she set about working with many park friends to build a little courtyard around the sinks, and continuing on from there, to create an outdoor gathering-place. The courtyard walls are made with a sand-clay-straw mix known as "cob" or "monolithic adobe", which is mixed by foot and applied by hand.

From Georgie: “The first stage of the project provides a spot for the washing station required by Public Health. As the wall extends, we’ve begun to work on building arches, shelves, a fire place for cooking, a puppet window, sculptures and mosaics. Native plantings will be incorporated around and within the courtyard. The project will proceed in stages, starting with this washing station, and extending further as time and resources allow.” As the wall began to rise, certain ‘lead hands’ began to emerge too – besides Georgie’s husband Alan, park friends Alfredo, Isaac and Gretel, Michelle, and Catherine spent many hours not only cobbing but also showing others how; Alfredo also became an expert in making windows; Patrick built the fireplace, with an iron “crane” for suspending the cooking pots; Sylvie and Simon built the kitchen counter with their theatre-set-carpentry know-how. And they’re just the tip of the iceberg – many more people have helped, some of them lots of times. From Georgie: “Our cob courtyard wall is steadily growing, thanks to the legion of volunteers who have heeded the call to ‘come get muddy.’ It's not too late to come on down and help us do some building with earth! You can experience the world of cobbing for yourself, at our ongoing earthen building workshops. They happen Monday to Saturday, 10am to 4pm. Even half an hour is enough time to get cobbing!”

Child-minding is available; you can find out more at the site. All are welcome to participate, including children young and old (and they do!). Photo updates go up on the website often:

Also, a reminder to all those who wanted to donate materials to Cob in the Park – it's still not too late. Still needed: coloured bottles with flat bottoms (blues, greens, amber, purple); clear jars, mason jars; china and tile for mosaics; five gallon pails; cedar shakes; a few pieces of seasoned firewood (18" long, for embedding in the wall).

These materials are for the mosaics embedded in the cob walls. There’s now a mosaic group for people interested in working with the mosaics, whether they have lots of experience with mosaics, or always wanted to try it and never have. If you want to join that group, contact Georgie at

The Parks and Recreation Division’s contribution to this project has been solid and growing. The plumbing for the sinks was installed by the City’s plumbers, and the electricity for the water heater required by Public Health, as well as for the snack bar cooking facilities, was put in by the City’s electricians. Parks and Recreation supervisor Tino DeCastro and manager James Dann said they would help Georgie make it happen, and they’ve been as good as their word at every step.


Thursday August 18 to Sunday August 21.  Clay and Paper Theatre: This summer’s performance The Space Between  returns to Dufferin Grove Park

From artistic director David Anderson:  “The Space Between is a multi-dimensional masque (a la Ben Jonson), a giant puppet/choral speech/dance piece which tells the tale of Erysichthon from Ovid's Metamorphosis. Driven by pride and greed, Erysichthon cuts down the sacred oak of the earth goddess Ceres. In a fitting payback, the goddess calls upon Hunger herself to possess Erysichthon until he finally devours himself. The Space Between places Ovid’s ancient tale most firmly in the here and now, surrounded by Toronto's five impressive new art buildings on stilts. The Space Between celebrates the art between as well as the art that inhabits these buildings. A double chorus of masquers invite us, the audience, to contemplate the role of art, the myths that shape us and the values we live by.”

The company has been workshopping the play in various Toronto parks and David Anderson says it’s very different now than at the beginning of July. It will be presented afternoons at 4 and 5 p.m., and evenings at 7.30, in the center of the park, with some new, spectacular puppets. PAY-WHAT-YOU-CAN.

Sunday September 4. The Morris Dancers’ annual Labour Day weekend ALE, 3 pm. to 5 p.m. This must be the 6th or 7th year that the Morris dancers are coming to dance for one another (show off their latest dances) and drink beer and eat pizza and bread at the oven. The beer is not for sharing (their permit is just for their own group) but these Morris Dancers are always happy to share their food (including the bread we make for them) and their music and dances. On the basketball court – a wonderful spectacle.


Dear Brenda,

I am writing to you to ask for a meeting with you as soon as possible.
Here’s why: friends of Dufferin Grove Park have been discussing the effect, on our park, of your Division’s new operating model, to begin in September.  We are very concerned.

Some background: In November 2003, a few weeks before the most recent municipal government was sworn in, Parks and Recreation announced a radical change in how they would run their operation. From our point of view it meant that we would be dealing with a different supervisor for every element of the park – one for wading pools, another for skating rinks, another for park maintenance, another for children’s programs, another for special events, another for improvements to the park (if any), etc.  We protested against this new conception, and it was put on hold. After some consultations to fix the problems, it seems that the same approach is back, as of this September.

