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April 2010

Dufferin Grove Park Newsletter


Volume 11, Nr.3, April 2010

The park's new accessible swing

For an independent community email list service and discussion group, see dufferingrovefriends


Friday April 9, 7.30 pm at the park clubhouse: the second open staff meeting, after Friday Night Supper.

Subject: permits and special events

The first open Dufferin Grove program-staff meeting was on Friday March 19, about policies affecting park programs (see pages 3-4). Dufferin Grove programs are run by part-time recreation staff. During their second meeting they’ll be trying to figure out the current city rules about events and activities that are initiated by park users. Under what conditions can Dufferin Grove staff help out with an event or activity put on by people in the neighbourhood? When is it necessary for park users to apply for a permit centrally? When does the city’s insurance cover the activities of people in the park? When are extra permit and insurance costs likely to discourage simple, local initiatives?

The part-time staff will be going through a list of regular events or park programs that may be affected by new or proposed policies: the bake-oven events, theatre and puppetry and other performance events, the food at the wading pool and the zamboni cafe, women’s drop-in ball hockey on the rink pad, community soccer times, campfires, and community events. Park users are welcome to sit in, find out more about the issues, ask questions, and perhaps help work on remedies to follow up after the meeting.


At the matzah bake in March, there was some talk about the amount of litter in city parks at the end of winter. The Mayor’s Cleanup Day is on April 24. But that’s a long time from now, and by then most of the Parks maintenance staff will have returned from lay-off, ready to start regular clean up. But what to do until then, especially in the playground? What to do?

Cameron Drew and Rebecca Ross spoke up and said they want to organize a park cleanup on Saturday April 10, rain or shine. They’ve arranged with the recreation staff to get a supply of bags and gloves – and park cookies, to keep up people’s strength as they clean the park for spring. The meeting place is the playground.

After that first clean-up, the students of Bishop Marrocco School have signed up to come twice a week until the city maintenance staff return. That should help.


May 1: Jane Jacobs Walk at Dufferin Grove Park, 11am to 1 pm, and 4 pm to 6pm.

Urban activist and writer Jane Jacobs’ birthday was on May 4. She died in Toronto in 2006. Because of Jacobs’ strong influence on how people think about cities, Mayor Miller declared May 4 “Jane Jacobs Day.” Another Jane, broadcaster and writer Jane Farrow, set up a yearly ''Jane’s Walk day in 2007, with volunteer guides conducting tours all over town. Now (four years later) the walking tours are held in many other North American cities as well.

This year, Dufferin Grove Park is one of the walks on the Jane’s Walk list. It will be a kind of show-and-tell about what goes on here, with various stations that people can visit in any order -- bake ovens, marsh fountain, cob courtyard, adventure playground, park clubhouse, rink, campfire circles, sports fields, performance areas, and many of the other spots where things happen at the park.

City policy documents will be posted at some stations, showing which elements of these fun activities are currently against the city rules (or not). The policy postings will add a bit of suspense to the tour. Will Toronto parks succumb to death-by-policy or will that power gradually be diluted by people's unbowed resolve to befriend their public spaces? There will be food at the ovens and the outdoor kitchen, maybe some music and other impromptu hijinks, stories, lots of opportunities for play (balls and hockey sticks and shovels to borrow) -- and always the possibility of conversation with park friends, about what makes a park neighbourly.

May 15 and 16: Fifth annual community clothing swap

When former park neighbour Bruce Whittaker started this event, he wrote: “Clean your closet of those clothes that are perfectly fine but never get worn, and do your part for the environment through swap rather than purchase. Find some really groovy clothes, support those in need, and meet your neighbours.”

It was a hit. For the fifth year now, park friend Silvie Varone and park staff Eroca Nicols are putting together the annual clothing swap, following Bruce’s model. They write: “The rules: 10 items (washed and on hangers) will get you 10 tickets in return. You can bring more but you will get a maximum of 10 tickets. You can bring less and will get tickets equal to the number of items. Saturday May 15th from 10-2pm is the drop off, Sunday May 16th from 10-2 pm is the exchange of tickets for clothing. Whatever is left goes to Goodwill. For more information, call Eroca at the park: 416 392-0913 or email”


Community SOCCER and CRICKET times

For about seven years, recreation staff have programmed the soccer field for open (non-league) community soccer and cricket from Saturday 2pm to Sunday night, beginning in May when the grass is in. Neighbourhood people were able to set up times (at no charge) with recreation staff by calling the park clubhouse at 416 392-0913 or emailing This may no longer be possible – watch for updates.

Community BALL-HOCKEY times

It may no longer be possible for people to set up informal drop-in (non-league) game times with recreation staff by e-mailing or calling the park clubhouse at 416 392-0913. Watch for updates.


During spring and summer, there are two public campfire locations – central and south. The central fire circle is beside the path in the middle of the park, and the south fire circle is by the path beside the cob courtyard. The park’s recreation staff book the cooking fire times. They also teach fire safety training and are available to help start/end the fire. They can be reached at 416-392-0913 or e-mail

CELOS provides and maintains grills, a cast-iron stand (to cook more than marshmallows or hot dogs on a stick) and pots and pans for campfires. There’s a suggested donation of $10 for upkeep. Park staff will give access to water, and lend out pails, and a shovel, but people have to bring their own wood.

Campfire rules have not been changed. Watch for updates.


As usual, everyone is invited to learn and share gardening skills during the drop-in gardening times, held between once and twice a week from spring to fall. This year, program staff Rachel Weston will work with volunteers to add some new native plants, and Leslie Lindsay and Heidrun Koepff will join Anna Bekerman in coordinating the vegetable gardens. To get weekly messages about gardening times, send an email to or call the park at 416-392-0913.



These community suppers are on every Friday in good weather: 6 to 7.30 pm, in the Dufferin Grove clubhouse.

Until last spring, the park cooks always took a break from Friday Night Supper in March and April. But then they started having too good of a time trying out new recipes, and people kept coming even during the “mud months.” It’s the same this April – the suppers are continuing right through, except on Fridays when it’s pouring rain or cloudy and cold (or snowing).

There is always a vegetarian or vegan entrée, a meat entrée, a side dish, a salad, and dessert. Most of the groceries are bought at the organic farmers’ market on Thursday, and most of the cooking is done in the outdoor wood-fired bake-ovens. It’s delicious food, and conforms largely to the 100-mile “locavore” boundary. There’s a suggested donation, all of which goes back into the park, and to pay for the groceries. But if you can’t spare the cash, donate at some other time – nobody goes away hungry! (Of course, if you feel like donating more than the suggested amount, that’s fine too.) City policies don’t cover such suppers, but for now they are permitted to continue. To see the menu on the website on Friday afternoons: Friday Night Supper.

The playground café at the outdoor cob kitchen

Pizza days don’t normally resume until May, but the playground café will be open in April on any weekend that’s sunny and warm. On those days there will be coffee, juices and pop, Mary Sylwester’s wonderful soup, muffins and park cookies, hot dogs and maybe vegan burgers, salads, and other surprises. Cost: same idea as for Friday Night Supper, see above.


City policy requires a permit for a picnic involving more than 25 people, for which there is a designated picnic area at the south side of the park, midway between the playground and Dufferin Street. For picnics smaller than that, just set up anywhere that’s not right inside high-use areas like the playground or the sports field. The park has quite a few picnic tables, not in very good shape but usable. If you need to move a table or two, that’s fine (park staff can lend you a dolly). Just be gentle so the tables don’t get even more banged up.


Dufferin Grove’s recreation supervisor, Tino DeCastro, was removed from Ward 18 in February and reassigned to supervising caretakers. His new task is to fix a problem that was unintentionally created during the last Parks, Forestry and Recreation re-structuring in 2005. At that time, the community recreation centres’ caretakers were all put under central supervision. They could no longer take direction from the recreation supervisors at the buildings where they worked. If the supervisor wanted to ask the building caretaker to clean up a spill in the hallway, she or he would have to call the central caretaking supervisor, who would pass the message back over to the local caretaker.