The new operating model seems to spell the end of the idea of a park as first and foremost a neighbourhood meeting place. In its place, there is what is called a “functional approach,” taking apart all the elements of a park and managing each separate element centrally (and perhaps staffing these elements centrally as well).

It’s hard to know how our park can continue to flourish under such a system, since Dufferin Grove Park is a very specific place that has grown organically out of the activities of its many friends, from the volleyball players to the picnickers to the playground kids to the “rink rats.” All the activities are intertwined, and the great support we have got over many years, from the Parks and Recreation Division, has been the support of local (not central) staff who know what we’re doing, and who have a history with us.

Adding to our concerns is the fact that the examples we’ve seen of a centralized “functional” approach have been pretty alarming. The Health and Safety Inspectors’ visit in 2003, resulting in a threat to shut down the rink, is one example. The C.S.A. playground replacement/ repair program is another. The Policy and Development Division’s centralized approach to park improvements is another. The list is long.

So we’re writing to ask you to declare our park an alternative site. If the City is bent on trying their “functional” experiment, we would ask you to keep our park as an alternative laboratory, to see if what we do here is worth learning from as well.

We look forward to your invitation for a small group of us to discuss this with you, as soon as you can accommodate us. We regard this matter as urgent.

Yours sincerely,

Jutta Mason, friend of Dufferin Grove Park


If you ever wonder why the rink house washrooms are often messy and not so nice to be in, here’s the reason – there’s no caretaker to clean them.  In fact, there’s no provision for cleaning the rink house at all. During summer, the wading pool staff are supposed to fit it in, and because of all the things going on at the park, it’s often a real strain for them to find the time.

Toronto Parks and Recreation has good caretakers on staff, but our park is not eligible for any caretaker hours because the rink house was originally meant to be only a change house for skaters, i.e. not very busy.  This is one of the problems we’d like the general manager, Brenda Librecz, to consider when we meet with her: when new things happen in a park, how can staffing arrangements be adapted? In our case, the washrooms are used by thousands of people year-round. On paper, though, we remain simply a rink house, not on the list for caretaker cleaning.


Soccer: The Toronto Eagles children's soccer club has the soccer-field permit Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday evenings and Saturdays until 2. On Thursday evenings, the permit belongs to the "Portugal 2004" children's soccer club. This has been the case for 4-5 years. (On each of those evenings from 6.30 to 8.15 – it’s fun to watch.)

From Saturday 2 p.m. until Sunday evening, the permits are there for community groups. These community permits are free through the park staff, and currently there are five regular groups, plus more spaces for one-off permits. Here are the rules: 1. Two-hour time slots; 2. usually only half the field;  3. include any neighborhood person who wants to play soccer but doesn't have a group;  4. Mixed-gender or all-male or all-female.

This is an experiment not carried out elsewhere in the city, i.e. free community permits that have some participant flexibility, along the lines of shinny-hockey. To get a community permit, call the park at 416 392-0913 and ask for Mayssan or Matt.

This summer there hasn’t been as much community soccer as last year – the heat has made it tough to play on the weekend daytime slots. The most active soccer is on Saturday evenings, a long-established gathering of Sudanese soccer players who always end the game by praying in the direction of Mecca.  Like everyone playing community soccer, they accept drop-in players too. The main thing about this group is, you’ve got to be pretty good.  

Volleyball: For five years the same net was up, just west of the playground, winter and summer. The net was all patched from where it had holes and then one morning at the end of July, it was gone. Hard to believe anyone would have bothered stealing it! The recreation staff got another net a day later, this one without holes. There are volleyballs available to borrow, down by the wading pool. (Ask the park staff.) There’s also a regular mixed-gender group that plays for fun on Wednesday evenings from 7 p.m. If you’re interested in joining, pass by when they’re playing and talk to them. But they may not have much room because the group is already pretty large. All the rest of the week is just first-come first-served, and the net does double duty for badminton as well.

Ball hockey: The hockey rink is available for pick-up ball hockey every evening until 11, although the lights are only regularly turned on for the Wednesday and the Friday community permits. If you want to get a group together and play on one of the other nights, call the park and the staff will turn on the lights: 416 392-0913.

Basketball: There are lights on the basketball court until 11 p.m. every night. In the first week of August the City’s maintenance supervisor, Brian Green, arrived with a crew who put up two additional basketball hoops just inside the rink enclosure. (Funded with the money Mike Harris took away from welfare recipients.) The new hoops have made it easier for people to get playing time, for three-on-three. We’re hoping that Brian will be able to get one lower hoop put up as well, for all the little kids who dream of becoming real basketball players.

Tai chi: This can be seen all over the park in the early mornings, done mainly but not only by older Chinese people, alone or in small groups. The oldest person we’re aware of doing tai chi in the park (until recently) was over 100.


Food cart – It’s at the playground, every day the wading pool is open. This year we have more varied kinds of brunch/lunch foods, using ingredients from the farmers’ market and the park gardens, cooked in the park ovens.

Saturday morning baking: from the park bakers: “the bread cart will be selling fresh park oven breads and breakfast pastries from 11 a.m. Saturdays by the wading pool.”

Friday Night Supper: Every Friday from 6 to 7:30p.m., at the bake oven. No need to make a reservation: there's usually lots of food. This is a community dinner cooked in the park bake ovens with farmers' market produce. Cost is $6 for the main plate unless you bring your own dishes ($1 off). The main plate is always a choice of meat or (usually) vegan. There's always park bread, a salad, soup, and dessert (they cost extra but it's hard to spend much more than $10 per meal). If it's raining hard, no supper (call 416-392-0913 if you're not sure). If it's a cool night, there's a campfire to linger at with your friends.

Pizza days – weekdays on Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 12 noon to 2 p.m. and Sundays from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.  For $2 a portion, you can buy a small lump of organic pizza dough, sauce, and cheese, and make your own pizza in the oven (staff help you bake it). You can pick toppings in the park gardens to put on as well, or bring extra toppings from home. It’s a very nice way to meet new neighbours or get together with friends.

If you want to include pizza at the oven in a birthday party, that’s possible on Sundays between 11.30 and 1 and from 3 to 4.  You can book it with park staff Mayssan Shuja Uddin at 416 392-0913. The staff cost is $36 extra on top of the pizza cost of $2 per pizza. If you have more than forty people, that will need an extra staff person for another $18. To find out more, call the park or go to the bake ovens and food section of the web site.

Picnics: In the warm weather, the park is sometimes full of picnics and family celebrations. There are plenty of picnic tables – feel free to move them to where you need them, but if you take them far from where they were, please move them back afterwards (especially tables taken from the oven area and the wading pool area).


Campfires: The friends of the park have a standing year-round campfire permit at three park locations. Park staff will train you in campfire safety, give you water, pails, and a shovel, and kindling if you need it. For July, you don’t have to bring your own wood because we have some extra. You can also borrow grills from us, and a cast-iron stand, if you want to cook more than marshmallows or hot dogs on a stick. For more information or to book a permit, call the park at 416 392-0913 and ask for Matt or Mayssan. You can also go to the campfires section of the park web site.


The wading pool is open every day from about 11.30 a.m. to 6 p.m. (or until 7 if it’s over 28 degrees). Bring water toys but please leave the squirt guns at home. The sandpit is always open. If you and your kids are frequent early-morning sandpit visitors, you can ask the staff for your own key to the lockup box, so you can take out the equipment when you arrive. No need to put it away when you leave, but please: last person to leave the sandpit in the evening, turn off the tap!

Crafts materials are set out most days beside the wading pool. On Wednesday afternoon park staff Bianca runs clay-building; on Thursday afternoon kids can cook flapjacks over a campfire with park staff Caitlin; on Saturday afternoon, park staff Eroca sets up the tile-painting table (the tiles are all going to be part of the cob courtyard mosaics); and on Sundays, Eroca (who is a dancer) does “beach blanket bingo” – dancing and bingo by the wading pool. Park staff also lend out balls (basketballs, volleyballs, footballs), but you have to leave collateral. Chess and checkers are set up by the yurt near the wading pool.


Since the year 2000, the City of Toronto says it’s spent between $5.9 and $6.3 million (depending on who you talk to) tearing out and replacing playground equipment in park playgrounds to conform to new standards set by the Canadian Standards Association (an association whose makeup is over 90% manufacturers). The “dumbing down” of park playgrounds that resulted was much less publicized in the media than the destruction of playgrounds in schoolyards, but the evidence is there in most of our parks. 49 park playgrounds had their play equipment entirely removed and replaced with cheaper stuff. Many more playgrounds (like ours at Dufferin Grove) lost slides or swings or jiggly toys. In many parks, lost equipment was not replaced at all – which means less fun. Playground advocate Maya Littman began to ask the City questions about their “playground safety” program in 2001, but she didn’t get many answers, either from city councillors or from City staff. After our park playground lost a slide and a jiggly bridge, we began to ask questions too. We found out that many of Dufferin Grove Park’s other playground components are also threatened. City staff explanations were evasive, so in June 2004 we formally began submitting questions to the City’s Freedom of Information office.