That hasn’t worked well, so Tino has been assigned to help restore more direct communication between the individual caretakers and the other staff in the same buildings. Changing the rules again is, however, apparently quite time-consuming. Tino says he’s on the road almost all the time, troubleshooting.

So the last Parks, Forestry and Recreation reorganization needs fixing, undoing, reworking. The story goes back to 2003. That year, a radical restructuring plan was devised for the entire division, based on “function” instead of location. The idea was that each of the various functions would be centralized. So for example local recreation staff would no longer supervise the wading pool staff in their areas – the wading pools would be supervised by a central manager in charge of aquatics, who had special aquatics-only supervisors under him. Other programs, citywide, would be run by a central “active living” supervisor, or a central “arts and crafts” supervisor, and so on.

There was no public discussion, because the plan was still confidential by the time of the November municipal election of 2003. Even councillors hadn’t been told. But there seem to have been some staff, at all levels, who thought this new structure was unworkable. One day a few weeks after the election, an unmarked brown envelope appeared on the counter in the Dufferin Grove kitchen, containing the new organizational chart and outlining the details. When we counted, Dufferin Grove Park was to go from having two supervisors mainly responsible for what goes on there, to having 13 different supervisors that might have to be consulted, depending on the activity or whatever problem needed fixing. The description was so alarming that CELOS put the word out everywhere. Later, the mayor put the plan on hold.

There followed many months of far-flung stakeholder consultations. But then, in 2005, an almost-identical plan was put in place. Five years later, that plan is now being altered. Or perhaps, a new, radical plan is now in the works, restructuring again.\\ Oh dear.


The hundreds of community letters about recent park troubles (posted on got the attention of Parks, Forestry and Recreation general manager Brenda Patterson and Recreation director Malcolm Bromley. On March 16, North York’s recreation manager Costanza Allevato came to the park to talk about a new task she’s been assigned: to create a “community engagement framework.” She brought two recreation staff with her, to help with this project: Helen Kennedy, who works at the Lawrence Heights community centre, and Chris Kennedy (not related) who until recently was a citywide community development worker.

At that first meeting, Costanza got an earful about the importance of making better use of front-line program staff to support neighbourhood efforts in parks everywhere. She also heard about the unintended effect of one-size-fits-all permit policies. The associated paperwork and fees shut down small-scale events set up by neighbours. Costanza was asked: “can such small local initiatives be seen as partnerships instead of permits? Would that word-change allow the program staff to support the gifts of local park users rather than charge them for their contributions?”

After the meeting, Costanza forwarded a draft version of a “partnership policy” developed by a ‘program standards officer’ downtown. The policy has three pages of questions like “what is your group’s mission statement?... what skills will be developed?.... what cultural group is this for?” etc., and it seems to be written with agencies in mind. It’s hard to imagine how it could be made to fit with loose groups of citizens at Dufferin Grove or elsewhere, who want to make some music or set up a drop-in women’s ball-hockey game for the summer. Also, all requests for “partnerships” would have to go through one central officer – an unworkable bottleneck. Back to the drawing board, with another meeting in mid-April.


Last July, park friend Max Wallace offered to donate an accessible swing suitable for older children who need additional support. But instead, the swing was put in by the City, in November. As soon as the weather warmed up in April, the line-ups began – all the kids want to go on that swing! Hopefully it will also draw in kids who need it, and the news of its existence will get around. Park friends, please put the word out in the community: the swing is here, and so is some extra support for special–needs children and their tired parents. The same goes for summer work: special-needs youth, the park needs your talents! If you or a family member are in that situation, call the park at 416 392-0913 and talk to Mayssan.


Somewhere, in a room at the Etobicoke Civic Centre, there’s a Parks staff person trying to write a bake oven policy. Or maybe several Parks staff people. None of the park cooks or bakers know who they are. These policy devisors have been working on various drafts of this policy since 2007. During that time, they have never yet asked to talk to any of the city’s front-line bakers (staff or volunteers). This is a problem, since the draft rules coming out of this far-away room don’t fit well with how park ovens are used.