What we found out alarmed us more. It seemed that the City’s playground safety program may have gone off the rails soon after former Mayor Lastman first proposed it in 1998. We asked for records, and the City sent us a price list for the 49 playground replacements ($1,048,410). But for the remaining $4.3 million or so (for the repairs and replacements at those park playgrounds which just had parts removed) the City said their records were on many little pieces of paper in various boxes. We would have to pay $12,960 to get staff to collect those receipts to show us.

Too much money! We appealed to the City and to the provincial Information and Privacy Commissioner, for a fee waiver. We said we couldn’t afford such a fee, but that we feel it’s in the public interest to find out where that money went.

But before our fee waiver appeal inquiry could take place, the City suddenly changed their position. They said that they couldn’t find the records we wanted at all, and therefore they do not exist. Under the freedom of information laws, an institution can’t be forced to reveal records that don’t exist – how could they?

That changed the subject of our appeal. Instead of considering whether it was in the public interest to discover where and how those $4.3 million were spent, the Inquiry was narrowed down to one question: had the City staff conducted a “reasonable search” to find those records?

On June 22, our appeal hearing was held at the offices of the Provincial Information and Privacy Commissioner’s offices at 2 Bloor Street East. The argument we made was that if the General Manager of Parks and Recreation wrote in a letter in July 2004 that $4,941,590 had been spent on playground repairs, there must be records of how they arrived at that number.

The City had sent five staff to the Inquiry hearing, including two lawyers.  In their presentation they said the staff had looked everywhere and couldn’t find any specific records of how and where that playground repair money was spent.

When the provincial freedom of information adjudicator handed down her decision two weeks later, she wrote: “….in my view, it is arguable that a more detailed recording keeping of expenditures perhaps ought to exist; however, I make no finding in this regard.“ She had concluded that the staff had made a reasonable effort in looking around, and no further search would be required. Case closed.

So we lost that round. However, at the Inquiry we carefully wrote down the names of the documents that the City staff mentioned they had looked at to see if they pertained to repair expenses. A week later we submitted new freedom of information requests to the City, for those references we hadn’t known about before. An example: the playground construction supervisor said at the Inquiry that in 2001, $373,978 was spent in the downtown area to do playground safety repairs. We asked: if you know that figure down to the dollar, how could you have had no receipts to base them on? The City’s answer is due on August 8, and we’ll put it in the next newsletter. Is this a bad-book-keeping problem, or were those numbers just made up? And if they were, what was that $4.3 million playground repair money actually spent on?


On August 12, 2004, our research group submitted a question to the City of Toronto’s Corporate Access and Information office: how much did the City spend on lawsuits or out-of-court settlements for injuries on city property, from 1980 to the present? We had a good reason for asking: we were wondering why the City spent $5.9 million removing playground equipment from City parks (or sometimes whole playgrounds), often replacing it with cheap “dumbed-down” equipment (or nothing at all). They pointed to the latest safety standards put out by manufacturers, but since those standards are not law, we thought there must be additional reasons. Were there maybe a lot of kids getting hurt in park playgrounds, and the City was having to pay?

The City didn’t respond to our question, so in November 2004 we appealed to the Ontario Information and Privacy Commissioner’s office. They told the City to send us an answer.

We were sent whatever pre-amalgamation information they had, but none since 1997 (the playground destruction began in 2000). The pre-amalgamation results showed only one playground injury claim, for $23,570, between 1980 to 1996. (The most numerous claims and biggest settlements against Parks and Recreation were related to City vehicle accidents.) Since the City wouldn’t give us the rest of the information up to the present, we appealed again to the Province, in January 2005. On March 31 the City’s Claims Division said we’d have to pay $1,050 to get the post-amalgamation injury claim reports. We appealed the fee, and the wheels were set in motion for a provincial adjudicator to consider the issue. Then on May 9 a letter came from the City of Toronto Finance Division’s “Risk Management Unit” saying there was now a new reason why they wouldn’t give us the information – because it would be against the City’s economic interests.

“Snakes and ladders” again. Since the City changed its reason for denying us the information, the rules of the Information and Privacy Commission required us start with the appeal again, from the beginning. Discouraging.

But then there was a sudden upturn in our fortunes. CBC radio had asked the City the same question, but on a larger scale – they wanted a record of the amounts of all lawsuits and claims (not only those related to playgrounds) since amalgamation. The City gave the CBC the same answer as we got “we won’t tell you, because it’s against our economic interests.” The CBC appealed to the province and they got right to the top. The province’s Information and Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian personally handled the appeal. On July 22 she ordered the City to release the lawsuits and claims information. She wrote in her appeal order: “Citizens cannot participate meaningfully in the democratic process, and hold politicians and bureaucrats accountable, unless they have access to information held by the government, subject only to necessary exemptions that are limited and specific.”

A few days later we got a letter in the mail from the City giving us the information we had sought since August 2004. It turns out that in the seven years since the playground safety standards were revised, there have been only six claims against the city for playground injuries (two before the playground changes and four after). The largest settlement was $4,361 and the smallest was $667, for a total of  $11,463. (Broken arms?)

And then there was the playground injury claim in 1994 (see above). When you add them all together, it seems that the City’s Claims Division could find only seven playground injury claims in twenty-five years, costing the City of Toronto a total of $35,033. In response, our park playgrounds were drastically dumbed down, at a cost of at least $5.9 million (but much of that undocumented).

How could that happen? Our CELOS research group is digging around to find out. More in the September newsletter.


On Thursday August the 4th, a city by-law enforcement officer came to the park. He was shocked to see the farmers parking on the grass inside the park (beside their stands) and gave them a warning. The next week, he said, he would be back at market time, and would give them each a $105 ticket if he saw them even driving up to unload.

The officer then went down to the wading pool and said the food cart was illegal, the cob courtyard was probably illegal, and when he found out we have campfires in the park, he said that was illegal too. He also said that there had been a complaint about the food cart. Someone had reported that it was run by an (unnamed) private individual.

The by-law enforcement officer wasn’t much interested in our explanations. He described all that he saw to his supervisor on his cell phone, and told the park staff that his supervisor was “hopping mad” at what he was hearing.  

The officer summoned a public health inspector from another district, on an emergency basis. The inspector arrived and walked all around with the park with our staff person Mayssan. Then he wrote “unwarranted complaint” on his inspection form and left. The by-law enforcement officer left too, saying he’d be back.

The friends of the park have received a lot of support from park managers over the years. We called West Region manager James Dann, and described the situation.  It seemed clear that the problem here was a misunderstanding – the by-law enforcement officer had not heard of a park like ours, and assumed that we were getting away with murder.

James called the by-law enforcement supervisor and reassured him. He confirmed that we have had regular contact with Public Health, and the friends of the park work in close collaboration with Parks and Recreation.  It emerged that the main problem with the farmers’ market was the lack of a farmers’ market permit. (Since there are only two markets in Toronto parks, such permits are not a standard item.) So James arranged for an official city permit. That means the by-law enforcement officer will not come back next week and fine each farmer $105 after all.  

This is another example of the problem with centralized structure (management by function). Officials come from elsewhere in the city and find us confusing. They make a panic and the whole business takes so much of everyone’s time. We’ve asked for a meeting to discuss the real world of farmers’ markets, with City managers. We also hope that the Parks, Forestry and Recreation general manager, Brenda Librecz, will find a way to have our park administered locally, not centrally (see “Open Letter”).

The by-law enforcement officer who came to our park seemed just as appalled by what he saw here as the City’s Health and Safety rink inspectors were in December 2003, when they said that ours was the worst rink they had ever seen. You have to wonder: what would their ideal park look like?


After we noticed that the only new tree planted by Forestry in many years seems to be dying, park staff and volunteers have gone into tree-rescue mode. In the second week of August the wading pool staff put garden hoses on in the park around the clock, trickling water beside tree after tree, focusing on the young trees which are more vulnerable. If you see that a puddle is collecting around one tree, feel free to nudge the hose to a nearby tree – we’re lucky we have enough water in the Toronto water system to save the trees.


We got a wonderful gift from long-time park friend Kyla Dixon-Muir: two brand new chafing dishes for serving Friday Night Supper: stainless-steel hot water basins, food tray inserts, gleaming lids and all. Kyla found them in a dumpster! But she now lives in on the other side of the Don Valley, and people have been so busy at the park there was no one to go across the viaduct and pick them up. Then Kyla sent a message for us to post on the Dufferin Grove Friends list serve and we got four offers for pick-up within the day. Sheila Pin went and got them (we thanked her with fresh park oven bread and cinnamon buns). Thanks to Kyla, Sheila, and also Emily Visser and Bernard King, faithful moderator of that list serve for almost five years now.

This special double edition newsletter was sponsored by Tere Oulette, the owner of a wonderful toy store called Scooter Girl (187 Roncesvalles), and by Abe Altman (one of the regulars helping at the cob courtyard) and Nathalie Grondin. They are all friends of the park and together they contributed $92 for us to print 350 copies of this newsletter.