The latest draft, dated February 2009, says many remarkable things. Among them: “the bake oven shall be used only for the purposes of producing baked goods. (E.g., bread, cakes, pies)” – so no cooking of Friday Night Supper (according to this policy). “Bake oven may be operated between the hours of 10 AM and 10 PM only, unless otherwise posted.” So no baking for the farmers’ market, for which the ovens have to be lit at 5 AM. “Bake oven use shall be attended, controlled, and supervised at all times and shall be completely extinguished before the bake oven site is vacated.” So even when the coals are four feet back in the oven, somebody has to be standing by, with nothing to do. Volunteers won’t do that, and the city can’t afford to hire staff to do it.

This is a disabling policy. Let’s fix it on May 1.


May 1 is a special day at Dufferin Grove, a celebrate-the-park sequel to the recent park troubles that got us into the news again. (See for the various articles.) It’s a kind of park reunion.

The many letters that park users wrote to the ombudsman, and to others, did not yet get Tino back (Tino DeCastro, the recreation supervisor who helped make so many things work well). But they did get the attention of City Hall. And since May 1 is a citywide "Jane Jacobs walk" day, it seemed like a good time to follow up, with a walk in the park, to various “stations” of all the usual activities – but all at once.

There are actually two walks that day, 11 to 1 and 4 to 6. Plus there's pizza-making at the oven from 12 to 2, and a campfire with good farmers' market food from 5 to 7. As well, Isabel Peres, the park's first campfire cook, has agreed to come back and cook Guatemalan dobladas at the campfire beginning in late morning. (Isabel is in the little 1994 park movie that's linked on the website.)

So May 1 is a good day to have a picnic or toss a frisbee, enjoy the various park show-and-tell stations, and catch up on the news (lots). Even recreation manager Costanza Allevato and her staff will be there, wanting to chat about how to work with (instead of against) park users. Help them out with your advice, invite old friends, look behind the scenes of what makes a park lively, rewrite disabling city policies, play your guitar. Be a happy and well-fed straggler at the campfire when the sun gets low -- remember May 1.

Gabe Sawhney from Wireless Toronto is coming, so are the Morris Dancers, so are some circus school acrobats, musicians, theatre people, shinny hockey players from the winter – to picnic, to talk to each other, to enjoy the park, and maybe even to write down some better policies that can help enable the development of liveliness and friendship in city parks all over.


Dufferin Grove is a place with a lot of babies and little kids, that’s obvious. Two more have recently been added to the mix: little Elisabeth, the new daughter of part-time recreation staff (and CUPE Local 79 unit officer) Amy Withers, and little Alice, the new daughter of part-time recreation staff (and Spanish translator) Anna Bekerman and part-time recreation staff (and SUNY graduate philosophy student) Greg Kirk. More staff babies and more park user babies are on the way. Is there something about the little kids of Dufferin Grove Park that’s infectious?


The website is run by CELOS (pronounced “see-loss”), the Centre for Local Research into Public Space. This is a very small group that began in Dufferin Grove Park and subsequently broadened its inquiries to address other issues in the whole city. CELOS has two other websites:, for all 49 of the city’s outdoor compressor-cooled ice rinks, and, for documenting celos research. Soon a new feature will be added to the celos website – a database of legislation, regulations, policies and guidelines showing how the law hinders or helps citizens to shape our public spaces. Watch for it in May – it’s got good stuff.


Market manager Anne Freeman sends out a weekly e-mail to market list subscribers every Wednesday. To sign up for the market news, visit the market page.

That way you won’t miss the news of the first asparagus, or the first strawberries, or the first corn, all local and in season.


Newsletter prepared by: Jutta Mason

Illustrations: Jane LowBeer

Published by: CELOS

Web sites: Henrik Bechmann, Aseel Al Najim,

Park phone: 416 392-0913

Park web site:


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